‘Community’ Recap: Critical Film Studies

S2E19: Last night’s Community was a perfect example of why the viewership is so modest, but at the same time, it was the perfect example of what a fantastic show it is. I say this almost every week and I probably sound like a broken record, but it’s really a great show. This one was a little bit of a pill though. It was an homage to a film many folks probably haven’t seen and thanks to the ubiquitous promos from NBC, it was probably a disappointment to folks who were expecting a Pulp Fiction spoof. I know that disappointment was heard across the Twitter-verse, and I think that was probably because most people hadn’t seen the film they were referencing, but I’d like to try to make an argument for why this was one was one of my favorite episodes of the show ever and why you should think so too.

“Why are you dressed like Mister Rogers and talking like Frasier?” –Jeff

Alright, first for the disappointment, or the delightful, film-nerdy surprise depending on how you look at it. As we’d been told a million times, this episode was Abed’s birthday and Jeff had put together a surprise Pulp Fiction party for him. Too bad Abed had a different idea.

He asked Jeff – just Jeff – to meet him for a very fancy dinner and right away the whole episode felt familiar, but like Jeff I couldn’t pinpoint why. I love that he used TV references to express his disbelief at Abed’s appearance (he was donning a sweater and speaking like some super educated, emotionally aware person that I don’t think has ever stepped foot on Community). While I’m sure not everyone caught Dan Harmon’s cautious tweets about how the episode was not as Pulp Fiction-y as NBC promised, I think that it may have actually worked better that way. If you were expecting Pulp Fiction and you got this homage – not a spoof, Abed prefers the term “homage” – to the 70s film starring Wallace Shawn called My Dinner With Andre, you were sort of in the same position as Jeff and while it’s an uncomfortable position, I kind of envy it.

While I can’t deny that I loved the beating Cougartown took on this episode (“If you want me to take it seriously, stop calling it by its name”), I really loved how Abed used it to trick Jeff. His whole crisis about being on Cougartown while watching Cougartown was kind of brilliant and hilarious. Of course, it was all a ruse to get Jeff to act out My Dinner With Andre (which is a great film that you can find in its entirety on YouTube), but before the waiter spills the beans we find Jeff spilling some beans of his own. He opens up about his deep, desperate desire for approval and flips his lid when he finds out Abed wasn’t different, he was just pulling the same old Abed tricks. What I loved about this was that while it seemed that it was the same old Abed, we still really saw the tender, true friendship between him and Jeff. Even though it was all fake – it was an homage – we still got to see these characters as real people with real emotions. It was a little slow and prodding, but it was a fitting nod to the film at hand. It reminded me of another of my favorite episodes, “Mixology 101,” which oddly enough is Troy’s birthday episode. It treaded a similar path – it was subtle and emotional, but still very Community and very funny.

“Chang made me open it. He seduced me with his dark Chinese powers.” –Troy

Meanwhile, the gang is waiting at a 50s diner decked out in their Pulp Fiction gear and waiting patiently for Abed and Jeff to arrive. Jeff had purchased what everyone sees as the perfect present for Abed: the actual briefcase from Pulp Fiction. (Love the nod to the “Is that what I think it is?” line.) Of course, this whole set-up makes Troy jealous, which only leads to more hilarious lines from Donald Glover – have I mentioned how flabbergasted I am that he’s not more famous? Yeah, I have. Sorry. It’s a problem – I’m seeking help, don’t worry. Anyway, I couldn’t tell if he was more jealous of Jeff’s affection for Abed or Abed’s affection for Jeff and by the end, he’s accidentally destroyed Abed’s (actually not so one-of-a-kind) present. Can you say trouble in bromance paradise?

Of course, by the end, all is well again. Troy sees that he hasn’t been replaced and the gang has a happy little private party together as Jeff narrates the end – like the end of My Dinner With Andre. This whole side plot was fantastic, both because it’s a genuine, yet hard to admit, issue that we all feel when it comes to our best friends and because Donald Glover played it out so perfectly. Side note: Ken Jeong’s evil whispers were perfect, as always.

“Oh what? I have 3D vision now?” -Britta

I’ll be brief here, but while I’m starting to feel really bad for Britta, this bit was really entertaining. We find out that Britta has a job at a cheesy 50s diner (perfect and finally someone on this show has a job!) and that just like at Greendale, everybody hates Britta. When the bartender at her job just rips into her, I’m not saying I liked it, but I liked that this issue is being raised and in a sort of funny way. Britta’s always been a buzzkill, but she’s our buzzkill. I felt a little twinge for Britta. Only we can give her shit. Once again, it’s a testament to the characters. They are all a little unhinged, but they’re real enough that we feel a real connection to them.

“Pulp Fiction? Yeah, I saw it on the airplane, it’s cute. It’s a 30 minute film about a group of people friends who like cheeseburgers, dancing and the Bible.” -Shirley

Okay, so it wasn’t a Pulp Fiction spoof, but they did have a few little nods to the Tarantino movie. My favorite is probably the fact that Pierce’s character was the gimp and it allowed for that hilarious OldWhiteManSays moment when he shows up at the restaurant in the S&M outfit and yells, “Pretty gay, man. Pretty gay.” It was pretty perfect. Overall, the characters were pretty perfect, and we got a little blend of My Dinner With Andre and Pulp Fiction at the end while Jeff gave his little soliloquy, we got to watch our study group reenact the diner scene from the end of the movie and the dance contest scene (sorry, no adrenaline needle folks).

I get why many fans were disappointed. It wasn’t by any means what any of us expected and if you haven’t seen the Wallace Shawn film it’s all a little hazy and weird, but do me a favor. Go watch the movie, then come back and watch the episode so you can join me in loving every last drop of this installment of the Dan Harmon show.