Shirley is devoted to Andre who, after we meet him, is consistently depicted as an otherwise decent man who made a mistake and is trying his best to make up for it;
Annie’s crush on Jeff is often demonstrated to be unhealthy, or at the very least ill-advised, for both of them and she herself acknowledges that it's largely due to issues she has around loneliness and being a bit of a Control Freak who finds the idea of a man completely changing his identity for her appealing;
Britta’s thing for jerks and weirdos is often deconstructed as being the result of deep-seated self-esteem issues and self-loathing on her part, prompting her to throw herself into disastrous relationships with damaged goods as a subconscious way of validating her own lack of self-worth.
Badass Crew: They have, among other things, survived through hellish days-long paintball tournaments, beat up a school bully gang, started a school riot, and rescued their dean with an elaborate heist.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: All of them have their quirks and attitude, but nonetheless get their job(s) well-done.
Dysfunction Junction: They consider each other their true family because their home lives suck so much.
Five-Token Band: They are of different ages, races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds, and it’s often lampshaded. It's possible this was invoked seeing as Abed was the one that gathered them together.
The Generation Gap: A fundamental dynamic of the group, as they're all of different ages. It's most obvious between Pierce (Baby Boomer) and the rest of the group (Generation X and younger), but there are generational conflicts between Shirley, Jeff and Britta on one side and Troy, Abed and Annie on the other as well.
The Hecate Sisters: Britta (the crone), Annie (the maiden) and Shirley (the matron/mother).
It’s All About Us: Other students often complain that everything seems to revolve around the study group.
The Notable Numeral: Known in-universe as “The Greendale Seven. (The name usually comes up in unflattering contexts.)
Not so Above It All: The entire group seems to look down on Greendale's Crazy antics but tend to cause most of them. Specifically, Jeff, Britta, Shirley, Annie and Pierce try to seem mature but often fall to the level of Abed or Troy
All of them could be said to be this with each other to some degree.
Why are people trying to teach me things at a school that has an express tuition aisle?
Played by Joel McHale.A charming but manipulative and Amoral Attorney who was forced to attend Greendale upon the discovery that his college credentials were forged. Responsible for the formation of the group as the inadvertent result of a plot to seduce Britta, he tends to act as the leader.
Aesop Amnesia: He seems to have to learn and relearn that he either needs to start treating his friends better and/or deal with the fact that he’s at Greendale and stop acting so high-and-mighty about everything very frequently.
Jeff: He doesn’t like fake courses, well, he’s about to get a real lesson on the fact that Jeff Winger never learns.
“Biology 101” seems to suggest he has finally learned how much he needs his friends (at least subconsciously) just as they are no longer reliant on him, and “Introduction to Finality” basically confirms that he’s abandoned his former self-serving attitude.
The Anti-Nihilist: His speech at the end of the season 3 finale definitely has shades of this, though considering his Aesop Amnesia mentioned above, God only knows how far into season 4 he’ll go without brushing off helping the rest of the study group.
His most disrespectful moment in the whole season comes in the finale, when he begs for a lavish graduation ceremony.
Attention Whore: Played for Drama. He faked appendicitis in seventh grade so that people would worry about him (22 years later he keeps the cards he received under the bed to prove that somebody once cared for him.) Also see It's All About Me below.
Of course, Jeff has also been known to fake a Berserk Button, just to get out of a difficult conversation by having an excuse to storm off.
Picking on Annie (especially if you’re outside the study group) also seems to be a Berserk Button for Jeff (although it’s inconsistently played).
As mentioned below under Bully Hunter, he tends to confront bullies regardless of who they're picking on (although he usually frames it as confronting them for being obnoxious and irritating).
Better as Friends/Friends with Benefits: Jeff and Britta’s relationship has zigzagged between the two; despite some romantic tension in season one, they appeared to have decided that they are Better as Friends—except it was revealed in “Paradigms of Human Memory” that they’d still been hooking up on occasion. The end of that episode, however, saw them apparently decide to call that quits as well, and it seems that they’re now just platonic friends.
Bully Hunter: Jeff’s a curious example; on the surface, he seems thoroughly reluctant to involve himself in anything outside his own self-involved little bubble, and isn’t adverse to letting rip with the odd snide and cutting comment himself, yet he consistently appears unwilling and/or unable to let bullying go unchallenged. Pretty much every time a bully/group of bullies has appeared, even if the victim isn’t one of his friends Jeff’s more often than not ended up confronting them; he’ll usually frame it as confronting them for being a loud, obnoxious and irritating dickhead rather than a bully, but nevertheless. In “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” we learn Jeff himself was a victim of bullying as a child, which might explain this.
Character Development/Took a Level in Kindness: In the four years he’s attended Greendale and hung around the study group, it has become increasingly clear that Jeff has come a long way from the almost completely self-absorbed and amoral person he was at the beginning of the series.
Just one example of how far he has travelled: the first “Winger Speech” he gives in the pilot episode shows that he is a moral relativist, that there is no such thing as truth. By the end of the third season he has renounced that belief and become a moral absolutist stating that “the truth is helping others is good”.
Competition Freak: He just has to be the best at everything he participates in. This nearly drives him crazy when he meets Rich at the pottery class.
Cool Big Bro: He steps into the role for the younger members of the study group. An early example would be during The Tag when he walks in on a krumping session between Troy and Abed and soon joins them.
Dismotivation: Played with; Jeff wants to get his degree, get out of Greendale and back into his cushy high-powered lawyer lifestyle, but is incredibly lazy, used to coasting on his wits and charm, and sees doing any more than the bare minimum amount of effort required to get by, be it in getting his degree or doing anything for his friends, as a personal failure. Naturally, he often falls into the trap of doing more to actually avoid doing anything (and consequently bringing on more trouble and strife to himself as a result) than would be necessary if he just sucked it up and put an honest effort in.
The Ditherer: Played with; on the surface, Jeff is confident, charismatic and in-control, which is why everyone treats him as The Leader, but when you look closer it’s increasingly clear that while he can talk a good game he’s never really committed to anything meaningful in his life before the study group and always takes what he thinks/assumes is the easy option out of a situation because it saves him from having to risk anything or actually take a stand about something.
The Dulcinea Effect: Jeff decides he had a crush on Britta in the very first episode and spends the rest of the season pursuing her until they hook up in the semi-finale.
Freudian Excuse: Jeff drastically changed his image and attitude after a brutal lashing at foosball—a loss so bad that young Jeff actually wet himself—by a bully who turns out to be Shirley when he was 10 years old.
His parents’ divorce led to him choosing his future line of work because he wanted to be unafflicted by emotional vulnerabilities. His problems with commitment most likely stem from the same root.
Good People Have Good Sex: Inverted; Jeff, a self-centred and emotionally closed-off Jerkass, seems to be good at seducing women when he wants to, but if Britta (the only member of the study group who has actually had sex with him) is to be believed, he's not actually very good in bed.
Decoy Protagonist: His role as the lone viewpoint character lasts maybe halfway into the first season and rapidly diminishes from there.
Season 3 presents a bit of a Deconstruction of him; his more negative traits, influences and effects on the group were increasingly the focus of the plots surrounding him, and the group as a whole generally seemed to be increasingly resistant to/intolerant of his usual tactics and behaviours. He’s also been revealed to be very messed up.
Hidden Depths: It’s frequently made clear that beneath the smooth, confidently amoral charmer, there’s basically a wounded and lonely ten-year-old trying to build a shell around himself. To a lesser degree, despite his surface disdain for the geek culture exemplified by Troy and Abed he’s very good at spotting Abed’s pop culture references and, according to “Home Economics”, apparently collected Spider-Man comics. A lot of his vanity also stems from deep-seated body image issues, and he once admitted that he was afraid of being fat because he believed that if he was fat no one would like him.
Hipster: Jeff tends to occupy the ‘vain, self-centered and obsessed with being the coolest-yet-most-aloof person in the room’ part of the stereotype.
Hot Guys Are Bastards: He’s getting (a bit) better, but he still has a tendency to use his looks as an excuse for being a jerk.
Hypocrite: His aloof sense of smug superiority towards Greendale and almost everyone around him can take on this edge when you remember that he's a failed lawyer who's reduced to having to attend a crummy community college in order to qualify for the degrees he falsified; objectively speaking, he's just as much a loser as everyone around him that he looks down on.
