Glazomania: Redux – Episodes 6-9
The Classics (Presented by My Dinner with Chicken Fingers)
9. Contemporary American Poultry (121) (Average Score – 90.00)
(Average Grade – 3.95/A) (Average Rank – 13.8) (High Rank – 3) (Low Rank – 42) (Standard Deviation – 7.32)
Community’s first concept episode still remains one of its very best. Why? If you have to ask you’re already streets behind. Building upon the depths explored in Home Economics, Investigative Journalism, and Communication Studies, this episode serves as the season 1 finale for the Jeff-Abed relationship. The episode uses the instantly recognizable Goodfellas structure (with a little Casino in there) to frame a story about Jeff and Abed’s roles as leaders in the group. Jeff is the prototypical leader that can talk his way out of anything, Abed on the other hand uses his keen observational skills and need to please people in a measured way (chicken fingers!) as a means of earning power. The subsequent role reversal underlines Jeff’s need for validation. By the end of the episode, we reach a lovely Sixteen Candles homage with Jeff and Abed understanding each other a bit better – a dinner that is to be continued in a future episode. This is also the episode that introduced us to Annie’s Boobs (not Debate 109).
– Los Pollos Hermanos
8. Critical Film Studies (219) (Average Score – 91.00)
(Average Grade – 3.99/A) (Average Rank – 12.3) (High Rank – 1) (Low Rank – 47) (Standard Deviation – 7.71)
"I don't need you to grow or change, and take it from someone who just had a meaningless one, sometimes emotional breakthroughs are overrated."
That line might be the single finest moment of friendship in the entire series. Forget the ambition evident in this episode's homage to My Dinner With Andre and Pulp Fiction. They're great, duly impressive, but this episode is one of a dozen homage episodes that are all incredibly well crafted. That's not what makes it one of the best episodes of the entire series.
It's about friendship. It's about two friends coincidentally going out of their way to try to connect with one another, the awkward conflict that creates, and the eventual strengthening of their bond that it brings. It goes to the Jeff/Abed friendship that is unfortunately rarely illuminated, and it explores it through conversation (which happens to be a favorite pass time of mine, conversation–it needs more love as a hobby). Curiously, one of the things that bonds Jeff and Abed is their love of pop culture, and both of them attempt to use it to get closer to the other, though Abed's ironically seems to be seeking depth beyond pop culture to do so.
Meanwhile, in the other half of the plot (it's so intertwined with the main plot that it's unfair to call it a B-plot), Troy panics about the status of /his/ friendship with Abed, Annie comments on how excited Abed will be, and ultimately loses her job for Jeff and Abed. As Jeff says, everyone loves Abed (a fact that will come to a head in the third season).
Another interesting feature of the episode is that all of the humor in it is rather understated. It amplifies the serious tone of the dinner While there are some wonderful jokes in the episode, almost all of them are character-based, and almost none of them are the kind that would evoke roars of laughter from a studio audience. And yet, it's still a particularly hilarious episode.
And no review, no matter how brief, would be complete without effusive praise for the performances of McHale and Pudi. McHale's slowly building emotional release is a wonder to behold, and Pudi's seamless transitions between Andre and Abed are expertly done–witness, especially, his sliding back into Abed while Jeff gets more and more emotional, unable to maintain the character as he enters unfamiliar territory.
As far as Community episodes go, this one has everything we have come to love about the show: sharp writing, ambition, and pure heart.
7. Paradigms of Human Memory (221) (Average Score – 91.05)
(Average Grade – 3.98/A) (Average Rank – 11.1) (High Rank – 1) (Low Rank – 39) (Standard Deviation – 6.99)
Community isn't the first show to make fun of the “clip show”; hell, it wasn't even the first show to craft one out of mostly new material. The sitcom staple has been around so long (although it's becoming increasingly rare) it's had plenty of potshots taken at it over the years. It was probably for the best that, like the show's previous forays into its meta-structural analysis of television, the episode's assumed form is only a vehicle for delivering the jokes. It's hard to imagine the show managing to cobble enough material together otherwise.
And boy, does this episode deliver. It easily stands among Community's finest, bringing huge laughs from a wide range of different settings and tones, made possible by the clip show form. While it is all new content, the episode mimics clip shows thematically by looking inward for its source of material: what story the episode has, and a good deal of the jokes that accompany it, are drawn from the tropes, tics, and affectations of all the episodes before it, culminating in the brilliantly edited mega-Winger speech. Despite the scantness of the plot, he structuring of the clip show allows the episode to get away with unloading so many gags; it never starts to feel like sketch comedy, or a non-stop barrage ofFamily Guy-esque cutaways.
Episodes like “Paradigms of Human Memory” have typically carried the label of a “concept episode,” and I'm not certain that that descriptor is necessarily accurate in this case. The clip show format is not the focus of the jokes, nor was the episode's format even directly alluded to like in “Cooperative Calligraphy” or “Intermediate Documentary Filming.” By keeping the show itself as the center of attention, “Paradigms of Human Memory” manages to be relentlessly funny, and a definitive episode of Community.
6. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas (211) (Average Score – 91.44)
(Average Grade – 4.01/A) (Average Rank – 11.9) (High Rank – 1) (Low Rank – 53) (Standard Deviation – 9.02)
There are many moments in Community that I love, but none that move me as much as the shot of the group finally appearing as themselves, reflected in Abed's television screen. Every time I see it, I get a little choked up. And that's because AUC isn't just about Abed being essentially abandoned by his mother at Christmas, having a breakdown and eventually learning to accept the situation with the help of the study group. It's also about our relation with television (perhaps even with stories in general) – the nostalgia we feel when we reconnect with the shows or the stories we loved as kids, the emotional investment we put into those we love today. From that screen the study group is looking back at us: they're our Claymation fantasy – they're an artifice, yes, but sometimes they just feel so real, and so valuable.
So, yeah, the rest of the episode ain't bad either. It's probably the darkest Community has ever gone (it is, for all intents and purposes, about a psychotic break). It also provides a window into Abed's fundamental sadness, and once again, it proves just what a delicately nuanced character he is. Community has always resisted the impulse of turning Abed into some sort of twee caricature of a nerd. Yes, he's a shaman and/or Batman, but there's a real undercurrent of doubt, insecurity and vulnerability underneath all that (just listen to the way Danny Pudi says "She comes every year." when Abed is talking to Annie and Troy on the train; if that second delivery doesn't break your heart, your soul may be dead). Most importantly, it also shows how this insecurity and loneliness can sometimes hurt people. It's a complex character arc that will carry over not just in subsequent S2 episodes like "Critical Film Studies," but also in S3, where the Dreamatorium/ Inspector Spacetime plots are extensions of the Abed we saw in AUC.
I don't want to finish without mentioning Pierce too. The episode gives him a sweet, moving little story, since, of the whole group, he's the only one who understands what Abed is going through (both have lost their mothers, and both hide their loneliness). He's also cute and cuddly in a way that the real Pierce rarely is (AUC and "Digital Estate Planning" pretty much confirm that the cutest Pierce is fantasy Pierce).
Oh, and AUC is also really funny. "Somewhere Tim Burton just got a boner."; "Wash your dupa."; S1 of Lost as a metaphor for the lack of payoff; "Who taught you therapy? Michael Jackson's dad?"
– Semi-bored Torontonian