I jumped on board the bandwagon late in the game, just a few months ago, in fact. For any number of reasons, I ignored this series for a long time. But when I finally got around to it, I was completely blown away by it’s smart writing and diverse ensemble cast. Of course it was doomed to fail.
But this series was the “little engine that could,” always under threat of cancellation and mind-bogglingly slipping through the unlikely cracks of renewal year after implausible year. The seasons would get shorter and shorter as the cult fan base grew larger and larger. But the problem with that demographic is that it’s just never big enough.
If you build it, they will come: Jeff Winger is a disbarred lawyer jerk who has to go back to school and earn the degree he lied about having. Trying to get student activist Britta into bed, he offers to form a study group with just the two of them as members. But she invites five other classmates, ruining his sexy plans and leaving him to run a group he never even wanted. Hilarity ensued in the house that creator Dan Harmon built. Yet, nobody came to watch.
And I just don’t understand why. Was the series ignored because it couldn’t connect to a mass audience? Was there stiff competition in that time slot? As I’ve said, I discovered the show late, and could therefore be part of the problem, so I was never witness to its plight. But I do have strong opinions to offer.
This beautifully racially mixed cast brought great characters to the small screen and delivered their lines with expert lunacy. And how wonderfully written they were, with leagues of room to grow. Jeff is the self-impressed fashionista, dressed head to toe in sarcastic conceit. He later grows into a more sympathetic version of himself, but not at all less funny. Stoner Britta fails at first, as the writers didn’t seem to know how to keep her headstrong independence from being abrasive. But when she added on absent-minded buzzkiller traits, actress Gillian Jacobs surfed through the role like a comedic champ. Comparatively, former high school jock Troy (played by rap artist Donald Glover) is way too cool in the opening episodes. When his character embraces his geeky side and mellows out, it’s genius in the making. I will admit that the first season felt a bit rocky at times as the actors got used to their roles.
More about the characters. Danny Pudi’s TV-obsessed Abed is clearly autistic or perhaps dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome, leaving him with a difficulty in relating to others. Yet, somewhere along the line something magical happens! Abed and Troy somehow connect and become the cutest, funniest BFF duo since Harold and Kumar – minus the weed. It really is a touch that gave the show a pop (pop) that so many millions of viewers missed out on. Sometimes I found myself looking forward to an episode’s end tag, which commonly consisted of Abed and Troy doing something ridiculous during the credits.
Shirley is Jeff’s age, and a devout Christian who has mastered the art of kindness as well as ugly manipulation. And just when you’re bored of her, she has the potential to give the episode’s best line. She would also be the most ignored character on the show if not for veteran actor Chevy Chase’s millionaire, Pierce Hawthorne. Pierce literally just goes to school for the hell of it. He is lonely, selfish and passively racist/misogynistic. He so despises being left out of his friends’ plans that he’s been known to lash out hatefully. He has actually played the villain on a few occasions, both on and off the set. His war with Dan Harmon that ended with them both leaving the show is something to be Googled to be believed. Drama!
And then there’s Annie, the youngest…and hottest of the group. Overachieving and adorable, she’s commanded fanboy attention since the show started. I’d roll my eyes reading about some of my favorite bloggers’ obsessions with her…until I watched the show and witnessed it myself. Jesus God I love her so. And by the way, you haven’t lived til you’ve heard her freestyle rap in the show’s outtakes. She’s a charmer.
Backed by a wonderful supporting cast: the Dean, who steals scenes effortlessly in his bi-curious (or even flat-out gay) hilarity, will dress in drag, make passes at Jeff, and say every single line with perfect flamboyance. Senor Chang, the inept Spanish teacher who does a “Jeff Winger” and becomes a student when his lack of credentials are exposed, is probably the most insane TV character I’ve ever seen in my life. He never says or does anything rational and he’s the show’s secret weapon adrenaline shot. Lesser characters like Magnitude, Fat Neil, Todd, Leonard, Starburns…the list goes on and on and on…are a casting director’s dream. The unnecessarily panicky Garrett is pure brilliance all by himself. And Buzz Hickey, who joined the group in its final run, was a nice addition who just needed time to be developed. But we learned such great things about him! Amateur cartoonist, former cop, always carrying rope for some reason! God! Thinking back on all this, I’m so sad to see these folks go. They were a perfect comedy team.
But it wasn’t a perfect show. It had its clunker episodes like the one where they were video game characters, but the standout entries more than made up for their failures. “Remedial Chaos Theory” is the quintessentially flawless example of a bottle episode. The one where they were all animated G.I. Joe characters was inspired enough to call to my childhood. Touching, darker runs like “Mixology Certification” were handled with the type of expert tenderness one needs to make sad stuff funny. Yes, time and time again this show proved itself, and more than earned the respect of its loyal and loving fans. Fans like myself. Trekkie. Whovian. CloneClubber, and whatever the hell they are calling people who loved and lost when the truly darkest timeline would be to never have loved at all.