Episode 312: Contemporary Impressionists

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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….

 

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-1059240003 (page 229)

SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 – 7:50 PM – 30 LIKES

 

Discussion

 

  •  

    I want to express thoughts on the Chang plot, but they mostly extend to "ugh."

  •  

    Alan Sepinwall said the Dean's floorgasm is the hardest he's laughed at Community.

  •  
    SpongyandBruised

    Rash is pretty good in it, I think. It's not the funniest joke, but.

     

  •  

    The floorgasm was cool. Shirtless Hulk Jeff is my kinda fanservice, um, ok?

    I didn't mind "two Michael Jacksons" or Dorothy.

    And the Trobed missed handshake brought me to tears.

    The rest of it missed the mark. There needed to be more underpinning tying everything together. As Lloyd said, Abed isn't an entirely selfish creature. Give one plot point to explain the discrepancy, like a death in the family? Or anything, really?

    Jeff's ego thing also went too far. Tie it in with Chippendales giving him a job offer or something, or a modeling agent spotting him on the street and asking him to leave the Greendale life behind? And a conflict from resisting that pull?

    There needed to be a couple more plot points for it to make emotional sense.

    Great review, Stephen! :)

     

  • That was the moment I officially stopped trusting any of Sepinwall's opinions on comedy.

     

  • Among the many problems* with this pivotal episode is Jeff and Abed's "overdosing" on narcissism and pop culture/selfishness, respectively, going into hyperdrive without a sense of inevitability driving it. The episode before (RHM according to the proper order) Jeff had only just decided to see a shrink. But over the break, with the help of the world's worst shrink, he suddenly develops a cartoon psychological disorder called "hypernarcissosis" that doesn't even exist. Meanwhile Abed suddenly becomes an oblivious idiot, arguably even more helpless than Jeff. What made him go from playing Batman in Foosball in order to communicate better with Annie or learning the lesson he did in Redux to this?

    *See many more in my long, rambling, angry, and gratuitously critical of Israel series of posts on page 25 of Todd's review.

     

  •  

    I agree wholeheartedly with both the suddenness of this condition and the cartoonish exaggeration of Jeff's narcissistic traits that just as quickly dissipates after this episode is over.  But to be fair to the upholding of the show's continuity in this episode (and I apologize for the nitpicking profusely on this blessed day):

    "HA!  See!? And you e-mailed your therapist that you wanted to be ALONE this weekend!"

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Now maybe he's talking about a different kind of therapist, to be sure, except:

    "And I basically attacked you guys with a fire axe…. I'm thinking about seeing a newshrink…"

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    So he has been going through therapy for awhile at the very least. And I guess in typical Jeff fashion he went to some hack to get faster "treatment" and this was the result (which COULD have been done effectively if given its own episode with a subdued tone instead of this). But all that aside, it still doesn't excuse the jarring (even for a jarringly consistent season) execution of this episode, to be sure.  

     

  •  CONTEMPORARY IMPRESSIONISTS – an alternative reading

    Hello, my name is SBT and I’m here to provide a rebuttal to Stephe’s review (which I haven’t actually read in advance of writing mine, so maybe it’s just a glowing appreciation of the episode, in which case I will be left holding the proverbial bag; and also, haha, I just said “butt”)

    My commentary won’t argue whether “Contemporary Impressionists” is funny (I find it very funny, but I can see how its humor may not appeal to everyone. Except for the Jewish mamas. They are awful.). Rather, I will try to explain why I find it a very intriguing episode. 
     
    S3 of Community is an oddly tortured one, even before you factor in The Hiatus of Doom and Harmon’s temporary ouster. The story circle structure indicates that this was to be “the December of our December” – the part where our heroes falter and fall into the abyss, where they face their darkest fears, only to rise stronger and changed. And indeed the season spells out these themes right away, by having Jeff take an axe to the study table and then coax the group back into its shell, with tales of the “scary, Chang-filled world” that he contemplated in his monkey gas-induced vision. S3 has the characters fall back on their default identities (the womanizer, the anarchist, the nerd and so on) with a vengeance; except of course, these aren’t really their identities anymore. They’re more like comfortable masks that hide the fractured psyche underneath. Britta in her UN cage may be unpleasant to watch, but I think that’s the point – she’s playing a cartoon anarchist to distract herself from the staleness of that role. That’s why the season also abounds in deeply introspective episodes – Dean Pelton gets one in “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”; Abed gets two – “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “Virtual Systems Analysis”; Jeff and Shirley have their moments of clarity in “Origins of Vampire Mythology,” Pierce has his in “Advanced Gay,” Annie largely botches hers in “Studies in Modern Movement”; and Troy has his own epiphany in “Intro to Finality.”

