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Worldly Distractions: Community 4.10 - Intro to Knots


crazyforkate

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Community - Season 4

Four months later, we finally get the annual Christmas episode. These are generally fun – with the highlight almost universally acknowledged to be last year’s incredible Glee parody – and have some unusual twist on a classic to brighten up our holiday season. This year, it comes just in time to brighten up – exam period? Post-Easter chocolate binge? Well, for the sake of continuity, let’s just assume it’s Christmas right now. Put on your ugly sweater, warm up some eggnog, and let’s celebrate with Greendale, even if it is a little out of order.

In an uncharacteristic display of generosity, Jeff has agreed to host what Annie dubs the “first grown-up Christmas party†the group has celebrated. Annie immediately launches a girly attempt to spruce up the apartment, and receives a stern reminder from Jeff not to “play house†with him (Jeff/Annie coming? Please please pretty please?). After some wheedling, Jeff gets into it. Flirtation occurs. Honestly – I’m sad that his status as a complete bastard has declined in recent seasons. He was a lot more fun the first way.

Jeff discovers that Annie has brought him a gift despite their “no gifts†policy. He comments that this will make things awkward because a gift creates obligation. Annie is skeptical. Shirley seems to prove her side by coming in with a cart full of gifts. Troy, Britta and ChangKevin immediately follow, with ChangKevin commenting that he’s finally figuring out that “No means yes†(shudder). Even Abed has brought gifts, though he comments that Christmas would be a lot more fun if they were re-enacting Die Hard. Pierce is not present due to enforced sensitivity training – I guess this is their excuse to cut Chevy Chase out for an episode. (Apparently he only missed one, because the episodes were filmed out of order and he was contractually obligated to provide his voice for the puppet show.) The loss of Pierce hasn’t been too gaping, and they’ve handled it well in terms of writing him out. If I hadn’t known the reason behind it, I doubt it would have been all that obvious.

Once they are gathered, Annie opens with some bad news – they’ve failed their History paper, which she heard from an acquaintance who helps with grading. Apparently this was a group project (a group paper by seven people? Oookay), so naturally Jeff is desperate to find out who screwed it up and ruined his chances of graduating early. It’s him, right? Jeff’s the failure. Annie tries to smooth things over. She springs her good news – she invited the professor to the party. They have the chance to win him over. Jeff decides. The plan is set. Once Troy and Abed are contained, that is – although Abed does manage to get them to sit there silently until “the plot point we need nextâ€, as befitting a TV show. After some silence, Jeff starts to speak, but is interrupted by the doorbell. Cue opening credits.

Side note: Alison Brie’s gorgeous green dress is making her look very Trudy-esque this episode – that is, Trudy Season 1 when she was all young and not jaded by being married to Pete. It’s kind of sweetly nostalgic for us Mad Men fans. Back to our regular discussion.

Professor Cornwallis (Malcolm McDowell, people! Malcolm McFuckingDowell!) arrives to an overly enthusiastic (not to mention squeaky) reception. He immediately lets them know that he can’t stay long because his daughter is visiting. He then kicks the shit out of people while performing Singing in the R – er, he lets Jeff know that his place is “very feminine†and insists that he was not expected to bring a gift. One of these actions thrills Jeff, you can guess which. Britta decides that they lost the grade because Cornwallis clearly hates strong, independent women, which leads Troy to run off to the corner with Abed. Once safely away from his girlfriend, he surprises Abed with a gift – John McClane’s tank top, which Abed is happy about though curiously not effusive.

Jeff charms the professor with incredible whiskey and creative hors d’oeuvres. Noticing that Cornwallis seems to be paying more attention to the women, he takes Britta aside and suggests that she “get in there and jiggle somethingâ€. Britta is not on board. Jeff tries to get her to admit that her section was bad, only to hear that she worked hard on it. He finally confesses that he slacked off, and his section was likely to blame for the failing grade. He explains that it seemed mathematically impossible at the time for the entire group to fail. Britta gives him her “judgey faceâ€.  Jeff acknowledges his slacking and redoubles his efforts to win Cornwallis over. On the way out, he learns that Cornwallis has been sexually harassing everyone and is generally behaving like a tool, but seems to be having a good time. So far so good...sort of.

