Sure, it may seem like it on a first casual watching of Community – after all, that’s how everyone seems to react to her on a constant basis. Hell, it’s even a running joke to call her “the worst” given she “often screws up”. However, what the narrative tends to ignore in order to get to the punchline is that Britta Perry screws up for caring too much and having the biggest heart of the whole show.
Britta Perry, played by the amazing Gillian Jacobs, is the female lead of Community – that comedy created by Dan Harmon that was always in danger of cancellation, but ended up surviving for five seasons on NBC and a sixth on Yahoo! Screen. This show is one of those I have unofficially rewatched hundreds of times (along with Archer and The Office), because sometimes you just want to watch something old to pass the time. And also because I like to have something on while I fall asleep; for several weeks now, that something is Community – again.
In those rewatches, even if they are just for fun, you end up getting new things out of these plots: last week I realized they made a reference to Donald Trump in season 1 which left me so dumbfounded and distraught I wish I hadn’t made the connection in the first place. Besides references, you become more detail-oriented since you already know how the episodes go and that makes you see how much characters change and become disserviced.
The same way I started feeling worse about Abed’s pop culture references (which is ironic given how many shows I watch) to the point where I started agreeing with Annie when she said that “people bend over backwards to cater to him”, I became more sympathetic to Britta. I used to think less of the character because of her “dumb activism” and how influenced I was by everyone calling her “the worst” at a daily basis.
I realized that she is one of those characters who almost never seem to be rewarded by the narrative. In fact, the writing makes her look bad purposefully, even in episodes where she is ‘the worst’ for 19 minutes and in the last one she becomes ‘the best’. While she is described sometimes as the “dark cloud that unites the group” or the “heart of the group”, her friends are constantly putting her down in ways that honestly are incredibly hurtful. Troy, the same character who’d come to date her, said “you’re like a fun vampire, except that you don’t suck blood – you just suck”. And why? Because the liberal activist is the butt of the joke, of course.
The point is: for some reason, Britta was never allowed to make mistakes by her peers, but of course she made them – she is human. Soon, they started using her name as a metaphor for doing the wrong thing (“you brittaed it”/” Call this off before it becomes a full-scale `Brittastrophe`.”). She only did the wrong things because the narrative dumbed her down to the point where there’s literally no justification as to why she would make some mistakes.
One example of these mistakes without an explanation: the Sadie Hawkins dance. HOW could she not know that Susan B. Anthony and Sophie B. Hawkins are not the same person? Jeff points out that Britta had a cat called SBA, and what a fine lampshade that is, but that doesn’t explain shit. This is not a mistake Britta would make. Sure, we can *try* to accept that she would pronounce Oedipus wrong since she is still studying psychology (even if this is the kind of thing that like everyone knows even when you don’t study? It’s simply common knowledge?), but Britta would deadass know not to say SBH. If everyone else knew who she was to the point where everybody realized she had mixed the women up, then so would she.
Britta is the embodiment of that college stereotype: the liberal, democrat, anarchist who smokes weed and is outspoken. She is not apologetic about that. She was proud of her causes even if they sounded stupid… Again, a jab at whom again?
Probably my favorite Britta episode came out on Season 6 as we meet Britta’s parents. That was one huge stance where the audience connected with her as, six seasons too late, we were given a bit of backstory and met a couple of people from her past/family (I guess we should be thankful? Annie didn’t get the same treatment and Troy barely got it). As they so marvelously explained, Britta’s parents were one of those cases where they seem like great people, but only when you actually know and spend time as their child, you really can say who they are. That narrative resonated with so many people, I assume, because it is very true. Britta doesn’t want to be infantilized by her parents – isn’t that one of the most poignant feelings kids have? To branch out and be independent? Too bad a couple episodes later, “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry”, she was literally only used to be dumb old Britta who is so so very very very dumb and useless.
Britta is a resonating character especially with the average youth that is going through college since not everyone can be like Annie and definitely not a lot of people are like Troy & Abed who live in their own little world of imagination. She is relatable because she is always trying hard to get the best of everyone, but the narrative keeps creating contrivances so things can’t work out. Despite how much she cares and truly wants to help everyone, she is constantly made seem small, insignificant and wrong – one may argue that “in the end, she was right, so who cares?”, but it doesn’t help.
How many episodes were there that she wants to help Jeff, Troy, and Abed to deal with their feelings, but keeps getting negativism until they finally reach their own catharsis? That one time when Abed had his Christmas Clay-mation adventure? Did Abed ever apologize for being a dick to Britta who was presenting legitimate reasons for everyone to be concerned? No. Of course not. He needed to find the meaning of Christmas (lack of payoff, ironically). Sure. Yeah. Good episode, terrible lesson. Like mental illness is a Christmas wonderland with an atmosphere made of cinnamon.
One might argue that Britta got progressively “worse” as seasons went on because of the severe changes her character went through with time. It’s simply a fact that the character Gillian portrayed in season 1 is not the same one she portrayed on season 3, for example. Her whole deal with “honesty” stops being a thing incredibly soon. I’m not saying that people can’t change with time, but Britta was an incredibly smart person in the beginning before getting dumber so she could be laughed at. The same thing could be said about Pierce who, despite still bigoted, had some amazing moments in S1, but was given the villain role of S2.
The writing of Britta around her has been inconsistent even on how she sees women and how other women see her. She was branded feminist since early on, having sexual agency and not being willing to take on Jeff’s bullshit, but “hates when women use Halloween as an excuse to dress like sluts” and tends to have some negative views around sex workers. In season 3, Shirley calls her a “godless hippie skank” in one episode when Britta got high, but when she needed her to get rid of Subway, suddenly Britta was a “progressive woman of a more liberated looseness”. She “can’t complain” about her weekend upon everyone seeing her huge amount of condoms, but condemns Annie for being herself (sticking out her boobs in the name of posture and laughing at guys unfunny jokes) when they were raising money for the oil spill complaining Annie was “selling her gender”.
It just seems to me like there’s an actual effort to have Britta shat on by everyone around her, even when she is clearly the character who wants the best for her peers. She was the person who told everyone that Abed was not okay when Troy was leaving, but Abed had to dramatically fake die so someone could believe her. She was the one trying to help Abed deal with the senior year. She was the one trying to help Jeff deal with his father. She helped Abed start on film school. She helps Jeff get back on his feet after losing his home and gets him back with Slater. She makes Shirley go after hew sandwich shop instead of putting it off because of her wedding. She hates herself so much that she wants to be there for everyone. Britta Perry is a complex character who should have been treated better and not gratuitously fucked over by the writers of Community.
I wish we could have had more Britta episodes about topics that are not about her screwing up just because she is “supposed to screw up”. I want more episodes around her internalized guilt (like the one where she cheats on the exam and leaves the cheat crib on the floor on purpose so she could be caught). I want more episodes where she is concerned about people’s mental health, but is not ridiculed for it not even for one single moment. I want more episodes around Britta Perry’s feelings that are not about men (only if they are about Britta’s notions on herself, like the one with her irresistible ex-boyfriend). I know I will never get more episodes, but I can only hope that, if they ever do make a movie, Britta gets justice.
All images courtesy of NBC