My love of Community has been well-documented on this blog and on my Twitter (and basically just about every other place I go). I remember the exact moment when I decided Community was my new favorite show: it was immediately after Epidemiology aired, and I realized exactly what the show was capable of. Because its characters were so strong and defined and unique, the show itself could veer off into these unique situations (like an episode about a zombie virus that never strays into the supernatural or unrealistic) in ways that no other show could.
And, surprise surprise, I happen to be a huge Jeff/Annie fan, for various reasons. But over the last four years, the people who work on Community have expressed their opinions on this pairing that don’t exactly line up with the fans’ perceptions, and that’s fine. I’ve been involved in fandom long enough to understand that not everything you want to see happen should happen, and that there are just as many reasons why Jeff and Annie shouldn’t be together as reasons why they should. So I don’t have an issue with the show’s writers and creator saying that the two wouldn’t work together.
However, I do have an issue with the way that they talk about it. Specifically, with Dan Harmon’s image of Annie. He’s given quite a few interviews where he talks about Jeff and Annie, and how much he loves their shippers because of their passion for the show. Except, more often than not, he refers to the shippers as “16-year-old girls”. And, on at least one occasion, has explained why he thinks these 16-year-old girls are shipping Jeff and Annie so passionately: because they all want to be Annie, and to be able to kiss someone like Jeff Winger/Joel McHale. In the four years that I’ve been watching the show and the three years that I’ve been a part of its fandom, I’ve met countless people who are just as passionate about the show as I am. And guess what? That includes men. That includes women. I’ve met people in their twenties, thirties, and forties. You know who I haven’t met? Any sixteen-year-old girls. Or anyone whose primary reason for shipping Jeff and Annie is because they want to imagine that they’re Annie.
(And before we get any further, I want to clarify that this post isn’t coming from a fangirl angry that her ship isn’t working out. Any mentions of Jeff/Annie as a ship in this post aren’t necessarily my way of saying that the two need to be together, or that them being together would magically fix all of the problems with Annie’s character; instead, it’s referring to how a relationship between the two would change their characters, and the sort of growth they’d both undergo.)
In fact, I was sixteen when the show started. And I was excited that there was a female character so close to my own age, but by the second or third episode, I realized I had very little in common with Annie beyond our age group and gender. I connected most with Abed, the pop culture nerd, as most Community fans did early on – because ultimately, people connect with personalities, not with demographics. And as the season went on and we got to know more about Annie, I did realize that I had some things in common with her, and she became one of my favorite characters. And now, I admire Annie Edison. She’s strong, smart, capable, self-reliant, and does whatever she needs to keep her head above water. But I don’t want to be Annie Edison. I don’t want to be a former pill addict who winds up at a community college because she had no other options – but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire her for having gone through those things. After all, Annie’s addiction and its fallout led her to Greendale, and the issues that caused her to start taking drugs created beautiful, complicated flaws that ultimately are required in a great character. But my admiration of Annie Edison should in no way be interpreted as a desire to be her.
It’s an argument I just don’t understand: young girls are automatically going to connect the most with the youngest girl on the show? Even though the sixteen-year-olds who fell in love with Jeff and Annie in season one are now twenty. Even though Troy is the same age as her, and his storyline is much more reflective of a person struggling to figure out what they want to do with their life. Even though Annie is now almost 23. But that’s been the main problem with all of Annie’s storylines: the writers forget that she’s growing up. And for all the attention placed on Annie’s age, it seems that the people writing for her have completely forgotten the most important thing about being in your early twenties: you’re constantly changing. We only got hints of Annie’s uncertainty about her future – one mention of her major in an early season two episode, and then a very small storyline throughout season four where she decides to change her major. When Annie first thought of changing her major in the season four premiere, I was excited – it’s a conflict that many people go through in college, and it seemed like a good opportunity to finally get the characterization that we had been missing since the first season. And then…nothing. Annie chose forensics after a one-off suggestion from Abed. No insights about why Annie felt drawn to the field, no scenes of her struggling with the choice to change her major this late in her time at Greendale.
In fact, considering how little we see of Annie’s personal life and how infrequently she mentions her past, how she acts around Jeff is really the only image we get of what Annie’s like when her nose isn’t buried in a textbook. And, apparently, when Annie isn’t enabling her friends to become better people or paying her own bills or completely supporting herself financially and otherwise, she turns into a vapid schoolgirl with silly, inappropriate crushes.
Actually, reading this over, now I see why Dan might expect the audience to sympathize with Annie simply because of her relationship with Jeff: because they’ve given us no other insights into her character. She’s been completely reduced to nothing more than one half of a romantic couple – a romantic couple that the show’s writers find deplorable and completely without merit. Their main opposition to a relationship between Jeff and Annie? Her age – because it makes Jeff feel shameful, because it makes her immature, because it creates too much of a gap between the two characters.
