Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Ironic Statement of Theme on "Community"

Last time we examined the brilliant opening speech of the “Community” pilot, so now let’s jump to the end for an equally great speech, which provides the show’s “statement of theme” in a way that is both ironic and unironic.
  • “You know what makes humans different from other animals? We are the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week. Sharks don’t even have Shark Week, but we do. For the same reason I can pick up this pencil, tell you its name is Steve, then go like this [snaps pencil] And part of you dies just a little inside. Because humans can connect to anything. We can sympathize with a pencil, we can forgive a shark, we can give Ben Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting. People can find the good in just about anything but themselves.”
In some ways this show is the happy medium between two of the biggest hit sitcoms of the time. Both “Modern Family” and “The Office” are (unlike “Community”) shot in “mockumentary” style, with the characters occasionally narrating their lives to an off-screen cameraman, and both shows frequent end with a character giving a speech to the camera in which they try to sum up everything that’s happened and what it all means. On “Modern Family”, however, these speeches are usually dreadfully unironic, wrapping up that week’s theme in a tidy bow (until it strangles to death). On “The Office” at its best, however, the “meaningful” final summations given by Michael Scott miss the mark entirely...which generates more actual meaning, because it forces us to draw it for ourselves.
“Community” would consistently be a happy medium between the two: less earnest than “Modern Family” and moreso than “The Office”, but it would always find ways to deliver meaning in non-saccarine ways, and this speech is a great example

Jeff’s speech works on multiple levels. On the one hand, he’s bullshitting yet again, telling them the pablum they want to hear in order to get the meeting over with so that he can get in Britta’s pants, so he’s not being genuinely earnest about this and we know it…but in truth, he’s also inadvertently telling himself an actual truth he needs to hear.

We can tell that he’s giving this statement of theme sarcastically, which lowers our defenses, but both he and we realize only at the end that what he’s saying is actually true and accidentally-but-genuinely meaningful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rulebook Casefile: The Framing Device (and Unsafe Space) on Community

Let’s spend some time luxuriating in the glorious opening minutes of the “Community” pilot, where we get a big burst of Concept, Character, Ensemble Introduction (and Differentiation), Tone and Theme all in the very first minute!

Here’s how it goes: We pan down on the nice-but-plain campus of a community college as bumbling Dean Pelton prepares to give a speech. After comically screwing up with the equipment a little bit he finally launches into:



So what all is this doing?
  • It introduces the setting.
  • It introduces most of our ensemble, where they are in life, what their problems are, how the world sees them, and how they want to be seen (they clearly don’t want to be described in the way the dean is describing them)
  • It introduces the goal (fix your broken life) and the stakes (or else this description will be your epitaph)
  • But it’s genuinely funny on its own merits, so it doesn’t feel like a mere info-dump.
  • It creates conflict: each character is now on the defensive.
  • It subtly solves the problem faced by most college shows: College is supposed to be an “intentional community” and a “safe space”, but those both kill drama, which is why most college shows don’t work. This speech, however, shows that this particular community is actually quite unintentional and this space is not at all safe from judgment.
  • The missing card becomes a metaphor for the series: we can see the problems, but not the solutions. In the filmed episode the dean ad libs a great line as he pleads for people to find the missing card, “If we could all look around our immediate areas…” And that is in fact the mission of the show: look around your immediate area and find the missing instructions for fixing your broken life.
Normally when we talk about “framing devices” on TV, we’re think of past-tense voiceover or flashforwards, but this is a different sort of framing device that’s far less intrusive. A framing device can be anything that briefly takes us out of the world of the characters and allows us to see them with some perspective they don’t have: Anything that allows us to be “in it” and still also “outside of it” looking down on these characters with a little more perspective than they have themselves at the time, before we jump in and see the rest of the story from their point of view.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Straying from the Party Line: Unambiguous Right and Wrong on “Community”

So let’s address one of the central paradoxes of “Community”: It had the most hipster-ish cult fanbase of any show on Network TV since “Arrested Development”, but it’s actually, in many ways, a startlingly earnest show.

