Welcome to Looking Streets Behind, a weekly Community retrospective column! Each week, we’ll dive into a Community episode that has reached the 10th anniversary milestone. Ten years ago today, “Cooperative Calligraphy” drew its way onto our screens. Jeff tells our disappointment to suck it, because guess what? The study group is doing a bottle episode! In spite of the odds, in spite of the ongoing Puppy Parade outside, the Greendale Seven remains steadfast in their quest to uncover the elusive thief who absconded with Annie’s pen. This episode is, hands down, one of my favorite TV episodes of all time. It’s quintessential Community

So, without further ado, let’s join Annie’s Boobs for a deep dive down the air vents of “Cooperative Calligraphy.” Yes, the monkey. Not her — you know what I mean. 

RELATED: Looking Streets Behind: Community‘s ‘Aerodynamics of Gender’

The plot!
Still of Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie in Community's "Cooperative Calligraphy."

That face you make when your guy friend starts charting your menstrual cycle … for science.

Now, the plot is quite simple. Someone stole Annie’s (Alison Brie) beloved purple pen. She proceeds to confront the study group as they’re leaving for the Puppy Parade. However, no one wants to fess up. Abed (Danny Pudi) warns of the perils of moving into “bottle episode” territory as the group remains inside the study room. And that’s exactly what happens. We get a full-fledged bottle episode, much to Abed’s chagrin. 

Jeff (Joel McHale) throws a handful of Winger speeches our way throughout the course of “Cooperative Calligraphy.” The women give up their purses for a cursory search. You know, in case Annie’s pen grew legs and accidentally wandered into someone’s satchel. Shirley’s (Yvette Nicole Brown) belongings reveal a pregnancy test and with it the revelation that she’s reunited with her husband Andre.

We learn that Abed has been charting Shirley, Annie and Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) menstrual cycles. He comments that Shirley would have been ovulating during Halloween. If you recall, Shirley supposedly had a tryst with Chang (Ken Jeong) in “Epidemiology.” Uh oh. The group is unaware of this. 

In a fit of signature Winger rage, Jeff begins tearing the study room to shreds, hellbent on pinpointing the lost pen. Despite Annie’s initial proclamation that “it’s not a pen, it’s a principle,” she backtracks and tells Jeff “it’s just a pen.” Not a good idea to poke the Winger bear when he’s throwing a tantrum. 

Eventually, the gang strips down to their undies and searches each other, separated by gender. Jeff, Abed and Troy (Donald Glover) decide to pry apart Pierce’s (Chevy Chase) leg casts to see if the pen haphazardly slipped inside them. What they find is a putrid stench that reeks of a “waffle house sink.” That’s what Pierce gets for using multiple Slim Jims to scratch his broken legs. 

Throughout the episode, we hear Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) delivering announcements regarding the ensuing Puppy Parade that everyone is attending but the Greendale Seven. Our group chalks up the pen’s disappearance to a ghost. Ghosts steal pens all the time. By the end of “Cooperative Calligraphy,” our crew is stronger than ever. In the end credit scene, we find Annie’s Boobs has stolen every single pen of Annie’s and a slew of other Greendale paraphernalia, including Troy’s student ID. There’s also a Troy and Abed in the Morning mug among the stolen goods. The audacity! 

The one-liners and gags!

Community is known the world over for its never-ending wellspring of wonderful one-liners and side-splitting gags. “Cooperative Calligraphy” is no exception. Abed’s comment on bottle episodes is one of my favorites: “I hate bottle episodes. They’re wall-to-wall facial expressions and emotional nuance. I might as well sit in a corner with a bucket on my head.” Funnily enough, Abed finds himself in that exact situation. This episode featured some explosive “emotional nuance” moments. Annie’s scream at the beginning gets me every time. 

“Tell your disappointment to suck it! I’m doing a bottle episode!” Jeff tells the date he was supposed to catch. Or rather, the catch he was supposed to date. Something like that. 

Troy also had some great one-liners, but when doesn’t he? I may also be biased because Troy’s my favorite. “I want to see if those wiener dogs are born that way, or if they start off normal and then get wiener,” legitimately makes me snort-laugh. Another Troy line that kills me happens while Britta is getting “Guantanamo-ed” and she rages about the book 1984. “Do they find thoughts in our butts? I knew I should have read that book,” he says. I sincerely hope the act of finding thoughts in butts doesn’t become a staple of futuristic technology. 

“Attention students, the Puppy Parade is starting on the quad. Better come quick, with every passing moment these puppies grow older and less deserving of our attention.” Dean Pelton, as per his usual, delivers verbal gold. 

I really dig the running gag that transpires when our crew accuses someone of having the pen. “Well, well, well, Harvey Keitel.” “Well, what do you know, Henry David Thoreau.” Of course, Britta Britta’s it with her contribution: “My, oh my, Mike Ty … son.” Even Pierce pitches in with his own take. “Nice try, Stephen Fry.” I have now adopted the above lines into my own vernacular and you can’t stop me! 

Shirley has one of my favorite Shirley lines of all time. “I’ll make your ass linear” and “I’ll make your ass sense” are so brilliant, mostly due to Brown’s pitch perfect delivery. Honestly, there are so many golden lines in “Cooperative Calligraphy” that it’s difficult to narrow the list down to a few highlights. 

The pen of it all!
Still of Community cast in Season Two's "Cooperative Calligraphy."

All of this over a pen? That’s what happens when you cater to the bottle episode’s spellbinding influence.

And a Winger speech to bring us home! This Community episode accomplishes so much even though the group stays put. So, what’s the pen of it all? Trust. Who could really be so devious, so devoid of a moral compass to callously steal someone’s pen? As Jeff puts it, something “impossible” would actually seem more plausible. Why? Because this group loves each other with an intensity that’s seldom seen in community college study groups. Their tight bond prevents any of them from stealing each other’s personal belongings. Especially purple pens. Thankfully, Annie’s Boobs is behind the whole shebang. 

As with most Community episodes, there’s a lesson embedded within the dialogue and action. The Powers That Be are so adept at taking a simple premise and imbuing it with meaning. Just like “Aerodynamics of Gender” bore a lesson from jumping on a trampoline, “Cooperative Calligraphy” teaches us a lesson from pen theft. That, and never miss a Puppy Parade. How else will you learn if wiener dogs were born that way or if they start normal and get wiener? 

RELATED: Why ‘Epidemiology’ Is Community‘s Best Halloween Episode

What do you love most about Community‘s “Cooperative Calligraphy”? Sound off in the comments below! Be sure to join me next week for another installment of Looking Streets Behind, where we’ll be delving into yet another of my favorite Community episodes, “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design.” 

Until then, stay streets ahead. 


This article was originally published on 11/10/20

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