But then this leads to an interesting question: who is Annie supposed to date? Because from what we’ve seen, the writers don’t seem capable of giving her a real love interest who’s close to her in either age or personality. Her three love interests on the show have all been older men (and the youngest one, Vaughn, was presumably in his late twenties, ten years older than Annie, if he was considered a viable love interest for Britta without any mentions of an age difference). Two of those men have commented on the age difference, and used it as a reason not to enter a relationship. So, clearly, then, Annie would be best suited for someone her own age – except the only existing character that we know is Annie’s age is Troy, and she’s often revealed that she thinks he’s immature. And considering how often the writers make Annie seem immature when it comes to relationships, I think it’s safe to say that the view of people in their early twenties isn’t exactly flattering on Community. And in four seasons, we haven’t really met any men who share Annie’s idealism and optimism about love – in fact, the only people who share that are the Jeff/Annie fans, who think the two could ground each other and make the other focus more clearly on the world before them, while still having a deep and overwhelming love for each other. It’s a mix of Annie’s position as a hopeless romantic and Jeff’s cynicism – moreover, it’s an extrapolation of the traits we see in both of them, and an area in which the two might find themselves compatible. But of course Jeff isn’t the only person who could embrace that side of Annie; the problem is, the fans who share that trait are mocked by the writers. We’re schoolgirls and self-projecting and – say it with me, everyone – pathological. So there’s just about no way that a character who embraces those traits would wind up on the show – making me ask, once again, who the hell Annie is supposed to date.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of how they handle Annie’s age. Hey, here’s a fun fact: I’m three years younger than Annie. I know what a landline is (and used one for most of my life). The show loves to make jokes about how young she and Troy are, and every single time, they completely miss the mark. They treat them like they’re eternal teenagers, while the fans focus on their hearts, their relationships with the other characters, and their senses of humor. The writers exclude these young characters from certain storylines just because of their age – when they’re the only people defining Annie by her age.
I’m offended by Community’s treatment of Annie as a fan of television and as a young adult. Again, I’m only three years younger than her, and at 20, I’m the same age she was when we found out that she was living on her own in an apartment over Dildopolis. I have friends who are varying degrees of self-sufficient – some live on their own with almost no dependency whatsoever on their parents, some still live at home and are financially dependent, but otherwise can fend for themselves. And then there’s Annie, who (presumably) has been living on her own since she was eighteen and got out of rehab. I realize that every person and situation is different, but I can say with complete certainty that every person forced to grow up too early will become a mature, responsible person in every other aspect of their life. Honestly, that’s just how that works. My best friend essentially lives by herself every summer while she works at home and her family goes to their house in Cape Cod, and the experience of being financially and physically independent has made her more mature when dealing with our friends and unexpected situations around her house. I know a 21-year-old who’s been dating the same person for four and a half years. People in their early twenties are completely capable of cultivating mature, lifelong relationships, both romantic and otherwise. So explain to me how a 19-year-old girl would have to consult a teen magazine to rate her kiss with a guy. Or how a kiss three months before would make her convinced that they were perfect for each other. This is not how an 18-22 year old woman acts. Annie is an adult more than capable of making her own decisions, and she doesn’t deserve for her emotions to be dismissed – by fans, by the other characters, and especially by the writers – as the fickle emotions of a teenage girl.
On a show with dark, flawed characters who come from complicated and often sad backgrounds, Annie’s storyline might be the darkest. But her addiction doesn’t define her: she’s already out of rehab when the show starts, and hardly ever mentions her past (which I think is a large example of the show’s refusal to allow Annie’s characterization to grow, but I digress). The first image we get of her is as Annie 2.0: she’s strong and smart and driven, but has already learned the consequences of what can happen if she lets herself lose control. That’s a huge journey for someone to go through, and we only reap the benefits of the changes she underwent in high school. There is no way, in any shape or form, that someone who undergoes something like that would be as fickle and emotional when it comes to relationships as a fourteen-year-old girl in the throes of her first crush. Annie Edison, who’s had at least two long-term relationships and isn’t a virgin and isn’t a stranger to being desired, deserves respect for overcoming who she used to be. After what she’s been through, any man (especially one as emotionally stunted as Jeff Winger) would be lining up for the chance to date her, regardless of her age. In fact, her age shouldn’t even be an issue – she’s 22, an adult, and more than capable (and deserving) of a mature and complex storyline that gives her the opportunity to show just how much she’s changed in her four years at Greendale.