After intercepting ChangKevin from a poorly executed card trick with the promise of bubble wrap, Jeff returns to pseudo-intellectual smooth talk. The old professor does not fall for it and correctly intuits that it’s because of “that C-minus I gave you for the paperâ€. Jeff is massively relieved not to be the group’s academic downfall. He drags Annie aside to tell her the good news. When he reminds her that a C-minus is not a failing grade, she protests “To me it is!†Uh-oh.

Annie explains that she’s on the valedictorian track and can’t have a C-minus on record. Jeff is furious that they went through an entire charade just to make Annie stand out. Unfortunately, as he is ranting about this, Professor Cornwallis overhears, and declares that he is changing the grade to an F. They’re stuck, and we get Annie’s priceless “You’re f-ing us?â€

The former lawyer tries to explain his way out, but it’s not working this time. Frustrated, he leads the study group into the bedroom. (No, this is not the beginning of that fanfiction everyone’s thought of.) He explains the situation with some help from Annie, who is enraged. They all agree that the professor is creepy, and that the situation is demoralizing. Especially vocal is Abed, now clad in the Die Hard shirt. Jeff reminds Annie that soon her grades will no longer matter. He declares that she needs to grow up. The whole mess, according to him, is all Annie’s fault for not being able to accept a low pass. Britta breaks out the judgey face again. Jeff decides to talk to him “man-to-man†in a last ditch effort. They step out to save their grade...and find that ChangKevin has tried to “help†by tying the professor up. He offers to kill him for them. And cut to commercial.

The group immediately springs into damage control. Annie apologizes and promises to free him, but Jeff suggests that they reconsider. The professor is subdued and they have nothing to lose grade-wise, so why not run with it? Abed decides this is even better than Die Hard. The professor challenges them by pointing out that it’s going to take a long time to starve him, and in the meantime he’s not changing the grade. (And, heh, I just figured out why Jeff is called Winger. He’s always winging it. Duh-doi.) Jeff descends into lawyer mode. He points out that Cornwallis had previously changed the grade that evening, indicating that he considered factors other than the paper itself. KevinChang stands there grinning like an idiot the entire time.

Cornwallis mentions what everyone’s thinking, that he could just call the police and get them in huge trouble, but Jeff counters him by indicating that there are several reasons why he can’t. (“First, he’s tied up!†Troy shouts – can we give him one decent storyline this season? Please? Donald of Awesome deserves better.) Besides that, Jeff points out that no one knows what really happened in the apartment. They could easily make it look like there was a struggle – and they were justified in restraining him. The study group is remarkably quick on the uptake. Annie in particular delivers a heartfelt rendition of the professor’s (nonexistent) trouble with co-eds at Oxford. However, as Cornwallis tells them, “Empires are always destroyed from within†– sooner or later one of them is bound to mess things up. He declares that he will give an A to the first person that unties him, failing the rest. Rather than scrambling for the chair, they all argue over what happens next, except for Abed, who thinks “This is all amazing, and in impossibly real time!â€

Jeff brings it to a halt. Cornwallis wonders which of them will crack first – the “Type A Lolitaâ€, the “put-upon housewifeâ€, or the “odd, emotionless Muslimâ€? Abed’s response is to get popcorn because it takes a while before the good villain monologue. Nice try, Cornwallis. Shirley proposes letting him go, but because no one wants to be the betrayer and get an A, they are stuck. Jeff suggests that, instead of fragmenting the group, Cornwallis has instead made it harder to be released, because their friendship is just that strong. Cornwallis says that everyone wants to be the betrayer when the chips are down, and history proves it. He cites the invasion by Hannibal, in which the invaded group cracked before one could say “E pluribus unum†– to which Troy chimes in that he’s pretty sure it’s “anusâ€.