Inferiority Superiority Complex: It’s often suggested that underneath his confidence, charm and superior attitudes to his friends and Greendale in general, Jeff has some very deep-seated self-esteem issues.
It's All About Me: Jeff clearly thinks he’s the centre of the universe and that everything revolves around him, and can get very edgy when someone suggests otherwise.
Jerkass: His default setting. While the study group has enabled him to gradually develop and display a heart of gold, he originally wasn’t very nice at all, and can occasionally regress.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Almost on every episode he is in when he has to rescue the group from their hijinks. Lampshaded by Britta in “Modern Warfare”. In fact, it can be argued that this trope is Reconstructed with Jeff. He seems to have fully evolved (if that can be considered character evolution) into a spot-on depiction of this trope by the end of season 3.
In season 3 we are shown literally what is in his heart: Annie, Annie’s breasts, an opulent house, liquor, expensive cars, gambling, his cell phone, a golden retriever, and a Hollywood actress. He settles on having a drink.
Mommy Issues: His mother praised him too much and now he has trouble accepting failure.
The Movie Buff: Nowhere near Abed, of course, but he does pick on most of Abed’s references and displays a higher than average amount of movie knowledge. Justified in that he was practically raised by TV.
Lampshaded by Jeff in “Digital Estate Planning” when Gilbert cheats.
You’re cheating! Which I have no problem with, except you’re getting caught, and that’s not cool!
Not so Above It All: He may think of himself as the Only Sane Man, but in reality he’s had his share of crazy moments too and will occasionally join in with Troy and Abed’s antics.
Not So Different: It’s often made clear that Jeff and Pierce are not quite so different as Jeff would like to believe, and that Pierce is essentially what a future version of Jeff will look like if he doesn’t improve his ways and character.
Only Sane Man: Jeff likes to think and act like he’s this, and it’s initially played more-or-less straight, but it’s gradually subverted over the course of the series when it becomes apparent that he’s in many ways more messed up than any of his wackier friends.
Perma Stubble: In season 3 and onward, although he does spend the occasional episode clean-shaven.
Precision F-Strike: Jeff is the only character to swear (censored, of course) in the two documentary episodes.
Jeff: What are you doing?
Abed: Shooting a documentary on Changnesia.
Jeff: Oh, for fuck's sake!
The Reveal: The person he’s constantly texting is nobody.
Sanity Slippage: Caused by Rich’s perfection and hearing Pierce’s news about his father visiting him.
Secular Hero: He’s agnostic, much to the collective derision of the study group.note Everyone else has definitively made up their minds about whatever gods may or may not exist: Annie is Jewish, Abed is Muslim, Shirley is Christian (specifically Baptist), Troy's a Jehovah’s Witness, Britta's an atheist, and Pierce belongs to a cult he calls “Reformed Neo-Buddhism”.
Selective Obliviousness: When it comes to his treatment of Pierce. In his arguments with Annie about him, Jeff frequently takes the position that Pierce is just fundamentally a Jerkass, whereas Annie makes the case that it's only because people are always treating him poorly that he acts out. It is perhaps worth noting that out of the study group, Jeff is the most unrepentantly snide, mean-spirited and dismissive of Pierce and treats him poorly more frequently than the others, thus potentially explaining why he might not want to consider the possibility that it's his own treatment of Pierce that has caused most of the problems.
Shout-Out: Dan Harmon has said that Winger is named for (and his personality modeled after) John Winger of Stripes.
Smug Smiler: One of his default expressions is a incredibly self-satisfied smirk.
Sore Loser: He basically storms off in a huff in "A Fistful of Paintballs" when he's the first person to get eliminated in the final battle.
Stepford Snarker: Feigns cynicism and indifference in order to hide his feelings.
"Stop Having Fun" Guy: In general, his rather snide and cooler-than-thou attitude and efforts to demonstrate aloof and ironic detachment at all times can sometimes mean that he can ruin the fun a bit (alternatively, he can seem to have it most at the expense of someone else). Seems especially the case in “Remedial Chaos Theory” where the timeline resulting in him going to get the pizza is ultimately the one were everyone ends up having the most fun.
Team Dad: Reluctantly. It also adds a level of Electra complex to his flirtation with Annie, which Jeff finds somewhat disturbing.
Papa Wolf: Despite being rude and dismissive towards his friends on a regular basis, he’s very protective of them whenever things get ugly or dangerous.
Toxic Friend Influence: His leadership isn’t always for the best, and he can be a rather negative force in the group and toward his friends at times.
Unknown Rival: He instantly assumes Rich is just pretending to be nice and drives himself crazy trying to prove it, insisting that he doesn’t care the whole time. Then there’s the Black Rider, who has no idea why this guy with the big forehead is obsessed with being more handsome than him.
Abed: I can tell life from TV, Jeff. TV makes sense; it has structure, logic, rules, and likable leading men. In life, we have this. We have you.
White Guilt: After Jeff and Troy find out their new friend Joshua was a blatant racist, Jeff offers to buy Troy frozen yogurt as his white guilt was driving him nuts.
White Male Lead: Out of two black people, an Arabic guy, an Asian guy, and three women on the cover, the main character ends up being the white guy. Although the series has become a lot more of an ensemble piece over time.
To be fair to the show, Joel McHale was the cast member with the most TV credits to his name (save for Chevy Chase, who—not being the main character at all—was given the And Starring credit).
Actor Allusion: Jeff and Chang laughing about Cherry Daiquiri, and then talking to Britta. (Gillian Jacobs played Cherry Daiquiri in the movie version of Choke.)
Adorkable: Gillian Jacobs describes Britta (and herself) with this exact word in one of the season 3 commentaries.
All Girls Want Bad Boys: She seems to have quite the thing for damaged goods, jerks and weirdos; subject to a process of Deconstruction in that it’s made clear that this is due to severe self-esteem issues on her part, and she initiates these relationships as a self-destructive way of validating her own lack of self-worth.
Troy: What don’t you get about this? Britta likes guys who are mean to her. She doesn’t like herself.
The Veronica to Annie's Betty also for Jeff's Archie.
The Archie to Jeff's Veronica and Troy's Betty.
Book Dumb/Genius Ditz: Of a sort, at least; while her knowledge of psychological theory is shown to be quite lacking and her over-eagerness to apply this flawed knowledge makes her the subject of derision, she is often shown to actually be quite insightful about pinpointing people’s issues and what they should do to address them. Unfortunately, because her flawed theoretical knowledge makes her sound like an idiot, people (particularly Jeff) are often inclined to dismiss her advice out of hand when perhaps they shouldn’t.
Break the Haughty: Like Jeff, Britta tends to have a rather high opinion of herself. Again like Jeff, many of the plots involving her tend to involve knocking her off her high horse as humiliatingly as possible.
Butt Monkey: If it’s not Pierce, it’s Britta. Per Troy, she’s the AT&T of people.
Characterization Marches On: In her earliest appearances, she was a much more intelligent, snarky, "perfect" woman who often deserved her "high horse" standing because of her moral or intellectual standing (although not always; the character was just as frequently exposed as being something of a hypocrite at times). By season 2, though, these aspects of her character were gone without a trace, and she had become the more chilled out (though occasionally a Liberal Strawman) version of her that persisted through the rest of the show. The standing explanation is that Gillian Jacobs greatly prefers to play oddball wacky characters over morally superior characters, and negotiated to make her character more "fun", at the expense of the character's dignity. This also contributed to her persistent status as the series Butt Monkey.
The Ditherer: Played with, but in a more straightforward fashion than Jeff: like him, on the surface she seems committed to her various causes and has a very forceful, loud personality, but it quickly becomes apparent that she’s not nearly as dedicated as she wants other people to believe she is, and most of her loudness is bluster designed to conceal the fact that she can’t really manage to get things together and take responsibility for her life.
Does Not Like Men: A somewhat mild example; she definitely has and expresses some rather unflattering views about the male gender as a whole, but it’s less that she hates men and can’t stand to be around them (indeed, she’s good friends with three of them and also knows Pierce), and more that her feminist views have managed to (erroneously) convince her that, as a woman, she’s inherently superior to them.
