Episode 312: Contemporary Impressionists
312 – Contemporary Impressionists Review
In the wake of its airing, “Contemporary Impressionists” was a largely divisive episode amongst our commentariet. Watching it today, it’s easy to see why it was so divisive. It peaks high and bottoms out low. I assume the reaction at the time was largely contingent upon whether you wanted to emphasize the peak or the valley. To me, in contrast to how I felt at the time of its airing, it now seems like the episode is mostly valleys.
Let’s start with Jeff’s ego trip so we can get it out of the way. I don’t have much to say about this. Firstly, I obviously find it horribly broad and unfunny. Nonetheless, that’s not quite what makes the plot completely irredeemable. If it actually seemed to be saying something about Jeff as a character, it still wouldn’t have been good but at least it could have served some purpose. However, the version of Jeff established here is so far removed from the actual character that it ultimately says nothing about him. I guess the point is that Jeff’s ego and insecurities are tied together but that’s not anything we didn’t know before and it demonstrates this in one of the broadest unfunny plots the show has ever presented.
But the real point here seems to perhaps involve Dan Harmon’s petty spite. In the commentary, Harmon suggests that an NBC executive contacted him after viewing “Biology 101”, expressing discontent at Jeff being too angry in that episode. An idiotic criticism to be sure but Harmon could have ignored it. Instead, his response was to turn Jeff into the fucking Hulk. Delightful.
On the other hand, the Troy and Abed half of the episode is much stronger, although not without its flaws.
In the commentary, Harmon says he wanted to show the cost of being Abed’s friend. This is one of the few, if only, areas in which this episode succeeds. Because of Abed’s addiction to playacting, Troy is thrust into a scenario where he has to be responsible and keep Abed in check. He is even threatened by the French Stewart lookalike (plot hole: why didn’t Troy just tell Abed about the threat?). Initially, he succeeds in justifying Abed’s behaviour to the study group and, more importantly, to himself. Everyone goes along with it but by the end of the episode, Troy reaches his breaking point realizing that Abed’s tendencies are irresponsible and destructive.
When he confronts Abed about the issue we get a heartbreaking scene: one that is so good, it’s hard to believe it’s in such a poor episode. Back at the apartment, Troy asks Abed to trust that sometimes he’ll know what’s best for him. Abed seems to agree but he then declines the Trobed handshake before retreating into the Dreamatorium. The handshake decline is a devastating moment. Troy has reached out to help his friend who then coldly declines. It’s the first rift ever in their friendship and one that will lead to the conflict in the DEIOD/Pillows and Blankets two-parter. Unfortunately, while those episodes are much stronger than this one, the conflict never achieves the emotional gravitas of the final act here.
On the Troy side of things, this plotline works. I’m less sure about the Abed side. The problem is that at this stage of the season, it’s not immediately clear why Abed is overdosing on pop culture in this way. It’s probable that this behaviour stems from his fear of the group fracturing but that’s not immediately evident anywhere within the episode itself. It’s not even subtly suggested. Thus, the central conflict of this episode stands on a shakey foundation and Abed comes across as looking needlessly irresponsible and helpless. (However, when he retreats into the Dreamtorium at the end of the episode, the motivation is clearer.)
All-in-all, this is perhaps the weakest effort the show put together in the Harmon era. However, like all of those episodes, it is not without its redemptive values with its greatest success being the way in which it continued Troy’s arc. Meanwhile, the Jeff plot is one of the very few, if only, completely irredeemable things Community did in its first three seasons.
There’s also stuff with Chang in the initial stages of planning his school takeover but I could not give a single shit about this, to be honest. Anyone care to express thoughts on this?
And for those of you who agree that this episode went wrong: how do you think it could have been better? I mean, obviously we needed more Annie Edison as Dorothy, but other than that….
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 – 7:50 PM – 30 LIKES