Recap: Community S1 E01: Pilot
Meet Jeff Winger. Jeff used to be an attorney until it was discovered that his credentials from Colombia weren't from the Columbia everyone was thinking. Now, in order to get a real degree and qualify as a lawyer, Jeff has to go back to school — specifically, Greendale Community College, a less-than-prestigious institution in Denver.Jeff, of course, has no intention of doing any actual work; having once helped Professor Ian Duncan, the pompous British psychology lecturer, bail out of an inconvenient DUI charge, Jeff fully intends on exploiting the favour Duncan owes him and easily acquire all the results for the tests on his curriculum. Despite Duncan's recently-discovered ethics (and fear of getting caught), Jeff manages to browbeat him into getting the results and, in the meantime, decides to fulfil a primary interest and chase women — specifically, Britta Perry, an attractive member of his Spanish 101 class who just happens to be struggling with the upcoming Spanish test they have the next day. Sensing an in, Jeff claims to be a Spanish tutor leading a study group in the hopes of getting closer to her.Unfortunately for Jeff, the first fly in the ointment appears in the form of Abed Nadir, a pop-culture obsessed acquaintance of both Jeff and Britta — who, herself not being an idiot and sensing a rat lurking within Jeff's charming exterior, invites along. Abed, in turn, invites along a few more flies — Troy, a slightly dim ex-high school football jock; Annie, a highly-strung overachiever and ex-classmate of Troy's; Shirley, a single mother highly devoted to both her kids and her religion; and Pierce, a local moist-wipe magnate who isn't quite as intelligent, attractive, well-liked or up with the times as he thinks he is. And they all think Jeff's a Spanish tutor.Although trapped in the lie, Jeff is a very clever, quick and manipulative prick, and soon manages to exploit the underlying tensions between the group members to get them at each other's throats in order to create an opportunity for him and Britta to get some alone time. However, Britta is increasingly seeing what kind of man Jeff really is, and Duncan appears determined to teach Jeff a lesson about moral relativism and his slippery ways — however much he doesn't want to learn it.It's beginning to look like Jeff is stuck with his new study group — whether he wants it or not...As with many pilots, this one has a noticeably different feel from the rest of the series - the characters in particular play directly into their stereotypes, rather than playing with them. This is most striking with Abed and Troy.
The Community episode "Pilot" provides examples of:
- AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle:Pierce: Ay-bed the Ay-rab.
- Actor Allusion: Jeff (played by Joel McHale) is referred to as "(Ryan) Seacrest."
- Amoral Attorney: Jeff.
- An Aesop: Duncan wants to impart one to Jeff. Jeff, however, feels strongly that community college is not the place to learn anything.
- The Blind Leading the Blind: How the story begins! Jeff claims to be a Spanish tutor to get time alone with Britta. Then she invites Abed, who invites half a dozen other people to the "study group", and Jeff has to stall and keep them distracted to avoid having to admit that he can't tutor them.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: When Jeff is talking to Duncan, a professor for whom he served as attorney:Jeff: Yes, and I'm hoping that our friendship will yield certain advantages: academic guidance, moral support, every answer to every test for every one of the classes I'm taking...
- Breakfast Club: Lampshaded mercilessly.
- Casanova Wannabe: Pierce.
- Characterization Marches On: While the seeds of how all the characters the later viewer will be familiar with are present and several of them only slightly different from how they will eventually turn out, there's notable and at times quite significant differences with all of them:
- Britta is more of the Straight Man of the ensemble, rather than the insecure and slightly ditzy Soapbox Sadie she becomes in later seasons.
- Annie is more hostile, confrontational and antagonistic to the other members of the study group, Jeff and Shirley especially. The DVD commentary for this episode also suggests that Annie was intended to be more of an antagonist to Jeff than she ended up being.
- Troy is more of a stereotypical 'dumb meathead' Jerk Jock character than the geeky Cloudcuckoolander Ditz he would later become. Also, rather than the familiar 'Troy and Abed' dynamic, the show seems to be attempting to create more of an Odd Couple friendship between Troy and Pierce.
- Abed's role as 'meta-guy' is downplayed, and the Asperger's-like tendencies of his condition are given more emphasis. This is also notably one of the few episodes where anyone attempts to 'diagnose' him ("Yeah? Well, you have Asperger's.") rather than it being treated as an Ambiguous Disorder.
