“Accounting For Lawyers” originally aired on NBC Thursday night, September 30, 2010
Every new person that we meet gets a slightly different version of us. This is what makes maintaining long-term connections with people so fraught. Staying with the same person or group can begin to feel stifling after awhile, just because it can be so difficult to escape their perception of you. Similarly, people from your past often expect you to conform to some rigid idea of the past self that they knew, regardless of any life changes in the interim. Jeff experiences both of these when he runs into his old colleague Alan Connor1 (Rob Corddry) in “Accounting For Lawyers”, but with the added twist that Jeff himself only needs the slightest nudge to revert back to the cutthroat attorney he once was. Part of him has clearly longed for this, on some level.
Ostensibly, this episode 2 appears to serve as a continuation of sorts to “Advanced Criminal Law”, the last time we got to see Jeff Winger in lawyer mode. But to me, it’s more interesting to contrast this episode with two other entries from season one: “Spanish 102” and “Home Economics”. The former was the first one that aired after the pilot, and presented a Jeff Winger who still viewed his Greendale experience as a mere speed bump on the road back to practicing law again, and the members of the study group as nothing more than a bunch of easy saps willing to do the bulk of the work for him. The latter episode showed Jeff clinging to his old persona in the form of the status and luxuries it afforded him. Having spent the past year and change as a, let’s say “deeply involved” member of the study group, his constant misadventures with them have started to wear out their welcome, to the point where Jeff can’t even feign enthusiasm for the “Pop-And-Locktoberfest” the Dean announces in the cold open3. There has always been an element of ego trip to his career as a lawyer, and beyond its materialist trappings, the arrival of Alan makes it clear that the admiration of his professional peers played a large part in that as well. Jeff was just a damn good attorney, precisely for those Machiavellian attributes that his association with the study group have gradually eroded, improving him as a human but weakening him as a strategist.
We also get an origin story of sorts for Jeff, showing us why he became interested in being a lawyer in the first place. In the absence of a consistent father figure, he latched on to the man who was able to play a significant role in tearing his family unit apart while showing zero visible signs of distress whatsoever. It’s an anecdote that says a lot about Jeff, but who he’s telling it to and why says even more about the progress he’s made since coming to Greendale. For all his talk about how much he missed the culture of his old law firm, there’s really no reason for Jeff to stick his neck out for Alan and recommend him as a partner. Alan acts like he might have some pull in getting Jeff his old job back at some point, but Jeff already seems like a semi-mythic figure in their circles. He caught something at Greendale, and it’s taken hold so completely that he forgets that’s not how friendships work in the legal profession, at least until Alan has the chance to come clean about ratting out Jeff to the Bar Association and instead tries to pin it on Thompson, the selfless philanthropist widower.
In my very first essay on Community for this site, i opened by making the case that the underlying theme of the entire show is about putting others ahead of yourself. This episode expands on the theme by suggesting that exactly whose needs you’re prioritizing actually matters a great deal. Just ask Chang — the poor fucker is so convinced that acceptance into the study group represents the highest social status one can obtain that he spends five hours popping and locking for his entry, only to have the group lose the contest when they congregate on the dance floor for their requisite group hug. If Chang wasn’t, well, Chang, their palpable relief that he didn’t win membership into the group would cast them as the clear villains in this story. As it is, this stands as a cautionary tale — if you’re going to putting everything on the line for someone, make sure they actually have your best interests at heart. Later episodes would be more willing to explore the group’s pathology as an insular, semi-tyrannical presence within Greendale, but early in its second season their bond is still presented as wholesome as it can be. As for Community itself, this episode finds the show re-establishing its baseline, churning out an episode that could just as well have aired during the first season, if not for the Chang subplot. There’s still something special here, and it all starts with the group — with friends like those, you can make your show do just about anything.
⁃ End tag: “i may have done some damage there.” Abed has painted himself into the cartoon tunnel on the wall that he mentioned to Jeff earlier in the episode, and comes this close to convincing Troy he made it through. Don’t take it too hard, Abed — you probably just saved him from a massive concussion
⁃ The closest this episode has to an iconic gag is Annie’s repeated chloroforming habit, which absolutely kills every time because it adheres to the old comedy-writing rule of threes. First time it’s shocking4, second time it’s absurd, then after that all it takes is the mere hint that she’s begun to view it as the go-to answer to every problem to pay it off spectacularly. The timing on this last instance couldn’t be more elegant — they wait just long enough for the audience to assume it’s over, but not so long that they’ve forgotten it yet
⁃ Drew Carey guest stars as Ted, head of the Hamish, Hamish & Hamlin law firm with the big weird hole in his hand. Rob Corddry would reprise his role as Alan in seasons 3 and 5, though iirc they didn’t attempt any kind of Daily Show crossover with Duncan in those episodes
⁃ Jeff describes the group’s dynamic as “codependent”, which would not be the last time that word would be invoked to describe them. By the end of the sixth season, Jeff is so all-in that it’s the newcomer Frankie who’s using that word with him
⁃ This is also the first instance of the line “the stakes have never been higher” — spoken by Abed in references to the devil’s bargain the group has made with Chang. Look out for that one, it’s going to recur a lot
DEAN: Winner gets to annex Poland. Kidding! Winner gets an iTunes giftcard
ALAN: If they gave away awards for mind games, the statue’d be Jeff Winger doing it to a brain
SHIRLEY: Oh please, those junkies weren’t thinking about rules when they were shooting up skag
JEFF: “Narced”? Hmm, but he’s like, way too primo for that, Frank Zappa
TROY: Yeah. Did you know that Go-gurt is just yogurt?
TED: You know, when i became a lawyer, i had a dream. i had a dream that one day i’d be head of a firm, so nobody would be able to talk about the big weird hole in my hand
ANNIE: Fourth floor, room 470. First he said it was 69. i wanna rub Purell on my brain
ABED: i usually have one foot out of reality, and even i’m freaking out right now
JEFF: Britta — you’re not a whore. Shirley — Jesus turned the other cheek, he didn’t garnish wages. Pierce — do i even need to say this? It is bad to hunt man for sport
(Annie starts chloroforming a rag) TROY: Would you STOP?