This is shocking: Dan Harmon, after all, created “Heat Vision and Jack”, perhaps the most tongue-in-cheek pilot ever made, and then followed that up with the droll anti-sitcom “The Sarah Silverman Program”. How did this guy end up creating this pilot? Two possible answers:
  • Presumably after failing to break through to a wide audience, he was more willing to take network notes and give them the kind of show they wanted, but more importantly…
  • This pilot ingenuousness is somewhat disingenuous. When I saw it in 2009, I remember thinking “Wow, this looks great, and it could be the show that brings unironic learning and growing back to sitcoms.” I was certainly right about the show being great, but not about the show’s commitment to non-irony. Just the opposite happened: the show quickly shifted to a far more ironic tone, to the point where every other episode became a brilliantly-post-modern parody of a different film genre.
Nevertheless, I don’t want to sell sort the show’s emotional content, in the pilot and in its non-post-modern episodes. In fact, this pilot is startlingly non-ironic: it actually has far less irony any story should be able to get away with. Let’s look to the checklist:
  • The ironic dilemma, between individual achievement and community building, tips decisively in one direction (no hints as to which one.)
  • The plot doesn’t just collide thesis and antithesis and let us choose, the characters actually talk quite a bit about what it all means, synthesizing a concrete moral. Audiences normally hate this.
  • Our hero has a resolvable issue that can ultimately be solved in a tidy way
So why does the pilot work? Partly it was a matter of timing. After we killed off our economy with a plague of “liar loans”, American audiences were ready for a little unironic moralizing about our future. Jeff is the ultimate downwardly mobile formerly-middle-class American, who coasted by on confidence and cockiness during the boom times, only to realize that he must belatedly face his flaws and work with his peers in the lean times.

This show doesn’t simply ignore the possibility of moral ambiguity, it actively campaigns against it. As Jeff says at one point, while defending his lies: “I’ve understood since I was a kid that if I talked long enough, I could make anything true. So either I’m God or truth is relative, and in either case: booyah.” This is refreshing. In the world of the show, unambiguous morality, instead of seeming trite and simplistic, seems like a daring new concept.

So why doesn’t it sabotage things to have the cast talk so much about morality? One reason is the setting: college is the land of over-earnest talky-talk-talk. That’s true to life and it’s also part of the joke: at no other point in life is your level of “insight” so divorced from your actual wisdom. When we watch this very diverse ensemble trying to wrap things up with a bow, we maintain a healthy distance from them, somewhat convinced but also amused, which keeps the show from feeling overly moralistic.

And third reason crosses over with our next edition of “Straying from the Party Line”…

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Ultimate Pilot Story Checklist: Community