Hell-Bent for Leather: Was once referred to as the girl with “the infinite supply of leather jackets”. The thread of Britta's hypocrisy is reflected in her attempt to look like a sexy bad ass in animal skins while professing proudly not to eat them. Eventually she undergoes a wardrobe makeover sans leather jackets symbolic of her being less hypocritical and perhaps less of a sexy bad-ass as well.
Hidden Depths: Has a hidden talent for planning weddings. It upsets her as if that humiliated her as a feminist.
Hipster: Like Jeff, much as she might try to deny it Britta is totally a hipster. In particular, she tends to occupy the ‘pretentious, smug and poorly informed left-winger’ aspect of the stereotype. And she’s apparently always been a hipster—for example, she deliberately tracked down VHS bootlegs of Rebop as a child.
Hypocrite: Although the Soapbox Sadie, Ditz and Granola Girl aspects of her character would be gradually heightened for comedy over time, hypocrisy has been an aspect of Brittas character since the early days of the show—the second episode reveals that her championing of social justice causes is mainly for appearances and credibility points and she doesn’t really do anything towards them, and the fifth episode reveals that her trumpeting of honesty as being her big defining feature is a sham when she admits to having cheated on a Spanish test.
Earlier still, in the very first episode, Britta conceals her smoking habit from Jeff until he catches her outside with a cigarette while running out to the football field. It’s especially funny because Jeff could easily have been the one to be found out in that scene.
This is lampshaded in "The Psychology of Letting Go", when Annie, having had to put up with an episode of snide self-righteousness from Britta about her efforts to appeal to guys, angrily points out that despite her posturing Britta obviously also cares about getting attention from men seeing as she wears stripper boots, eats celery and mustard for lunch and gets up "an hour early to ever so slightly curl [her] hair."
As noted above, she proudly and smugly lauds her vegetarian practices over the other members of the study group while simultaneously owning "an infinite supply of leather jackets".
Hypocritical Humor: Seeing as there’s a bit of a gulf between Britta’s beliefs and her actions, she tends to generate this kind of humor.
Inferiority Superiority Complex: Often when her obnoxious, Soapbox Sadie façade is broken down, she reveals her vulnerable side, admitting she actually hates herself, even going as far as to compare herself unfavourably to cancer at one point. A lot of the things she does are to gain respect from others, especially the study group. In Season 3, she discovers a new method of trying to gain respect: touting the fact that she’s a psych major and (unsuccessfully) showing off her psych skills.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Britta tends towards being rather obnoxious, self-righteous and inept, but her heart is generally in the right place and it’s often made clear that she’d jump through fire for her friends.
Meaningful Name: Britta is a rather brittle person, who puts on a tough, confident and self-impressed front but is really a rather unstable stew of neuroses and insecurities when you get past the surface. Pierce accidentally foreshadows this in the pilot by introducing her to Jeff (belatedly) as “Brittles”.
No Social Skills: Her reactions to certain situations tend to be inappropriate or just nonsensical. According to Word of God, this is why she plays a "malfunctioning robot" in "Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas".
Not so Above It All: It’s suggested a few times that, despite her Straw Feminist-like disdain for traditional women’s roles, gender binaries and their trappings (such as marriage) and her tendency to lord it over Shirley and Annie when they display interests that align to this, she’s not quite as detached from them as she likes to believe, most notably in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”, she displays a surprising innate and instinctive talent for floral arrangement and wedding preparation.
Not So Different: With Shirley. Although they often come from different ends of the spectrum when it comes to their religious and political beliefs and often clash because of it, they’re more alike than they thinkin particular, they both tend to get very self-righteous about their particular standards (often without justification) and will often drive the other members of the group up the wall with their moralizing when they get up on their respective high horses.
The first season onwards also makes it pretty clear that as much as she disdains Jeff for his superficial, selfish and self-centred nature, she is in many ways just as superficial, selfish and self-centered.
Person as Verb: In-Universe: To "Britta" something means to screw it up, usually by making a stupid mistake. Lampshaded in "Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps":
Jeff: You probably just Britta'd the test results. Britta: Are people using my name as slang to mean "make a small mistake?"
Deconstructed in "Herstory as Dance"; during his What the Hell, Hero? speech to Jeff about his Jerkass behaviour to Britta, Pierce points out that Jeff persistently using a friend's name as a synonym for screwing up and failure is a good indicator that Jeff's actually a pretty crappy friend. Humbled by this, in his congratulatory text to Britta after the concert she organises goes well Jeff makes a point of saying that she "Britta'd the hell out of it".
Playing Gertrude: Though not obscenely so. In the first episode (which originally aired on September 17, 2009) Abed tells Jeff that her 29th birthday is coming up in October. Gillian Jacobs did have her birthday—her 27th birthday—on October 13, 2009.
Progressively Prettier: Britta was several steps up from ugly to begin with and whether or not it was intentional is unknown, but gets more and more beautiful as the show passes, reflecting how she put her life back on track at Greendale.
Rape as Backstory: While it may not have been rape, it has been implied that she was molested by a man in a dinosaur costume when she was 11. With the way the show has spun it, it seems like it may also count as Black Comedy Rape.
Soapbox Sadie: Parodied; she will latch on to any excuse to jump onto her high horse about something, especially if the something in question is something that is no longer as radical or controversial as she thinks it is. This tends to lead to her making a fool of herself.
Women Are Wiser: None of the characters is a flawless human being, but she tries to act, invoke and otherwise claim this trope (particularly for herself) more than the others, which tends to lead to Hypocritical Humor when reality or her own character flaws trip her up and prove her wrong—usually immediately after. She does admit at one point that she doesn’t really consider herself to be so deep down, however, and her heart is generally in the right place even if there’s a gulf between her opinion of herself and the reality.
Played by Chevy Chase.The oldest member of the study group; a local curmudgeon and a wealthy but lonely tycoon who attends Greendale primarily to find company and give himself something to do. Not nearly as smart or popular as he thinks, he tends to act inappropriately and thus come across as more-or-less inadvertently racist, sexist and buffoonish.
Adam Westing: Up until the beginning of 2011 or so, Chevy Chase was absolutely notorious for being difficult to work with. He briefly turned it around, but Pierce’s status as the group’s in-universe Scrappy-Doo and general Jerkassness can be seen as him essentially playing who he thinks he used to be.
Alternatively, this could be seen as the producers of the show lampooning Chase, since several behind-the-scenes reports (most notably the feud between Chase and Dan Harmon, although the same reports in that case also suggested that Harmon himself wasn’t exactly blameless in the situation either) have suggested that Chase isn’t exactly the easiest person to work with or the most popular person on set.
And in November 2012, Chase formally severed his affiliation with Community, requiring the writers to graduate Pierce from Greendale in the Season 4 finale.
Alternate Character Interpretation: An in-universe example; the characters themselves go backwards and forwards on whether Pierce is just an irredeemable Jerkass or whether it’s the fact that people treat him like a fool that makes him act out that way. Jeff usually takes the former interpretation, Annie the latter.
Death by Irony: The reason he did so much of it is because he left each member of the study group a cylinder of his frozen sperm in his will. After filling up all the cylinders, he died of dehydration.
Genius Ditz: He’s actually a competent businessman and a skilled orator.
Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Pierce hates the thought of anyone pitying him for any reason. Unfortunately, he’s also so desperate for attention that rather than accept people’s pity, he’ll instead lash out in more negative ways to the point that pity ends up being the last thing anyone feels for him, even if he genuinely warrants it.
Flanderization: Into a massive racist. Combining with Out of Focus as shown below and you get a character who now does little more than spout racist one-liners before shuffling out of focus again, which was reportedly one of the main reasons Chevy Chase was increasingly frustrated with and dismissive of the show.
Pierce: You know I’ve been coming to this school for twelve years? I—I’ve never been friends with anyone here for more than a semester. Probably for the same reason I’ve been married seven times. I guess I assume eventually I’ll get rejected, so I, you know, test people, push them until they prove me right. It’s a sickness, I admit it. But, this place has always accepted me, sickness and all. This place accepted all of you. Sickness and all. It’s worth thinking about.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: A very minor example; there are occasionally glimpses of someone more likeable, decent and sympathetic within Pierce, but they’re buried almost impenetrably deep within a crust and outer core of insufferable Jerkass. In general, if anyone’s going to reveal Pierce’s nicer side, it’s Annie.
