24
Mar
2011
Community: Season 2, Episode 19
Critical Film Studies
Jordan
Community is a show about a group of people coming together, forming a family and trying to grow into better people. The show's second season has done excellent work making many of the "supporting" characters in the ensemble into more fully fledged characters and allowing everyone the space to develop. We've had Troy episodes and Pierce episodes, Annie episodes and Shirley episodes, and even a few Britta and Jeff episodes to boot. We've had some Abed heavy episodes this season (I would call "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" and of course "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" his moments in center stage this year), but for the most part he has stuck more to the background. Tonight, Abed got the chance to shine.

Abed is probably a difficult character for the show to write. He clearly has some issues (possibly an undiagnosed case of high functioning autism, as the show has alluded to before and does again tonight) and generally connects only through pop culture references. This makes him an ideal character for any time the show wants to do an arch take on a genre or rolls out a well used trope--Abed gets to be the character in those instances who comes right out and says what the show is getting at, giving it a meta layer (and sometimes two or three of them). Yet this also makes him some steps apart from the show's general themes and arcs. Every other character in the group is on a path toward becoming a better person, but as Abed himself pointed out tonight he, by his nature, stays exactly the same.

So to do an episode about Abed making progress (or, really, feigning it because he knows he can't really change that much), the show had to take the character somewhere he'd be comfortable. They had to put him in an elaborate homage. This episode was billed as the Pulp Fiction episode of Community, and sure, we got to see the cast in silly Pulp Fiction costumes and some great jokes about wanting to see what's in the briefcase, but this wasn't really a Pulp Fiction episode. It was a My Dinner with Andre episode. The show couldn't bill itself as such because most people (myself included) haven't seen My Dinner with Andre, yet this was a great way to deal with Abed's immobility and yet give him a chance to really connect. The conversation between Jeff and Abed is really great stuff, funny and moving and with a sense of realism that also doesn't take away from the homage that let's Abed have his "first adult conversation." It may all be an elaborate charade, but I think this really was Abed's first actual conversation. To get there he had to dress it up as a movie homage, but Abed and Jeff really connected.

This isn't one of the laugh-a-minute episodes of Community. The humor here comes more from strange pay offs to really long monologues being played entirely straight. Abed's monologue about Cougar Town was both profound and really, really silly. By the time he was declaring that he had pooped himself on the set at the "death" of the character he was playing (and the way he talked about it like the show was set in a place called Cougar Town) I was laughing really hard at the sheer absurdity, regardless of the fact that he was playing it totally state. In fact, it was funnier that way. And Jeff's slow, faltering confessions about his deep insecurities and fears that he isn't pretty enough were real and touching too...But the idea that he calls phone sex operators and pretends to be 400 pounds and once went trick or treating dressed as an Indian princess and didn't corrent people about his gender because they thought he was pretty is funny, even while its really sad. This was a dark episode of Community, but one of my favorite things about the show is that it can do episodes of so many types. This was a new style for the show to tackle, and it did so with shocking verve for how different it was from the standard.

I've said before, and I'm sure I'll say again that one of the reasons this show can get away with zombie apocalypses and claymation episodes is because it does episodes like this that remind us of the real heart that lies behind the show even when it gets wacky. If every season of this show can turn out a few half hours as powerful as "Cooperative Calligraphy," "Mixology Certification," and yes, "Critical Film Studies" it can get away with whatever zaniness it wants to throw out in the interim because I believe in these characters and in their relationships with one another. This is the episode where we see how close Jeff and Abed are, where Jeff's "cool" facade comes down and he reveals the damaged man behind it, because he trusts Abed as his friend. And he accepts Abed as well. When Abed opens up about his fear that he will be left behind because he cannot change like his friends, Jeff reassures him that he loves Abed and that he considers them close friends. Abed wanted a conversation, but more than that, he wanted a night with a friend he was afraid he was growing distant from, and so he constructed that the only way he knew how: by creating an homage to a movie about a guy who fears he is growing estranged from his friend.

Community does a lot of high concept episodes, and to an extent, this is one of them. Sure, on one level this is a long My Dinner with Andre episode. But on another level, on the one I think counts, this is an episode about what it means to be a friend, and the simple, beautiful humanity that can be found in that kind of connection.

Grade: A

Notes:

-I like the touch of Britta working in the diner, but I also got the feeling this episode, as I have a lot this season, that the show doesn't really know what to do with her right now. Hopefully, they'll figure that out soon.

-"I'm hot and my balls are touching a zipper!"

-"Am I the hero or the love interest?"

-"Its a thirty minute film where the heroes like dancing, cheese burgers, and the Bible."

-"Chad had lived, Jeff. Chad had lived more than Abed."

-"He seduced me with his dark Chinese powers."

-"I doubt I'll ever forget my My Dinner with Andre dinner with Abed." Nor will I.

-"They said market price. What market are you shopping at?"
Tags: Community
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