Fast-talking attorney Jeff Winger is disbarred when it turns out his college degree is fake, so he enrolls at Greendale Community College. In order to hit on an activist named Britta, he creates a Spanish study group that also attracts various outcasts: awkward geek Abed, laid-back jock Troy, peppy-but-brittle Annie, single-mom Shirley, and wealthy dilettante Pierce. Meanwhile, Jeff tries to cheat with the help of a former client who teaches there, Duncan.
Part 1: Is this a strong concept for an ongoing series? (14/20)           
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
Yes, it’s very funny, and promises to be rather heartfelt as well (though the actual series will not be as warm as this pilot)
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
No, but it doesn’t need to, because it’s a unique setting. 
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
Yes, a disbarred lawyer and his Spanish study group.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
Yes, a man with a law degree must attend community college.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
Yes, it’s very NBC. (Young single urbanites, sarcastic tone, fast-paced, lots of quippy put-downs)
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
We like all of the people, even if the concept of community college is a little depressing. We hope that, even if the Community College fails them, their community will succeed.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
Jeff.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Yes. McHale had done some movies and he was a TV star.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
In both good and bad ways. Negative: The school is poorly run, the dean is insensitive. Positive: Everybody in the study room calls each other on their bullshit.  Jeff has found a place that he can’t lie and cheat his way through.  All of his tricks are failing him here.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
Yes: You would expect them all to be poor, but Jeff and Pierce both have money.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
No. Other than Spanish tests, this show will have to generate a new conflict from scratch every episode.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
Not really, but there will be plenty of excuses to get up and move, in addition to the academic and social challenges. Oddly, full-scale physical wars will break out several times.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
Not really. This is a low-stakes environment. Jeff’s quest to be a lawyer again will quickly be back-burnered and the only question will be “can the community be maintained?”  Nevertheless Harmon will make that a weighty question.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
Tests, grades, and personal crises for these damaged people. 
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
It’s already funny and heartwarming throughout, even though the community doesn’t coalesce until the final moments. 
Does pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
No.  There will soon be various indelible images later: the mascot, the logo, etc., but not yet.  In the meantime, the second episode will create the “cootie-catcher” opening, which nicely sets the tone from that point on.
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
Sort of, with the setting.  It had been a long time since there had been a show about a group of poor, damaged people coming together (Cheers, Taxi), but unlike those shows, this added racial and religious diversity into the mix.  It felt pretty refreshing.
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
No. It’s a gentle pilot.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
Potential romance between Jeff and Britta.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
Jeff commits to becoming a totally different person.
Part 2: Is this a compelling hero? (15/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
Pretty much all of them: Funny (quippy with Abed), kind in his own way (Abed says “that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me”), out-of-character (admits quickly that he’s actually weak and adrift), comically vain (punctured pass at Britta)
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
Alpha-male handsome lawyer
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
Loser who can’t cope with real life
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
I can talk my way out of this, I deserve adoration, Always cheat
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Law “Laws are tools. We reshape them to suit the job.” “I’m not saying that. I’m giving you pieces of a puzzle, which, when put together, form a picture of you owing me.” “What’s your deal and IS GOD DEAD?” “I can’t think of a single logical reason why not.”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Cocky
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Flips what you just said, traps you with evidence of your lies or prevarications.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his great strength?
He’s a manipulative cheater who’s coasted on his lies and can’t cope with real adversity. (TV heroes don’t always have a false statement of philosophy, but he does: “If I’d wanted to learn something, I wouldn’t have come to community college.”)
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
No and yes.  He has entered a community college that has no use for his lies and expects him to change and become a better person.  On the other hand, he forms a study group that instantly looks up to him and believes his lies.  They, too, are asking him to change, but they’re also reinforcing his bad habits by looking up to him.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
Very much so.  He has no sense of community. 
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his great flaw?
He’s a natural leader and motivator, and he’s great at reading human nature.
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
Yes, he was a great lawyer and a natural study group leader.  He gives a great speech.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Yes, nobody has his self-confidence.
Is the hero curious?
Yes, he’s great at finding out about people.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Yes.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
Yes.  He’s always “lawyering” people (to borrow a phrase from HIMYM)
Part 3: Is this a strong ensemble (beyond the hero or co-heroes)?  (12/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Movie-veteran Chevy Chase and “Daily Show” star John Oliver signed on.
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
The rest were all unknowns, but this attracted a hugely-talented cast across the board because it’s a great script.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
Very much so. 
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
Equally by both.  There’s a lot of backstory, but their present drama is allowed to be more interesting than their past drama. 
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
Very much so.  There’s even a good gag about Jeff not being offered any advice by the lunch lady. 
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
No, but that’s fine, because this is a show about anarchy vs. community. The students don’t run the school, so it’s important to establish right away that the dean is incompetent, to establish that though the students have little power, but no one has power over them either, because chaos reigns.  That gives them just as much agency as anybody else.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