Kavorka Man: He’s been divorced seven times. This means seven different women agreed to marry him in the first place.
The Load: Whenever the group does a group activity. Subverted in "Basic Human Anatomy", when he does the group's History project by himself after they all left him behind to go have their episode plots.
Manipulative Bastard: Best showed in “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”, where he makes the rest of the group paranoid for ostracizing him.
Mistaken for Racist: Despite his obvious lack of sensitivity, there are times when he genuinely doesn’t intend to be offensive.
Not So Different: Despite their obvious disdain for him, Pierce arguably has this going on with all the other members of the study group even if they don't want to acknowledge it:
It's most prominent with Jeff, as it's often suggested that Pierce is essentially what an older version of Jeff will look like if Jeff doesn't improve his ways;
Like Britta, Pierce often takes over-the-top offence at quasi-imagined slights and has some questionable political views (and understanding);
He shares Abed's social ineptness and tendency to say whatever's on his mind regardless of who it might offend;
He's intensely over-competitive and determined to win whatever the cost (even if it risks ruining his relationships with the people around him), like Annie. They also share a history of substance abuse;
Shirley is often offended by his ignorance, intolerance and bigotry, but she can often be just as ignorant, intolerant and even bigoted;
Like Troy, he's immature, a bit egotistical, and not very intelligent.
The Obi-Wannabe: Fortunately, it’s pretty obvious to the rest of the study group from the beginning.
His cameo in the Season 5 opener plays with this, when Jeff encounters what initially appears to be Pierce's sprit telling him, "Looks as if you've lost your way"... but it just turns out to be a hologram directing students to the on-campus "Pierce Hawthorne Museum of Gender Sensitivity and Sexual Potency".
Took a Level in Jerkass: In season 2, he starts engaging in self-alienating behavior while simultaneously castigating the others for alienating him; this culminates in the events of “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” “A Fistful of Paintballs,” and “For a Few Paintballs More.” In season 3, that level of jerkass seems to have receded, returning him to the sympathetic bumbler of season 1.
Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Can come across as this. Pierce’s inappropriateness, overzealous creativity, and pathological need to be accepted at all costs are all rooted in frustrations getting attention from his father and his fear that his age is now isolating himself from the rest of the study group.
Adorkable: Oh so very much. In his usual Genre Savvy way, he's actually aware that he comes across as this and that girls are attracted to him because of it.
Ambiguous Disorder: He is incredibly fascinated with films and television and is a bit obsessed with projecting their tropes onto real life. He also has a strange, somewhat sterile demeanor, doesn’t seem to know (or even when corrected, care about) how to go about certain social situations, and is face-blind. He loses his cool whenever there’s any kind of unfamiliarity in his life, even if it’s something like having the engine of his Dreamatorium being tampered with or changing the clocks for daylight savings. The characters seem to be unsure of whether or not Abed is showing symptoms of some kind of mental disorder, or is just really quirky. His parents have attempted treatment, if the syringe clipart in his student film is anything to go by.
This is lampshaded in “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” in which his ‘title’ is Abed the Undiagnosable.
However, in the pilot episode, Jeff explicitly tells him he has Asperger’s syndrome. It comes off more as an angry retort than a statement of fact.
Author Avatar: Word of God again; Dan Harmon has said that he has eventually come to believe that Abed is the character that best represented him. Make what you will of the reveal of Abed as the Only Sane Man in "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps", which came after Harmon had first publicly said that he felt this way.
Later episodes seem to be suggesting that Abed is not as accurate as he thinks, however; “Virtual Systems Analysis” suggests that his analysis is ultimately affected by his insecurities and his personal relationships with the group. In that episode, his predictions lead him to conclude that Britta and Troy’s lunch date will go poorly; this is a reflection of his underlying concern that he will be gradually excluded, however, and the date in fact goes very well.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: His encyclopedic command of tropes gives him the full-on power of prophecy. He shot a video where the study group bands together to stop Jeff from living out of his car … the week before it happened to the characters themselves.
Dawson Casting: Abed’s exact age is never specified, but he’s probably in his early twenties. Danny Pudi was 30 when the series began airing.
Deconstruction: His problems and issues were a central focus in Season 3, along with the difficulties that his condition produced in enabling him to form connections with and empathize with others. By the end of the season, he mentally snaps and admits that he does have problems and needs help.
Ditzy Genius: There is no one who knows more about pop culture than Abed.
The Empath: He predicts the way the other characters will act with eerie accuracy, thanks to his surprising insight which especially shows in the film about his dad.
Fake Nationality: Abed and his dad as Palestinians, or as any kind of Arab: Danny Pudi (Abed) is half-Indian and half-Polish (and grew up speaking Polish in Chicago), while Iqbal Theba (Abed’s dad) is Pakistani. The Arabic they speak in “Introduction to Film,” however, is real.
As he says, talking about people like they’re in a TV show is his gimmick and that they “leaned pretty hard on that last week.” He then says that he “can lay low for an episode.” As mentioned above, this becomes Dangerously Genre Savvy at times (oddly enough it is relatively rare that he is victim to Wrong Genre Savvy).
Hidden Depths: "Virtual Systems Analysis" reveals that he is deeply insecure about his place in the group. To elaborate, Annie tells him that his "simulations" in the Dreamitorium need to take other people's feelings into account (and she messes around with his mock-up "Dreamitorium engine" to reflect this change). This causes him to go into a Heroic BSOD and drag Annie into a "simulation" where other people's feelings are taken into account, from which he is noticably absent. Annie later finds him jammed into a simulated locker, where he reveals his fear that if he considers how the rest of the group feels, then he'll have to face the possibility that they don't actually want him around.
That being said, there are a few times when it’s arguable he’s done so already. He sung a variation of the theme song in “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” It’s almost like Abed can see the fourth wall out of the corner of his eye, and the only thing he can’t do is look into the camera and address the audience.
From the same episode, as they walk through the valley where the plants sing Christmas carols, Pierce asks if it will be “expensive to walk though here, to which Abed answers “No, these songs are all public domain.” That joke doesn’t even make sense out of the context of them knowing they’re in a TV show. Suffice to say, Community plays pretty fast and loose with the fourth wall.
But that’s the beauty of Abed—the joke does make sense if you believe Abed is such a Cloudcookoolander that he sometimes believes he’s a character in a TV series, and talks in a manner consistent with being one, when he isn’t (even though he is). Abed is a TV character who often has delusions that he is a TV character; this is part of his characterisation and it is possible for him to comment on it without breaking the fourth wall.
In the “Twittersode” before the Season Two finale, Abed is the only one able to see that every character ends their tweets with a hashtag referencing the show itself.
AbedsTweets: Why do we keep typing “// #NBCCommunity?” JeffWingerAtLaw: @AbedsTweets Nobody knows what you’re talking about. AGAIN.=]
Only Sane Man: Played with; he definitely has some issues, but despite his eccentric way of looking at the world, Abed can sometimes come across as being more sensible, calm and down-to-earth than his supposedly more ‘normal’ friends. Seemingly confirmed in a literal way at the end of “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps,” where it’s revealed that Britta’s only psych test that didn’t come up with something absolutely dreadful was his.
However, Season 3 reveals that Abed is quite fragile without the stabilizing presence of Troy, and is aware of the risk of being institutionalised if he loses his grip. After trying to cut off Jeff’s arm, its hard to call him the only sane man.
Pass the Popcorn: Part of his Meta Guy shtick. He goes as far as giving cues to the players so they know how to proceed cinematically.
In his own words, “I know you guys all so well I can predict your behavior.”
There’s a throwaway reference to Rain Man in “Physical Education” when Jeff spills a bag of bagels on the floor and Abed glances down at them briefly before saying, “Thirteen.”
Pierce and Duncan have both referred to him as such.
In “Pillows and Blankets”, the opening narration describes him as “unable to pay parking tickets or know left from right without mouthing the Pledge of Allegiance.”
In “Virtual Systems Analysis”, Abed has a voiceover, “I am Abed Nadir, and I don’t know a lot of things everyone else knows,” while an analog clock (confirmed in “Basic Lupine Urology”), a restaurant check, shoes with untied laces, and a pile of papers (possibly tax forms) float around.
