Why John Oliver Was The Worst Professor On 'Community'
Greendale Community College is home to many a ne'er-do-well employee. Professor Ben Chang berates his students at every turn. Dean Pelton allowed his school to be overrun by warring paintball factions on numerous occasions. This guy is way too positive to be trusted:
But I'd argue the worst of all of them is psychology Professor Ian Duncan, portrayed by John Oliver. It's not an easy case to make as Duncan is characterized as the foil to Jeff Winger from the outset of the pilot. Duncan is the pompous, British, intellectual elite who argues for moral objectivism. In contrast, Winger is the sleazy lawyer who has no issue with stealing the answer to every test to pass through Community College. (A bizarre plan in its own right. How do you steal the answers to an oral Spanish quiz?) The show wants us to believe that Duncan is to be some sort of balance to Winger's unrepentant debauchery. So how then can Duncan be carrying the torch in Greendale's version of the shithead Olympics? I'd argue there are two main reasons.
The first is that every year Duncan makes his students participate in a psychological experiment to teach them "the Duncan Principle." The "theory" is that a person will eventually reach a breaking point and have an emotional eruption when put in a situation in which they have no control. Which, no duh. It's called "being annoyed." But despite this concept being apparent to every human person the moment they're old enough for their brain to start churning out cognitive thought, Duncan still insists on enlightening his students through his own stupidly crafted experiment.
It works like this: He gathers a bunch of his students and has them sit in an empty room, telling them the experiment has not yet started, despite them being (cue the M. Night Shyamalan trailer music) actually being part of the experiment! The students who eventually get fed up with waiting for the experiment to start (which are all of them because humans need to eat) are deemed as proof of the experiment's success. It's low-key psychological torture, somewhere between the Standford Prison Experiment and sticking your finger two-inches in front of someone's eye and squealing, "I'm not touching you." Look at how much anguish he causes his students:
But the biggest reason Duncan sucks is that he should know better. Not just with this one psychological experiment. He should know better about everything. Again, this is the guy who was placed as the moral counterbalance to Jeff "I'm going to start a fake-study group just to sleep with someone" Winger. By the show's standards, Duncan is supposed to be the straight man, yet when Jeff asks Duncan for the answer to every question of every test, Duncan promises to give him those answers in exchange for his Mercedes.
Now, I realize those answers turned out to be blank sheets of paper, but I wonder if that's less because of Duncan's moral qualms with stealing those answers and more because it's a stupid, impossible request in the first place. (Is there supposed to be some sort of centralized archive of test answers somewhere, or would Duncan have to sneak into Chang's house Mission: Impossible-style?) But my point is, this is a professor of psychology. He's trained in processing human emotion. He knows it's wrong to accept bribes from his former drinking buddy and former sleazy lawyer that helped him out of a DUI. He knows it's wrong to leave Greendale in season 6 and the "Save Greendale Committee" without so much as saying goodbye to anyone. But he does so anyway because he's the worst Greendale has to offer, and he does not give one shit about it.
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Top Image: NBC