Sure he’s onto something, Cornwallis shifts his attention to the “damaged blonde†and the “childish black oneâ€. Jeff insists that no one has a problem with the fact that they’re dating, especially since his own involvement with Britta wasn’t what one would call “datingâ€. Britta takes exception. The unraveling has begun. Pretty soon, he’s established the Troy-Britta-Jeff conflict. Abed returns with popcorn, only to be upset that he has obviously missed something.

Cornwallis decides to focus on the person most desperate for an A, the one most likely to be class valedictorian – Shirley. Everyone is shocked, while Shirley is offended that no one thought of her. Boom, another conflict established. Soon Annie and Shirley are firmly pitted against each other. Annie has the chance to take Shirley down by untying the professor, and ostensibly has nothing to lose after pissing off all her friends with this party. She is sorely tempted. Jeff steps in, saying he has no more bullets. Cornwallis begs to differ, as he throws out the fact that Jeff’s coasting is what caused the bad grade in the first place. Everyone flips out at Jeff. Annie and Shirley both protest that he cost them valedictorian. The group yells. Abed contentedly munches popcorn. Just as it looks like disaster is imminent – the doorbell rings. Dun dun DUN.

Of course, it’s the Dean, who can smell Jeff’s presence. He is of course mortally offended that Jeff excluded him from the Christmas party, and storms out. In the meantime, the professor has managed to escape. However, he won’t reveal who untied him – leaving the group to figure out which one is their Judas. They panic and quickly descend into argument. Britta proposes waiting until the grades come out, but the professor says they must learn now or else the lesson is incomplete. Upon hearing this, Jeff launches into his typical “we learned something speech†he does in like 90% of the episodes. He concludes that though empires can fall, they are no empire, but “just a bunch of flawed selfish peopleâ€. Their strength is in their weaknesses – and because they all screw up, they can all forgive each other. He offers his forgiveness to whoever did it because he, too is flawed. Cornwallis concludes that this is exactly what the betrayer would say. At this point Jeff flips the proverbial chess table. If it was him, he will forfeit the A by tying up the prof again, which the group proceeds to do.

They then open their Christmas gifts in front of him, just for added torture, I guess. ChangKevin insists that his gifts be first – which is how they discover that all he knows how to do is tie slipknots. The professor managed to work his own way out, and no one was a Judas. The professor admits that he set this up out of loneliness. The daughter’s visit was a lie. He needed something to do. Jeff proposes (after another unsuccessful stab at an A) that he grade everyone separately so Annie and Shirley don’t suffer, but Shirley insists that they all fail together. The professor is disgusted by their strong friendship, but since they rescued him from total loneliness for an evening, he grudgingly gives them a C+. The group agrees with him. Everyone wishes each other a Merry Christmas and delves into gift-unwrapping. In the midst of this merriment, ChangKevin steps out – and reveals on his cell phone that he is fully aware of his identity. He has been communicating with someone as Chang, and has not managed to get the study group expelled. Back to the drawing board. We never find out the identity of his conspirator, but it sounds sinister.

The Dean, now slightly mollified, drops by with a basket full of kittens (two are named Jeffrey). Why he has them is never explained. Since things are going so well, Abed wonders what’s happening in the darkest timeline, which Jeff still doesn’t believe in. Of course, we then move to that timeline, which plays out over the end credits. An armless Jeff defends Annie (who is decked out in Hannibal Lecter gear) in court after an enormous, violent crime spree. The judge releases her. She promptly falls into Jeff’s arms, where she makes sure that their age difference is okay, then makes out with him – but not before Jeff urges her to join them and destroy the prime timeline. Back in the regular timeline, Abed stares thoughtfully into space, petting a kitten with all the seriousness of a Bond villain.

The first part of the episode felt really weak and had the sort of “pseudo-Community†quality that plagued much of this season. There was nothing you could put your finger on, the setup simply felt...off. Once the professor arrived at the party, however, things really picked up. Everyone started to behave as usual and the plot moved along at a fast and hilarious pace, even if it did stretch a bit. It wasn’t really up to the standards of the show’s greats – I would put it in the bottom half of Season Two, for example – but it did the job. Overall, the second half of this season is emerging as much stronger than the first. This is great for us viewers, but on the downside? It will make it that much harder to say goodbye.

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