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, get out of a DUI charge, Jeff plans to exploit the favour Duncan owes him to acquire all the answers for every class on his schedule. Despite Duncan's recently-discovered ethics (and fear of getting caught), Jeff manages to browbeat him into getting the answers for him. In the meantime, he directs his focus to Britta Perry, an attractive member of his Spanish 101 class who just happens to be worried about the test they have the next day. Sensing an in, Jeff claims to be a Spanish tutor leading a study group and arranges to meet with her later.
Unfortunately for Jeff, Britta senses a rat lurking beneath Jeff's charming exterior and invites along Abed Nadir, a pop-culture-obsessed fellow student. Abed, in turn, invites along a few more people: Troy Barnes, a slightly dim former high school football jock; Annie Edison, a highly-strung overachiever and ex-classmate of Troy's; Shirley Bennett, a single mother highly devoted to both her kids and her religion; and Pierce Hawthorne, 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 in the group to sabotage the meeting, hoping to get Britta alone. However, Britta soon perceives 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 feels noticeably different from the rest of the series — the characters in particular play directly into their stereotypes, rather than playing with them. This is most strikingly apparent with Abed and Troy.
The Community episode "Pilot" provides examples of:
- Ac CENT Upon The Wrong Syl LA Ble:Pierce: Ay-bed the Ay-rab.
- Accidental Misnaming: Even more wrongly than mispronouncing Abed's name, in the same scene, Pierce erroneously calls Britta, Troy, and Annie "Brittles," "Roy the wonder boy," and "little Princess Elizabeth" respectively.
- Actor Allusion: Jeff (Joel McHale) is referred to as "(Ryan) Seacrest."
- An Aesop: Duncan wants to impart one to Jeff. Jeff, however, feels strongly that community college is not the place to learn anything.
- Amoral Attorney: Jeff.
- Bait-and-Switch Accusation: Britta exclaims "Busted!" when bumping into Jeff and he shrugs thinking she has seen through his scheme but then it turns out she was referring to herself being caught smoking a cigarette.
- 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.
- The Breakfast Plot: Taking in account the Breakfast Club happening, Abed tries to turn the episode into a full blown homage to the movie, but this is subverted as nobody goes along with it and it would take a while until the show started making Whole Plot Reference episodes.
- 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 starting from the second episode.
- 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.
- Jeff spends the entire episode wearing sweat pants, as opposed to the Fashionista he will soon become.
- 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.
- 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:Pierce: I like you, Jeffrey. You remind me of myself at your age.Jeff: I deserved that.
- 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 leave The Daily Show.
- Didn't Think This Through:
- As anyone who has ever attended college can tell you, professors often create exams on the fly, albeit based on the material that has been covered in the class thus far (and also tend to contain open-ended questions). Answer keys often aren't written until after the exam, if at all. This means that Jeff's plan to extort the answers to all his future tests out of Duncan had a gaping hole in it: even if he wanted to, Duncan has no way to hold up his end of the bargain.
- Jeff's own confident assertion to Duncan that right or wrong doesn't matter comes back to bite him when Duncan later points out that, by Jeff's own logic, he's under no obligation to give Jeff the test answers just because Jeff got him out of a jam once. He's also not prepared for Duncan to have figured out that Jeff was clearly planning to exploit this favour more than once, and so it would be worth more than simply "the satisfaction of being even".
- Dirty Old Man: Pierce.Jeff: Let's discuss this creepiness.
- Distinction Without a Difference: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.
- 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.Britta: I joined the Peace Corps. I did a little foot modelling, I got tear gassed in a World Trade Rally...Jeff: Marry me.
- Everyone Meets Everyone
- FakeReal Turn: The study group.
- 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.
- Britta tells Jeff that she values honesty above all else, yet freely admits that she lied to him to get him to clean up his mess, foreshadowing that she's not the Only Sane Man she initially appears to be.
- Feedback Rule: Can be heard in the opening scene when the Dean starts his speech.
- 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.The Dean: You've heard it's a loser college for remedial teens, 20-something dropouts, middle-aged divorcees, and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity. That's what you heard. However, ... I wish you luck!... Okay, you know... Oh-oh. Okay, there's more to this speech. There's actually a middle card that is missing.
- Heh Heh, You Said "X"Jeff: [As what he thinks is a parting shot to Abed] Well, you have Asperger's.Troy: [Chuckles] Ass burgers.Annie: It's a serious disorder.Pierce: If it's so serious, why don't they call it meningitis?Troy: [Chuckles]Pierce: [Chuckles] Ass burgers.
- 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.
- Instantly Proven Wrong: When Duncan exclaims that Jeff has insulted the integrity of the entire institution, he is confronted with the sight of a "waster" under his window.
- 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, after Jeff has (unintentionally) brought the study group together, there's a call back to it:
- Jerkass: Jeff is this because he's flattering and manipulative. Pierce is this because he's 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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 will lie and cheat to get what he wants, but when both Britta and Duncan reveal they have been lying and cheating to manipulate him (Britta to get him to resolve the arguments he caused and expose him, Duncan to teach him a lesson about how he won't get 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."
- Office Golf: Implied when Duncan wields his gold club in his office.
- Overt Rendezvous: Duncan calls Jeff to meet him on the football field.
- Pull the Thread:
- It's pretty clear that Britta has realized early 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?"
- Red Herring: When Abed notes their situation resembles The Breakfast Club, Britta asks him whether he has an emotional problem he needs to talk about, and he says he has a "doozy in the chamber if things get emotional". This point is not followed up on at all. The original script has him break down later on and tell a story about his binder of DVDs that melted in the sun, which, him being a fan of cinema, was supposed to be the "doozy". The final script has him quote The Breakfast Club (and some Dirty Dancing) instead.
- 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:
- Take That!: At Ben Affleck.
- 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
- Westminster Chimes: The Dean preludes his speech with this tune on tape.
- 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.