Community S05E02: “Introduction to Teaching”

 …an episode reminding us all the importance of “being a sexy cat”

If the excellent premiere episode was all about re-acclimating us to Harmon’s vision of Community and allowing us to fall in love with his characters again, the second one—even better than its predecessor—was all about tickling our funny bone.  And if you didn’t find yourself erupting with laughter at least a half-dozen times throughout this installment, then it’s likely that this show just isn’t for you.  Because if this is the kind of humor we can expect from an invigorated fifth season, then I would like to take all of the classes, please.

I loved the thematic lynchpin of this episode, as both the A and B stories hinged on a sort of identity crisis for those involved.  Jeff, Greendale’s Fundamentals of Law professor, found himself in need of an identity overhaul when the episode began.  Business as usual was no longer appropriate for Mr. Winger; apparently, it’s not socially acceptable for a teacher to leer at his female students or to ridicule those who chose to pierce their ears (I’m looking at you, Leonard).  Chalk that up as Jeff’s first learning experience as an educator.

And this is where this second episode of Community found a way to mine fresh life out of this series: introducing the teachers as a new social group.  With the exception of Chang (the newly minted math teacher whose advice to Jeff is to have students break up into groups and grade each other, dangling episodes of Planet Earth in front of them as motivation), the teachers didn’t really fly in the study group’s orbit on any consistent basis.  But getting to know this bunch is going to be a hoot because Harmon’s opening up this world in very new ways.

Which leads us to Criminology professor/amateur cartoonist Buzz Hickey.  As played by the incredible Jonathan Banks, Hickey is a cantankerous, cynical, and grizzled educator, scoffing at Jeff’s insistence that this teaching thing is just a phase.  Though Jeff is by no means in love with teaching (though, by episode’s end, he does concede that he wouldn’t rule out hooking up with it from time to time), Hickey’s palpable disdain for his students is off-putting even to him.  Hickey schools Jeff in the darker realities of teaching: it’s a world of chalk (teachers) vs. lead (students).  And sometimes, that means threatening students with cafeteria flatware and stealing their meatballs to establish dominance.  Such is the life of an educator in America.

A peak into this distorted world of teaching was hilarious enough—commentary on the laziest of teachers proved ripe with comedy—but Harmon took it a step further.  After Annie catches wind of Jeff’s lackadaisical teaching style, she enrolls in his class to make sure he’s qualified to teach law, which, of course, he’s not.  In an act of friendship, Hickey gives Annie a dreaded A- on her Witness Intimidation Project (hilarious), forcing her to drop Fundamentals of Law to put all of her efforts into Hickey’s class.  Because, you see, this is the darkest secret of all: the A- was invented by teachers as payback for students they don’t like.

Fed up with Hickey’s bad attitude, Jeff lets this slip, leading to a literal riot as the students of Greendale realize their perceptions of their teachers and themselves as students has been a lie.  “Minuses are made up!” Annie screams to the masses, provoking them.  Even Magnitude joins in the ensuing chaos, hurling a garbage can through a window and shouting the most blood-curdling version of “Pop pop” you’ll ever here.  As I’m writing this, I’m still laughing about it.

After quelling the riot, Dean Pelton forms a Teacher-Student Alliance, featuring our usual study group members plus (oh goodness gracious I’m giddy with excitement just thinking about it) Professor Hickey.  Plus, Jeff found out teaching might not be so bad after all.

During all of this, a second (perhaps even funnier) identity crisis was taking place.  A two-session class called “Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad?” piqued Abed’s interest and, with Troy and Shirley in tow for emotional support, he enlists.  Needless to say, it’s not long before Abed goes full-on Carrie Matheson as he tries to deconstruct Cage’s performances in myriad films, including a half-baked theory about aliens early on in Snake Eyes.

When Abed comes back to class holding a binder thick with notes and rife with post Its, evidence of his analysis, I knew something special was about to happen.  But I had no idea just how special, as Danny Pudi delivered one of the best comedic performances I’ve seen in a while, devolving into a virtual revolving door of Cage-isms.   When he climbed onto the desk and declared himself a sexy cat, I laughed until I cried.

That this plot somehow managed to become an exploration of faith is just so wonderfully Harmon-esque.  I never thought I would hear a human being utter the phrase, “So Nicolas Cage is Jesus?” in my life.  But I’m so, so glad I have now.

This was simply a brilliant episode; its exploration of what it means to redefine yourself when you least expect or want to, coupled with gut-busting humor, launches it to the top of my list of personal all-time favorite Community eps.  After season four, I thought the show’s best days were behind it.

Apparently not.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

–   Jeff: “Any questions?  You, Red Hair.  I’m not going to learn names.”

Student: “Will there be a syllbas?”

Jeff: “Will there be a syllabus.  Is a good example of a question.  Moving on.”

– Jeff: “Oh, Elaine.  Take it easy on the Oxford commas!”

– Shirley: “I don’t know. If I was in 70 movies over 30 years, and I spent each one of them speaking at random volumes, I might accidentally win an Oscar.”

– Troy: “Abed!  Think of something safe!   Like Holly Hunter!  Or Don Cheadle!”

– Did you catch the board in class?  ABC = Always Be Caging.  Words of wisdom if ever there were any.

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