Abed’s Season 3 quirks are symptoms of dyscalculia, most obviously his difficulty with analog clocks and left/right confusion. The disorder is characterized by difficulty with arithmetic, conflicting with the Rain Man reference from Season 1.
Lampshaded in “Digital Estate Planning” when he becomes rather fond of an NPC in the game they’re playing:
Britta: Abed, she’s a program.
Abed: People have said similar things about me.
Pierce: Uh oh, he’s playing the Rain Man card. Let’s bounce.
Abed: Troy invented rap music, and hes related to Danny Glover, and President Obama. Troy: Hey man, that stuff I said this morning wasn’t true, I was just messing with you. Abed: You were lying? Troy: Yeah, as a joke. You’ve never had somebody mess with you before? Abed: Yes, just kidding, no. Like that? … This isn’t a table. (Laughs) … That’s funny.
Took a Level in Jerkass: Season 3 saw him become a bit more ill-tempered and insulting to his friends than the first two seasons.
Two Decades Behind: His 1980s references. Abed is aged somewhere between 21 and 27, which makes his constant ’80s references 10 to 20 years behind where they should be. Most of his references should be from The Nineties and the Turn of the Millennium. Obviously the reason is because Dan Harmon (born January 3, 1973) and his references are taken from the ’80s and early ’90s when he grew up and are transferred into his writing. The show has lampshaded this oddity; it’s often made clear that Abed is a fanatical consumer of pop culture in a way most people aren’t and that he goes to way greater lengths than most would in pursuit of it. The weirdest example is his encyclopaedic knowledge of Whos The Boss which (depending on the exact age of Abed) began when Abed wouldn’t have been born yet and ended before he had started preschool.
Not necessarily weird, given his penchant for marathon-ing already finished TV shows.
The Unsmile: Averted. His most common expression is a dead pokerface, but on the couple of occasions when he does smile … it’s pretty adorable.
Played enormously straight in “Remedial Chaos Theory”, though he’s obviously forcing it.
Vague Age: He’s somewhere in his twenties, but where?
Jeff: Abed is an adult and a U.S. citizen … right? Abed: (nods)
"Well Done, Son" Guy: At first his traditionalist father is disappointed that he wants to study film instead of taking over the family falafel restaurant. He later changes his mind after seeing one of his son’s films.
The Alcoholic: Started drinking a lot after her divorce, and in the darkest timeline as well.
All Love Is Unrequited: All of her attempts toward romance after her divorce fail, including her memorable fling with the sexy dreadlocks guy in “Contemporary American Poultry”. Abed proves to her that the only reason he hung around Shirley was because she fed him chicken fingers.
The Atoner: It’s implied on a few occasions that the strength of her religious faith has something to do with her guilt about her former alcoholism, and it’s outright stated that it has a lot to do with her being a bully as a twelve-year-old.
Badass Preacher: Shirley is both the most religious member of the study group and the most prone to violence. She’s absolutely terrifying in “Pillows and Blankets”.
She cosplayed as one of these during the second paintball game.
Berserk Button: She is touchy about her age, her weight, and doesn’t particularly appreciate jibes about her religious beliefs either.
Beware the Nice Ones: Shirley in general appears to have deep-seated rage issues underneath her saccharine-sweet exterior, as noted by Jeff in the pilot:
Jeff: Shirley has earned our respect. Not as a wife, not as a mother, but as a woman. And don’t test her on that, because that thing about the jukebox was way too specific to be improvised.
Shirley also threatens Jeff with a pizza slicer at one point.
She's extremely vicious during the campus-wide pillow fight in "Pillows and Blankets".
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: She can come off like this — her sugary-sweet exterior conceals an extremely short and sometimes vicious temper, a self-righteous and judgemental nature and what can be quite a bitchy personality at times.
Black Best Friend: Mostly to Annie but sometimes to Britta, and in one episode, to Jeff.
Heel-Face Turn: Did one as a 12-year-old girl, after making 10-year-old Jeff wet his pants.
Hiding Behind Religion: Jeff accuses Shirley of this in “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” when he learns that Shirley was his childhood bully. While he’s (understandably) overwrought at the time and Shirley is a genuinely religious person, a good case can be made that this isn’t actually that far off from the truth; she does tend to use her religious beliefs as a way of feeling superior to others, manipulating them into doing what she wants through guilt and avoiding having to address the less savoury aspects of her personality (such as her volatile temper).
Holier Than Thou: Shirley is both the most passionately religious member of the study group and the most insufferably self-righteous and judgmental about it.
Hypocrite: She's not nearly as moral and upstanding as she likes to think she is.
Hypocritical Humor: Shirley tends to produce this kind of humour, usually by comparing various beliefs/ideas/practices unfavourably to her religious beliefs only to then either engage in the same things herself or by inadvertently suggesting that her particular beliefs are Not So Different to those she condemns in condemning them.
Innocent Bigot: What she tries to pull off toward the members of the study group. It doesn’t go so well.
Shirley: (to Annie) I didn’t know you were a … Jew?
Ironic Echo: “That’s not nice...” in “Modern Warfare”.note To be fair to Shirley, Jeff had explicitly stated his intention to take the prize—priority class registration for the next semester—for himself. However, when he wins the game, he does offer her the chance to take exclusively morning classes so that she can go home to spend more time with her children.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Although she can be a self-righteous ass to people especially in her younger years towards kids like Jeff, she does insist on being kind and is genuinely happy for anyone in the group when something ‘nice’ happens to them.
Manipulative Bitch: Whenever she uses religion, her Team Mom tendencies or, really, any predicament that befalls her as an excuse to get people to do as she wants.
Jeff: Let me guess. I’m not going to make a pregnant woman storm off?
Not so Above It All: When Jeff gets into a fight in “Comparative Religion”. At first, she is insistent on considering Jeff ‘dead to her’ if he goes to his fight, but later on she admits the bullies Jeff was facing deserved a nice whooping and gets into it herself. Along with the entire study group.
Mike: What would Shirley do?
Jeff: She would shake your hand and wish you a merry Christmas.
(Mike slams Jeff down)
Shirley: Jeffrey! Kick his ass.
This comes back brilliantly in the video game episode, where at first she is appalled at Annie killing a (virtual) blacksmith … but when his pregnant wife comes downstairs, Shirley sets her on fire and smashes her to death and quickly goes on to make sure the whole family is dead and that the house is completely destroyed once they leave.
Odd Couple: Being a devoutly religious African-American homemaker and housewife, she tends to generate this kind of dynamic with Britta, who is almost her exact opposite in every way. Less so with Annie, whom she seems closer to, as they’re quite similar in many ways.
Actually, Shirley is largely an aversion of this trope, as Yvette Brown points out in this roundtable interview that she and the show’s other female regulars conducted during their last day of shooting for season 3:
“As a black actor, it’s refreshing that I’m not playing the ‘sassy black woman.’ It’s something that Dan Harmon was cognizant of from the beginning. It is something that I’m always cognizant of. Every woman on the planet has sass and smart-ass qualities in them, but it seems sometimes only black women are defined by it. Shirley is a fully formed woman that had a sassy moment. Her natural set point, if anything, is rage. That’s her natural set point, suppressed rage, which comes out as kindness and trying to keep everything tight.”
Unreliable Narrator: Concerning her marriage. In season one, almost every reference she made to her husband centred around what a complete and utterly irredeemable bastard he was. Given that when we finally met him he turned out to be a pretty decent guy genuinely contrite about what happened, in addition to it being revealed that Shirley had problems with alcohol in her past, it can be safely assumed that Shirley is exaggerating and may not be as faultless in the original breakdown of her marriage as previously suggested.
I’m Annie Edison, but people call me Psycho because I had a nervous breakdown in high school.
Played by Alison Brie.An insecure and neurotic overachiever attending Greendale following an addiction to prescription medication which ruined her previously flawless high-school record. Intelligent and driven, she’s usually perky and cheerful but tends to get tightly-wound and uptight when things fail to go to plan or when matters of grades or academic achievement arise.
She’s an interesting version of this, as rather than being called Hollywood Homely, she’s accepted as being ‘cute’ most of the time, but goes to a more sexy appearance by Letting Her Hair Down.
