This entire review could be a Heather Watch, as she gets her most screen time by far this episode, and absolutely smashes it. Heather’s my favorite new TV character of 2018, and I can’t remember the last time I cheered this much for a character. I really hope this show gets renewed.
But before we get into that, let’s get into the rest of the episode. We get a B-plot that interacts nicely with an A-plot, where Principal Durbin is up for the Innovative Principal of the Year award, and the superintendent is coming to review the job he’s done and see what the teachers are doing that’s so innovative, Unfortunately for Durbin, in a sequence which I found pretty funny the more absurd it got, every teacher’s big surprise plan is to make a baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano. Luckily for Durbin, AP Bio is scheduled to dissect fetal pigs that day. Unluckily for Durbin, Jack has sent the fetal pigs, along with a t-shirt cannon, to a Taskrabbit who answers to “Chops,” with instructions to fire the fetal pigs at Miles. Unluckily for Jack, t-shirt cannons are apparently designed to fire one thing: t-shirts. Chops now has a t-shirt cannon whose interior is covered in a bunch of fetal pig insides.
Let’s go in reverse: Someone sent Principal Durbin an anonymous, cut-out-from-magazines note about Jack’s fetal pig plan. Jack assures Durbin it’s a prank and he’ll take care of it: “I’m gonna kill whoever pranked you.” Durbin: “You’re not supposed to kill the students…” Jack doesn’t know who it is, in part because the entire class was excited to dissect fetal pigs. We see this in their first scene, where they stare nervously and questioningly at the box on Jack’s desk. Finally, Colin can’t take it anymore and opens it: “FETAL PIGS!!!”
Jack is set off on his plan by the events of the cold open, where the teachers are all reading Miles Leonards’ book. Apparently it’s the latest Oprah Book Club recommendation. (“The best place to read it is ‘On a beach that you owwww-wnnnnnnnn!‘”) This sends off Jack, furious, meaning when Durbin walks in he doesn’t get to break his news to Jack. “What are you gonna tell him later, Ralph? Is it a private medical thing?” “No. He does not… let me share that stuff with him.”
OK, let’s get these stray observations out of the way, then we’ll move to the A-plot.
- Ralph promises the teachers that if he wins the Innovative Principal award, he’ll take them to Bennigan’s. Bennigan’s went bankrupt and closed all of its locations in 2008, but was bought from the private equity firm that acquired it in 2015, and reopened 15 locations in America since. Unfortunately for Durbin, the closest Bennigan’s to Toledo is in Saginaw, Michigan.
- Helen, loyal as ever: “You find me a guy better than Principal Durbin, and that guy will be in, like, Seal Team 6 or something, because that is the guy!” Also, when the superintendent enters, she pulls the fake phone call and closes it with “Principal Durbin will bring your village clean water next week.”
- I enjoyed the moment of Stef’s students being openly bored with her volcano.
- Another great capper: Durbin seeing three volcanoes then going off on Dave (David Neher, aka Todd from Community) for also making a volcano. Dave: “I’m the geology teacher…”
- Victor’s case the class should be allowed to dissect the fetal pigs: “But we’ve been such good little angels!”
- I’m not certain, but I think the superintendent is played by Patricia Belcher, whom I’ve most recently seen as the judge on Trial and Error (which finally has a premiere date and special guest star for season 2!) but whom you may remember as the cafeteria lady from the Community pilot. “Were you conditioned to pay for your damn tacos, Seinfield?”)
- “Art is a feast that you cook in your mind-oven and serve on your heart-plate.” Whoever wrote that line for Principal Durbin must be a fan of the Mr. Show sketch “Teardrop Awards,” a line from which gives that episode (“Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions”) its title.
HEATHER WATCH / A-PLOT
The A-plot this week was a Heather showcase. Right away, and calling back to the tag of “Dating Toledoans” (as well as Dan’s sketchbook in “Burning Miles”), Heather asks Dan to be her partner for the fetal-pig project. “My dad owns a butcher shop, so I know my way around the inside of a pig.” Jack is already angry because the teachers are reading Miles’ book, and then he sees a news item taped to his blackboard: “I set up a Google alert about Miles. I printed that out for you, boss.” When Jack announces they’re not going to dissect the fetal pigs, but rather he’s going to use them in a revenge plan, she pipes up: “You know how much I love sticking it to Miles, but this kinda means a lot, boss.” (In another hilarious line, Jack leaves afterward, sticking to his plan, with “Have a good night, dudes,” even though it’s morning and he’s been in class all of five minutes, tops.)
