Broadcast Date: 24 September 2009
Director: Joe Russo
Writer: Dan Harmon
Cast: Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, and Danny Pudi
Chang: “My knowledge will bite her face off.”
As I mentioned in my review of “Chuck versus the Helicopter”, most television shows get two kick-offs: the pilot, which introduces the characters in a self-contained manner, and the episode right after, which confirms the dynamics with an eye to long-term planning. Since the latter represents the network’s first opportunity to chip in, a few adjustments are sometimes made to either soften up the characters (Glee), nudge the central premise in a more romantic direction (Nikita), or change creative teams for the fourteenth time, turning a promising new sci-fi drama into a big bowl of incoherent goop (Bionic Woman).
Enter Señor Chang, who seems to be replacing Duncan as the series’ recurrent faculty member, or maybe he’s just a last-minute addition to the cast. I can’t tell at this point, though I find John Oliver’s absence a bit suspicious, given his prominent role in the pilot. I’m guessing someone figured out a Spanish study group is more likely to interact with a Spanish teacher than a psychology professor. At any rate, I like both characters equally, so this strikes me as a lateral move.
Now, many have criticized Ken Jeong for projecting a negative image of Asians. I would argue he doesn’t project any image of Asians because his antics don’t pertain to recognisable stereotypes. Sure, I expect some jerks will use Chang’s tantrums to denigrate unsuspecting men of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean descent, but Jeong and the writers can hardly be blamed for that. Moreover, his rant on people always asking why he teaches Spanish pretty much hits the nail on the head.
One might inquire why the Spanish teacher is just now introducing himself when the class had its first pop quiz last week, but I confess to having felt Chang’s rage when professors would remind me “this is not English as a Second Language” as I entered their class or when my work would get credited to other people because “it’s so full of humour”. The most infuriating part is you can’t say anything without getting dismissed for being the “oversensitive immigrant” or a “typical Chinese who can’t let go of his pride”. These minor frustrations add up in a lifetime, and there’s something cathartic about watching Chang let it all hang out… Wait. That came out wrong.
Anyway, on to the main plot, or rather plots: “Spanish 101” presents two parallel storylines establishing Jeff and Britta as the parents of the group. The first shows Jeff trying to complete a Spanish assignment with the overbearing Pierce. The second has Britta coping with Annie and Shirley’s tacky awareness campaign for Guatemala. Having experienced variations of both situations, I spent most of the episode wanting to strangle Pierce and Shirley. Annie got a pass for ending up in Jeff’s presentation, which strikes me as punishment enough.
In both threads, the offending (or offensive) parties are merely trying to impress their cooler, worldlier classmates, and it seems obvious Annie, Shirley, and Pierce would fare a lot better if they didn’t try so hard, not that the writers are going for that tired “Be yourself” sitcom moral. The message at the heart of “Spanish 101” turns out considerably more cynical and, well, insightful: don’t judge others too harshly because, deep down, you know you’re not so hot yourself.
I think that’s the secret behind Troy and Abed’s partnership, not yet the legendary bromance that will come to define Community. Always assuming he’s the dysfunctional one, Abed accepts everything and everyone without judgement, while Troy tends to live in the moment, just looking to have fun. In other words, the two never let their baggage get in the way of their social interactions. Is it any wonder they can complete their Spanish assignment in a mere thirty seconds? Incidentally, that bit is my favourite of the whole episode.
- Introducing Starburns!
- What are the chances of six people in the same study group getting each other as partners?
- By now, we’ve seen endless permutations of the embarrassing public performance, so Jeff and Pierce’s presentation left me a bit cold. That is, except for the brilliant bit of misdirection with Chang giving the sports movie Silent Nod of Approval.
- The track playing during the montage is “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann: one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite movies, Magnolia (1999).
- Another favourite song of mine is now the biblioteca rap.
Annie: “You’re like Jodie Foster or Susan Sarandon. You’d rather keep it real than be likeable.”
Chang: “Come on, hands! Ninety percent of Spanish!”
Annie: “You can hang the Chacata Panecos piñata.”
Britta: “You guys realize he was beaten to death, right?”
I assume this is a fictional person. Otherwise, wow.
Pierce: “To the empowerage of words!”
Jeff: “To the irony of that sentence.”
Britta: “Abed, real stories, they don’t have spoilers. You understand that TV and life are different, right?”
Abed: “Conflicts like these will inevitably bring us together as an unlikely family.”
Annie: “Are you saying that we’re not allowed to protest? Britta, you sound like Guatemala.”
Chang: “These are short conversations. They’re not supposed to take–”
Jeff: “Your breath away?”
At this point, Community is still sticking a bit too close to the standard sitcom formula for my tastes, but come on: Chacata Panecos piñatas!