- Duncan is clearly intended to be more of a Psychologist Teacher (with hints of a Sink-or-Swim Mentor) towards Jeff rather than the inept semi-regular he ended up being. This case, however, is probably due to it also being an example of Real Life Writes the Plot, since John Oliver decided not to leave The Daily Show to take a regular role on the show. As Duncan was clearly also supposed to be the main teacher role in the series, Chang doesn't appear at all.
- Jeff, Shirley and Pierce are more or less how they would later appear in the show proper, although Shirley's religious tendencies are downplayed and Pierce seems to have more of a lecherous and sleazy 'Casanova Wannabe ex-hippie' type of thing going on rather than the socially inept Innocent Bigot he later becomes. Jeff is also more of a straight-up Jerkass and Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist who is borderline sociopathic at times, with little sign of the heart of gold he would have even a few episodes later.
- In his brief appearance the Dean is as inept as his later appearances suggest, but there's little indication of his myriad alternative sexualities or his crush on Jeff.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Troy, Britta, Shirley and Pierce all appear in quick shots during the Dean's opening narration:What is community college? Well, you've heard all kinds of things. You've heard it's loser college for remedial teens (cut to Troy), twenty-something dropouts (shot of Britta), middle-aged divorcees (Shirley), and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity (Pierce).
- Less so with Britta than the other three, because Jeff has a crush on her from the outset, introduces himself to her in the school cafeteria, and only meets the rest (and Annie) when Abed invites them to the study room.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Abed.Abed: You know, I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his films, but you're actually like Michael Douglas in any of his films.
Jeff: Yeah? Well, you have Asperger's.
- Abed is noticeably more Asperger's than Meta Guy in this episode.
- Comically Missing the Point:Jeff: Are you unaware that Shirley finds your advances inappropriate?
Pierce: (chuckles) What advances?
Shirley: You have been sexually harassing me since the very first day of class.
Pierce: Sexually harassing? That makes no sense to me. Why would I harass someone who turns me on?
Troy: Saying she turns you on is the harassment, dude.
- Compliment Backfire:
- Deadpan Snarker: Jeff.
- Demoted to Extra: Watching this compared to the rest of the series, it's pretty clear that Duncan was supposed to be around a lot more than he ended up being. This is because John Oliver decided not to quit The Daily Show.
- Didn't Think This Through: As anyone who has ever attended college can tell you, exams are often created on the fly by professors, based on the material that has been covered in the class thus far. This means that Jeff's plan to extort the answers to all of his future tests out of Duncan had a gaping hole in it: Even if Duncan had held up his end of the bargain, there was no guarantee that the answers Jeff received would be any good when it was time for actual exams.
- Dirty Old Man: Pierce.Jeff: Let's discuss this creepiness.
- The Ditz: Troy and Pierce.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Jeff develops a crush on Britta after seeing her for about thirty seconds, which he will pursue for the rest of the season.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Aside from characterization issues, there's also the different opening credits and ending theme. Also somewhat ironically, given the trope title, the pilot is most of all fairly normal, with no hint given to the absolutely off the wall genre-challenging series it would become.
- Engaging Conversation: Between Jeff and Britta.
- Everyone Meets Everyone
- Fake Real Turn: The study group.
- Foreshadowing: Troy is deeply impressed by Jeff's insight about his motives for either wearing his jacket because other people like or to spite them for disliking it ("either way, it's for them; that's what's weak."). The series would in later episodes make something of a subplot about Troy being insecure over measuring himself up against Jeff as a person and as a man.
- Funny Background Event: After Jeff snaps the pencil to prove a point about how humans can come to identify with anything, Abed gasps in horror — and during Jeff's big speech, Abed can be clearly seen trying to put it back together.
- Go Ye Heroes, Go and Die: The Dean's attempt at a Rousing Speech to welcome and inspire the new students turns into one of these when he discovers he's lost the middle of his speech — which, unfortunately, was the bit with all the rousing, welcoming and inspiring stuff in it. What he has is basically just calling them losers.
- Heh Heh, You Said X
- Ironic Echo:
Jeff: (condescendingly) I see your value now.
- When browbeating Duncan to get him the test answers because of the favor he owes Jeff, Jeff confidently asserts to Duncan's protests that it's wrong by observing that there's no such thing as right or wrong. Later, when Duncan has apparently come up with the test answers, Jeff's own moral relativism comes back to bite him when Duncan points out that by Jeff's own logic, Duncan is under no obligation to hand over the test answers just because he owes Jeff, and demands Jeff's car in payment.
- At the beginning of the episode, after Abed tells Jeff an amazing amount of information about Britta, they have the following exchange:
Abed: ...I see your value now.Jeff: That's the nicest thing that anyone's ever said to me.