Jack later confronts the class about the letter Durbin received, and tries to break the students into confessing through various forms of torture. He tries to get Victor to tell him everything, but all he gets is “I got a boner when we did CPR.” (“Oh, gross. Well, what did your partner think about that?” “Well, I think she–” Jack cuts him off, but we get a cut to Marisa, whose expression shows she’s into it!) He tries to break Sarika by defacing her textbook. (Sarika: “That was the most devastating moment of my entire life.” Anthony: “For real? Girl, you need to read Anne Frank.”) He then gets Colin to badly play saxophone to torture everyone (another callback, this time to the pilot). He threatens to take people’s phones and read their search histories to the class. (Grace: “Just to get ahead of it, ISIS is also the name of a junior women’s bowling league.”) However, Chops calls him: “So it turns out, the cannon is kind of calibrated specifically for one type of ammunition, and that type is t-shirts and not pigs…” Upon finding the pigs are destroyed, Heather confesses to writing the letter and storms out of class.
Jack finds her in the parking lot, writing “PIG” on Jack’s car. (Or, trying to: “By the way, this is Michelle’s car.”) Heather tells him why she did it: Because she had set up to be partners with Dan for the project, and “We were gonna spend the whole week dissecting pigs and falling for each other! This was my chance to show him something I was really good at!” A scene that made me feel for her, and cheer, and maybe even squee a little (internally, anyway; I’m not sure I’m capable of making that sound). (Jack telling her that “I hurt you on accident, but you hurt me on purpose” didn’t quite land for me as well, given that he’s a 40-year-old man teaching 17-year-olds– he damn well better have more control and responsibility over his emotions and actions than they do.)
The next day, Jack walks in with a bloody paper bag, and announces “Apologies in advance for the brutal condition of this squirrel,” only to discover an entire pig on his desk. Heather stole it from her dad’s butcher shop. The superintendent arrives in the midst of all this– “I thought they were dissecting fetal pigs”– and Jack quickly comes up with a cover story that the organs of fetal pigs are too small, and asks Heather for help dissecting the pig.
Heather: “Now keep in mind this can be emotionally devastating, especially if it is a pig you raised yourself.”
She then proceeds to take off the snout with one whack. (“Customers don’t want the snout.”) Same with the hooves. She proves every bit the bad-ass we had hints she could be. With the pig cut open, Sarika presses Jack for questions about it; to her surprise, Jack removes one of the pig’s kidneys, explaining how the location of the adrenal gland is different on it than on humans. (Another brilliant moment when he leans in to whisper to Sarika: “I never said I don’t know biology. I’m just never gonna teach it to you.” Side note from the critical point of view: It’s stuff like this that makes it so annoying when critics complained the premise didn’t make sense, for example. If we’d known Jack actually was qualified to teach this class, we wouldn’t have gotten this moment of tension and the shoe dropping on it.)
Once the biology lesson is completed, Heather finishes butchering up the pig, and packages some cuts of meat for the superintendent and others. (“I, uh, strongly recommend a Memphis rub on those cuts.”) With everything done but the cleanup, Jack does Heather a solid, asking Dan to stay and help clean up. (“And if I don’t–” Simultaneously: “I’ll get an F.” / “You’ll get an F, yeah.”)
Allisyn Ashley Arm does amazing work as Heather this episode; she brings that confidence in her competence to life, as Heather’s awkward confusion drops away and she’s all eager, attentive interest once she learns it’s fetal pig day. (See the header photo for a great example.) Same with her energy and hurt when confronting Jack, and same with their cool competence in operating the cleaver and butchering the real pig. It’s a performance and episode that showcases the layers to Heather that have only been hinted at before, and Heather remains my pick for breakout TV character of 2018. I don’t remember the last TV character I’ve rooted for this hard to get what they wanted and to kick ass and take names.
The episode closes with Dan and Heather cleaning up the classroom to the sound of Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” a great, great song.