The hero is also the POV character.
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
Jeff cleverly extracts details in order to sow dissention when he’s trying to break up the study-group.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
Very complex polarization which I detailed here. To sum up: Pierce is all-gut, Britta is all-head, Shirley is all-heart, Abed is head and gut, Troy is heart and gut, Annie is head and heart and Jeff is three-dimensional (although Jeff and Abed will eventually switch places)
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
Pierce: old-timey folksy gentleman (this beautiful creature’s name” “ little princess Annie”), Britta: teen: (“Abed in the house!” “ready to puke”), Shirley: white mom (calls Annie “pumpkin”), Abed: Pop culture, Troy: Jock (Calls people “buddy” worries that doing the wrong thing would mean “I’m weak”) (Note: they would totally abandon this personality for Troy soon after, but it wasn’t that jarring, because people really do jettison old personalities upon arriving at college), Annie: psychology (which is her major: “your age indicates you made bad life decisions.”)
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
Pierce: bigoted and paternalistic, Britta: straightforward and righteous, Shirley: chirpy and optimistic on the surface and fierce underneath, Abed: nerdy, awkward talkative, bluntly honest, naive, Troy: mocking, confused, Annie: sweet but prickly
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
Abed: Faux naïve questions, noticing little details and psychological “tells”
Annie: Genuinely naïve questions, persistently interrogating until she gets the truth. Troy: Half-heartedly attempting to lay logic traps and trap you with your own words. Shirley: Passive aggressive guilt-tripping. Britta: Accusing you of hypocrisy, inconsistency, or general lack of morality.    Pierce: He doesn’t strategize, he just insults.  Not coincidentally, he’s the most unlikable character. 
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
To a certain extent with Pierce (and even with Abed, who rubs many people the wrong way).  An even more prickly character will be introduced in the next episode with Chang.
Part 4: Is the pilot episode a strong stand-alone story and good template for the ongoing series? (22/22)   
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series?
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
Pretty much. It runs a little long: 25 minutes.
If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
Yes, three.
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
Yes, but fairly mild ones.  This is a big character and small plot show.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
This show won’t have a very strict time frame, but many episodes (maybe slightly more than half) will take place in one day, as this does.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
Yes, but it’s a little strained.  Duncan calls him away from the study group to discuss the answers some more in a fairly awkward way, merely to keep that storyline alive.  It’s hard to intercut storylines when both of the storylines are focused on the same character.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
Pretty much.  The study group is basically formed by the first half and they have their first crisis from that point on.
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
Yes.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Yes.
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Yes, it turns out that he can’t cheat and this place will make him change.
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
Yes, hit on Britta and get the answers for every test
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
It’s already developed: he’s been disbarred and sent to community college.  Now he finds out that Britta is hard to hit on.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
Yes for each: He approaches Duncan about the tests, and develops a plan to win Britta.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
Yes, Britta is prickly and Duncan is too moral.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
Yes, he tries to whitemail Duncan and trick Britta.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
Fairly minor: a whole study group shows up and Britta says that she’s only get dinner after they’re all done studying together.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Yes, he has to bring out his higher-grade bullshit now.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
Very much so.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
Somewhat. He certainly grows more frantic about both goals.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
His lies are exposed and he discovers that the answers he’s been given are fake.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
Just barely: he only admits at the end that he’s failed at both of his original goals, then decides to pursue a corrected goal in future episodes.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
He is proactive throughout. 
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
He has a huge personal revelation: “I don’t have any of the answers.” When told to just study for an hour, he says “The funny thing about being smart is that you can get through life without doing any work, so I’m, uh, not really sure how to do that.” 
Part 5: Is each scene the best it can be? (18/23)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
Just slightly, we see that Jeff knows no Spanish, yet we’re told he played Bejeweled all through class, so we’re wondering what his plan is.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
No, it goes from beginning to end.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
Not really.  It’s painfully cramped, which they both comment on, and there’s a dumpster outside that people pee on, forcing Duncan to scold them, but it’s not really that intimidating or active. 
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
Duncan wasn’t, but he’s happy to put down his papers.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
The student peeing, the details of Duncan’s drunk driving trial.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
No.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
Very much so.  It sets up one plotline and lets us get to know Jeff and Duncan well, both by revealing their pasts and showing their current actions.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
Somewhat.  Jeff is embarrassed, but tries to laugh it off. Duncan is ethically troubled, but tries to suppress it.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
It shifts.  We just met and liked Jeff, so we start out rooting for him, but this is where we realize that he’s basically not a good guy, and needs to change, so we switch to Duncan.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Jeff wants the answers, Duncan doesn’t want to give them to him.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface: I want the answers as a friend, suppressed: I can made this bad for you if I don’t get them.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
The details of Duncan’s trial are brought up to imply that Jeff can get away with anything.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
Jeff blithely hides his feelings of humiliation.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