Jeff: Annie’s pretty young. We try not to sexualize her.
In another odd example, Troy is actually unaware that Annie is attractive until Jeff points it out to him. Then again, Troy is not exactly the brains of the operation. And he did say that that his high school memories with her blurred out her current beauty.
Berserk Button: Being called "Little Annie Adderall", or taking her pen.
Don’t kiss her, disappear for the summer without contact and then swear you’re just friends. (Note, this was part of a fake confrontation with Jeff, but she admitted that it started getting a little real. So acting?)
Beware the Nice Ones: As "The Science of Illusion", "Anthropology 101", "Accounting For Lawyers" and "A Fistful of Paintballs"/"For a Few Paintballs More" demonstrate, irking Annie Edison is not recommended. She can ge... aggressive.
Annie has no issues taking down a man twice her size with chloroform … twice. And she seems totally prepared to do it to Jeff, too.
She has also punched Jeff in the face and slammed his head into a table. Ouch.
Girliness Upgrade: Applied and then semi-inverted. Annie starts off dressing like a normal 18-year-old, then gradually begins wearing flowery dresses and cardigans more often, to the point that they comprise the bulk of her wardrobe. Come season 5, Annie's wardrobe has undergone a major overhaul to better fit her being more assertive and mature, with her wearing sweaters over blouses and pants.
Hidden Depths: She’s a lot more mature and observant than she lets on, particularly from the third season on. She recognizes her attraction to Jeff for what it is, and was able to understand and reach Abed on a level that even Troy couldn’t.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Annie can come off as being overly competitive, nagging and judgmental, but it’s mostly a front for her own neuroses, and she’s a very nice and caring person underneath it all.
Ms. Fanservice: For a series that tries not to sexualize her, Annie certainly does seem to get wet, dirty, endure clothing damage and get undressed quite a bit. Not to mention the fact that she’s the program’s go-to girl for fetishy costumes.
In the episode "Accounting for Laywers" there is a moment where Troy and Abed are caught looking at her breasts when she is shaking her chest. To be honest, most male audience members were probably looking at the same thing.
Morality Pet: To Pierce; he openly admits that she’s his favourite of the group and generally, if he reveals a nicer, more generous or decent side to his personality, Annie will be involved somehow.
She is also this to Jeff (which feeds into their Ship Tease).
Seriously Scruffy: In one of the documentary episodes, the Dean gets Annie to work as a script supervisor while he directs a commercial. He suffers from a severe case of Sanity Slippage, and after several days of putting up with his increasingly bizarre demands, Annie is completely out of it and ungroomed. She rationalizes the Dean's behaviour because she doesn't want to admit that she's wasted several weeks of her life helping him.
Sweater Girl: Cardigans appear to make up about half of her wardrobe.
Teacher's Pet: For instance, in “Physical Education”, instead of putting his binder back, Señor Chang drops it on the floor and orders Annie to pick it up.
Technical Virgin: Some have speculated that she is one, based on A) being high on Adderall, B) having never seen her boyfriend’s (or any man’s) penis, and C) her boyfriend crying throughout the act (Britta theorizes he was gay), leading some fans to (wishfully) think sex never actually occurred.
Shirley: Annie, being a virgin in this day and age is something to be proud of. You’re like a unicorn!
Teens Are Monsters: She appears to have been on the receiving end of this trope a lot during high school
Verbal Tic: Her little half-gasp, half-squeak of indignant horror whenever she’s shocked or offended.
Vocal Evolution: Her voice is getting noticeably less high-pitched and little-girl-ish as the series goes on.
Well Done Daughter Girl: It’s implied at times that a lot of Annie’s issues (including her pill addiction) stem from overly demanding, hypercritical parents, her mother especially, whose expectations she could never hope to meet.
Actor Allusion: In “The Politics of Human Sexuality”, when Pierce discusses bringing a date to the STD fair, Troy muses “There’s a joke here,” and begins to write in his notebook. Donald Glover, in addition to being an actor and musician, is also a standup comedian. In “Advanced Criminal Law”, Abed mentions that Troy, as a joke, says he is related to Danny Glover.
The Cast Showoff: Glover, who has released Alternative Rap records under the name Childish Gambino, finally gets a chance to rap in “Regional Holiday Music.”
Also, his dancing skills in “Interpretive Dance”.
Catch Phrase: “You just wrinkled my brain” and “He/She is like the (insert terrible thing here) of people”. Often attributed to him, though he’s never said it, is “I like (insert thing here), but also I don’t”.
Character Development/Took a Level in Kindness: The most noticeable example on the series (except for Jeff); starts off as immature and obsessed with popularity, becomes a responsible and kind young man who’s able to hold the group together in trying times.
The end of Season 3 ultimately sees him embrace his gift for air-conditioning repair.
The Heart: Later seasons have gradually suggested that Troy might be this for the study group; it’s quite notable that on the few occasions it’s suggested or looked like he’s about to leave, things have fallen apart for everyone very quickly.
He’s usually the one who tries to stop the others from resorting to violence. But even he has his moments of weakness, it is he who suggests killing Annie after she reveals that she sabotaged the space simulation.
Hidden Depths: Has a talent for mechanical maintenance and is a phenomenal (interpretive) dancer.
Hollywood Jehovah's Witness: Averted. He is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and this is often referenced and demonstrated in that he doesn’t celebrate Christmas or birthdays. However, you otherwise couldn’t tell that he was a Witness if he didn’t say so.
“Yeah, but we don’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas and we can’t drink. But it helps.”
Jerk Jock/Dumb Jock: He’s more lovable now but apparently in high school, and to a degree in the early episodes of the show, Troy wasn’t without his Jerkass side, as demonstrated in “Football, Feminism and You” when a chance to join the Greendale football team ends up with him strutting around in a self-obsessed manner lambasting people at random with his “politically conservative high school’s shamefully outdated fight rap(s).”
Black and Nerdy: Hanging out with Abed has had an effect on him, in that he’s gradually lost interest in his former jock pursuits and has embraced his inner geek more.
The Leader: He occasionally supplants Jeff in the role. Unlike Jeff, he’s a clear Type II.
Lovable Jock: If Troy didn’t start out as this, then he’s certainly grown into it.
Malaproper: Some of his gems include “all tomato” (ultimatum), escape goat” (scapegoat) and “jugglenaut” (juggernaut).
Man Child: Troy's last year of high school he witnesses Annie scream during a party “Everyone’s a robot!” as she ran through a window. As a result, it seems Troy remains a man-child out of fear. Shortly after Annie's dramatic departure Troy faked an injury by doing a keg flip. Troy's fake injury guaranteed that he could remain in his comfort zone as a man-child a little while longer. By delaying manhood he could continue to live a fun care-free life and not become an adult weighed down by the responsibilities of life thus becoming a robot. During a wedding Troy and Abed make an agreement not to act "weird". However, "weird" is really code for their childlike behaviors. When Troy sees the the monkey which he named "Annie's Boobs" run into the air ducts, he uses this as an excuse to escape the conformity (robot behaviors) of the adults around him. Abed would have continued with his appropriate adult like behaviors at the wedding had it not been for Troy pulling him back into the comfort of behaving like children together.
Messianic Archetype: He’s apparently this for the air-conditioning repair school. Much to his bemusement.
Nice Guy: As mentioned above, there’s a reason he and Britta are the only two members of the study group who haven’t taken a villainous role in the group at some point.
Oblivious to Love: He is completely clueless to Annie’s obsession with him for years. Ironically, Troy later finds himself in Annie’s shoes when Britta is oblivious to his crush.
Only Sane Man: A weird example. Troy is often shown to be an enormous Cloud Cuckoo Lander and man child, but only when interacting with Abed. When Abed’s not around, Troy is often the most normal member of the group.
Technically averted, since the character gives his name early in the series (“My name’s Alex, dude!”) but no one ever calls him Alex. By the end of season 2, he seems to have all but given up on people using his real name.
Faking the Dead: He is revealed to still be alive at the end of the season 3 finale.
Hidden Depths: Subverted; despite his frustration about people only noticing his surface appearance, he appears to have little actually going on beyond that:
Annie: Star-Burns doesn’t do much. I guess interesting people dont resort to growing shapes on their faces.