- Later on, after Jeff has (unintentionally) brought the study group together, there's a call back to it:
- I Lied: Britta promises Jeff a date if he'll stop the fighting he started. After Jeff uses his manipulative bastardry to calm the group down, she uses these words exactly.
- Jerkass: two, for different reasons:
- Jeff is flattering and manipulative.
- Pierce is insulting and insensitive.
- Jerk Jock: Troy.Jeff: (in Troy's defense) You think astronauts go to the moon because they hate oxygen? No, they do it to impress their high school's prom king.
- Magical Negro: Subverted; turns out, the African American cafeteria worker isn't there to listen to Jeff discuss his life.Jeff: I'm sorry, I was raised on TV, and I was conditioned to believe that every black woman over fifty is a cosmic mentor.
- Lack of Empathy: With his willingness to manipulate the other members of the group into being at each other's throats for his own selfish purposes and his consequent lack of guilt or caring about the consequences when Britta calls him on it, Jeff is borderline sociopathic in this episode.Britta: Wait, so this is a game to you? You put human beings in a state of emotional shambles for a shot at getting in my pants?
Jeff: Why can't you see that for the compliment it is?
- Manipulative Bastard: Jeff. He effortlessly gets the group either at each others throats or best friends with each other, depending on which he thinks will improve his chances of scoring with Britta.
- Moral MyopiaJeff: Duncan, you did seem less into integrity the day I convinced twelve of your peers that when you made that u-turn on the freeway and tried to order chalupas from the emergency callbox that your only real crime was loving America.
- Jeff himself is a perfect example of this trope — he is a manipulative and untrustworthy man who is willing to lie and cheat to get what he wants, but when both Britta and Duncan reveal they have been lying and cheating in order to manipulate him (Britta in order to get him to resolve the arguments he caused and expose him, Duncan to teach him a lesson about how he's not getting the free-ride he expects at Greendale) his response is to get angry and outraged at being manipulated.
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Jeff's Spanish, although it doesn't really matter since Britta's is so bad she can't detect it. It helps that Jeff is both speaking extremely confidently and what he's saying is actually coherent Spanish in itself, albeit not appropriate for the context and the sort of thing you'd actually say to a maid or valet at a hotel.
- The Nicknamer: Troy calls Jeff "Seacrest" and Abed "Slumdog Millionaire."
- No, Except Yes:Annie: You're the one who lost his football scholarship when you broke both collarbones trying to do a keg stand.Troy: A keg flip! They're really hard to pull off.
- Pull the Thread:
- It's pretty clear that Britta has clocked early on exactly what kind of guy Jeff really is, or at least is deeply suspicious to the point where she's almost convinced, and is stringing him along until he can demonstrate it in front of everyone.
- Annie's also quick to start pulling threads: "What kind of board certifies a tutor?"
- Reverse Psychology Backfire: Zig-Zagged. Jeff uses Reverse Psychology on Duncan, which fails as Duncan is a psychologist and can quickly see through the BS, but in the end, Duncan does what Jeff wanted anyway ... after Jeff uses reverse psychology. Seemingly a Reverse Psychology Backfire backfire... Except that Duncan actually doesn't do what Jeff wants in the end.
- Rule of Empathy: Jeff's speech. Of course, he's just bullshitting them, but he's damn convincing.Jeff: We're the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week. Sharks don't even observe Shark Week; but we do. For the same reason, I can pick up this pencil, tell you its name is Steve, and then go like this; [snaps it in half; Abed gasps in horror] and part of you dies, just a little bit on the inside. Because people can connect with anything. We can sympathize with a pencil, we can forgive a shark, and we can give Ben Affleck an Academy Award for Screenwriting.
Pierce: Big mistake.
- Strange Minds Think Alike:
- Both Abed and Jeff independently tell Britta she looks like Elisabeth Shue (which, come on, she totally does).
- Both Troy and Pierce find great humor in 'Asperger's'.
- Title Drop: Happens towards the end of Jeff's speech to the study group.
- Title-Only Opening / Unique Pilot Title Sequence: The standard theme song is not used in this episode; instead, the background music from the opening scene ends over a short animated title card.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Jeff starts the series off as not a particularly nice man at all. However, he's got Character Development coming his way whether he wants it or not.
- Volleying Insults: Between Prof. Duncan and Jeff.
- Welcome Episode
- You Remind Me of X: Pierce means it as a compliment when he tells Jeff that Jeff reminds him of a younger version of himself...
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: ... but since Pierce is, putting it gently, a complete tool, Jeff doesn't take it as one.