In the very first episode of NBC’s sitcom Community, we are introduced to cheating, lying, manipulative jerk named Jeff Winger. Jeff has ended up at Greendale Community College because he made a fake degree to become a lawyer, and after several years on the job, it was discovered. However, being brought down from his position as an awesome lawyer to that of a lowly college student (as he sees it) does not have the expected effect of adjusting Jeff’s moral compass. He spends the first portion of the episode trying to manipulate a professor (Duncan) into giving him the test answers for all his classes, and lying to a woman in his Spanish class (Britta) so she will go out with him.
After claiming he is a certified Spanish tutor, Jeff invites Britta to the Spanish study group he is leading in the library. Of course the group doesn’t actually exist, so when he walks in and only Britta is there, he claims the other people simply didn’t show up. Britta is prepared for this and has invited a student in their class named Abed to join the group. Jeff gets a little frustrated, but when he leaves to have a conversation with Duncan, he returns to a full room of people all waiting to hear from this “certified Spanish tutor”. Very annoyed, Jeff uses his manipulative techniques to get everyone really mad at each other and then leaves one more time to get the answers from Duncan in his car.
It all makes for excellent drama, and the audience spends the majority of the episode hating Jeff because of his smug arrogance and his apparent ability to lie to get whatever he wants. But the liar is told a lie, and the manipulator manipulated. Britta tells Jeff she’ll go out with him if he makes everyone in the study room calm down. He succeeds, but then Britta says she was lying, and she just wants study so she can pass the test. Jaded, Jeff tells everyone he does not even need to study because he has all the answers anyway. He leaves in a huff and opens the envelope Duncan gave him to find that all the pages are blank.
Through mortification, the study group (and the audience) is willing to give Jeff another chance. He tried to cheat and lie, but none of his plans worked out, and he decided to come clean, not only confessing that he was wrong to cheat, but also that he has never really learned to work in his life.
Applying the pentad in the theory of dramatistic analysis to the pilot episode of Community shows how the creators of the show bring an atypical lawyer character who thinks he is all that down to a guy who cannot win at his own game. What the audience witnesses throughout the episode is Jeff (the agent) rushing around Greendale campus applying his charm and manipulation to other characters so he can get what he wants. The acts of the episode are two main ones. Firstly, he reasons with Professor Duncan to give him the test answers for all his courses first semester. As a lawyer, Jeff got Duncan out of a tough DUI lawsuit so Jeff makes Duncan feel like he owes Jeff. When Duncan says that it would be wrong to cheat, Jeff uses logical arguments (agency) first pointing out that it doesn’t really matter because Greendale is a joke anyway and second, Duncan should hardly claim to be moral since he was caught drinking and driving and got out of punishment, which is hardly fair. Defeated, the professor says he will look into it and Jeff goes to lunch, bringing the audience to the second act of rule-breaking behaviour. In the cafeteria, he sees Britta studying Spanish and invites her to his study group at the end of the day. Although making up a study group to meet a girl is hardly commendable, society would likely not consider it rule-breaking because of the “higher calling” of a guy just wanting to get to know a girl. As the story continues however, Jeff keeps trying to get out of actually studying by telling lies to Britta. When an actual study group forms in his absence, he tells Britta he won’t study with them because they are “untutorable”, and then he uses further manipulation to bring the group to chaos. He pits the group against one another by innocently addressing the things the group finds uncomfortable about each other. Duncan interrupts by calling Jeff to come out to the parking lot to give him the envelope of test answers, and when Jeff returns he sees with satisfaction that the group is still arguing. Britta confronts Jeff outside the room, putting the audience’s thoughts into the incredulous words, “This is a game to you? You put human beings into a state of emotional shambles for a shot at getting in my pants?” Then Britta tells him that she go will go out with him if he fixes the mess he made. So with an inspirational—although somewhat vague—speech, Jeff takes a turn at complimenting each person in the room individually and bringing the situation to order. Britta tells him she was lying and that she just needs to learn Spanish and does not want to go out with him; she beats him at his own game. The viewer now has a clear picture of Jeff (agent) who is unlikeable because he cheats, lies, and manipulates (acts) using his “lawyer manipulation skills” (agency) in order to get what he wants, a date and test answers (purpose), but it all works against him when both Duncan and Britta lie back to him leading to the motive: “You reap what you sow” or “Cheaters never prosper”.
In the final scene (see below), when a member of the study group, Pierce, attempts to compliment Jeff by telling him that Jeff reminds him of himself when he was younger, Winger gets a kind of wake-up call. Jeff does not want to be like Pierce when he is sixty years old as an arrogant, ignorant old man, and perhaps the road he is taking now is not the best one. Sitting outside at the front entrance to a campus building, the rest of the study group comes out and Jeff tells them how everything went wrong and how he does not really know how to be hardworking because he has always learned to manipulate. Feeling kind of sorry for Jeff and kind of sorry for themselves, they decide to put aside their differences and go back inside to study together for the test. Jeff originally cheated and lied, but because he was lied to and manipulated to in return, he is redeemed through mortification. He apologizes. It is interesting to note that the best way to bring Jeff to that point was not through his defeat, but by a look into what he might be down the road were he to make the same choices (Pierce’s compliment).
The actual message received by viewers get is that people can change and the first step is forgiveness. No matter how relative your truth is—something Jeff states he firmly accepts—honesty, not manipulation, is what builds relationships between people and gives meaning to life. Community does an excellent job of dealing with Jeff’s unethical behaviour by punishing him and showing him that he can’t really get whatever he wants by cheating. In the end it brings a good message that lying does not really get you what you want, but asking for help can get you what you need.
Within the context of the whole show, this episode contributes a lot to themes. With the character of Jeff Winger, although he is likeable, he also continues to show an arrogant, controlling, but ever charismatic personality and it is frightening how he is able to lead the group dictatorially. Sometimes manipulation does give him what he wants. But there is also the theme that forgiveness brings people together. In this first episode, since everyone tells Jeff they forgive him for what he did and they are willing to move forward this very diverse group of people become bonded into a tight group, like a family, watching each other’s backs despite their differences and challenges.