Jeff tries, but Duncan forces him to be direct.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
They shake hands at the beginning and again at the end.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
Jeff tries to hand Duncan his schedule but Duncan is reluctant to take it.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
A small scene with just goal.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Duncan agrees to get the answers.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
No, Jeff gets what he wants the way he wanted to get it.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
Who is Jeff? What is he doing here? Why isn’t he bothering to study?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
Will Duncan do it?  Will Jeff get away with this?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
We have begun to fear that Jeff is self-destructive.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
No, this cuts to the opening credits. 
Part 6: Is this powerful dialogue? (11/13)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Very much so.  This show is an empathy machine.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Very much so.  He sees more than the others do, but still misses a lot.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Very much so.  They need surgeon Jeff to slice them open (and vice versa)
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
Very much so.
Do the characters listen poorly?
Very much so.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
Very much so.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
Yes, the teacher-student-talk is great. When the Dean realizes that he’s dropped the title card that contained the encouraging part of his speech, he says “If we could all look in our immediate areas…”
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
Not really. They’re not good students, and the teacher isn’t a good teacher.  This is sort of a tradecraft-free zone. This show is about the superiority of group problem-solving over individual expertise.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes and no.  Most of the cast members can spew out whole paragraphs rapid fire, which allows them to be less concise than most characters.  But it can also be very concise: “I see your value now.”
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Very much so. 
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Jeff, Duncan and Abed all use complex sentence structures for various reasons, but they talk so fast that no one can interrupt.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
The last scene.
Part 7: Does the pilot manage its tone to create and fulfill audience expectations? (8/10)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
The workplace comedy.
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
Yes, being disbarred and sent back to Community college is a metaphor for the economy crashing and general downward mobility.
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
Zippy, sarcastic, positive, earnest.  The actual series will be more pessimistic and less earnest than the pilot, however.
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
No, both storylines are Jeff-centric and they have a similar mood.
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
Social and spiritual.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
The dean’s speech sort of acts as an opening voice-over, establishing the setting, the mood, the conflict and the stakes for each character.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
Will Jeff get the answers, and will Britta have dinner with him?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
Not really.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
There aren’t really any plot contrivances, but there are nice call-backs, including the last line, where Jeff and Abed flip the lines “I see your value now.” “That’s the nicest thing that anybody’s ever said to me.”
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
Yes: he won’t get the answers and she won’t have dinner with him.
Part 8: Does the pilot create a meaningful ongoing theme? (11/14)   
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
Yes, the Dean’s speech, as inept as it is, makes clear the value and promise of the institution, as opposed to better-funded real colleges.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s stated statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
One of the best ever (although Jeff offers it disingenuously, he really knows it’s true deep down): “You know what makes humans different from other animals? We are the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week. Sharks don’t even have Shark Week, but we do. For the same reason I can pick up this pencil, tell you its name is Steve, then go like this (snaps pencil) And part of you dies just a little inside. Because humans can connect to anything. We can sympathize with a pencil, we can forgive a shark, we can give Ben Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting. People can find the good in just about anything but themselves.”
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Community vs individual achievement (and/or anarchy)
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
No.  Most of the pilot is about deciding between good vs. bad (cheating vs. doing the work, honestly courting vs dishonestly courting) This will be a fairly moralistic show. This won’t be a show about people doing their best when faced with tough decisions, this will be a show about people tempted to do the worst when faced with straightforward decisions.
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
Pretty directly: Jeff cheats, lies, and grows in both.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
It’s a show about community-building, at a community college, they meet in a library, Spanish = overcoming myopia and accepting one’s larger community (most of the hemisphere speaks Spanish, after all)
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
It’s hard to see how in the pilot (what’s morally gray about learning Spanish?), but they will, and upon closer examination that is set up here: their incompatible personality flaws will cause them to have to make tough interpersonal decisions every week.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
Very much so. Like The Office and Parks and Rec”, it revels in the minutiae of bureaucratic structures.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
Very much so. They can get whole episodes out of complex internecine squabbles that cripple small institutions.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
Very much so. This is the definitive show of the post-crash era, as well as being very multicultural: Every character has a different religion, and they’re not reluctant to fight about that.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Very much so.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
Very much so. Lots of damage and pain on this show.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
No, they definitely synthesize and talk about what it all means.  It feels a little cheesy, and it should feel phony, but it works because of the setting: college students love to talk about their feelings and what it all means.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
No. It tips pretty definitively by the end. These characters won’t struggle to discover what’s right, they will struggle to overcome their massive internal flaws and do what they already know to be right.
Total Score: 111/133