The not-so-hallowed halls of Greendale Community College represent many things to many people. For fast-talking lawyer Jeff Winger, they are his only chance to keep his job. After the discovery that his college undergraduate degree was from a Columbia University other than the one in New York City, his law license was suspended. Ordered to rectify the situation by graduating from an accredited college, Jeff has enrolled at Greendale. Because he’s a schemer with a keen nose for the easy way out, Jeff’s first stop is the office of Professor Duncan, a faculty member who he helped beat a 2002 drunken driving charge. And in exchange for keeping mum about the ethical shortcuts they took to get the charge dismissed, Jeff now wants Duncan to provide him with every answer to every test for every one of his classes.

At Greendale, Jeff finds a student body made up of high school losers, newly divorced housewives and seniors looking to keep their minds active. Right off the bat, he sets his sights on landing a date with Britta, an attractive and sassy woman looking to Greendale to help put a reckless, drug-fueled youth behind her. But when Jeff suggests starting a Spanish study group as a way to get her alone, he’s blindsided when Britta invites several other classmates to join them, including an Arab American named Abed; Pierce, an older successful businessman; a bitter middle-aged divorcee named Shirley; fading high school sports star Troy; and Annie, a tightly wound, insecure 18-year-old.

As he struggles to keep up the study group ruse long enough to land Britta, Jeff discovers he’s been double-crossed by his alleged lifeline, Professor Duncan. As the discovery that he doesn’t have the exam answers sends him back to square one, Jeff’s efforts to make amends with the study group by admitting that it was all just a ruse are rebuffed. Though his fellow students are quick to ostracize Jeff, after Pierce takes pity on him and claims that he sees something of himself in him, admitting to his own personal failings persuades Britta and the others to grant him a second chance.