When the group is paired up for a project by their Spanish teacher, Senor Chang, Jeff attempts to partner with Britta but winds up with Pierce instead. This leads to a falling out between them when Jeff tires of Pierce’s extreme approach to the assignment. But later, Jeff feels sorry for Pierce and participates in an elaborate performance in class with him–a selfless act, even though it earns him a failing grade. Meanwhile, Britta inspires Shirley and Annie to become activists for a political cause, which eventually makes Britta realize that she hasn’t achieved much in her life.
This episode marks the first appearance of Ken Jeong as Senor Chang. We also see for the first time, Dino Stamatopoulos as Starburns, making him the first of series’ many recurring Greendale students to appear.
Spanish 101 definitely shows some signs of looking more like the Community that we will come to know and love (more so than Pilot did) but it’s still not quite there. The weakness in Spanish 101 are the main storylines: Jeff and Pierce are not particularly funny, and the whole thing with the protesting just makes Shirley and Annie look kind of stupid. Meanwhile, Britta is still being written as “the smart one” – the only person in the whole group who actually can see Jeff for who he is.
What elevates this second episode is a handful of really funny and crazy things going on in the margins of the story. It starts with the Dean’s speech, which is one rapid-fire joke after another, all highlighting the inanity of Greendale as an education institution (“…a few corrections to the fall class catalog: Cosmology should be Cosmetology, Astrology should be Astronomy, and the students on the cover should be smiling, that’s a matter of opinion,” and “In order to increase awareness of homelessness, security has been given binoculars.”) Then you also have a funny conversation in the study room, which includes Abed asking for Britta to stop telling a story about persecuted Guatemalan journalists because he’s concerned about spoilers. Of course, there is that great and random tag at the end of the show (the first of a new regular part of the format) in which Troy and Abed beatbox and do the Spanish library rap.
There’s also some witty dialogue that’s actually related to the main plots, like Jeff pointing the irony of Pierce toasting “to the empoweragement of words”, and Annie & Shirley accusing Britta of being like Guatemala by telling them they are not allowed to protest. But somehow, it’s not enough to keep those parts of the episode interesting. Basically, this show gets a lot better when it stops being about Jeff trying to prove himself to Britta.
It’s actually Annie (not Abed) who brings up Susan Sarandon and Jodie Foster.
Abed talks about how he likes the Dean’s announcements because it makes every ten minutes seem like a new scene of a TV show. He goes on to say, “The illusion only lasts until someone says something they’d never say on TV, like how much their life is like TV. There, it’s gone.”
Later, Abed watches Pierce rant at Jeff and says, “Conflicts like these will eventually bring us together as an unlikely family.” (Of course, this is followed up by Troy’s completely random, “You have horrible breath right now.”)
• We begin the practice of giving the episodes names that resemble the names of college classes. This is, I believe, one of the few times that the title is the name of an actual class in the episode.
• We get a few more recognizable character traits creeping through. Britta once again brings up activism, and Shirley talks a lot about baking brownies. Jeff and Annie have a “My Lord” / “My Lady” exchange which maybe is the first indication of their eventual pseudo-pairing. Troy and Abed are paired off as friends. And Pierce continues to be gross, needy and inappropriate at almost every turn.
• This is the debut of the show’s theme song and animated credit sequence.
• It’s been two weeks since the events of the Pilot, apparently.
• Britta realizes that she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, which is sort of in the direction of her eventual character development, but it’s taking the slow road getting there.
• I didn’t think the obviously overlong montage of Pierce and Jeff’s insane Spanish presentation was particularly funny, but I did like it when Jeff interrupted Chang’s question, “Why are there costumes involved? These are short conversations, they’re not supposed to take–” with “Your breath away? Well, tough.”
Most Inspired Moment
It’d be easy to point to Troy and Abed rapping in the library in Spanish for this, but for me, the greatest moment is the introduction of Chang in the Spanish class. We get the insanity and danger of this weirdo right away. The humor isn’t pitch-perfect, but it’s so jarring and random that it got my attention instantly. I especially like it when he says
Now, I don’t want to have any conversations about what a mysterious and inscrutable man I am. I am a Spanish genius! In español, my nickname is “El tigre chino”! ‘Cause my knowledge will bite her face off! So don’t question señor Chang or you’ll get bit!