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Community: "Accounting for Lawyers"

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In its second season, a TV series has to figure out a way to both expand its world and dig deeper in to what already makes it familiar. All of that first season establishing stuff is off the table, and the series can feel free to just cut loose on exploring its setting and characters, figuring out what makes them who they are and where they're coming from. In a first season, a series only has so much room to experiment, since it needs to make sure the audience it has doesn't disappear because of any offhand risky maneuvers. Sure, you can do stunt episodes and the like in a first season, but you can't really tunnel deeper into what makes this world what it is. In a second season, though, any showrunner can feel free to go a little nuts. By now, the audience is along for the ride, but they're also that much more skeptical. Show me something I haven't seen.

The most common trick to expand a universe in a second season is to show us the history of the main characters, delve into their pasts and show us how they came to be who they are. Community begins that process in earnest with "Accounting for Lawyers," which takes us back to who Jeff Winger was when we first met him, then attempts to show us just how far he's come. Community is, on some level, a series about the fact that being in a community can make up for some pretty sick and damaged stuff at your core, but it has to be the right community. It does little good for the soul (a word that pops up surprisingly frequently on this show) to be stuck in a community where all anyone cares about is victory or money or fame.


The central conceit of "Accounting for Lawyers" is a pretty time-tested one: Jeff's old buddies from the workplace he was at before he was disbarred re-enter his life, first via Allen (Rob Corddry), who's attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting at Greendale, then via all of the old colleagues at his firm, who pop up at a party Allen invites Jeff to attend, in hopes of getting Jeff to persuade the big boss Ted (Drew Carey) - a man who started a law firm so people wouldn't talk about the hole in his hand - to make Allen a partner. Annie, however, knows something Jeff doesn't, because she attended NA meetings with Allen: Allen got Jeff disbarred and took a weird pride in it. The central setpiece of the show, then, becomes Jeff being tempted by his former life, while the rest of the gang tries to find proof that Allen betrayed Jeff. Oh, and Chang breakdances for five straight hours in hopes of joining the study group.

What's most interesting about this is just how easily the old Jeff resurfaces when he's back in touch with his old colleagues. But it's not just him. Britta gets propositioned to have once-a-month sex with the reward of getting to use a beach house in Rio. Shirley is informed of how she could sue the pants off of the woman who stole her husband. And Pierce is told of a mythical land where man is hunted for sport. The message here couldn't be more clear: Without each other, these people could very easily become petty, vindictive human beings driven only by spite. Without Greendale as a safe haven, they'd be sucked in by the world and turned dark and twisted. Granted, the episode makes this all funnier than it sounds above, but "Accounting for Lawyers" is about how, at some base level, self-improvement can be incredibly irritating. Becoming the person you should be is almost always harder than just giving in to your most venal impulses.


Of course, all of this takes place in an episode where the Dean is judging a pop-and-lock-a-thon that results in Chang dancing endlessly (and hilariously) and where Annie, Abed, and Troy attempt a weird sort of heist that ends in Annie turning into some sort of serial chloroformist. The show may have lots on its mind, but it never forgets that, yeah, it has to be funny. In that regard, "Accounting for Lawyers" is similarly terrific. While the premiere was very funny, there was a sense of everything rushing so quickly that many of the jokes didn't get the proper time to land. "Accounting for Lawyers" slows everything down just a tad, and while the jokes still rush by at lightning speed, it's easier to appreciate each and every one, from the subtle interplay of Abed and Shirley talking about the film Bad Influence to the big, goofy physical gag of Ted having that giant hole in his hand. (And I do hope that Ted comes back.)

But at the same time, the laughs are more hollow if we just don't buy the stakes, and "Accounting for Lawyers" nicely reaffirms everything that makes the show's character stuff work. For as much as shows like this try to claim that their central ensemble forms some sort of ad hoc family, it's not always the case. Community understands just how little these people have in common and just how much they've been thrown together by sheer, utter circumstance. But it also understands that when it comes down to the salvation and personal growth all of them are seeking, even if they don't know how to put that concept into words, there are no better people to seek that with than those sitting directly around them at the study table.


Stray observations:

  • So why not the mythical A? Well, as much as I liked Jeff's arc here, I thought the final two scenes were rather rushed. I liked the fact that he realized just how little there was for him in lawyer land after a fairly honest chat with Allen, but I didn't need the underlining beat of, "I think I caught something at Greendale" (though it was a sweet moment, so maybe it worked better than I thought it did). And as much as I liked seeing Joel McHale and Donald Glover dance together, Jeff's speech on the dance floor about the coolness of caring felt a little too much like the episode trying to spell out the moral more thoroughly. Sometimes, spelling out the moral is necessary. I don't think it was here.
  • After a full season spent trying not to sexualize Annie and failing, all of the characters are pretty much just blatantly sexualizing her. It's a good, funny dynamic.
  • It's good to see the Dean again. Any chance he'll be made a regular soon?
  • I'm sure the Chang subplot will have its detractors - every plot featuring Chang does - but I think it was all worth it for that brilliant dream sequence where we see just how he imagines his time in the study group would go, complete with score by Leo Delibes.
  • This one aired out of order. It was produced third, but aired second. What does it all mean? Maybe next week's episode will be awful. Or maybe this one just made more sense as the second piece of the storyline. It happens.
  • "Is the Dean planning another ridiculous event, or is the Greendale hat club still struggling to be noteworthy?"
  • "I painted a tunnel on the side of the library. When it dries, I'm going for it."
  • "I'm a teacher. Wait. That's worse than the truth. I'm a student."
  • "You've gone from precious to annoying."
  • "Narced? Hm. But he's like way too primo for that, Frank Zappa."
  • "Did you know that Gogurt is just yogurt?"
  • "I had a dream that one day I'd be head of a firm so nobody would be able to talk about the big weird hole in my hand."
  • "What's great, though, is that you don't stare or ask any questions."
  • "I wanna rub Purell on my brain."
  • "She's a stripper. Life sued her, and she lost."
  • "Did you know there's an island in Indonesia where you can hunt people?"
  • "Britta. You're not a whore. Shirley. Jesus turned the other cheek. He didn't garnish wages. Pierce. Do I even need to say this? It is bad to hunt man for sport."
  • "If I wasn't actively repressing my bi-curiousity right now, I would kiss you on your beautiful mouth."
  • "And now … the puppet."