Hypocritical Humor: It’s a source of some frustration to him that no one seems to look under the surface appearance he presents and notice the true person he is underneath. His frequent attempts to solve this problem, however, are equally superficial things like adding a hat or a lizard to his ensemble.
Jerkass: He’s a self-admitted drug dealer, and it’s rare for him to say anything that doesn’t immediately earn asshat points.
According to “Basic Lupine Urology”, he’s also a known backpack thief.
Kavorka Man: He has inexplicably little trouble attracting female attention. Jeff seems to think bribery has something to do with it:
Jeff: [Referring to chicken fingers] He gives them away so that people will act like he isn’t Starburns.
Put on a Bus: Although his character was not only very much alive, but had been set up for a full-fledged plot arc regarding the consequences of faking his death, Dino Stamatopoulos refused to reprise the role throughout Season 4, frustrated with Sony's treatment of Dan Harmon. The most he appears is on two separate bulletin board flyers in "Advanced Introduction to Finality".
The Bus Came Back: Come Season 5, he's back again, lurking on the borders of the campus. He certainly doesn't appear to be a student anymore.
Sacrificial Lion: His ‘death’ kicks off the conflict leading to the season three finale arc.
Pandering to the Base: Invoked for parody; in “Intro to Political Science” he changes his last name to Rodriguez while running for school president to “court the Hispanic vote”. The name change appears to have stuck.
Verbal Tic: He frequently abbreviates words, even brief ones.
He always greets people 3 times.
Walking Shirtless Scene: To the chagrin of everyone. As Jeff points out, as he never wears a shirt and he never wears shoes, it’s a wonder he doesn’t die from lack of service. Later in that episode, Vaughn states that it took so long for him to get ice cream because they made him find a shirt.
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Unlike most examples, he wears the sheep’s clothing nearly all the time, but “Epidemiology” shows that he can be a self-centered jerk. Ironically, the events of the episode are forgotten by everyone involved, so he is able to keep up his façade.
Shoo Out the New Guy: Trope mocked mercilessly. He’s allegedly been in the gang’s Spanish 101 class this entire time. The entire main cast is either weirded out by his sudden, unexplained appearance in their lives or convinced he’s a murderous psycho. “Investigative Journalism” ends with Owen Wilson suddenly appearing and offering Buddy a spot in the ‘cool’ clique.
Breakout Character: Parodied. Has his own catchphrase not unlike many breakout characters from ’70s sitcoms. Time will tell if “Pop Pop!” will join “Ayy!” and “Dyno-Mite!” in the sitcom Hall of Fame. The working name for his character was even Poochie.
Dean of Greendale Community College. He’s intensely determined to raise the reputation and profile of the school to make it seem more like a ‘proper’ university but, unfortunately, is usually neither clever or competent enough to do so. Has a tendency to latch on to any excuse to both dress up in an unusual and often gender-crossing costume (particularly to deliver news) and to try and get close to Jeff.
He’s basically Tobias Fünke, albeit much less self-centered and slightly more self-aware.
Dean Pelton: Can I be perfectly honest with you guys? I think I went too far with this one.◊ I have to go to the bank today. What am I supposed to tell people in line; “I had good news and bad news?” (to himself as he leaves) Come on, Craig. Get your life together.
He’s also distressingly similar to Andrew, the actor’s character in Reno911.
Political Correctness Gone Mad: Has a tendency to slip into this, causing the creation of the “Greendale Human Being” (Jeff: “I think not being racist is the new racism”) and the non-denominational Mr. Winter (“Merry Happy!”). This habit of his is also apparently the reason the degreeless Chang got the Spanish teaching position—Pelton was afraid of being called a racist for asking an Asian man for Spanish credentials.
Played by Ken Jeong.In Season 1, the group’s sadistic, mean-spirited and inept Spanish teacher. Took up classes at Greendale in Season 2 following the loss of his job when it was revealed he had no Spanish credentials or knowledge whatsoever; Season 3 has him working as a security guard at Greendale, which leads to him staging a coup, taking over the college and eventually taken down; Season 4 has him faking amnesia to get out of any punishment for his crimes, whilst plotting to destroy Greendale & the Study Group in particular out of spite; and Season 5 has him working at Greendale as a math teacher, on work release after admitting that he was faking amnesia & owning up to his crimes. He’s a bit of a season indicator. Is largely detested by the rest of the group, but often tries to be included by them.
Abhorrent Admirer: Has this vibe with the entire study group, but mainly Jeff and Shirley.
Aborted Arc: During the second season when seen talking to himself he was supposed to be talking to his twin sister Connie, he ate in utero. Eventually she was supposed to show up in the "flesh" and they were to kiss. However, the creator and writers thought it maybe going too far.
Actor Allusion: His calm, soothing and professional approach to Shirley giving birth is a reference to Ken Jeong’s medical career before he gave it up to become a comedian/actor.
Becoming the Mask: “Kevin” started off as just a way to let Chang infiltrate Greendale to help City College crush them and allow Chang to gain revenge for being rejected. However, in “Heroic Origins” Abed convinces him that, no matter what his motives, “Kevin” is a legitimately better person now and both Greendale and the study group are giving him a second chance to turn his life around and be included.
Berserk Button: Señor Chang has several, but upon being informed in “Social Psychology” that the experiment was going to start late he immediately exploded in a violent, childish temper tantrum, involving throwing furniture and screaming “MOMMY!” Since the purpose of the experiment was to test how long people would put up with being delayed before exploding, Professor Duncan was quite pleased:
Drunk with Power: Putting Ben Chang in a position of authority (however trivial) is not a good idea, as it tends to lead to this trope. In Season 1, he basically abuses and flaunts his power and authority over his students in bullying, sadistic and at-times creepy ways. In Season 3, after spending the previous season as the Butt Monkey, he’s made a campus security guard, which has gradually seen him become, in the words of Jeff, “a psychotic wanna-be warlord.”
Everything Is Racist: Chang is rather sensitive to racism and tends to see it even if it’s not there. However, this only applies when the perceived racism is towards him; he has no problem making racist comments towards Shirley, Troy, Annie and Abed.
Freudian Excuse: “Heroic Origins” suggests that the increasing levels of insanity he underwent during season two and especially season three might stem from a dose of “experimental monkey fever” he caught from Annie’s Boobs.
Hidden Depths: “Modern Warfare” reveals that he enjoys arts and crafts and apparently paints watercolours.
Honorary True Companion: As of "Heroic Origins", Abed realises that Chang handing out fliers at Yogurts-burgh is what brought them all to Greendale. He invites Chang along for some fro-yo and tells him he’s actually been part of the group all along.
Humble Goal: “Heroic Origins” reveals that, for all his increasingly grandiose Jerkass nature and scheming, when it comes down to it all he really wants is to be included by the study group, as was his main goal in season 2.
Jerkass Has a Point: When Star-Burns protests over Chang referring to him as 'Star-Burns' rather than 'Alex', Chang counters that a guy who spends hours sculpting his side-burns into massive star-shapes doesn't really get to whine if people latch onto them as a nickname.
Panicky Expectant Father: At least until it turns out the child wasn’t his. And in his case, interestingly enough, the issue was not that he was having a child, it was if he would get to be the child’s father.
Completely subverted when Shirley gives birth, where he becomes rather soothing and very helpful in calming Shirley down.
Psychopathic Manchild: There’s a reason that, in the third season, Chang’s army was made up entirely of twelve-year-old boys.
Apathetic Teacher: Certainly as an anthropology teacher, he very visibly cannot give two whole shits about the subject or teaching anything worthwhile about it, to the extent that he doesn’t even buy the textbook since it’s too expensive, spends entire weeks playing YouTube videos, improvises a class of anesthesiology at one point simply because a pretty student got the room number wrong and sets the final exam as simply an excuse for everyone to drink. It’s possible that he improves when he’s actually teaching psychology, but considering he once expressed his astonishment at learning what anthropology actually was by exclaiming he’d “thought psychology was a dodge”, it’s very unlikely.
Demoted to Extra: The character was initially featured in early promotional material as the main professor character in the show, but after a handful of episodes he disappeared, with Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) essentially taking his place. Oliver returned in the first-season finale and was the professor for their anthropology class as a Recurring Character in season two. This was the result of Oliver’s decision to not become a regular cast member because he didn’t want to leave The Daily Show (the two programs are filmed on opposite sides of the country) and Ken Jeong’s breakout role in The Hangover in the interim between pilot and broadcast.
Laser-Guided Karma: In “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts”, he sets the final exam as an excuse for everyone to drink, orders Annie bullied down when she queries the fairness of automatically passing everyone regardless of merit, and gleefully revels in keeping the fact that Anthropology has been a complete dodge of a class all year from the Dean. So, of course, the Dean chooses the exact moment when he’s happily toasting this to walk in and completely scuttle his plans.
The fact that Abed tends to turn his psychoanalysis back on him can be considered this, since his profession tends to bring out his dickish side.
Professor Guinea Pig: An inadvertent example; every time he tries plying his trade on Abed, Abed somehow manages to turn it back on him.
Psycho Psychologist: Nonlethal version, but Duncan has been shown to run ethically questionable experiments and lure patients into therapy for ulterior motives (hitting on them and getting publication material for a case).
Troy:You do not get to call Britta the worst. *entire audience agrees loudly*
Foreshadowing: On a meta level, it transpires that he’s not the only psychopath hired by Dean Pelton. Ben Chang’s insanity in the last few episodes of season three certainly invokes this, especially as Chang escapes the same way Rad did.
The Determinator: He managed to get up to a Ph.D. in biology by studying for an hour a day for 25 years.
Genius Bruiser: Hinted at; he got his biology Ph.D. while serving a 25-year sentence for murder with only one hour’s access to the prison library a day.
Honor Before Reason: Goes along with the eccentricity of holding a trial for the Study Group’s dead yam because he believes that people deserve an unbiased chance to prove their innocence.
Locked Out of the Loop: “What the hell is going on at this school? I have so many conversations that don’t make any sense.”
Psychologist Teacher: Played with; Kane doesn’t show much active interest in or desire to mentor Jeff, but in “Biology 101” and “Basic Lupine Urology” several of his chance remarks are things that Jeff later comes to take to heart. He’s probably been more successful in helping Jeff get over himself than any of the teachers we’ve seen thus far, albeit inadvertently.
Heel-Face Turn: He spends much of Season 3 as a threatening, powerful and malevolent force threatening, bullying and manipulating to try and get Troy into the AC Repair Annex. Once Troy is in, however, he mellows considerably and shows genuine interest in helping Troy achieve what he views as his destiny.
Hollywood Mid Life Crisis: He spends the latter part of Season 3 “going through some stuff”—since said ‘stuff’ involves growing a goatee and a ponytail, it’s not hard to make the leap to this trope.
"History is written by the victors. Of course, we all know the quote, but what does it mean? Well, according to Oxford University, it means my twenty years of loyal service there means nothing next to a little slip-up with a coed."
The B Grade: Tells Jeff that minus grades were invented by teachers just to spite students they don't like.
Badass Grandpa: He's easily the most formidable opponent during the game of Lava Floor.
Contrasting Sequel Main Character: Although Season 5 of Community isn't a sequel (although given that it had a 'repilot' which was intended to relaunch the show following the turbulent Season 4, this can be argued), where he isn't a Suspiciously Similar Substitute Buzz Hickey is largely this for Pierce Hawthorne in every other respect:
Where Pierce was clueless and bumbling, Hickey is competent and intelligent.
Pierce was a deluded Small Name, Big Ego convinced he was the most popular guy in the study group, while Hickey is less pretentious and concerned with popularity.
Pierce was a sheltered and pampered rich guy, while Hickey is a jaded and cynical former police investigator.
Pierce was often at odds with and disrespected by the other members of the study group, who nevertheless regarded him as an integral member of their family. Hickey, on the other hand, seems to receive a lot more respect from the other members of the group, but is less close to them.
Dark and Troubled Past: Not much has been revealed, but he's apparently a former cop, was involved in the investigation of the "Black River Ripper," has "seen human heads used for things other than heads", and "watched (his) third wife die".
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He does ultimately see the error of his ways. Furthermore, in "Geothermal Escapism", despite his ruthlessness to win the game he takes pity on Britta and invites her to join him because he takes exception to Troy and Abed abandoning her for 'dead'.
Lampshaded by Duncan, who actually mistakes Hickey for Pierce. He thought that Pierce had been wearing a Dodgy Toupee the entire time and congratulated him for finally mustering up the courage to go without it.
Also played with, since age and gruffness aside he's quite noticeably different from Pierce in many ways; he lacks Pierce's delusions of cool and obsessive need to be the centre of attention, is a lot more grounded and competent, and is less spiteful and vindictive.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Disappears in “Contemporary American Poultry”, the episode which marks its first appearance. It turns out in “Cooperative Calligraphy” that it lives in the school’s air vent system.
Field Promotion: In his first appearance, he’s a mere Greendale security guard. Soon after (and in all subsequent appearances), he’s a local police officer.
Actually, it may just be a bit of Truth in Television—there are a lot of places where officers will work as security for some extra income. Nothing to say Cackowski was doing that. He could also have been working there until he finished training.
Big Bad: For The Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne in “Digital Estate Planning” and arguably to Pierce his entire life. Gilbert Lawson, Cornelius’ assistant, evidently had a pretty hard time of it as well and that’s before Lawson reveals that he was Cornelius’ unacknowledged son.
Crazy-Prepared: In the aforementioned Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne, he had even recorded lines for when his character was dying.
Dodgy Toupee: Which is made out of ivory, since being the racist he is he refuses to wear a normal toupee, believing that the hair used to make them comes from Asians.
Racist Grandpa: Although unlike Pierce, who just doesn’t know better, Cornelius is actively malicious in his racism. And he’s racist against everyone of every race, even hating Britta for being “Swedish” and Jeff for being “Welsh”.
Smug Snake: Even after Jeff humiliates him with the beginning of an Eviler than Thou speech and whips him with a clip-on tie until he's weeping on the ground, he still feels the need to get revenge by telling the Study Group Jeff's real motives.
Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Played with; Shirley has very little that’s nice to say about him or his cheating initially, but when he returns, he’s revealed to be an otherwise decent man who acknowledges he made a mistake and was at fault and seems intent on making up for it. We’ve also gotten most of our information about what went down from Shirley herself, and it’s suggested that she may have had some fault in the initial breakdown of their marriage as well.
It Will Never Catch On: Andre apparently thought this about the iPod. Since Andre owns a stereo store, this apparently proved unfortunate.
Nice Guy: An interesting example; everything we had heard about him before he showed up suggested he was a selfish Jerkass. When he eventually did show up, he proved to be a sincerely decent and likeable man.
Only Sane Man: He is easily exasperated by the lunacy his wife and her friends get swept up in.
Stay in the Kitchen: He appears to have some slightly old-fashioned views about a woman’s place in marriage in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”, but ultimately proves more-or-less fine with Shirley becoming the breadwinner.
Not So Different: Shares some eerie similarities with Pierce’s father, Cornelius Hawthorne. Both are abusive and disapproving of their sons, both have two sons by two different mothers and both fake heart attacks.
Rebuilt Pedestal: Subverted. Jeff and William establish a good rapport, but then the latter spoils it by saying that Parental Abandonment has made Jeff into the self-reliant man he is today and was thus a good thing.
Evil Is Petty: His efforts to make the regular timeline darker extend to such things as popping a child’s balloon, hanging up a public payphone while someone is using it, and putting out his cigarette in someone’s coffee.
Evil Plan: To go to the ‘Prime timeline’ and take over its Abed’s place. He appears to have somehow found a way to do the first part in “Contemporary Impressionists”.
Heel-Face Turn He's dressed as Ra's al Ghul in the Darkest Timeline, the evil counterpart to Abed's Batman.
It's All My Fault: Abed thinks if he had caught the die Jeff rolled to choose who would get the pizza, none of the terrible things that happened to the group in his timeline (Pierce is dead from a gunshot from Annie’s gun, Annie went insane from guilt, Shirley becomes a drunk, Jeff loses his arm in the apartment fire and Troy had to get his larynx removed after trying to swallow a flaming troll doll) would have occurred (he’s right).
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It’s left ambiguous whether Evil!Abed has actually somehow managed to cross between realities, or whether Abed’s just having a breakdown. Although Abed seems to view it as being the latter.