     As this was happening however, back in the real Chang-filled world (he pops!) Communitywas traversing its own drama. Part of it was of course created by the low ratings, but the rest was coming from the schizoid identity the show had developed. Deep down, this had always been an emotionally earnest tale about the joys and hardships of simple human connections (it’s in the title, silly!). There’s something deeply moving in the faith Community puts in the open display of sentiments. But the reputation it was acquiring on the internet at large was that of a live-action Family Guy – a sterile amalgamation of pop culture quips, combined with a willful obscurity that was shutting the non-initiated out. In other words, by S3Community had become that show with all the movie parodies.

    So what I love about S3 is that it took the natural progression of the plot, as determined by the story circle and and used it as a means to examine the show’s own rapidly disintegrating identity. It aimed for some the most formally daring experiments ever put on TV (and stuck the landing every time), but also took a sometimes brutal sledgehammer (is there any other kind?) to the characters. It made them cartoony, and neurotic, and abrasive in ways that were so intense, they HAD to have been intentional. And not a negligible part of this abrasiveness was directed at the fans, the network, and the medium itself, and it was born from the peculiar blend of self loathing and self aggrandizement that characterizes Harmon’s personality.

    In other words, S3 of Community is Harmon’s 8 1/2 – a self-indulgent, brilliant mess that’s as much therapy as it is a work of art. And “Contemporary Impressionists” is its template.

    Coming in the wake of “Regional Holiday Music,” the episode signals, of course, that Abed’s neurosis has not abated. But its peculiar format has always fascinated me. Abed ended RHM by seemingly accepting that people cannot be forced to play a part – you can’t coerce cheer. But CI finds him do just that – to an annoying degree – both for the rest of the group and for us. His impression addiction functions as a grotesque reflection of what Community was pegged as online: a disconnected chain of cheap parodies. The episode keeps trying to aggressively shoe-horn the characters into groan-inducing postures, throwing references left and right without actually creating any sense of progression or organic structure. The fun is there (loved Beefcake Airways Jeff, and Shirley’s Oprah, and Hulk Jeff, and the Deangasm – that’s VERY funny, damn it!), but it’s almost peripheral to the plot, and sometimes the jokes seem delivered through gritted teeth. There’s no mistaking the anger and the depression: this is Community mimicking a reputation it never asked for, and which doesn’t reflect it. This is a show (and a show runner) feeling trapped – forced to put on an increasingly absurdist play for an increasingly unclear payoff. It’s cartoony and loud, because it doesn’t know what else to do.

    CI is not, however, a poisoned valentine to the fans, or even to the network. It’s mostly an examination of the role of showrunner as auteur, spiked through with Harmon’s customary self-loathing. I think Harmon casts himself here in three different proxies: the monstrous narcissist, puffed up by solipsistic praise to the point of explosion (Jeff); the megalomaniac madman, running a sho… erm, school into the ground just to feel powerful (Chang); and, most importantly, the lonely artist, so consumed by self-doubt and self-loathing, he ends up cutting himself away from the world (Abed). The rest of the season will continue to widen this examination, and, while I agree that its resolution in ITF is not ideal (especially where Abed is concerned), I think the blame lies largely with NBC’s decision to kill the show, than with Harmon or the writers.

    The back third of the episode turns suddenly dark and somber. I haven’t watched CI in about a year, but I was still shocked by how quickly the mood sours once Troy and Abed have their conversation. There has been a lot of Evil Abed criticism, directed primarily at the character’s function as potential fan service. I think it’s a little more subtle than that: it’s fan service transmogrified into an interesting exploration of inadequacy and loneliness. Evil Abed is not what Abed fears he will become; it’s what he fears he will be seen as by the others if he doesn’t change. His anxiety increases in direct proportion to his attempts to steer the group into the right story, because it’s ultimately the fear of being defined by a single function, and, most importantly, a function he will always fall just short of fulfilling. It’s why he relinquishes control over the narrative and reduces the group to nothing but aimless caricatures. Ultimately the conflict between Abed and Evil Abed is one over creative control, and at which point creative control can degenerate into maniacal solipsism.

    So, there it is. I think CI is a place-setting episode: it announces a bunch of themes that the rest of the season will develop. I think it’s also weirdly prophetic: while it was written and shot before the Great Hiatus, it feels as if it’s directly addressing it, and the resentments and desperation that came in its wake. It also functions as a weird bit of therapy: it’s as if the show needed to purge all (most of?) the insecurity and anger before recalibrating. I think it’s a bit of a mess, but it’s an intriguing, creative self-loathing mess, and that makes all the difference.

     

  • So what I love about S3 is that it took the natural progression of the plot, as determined by the story circle and and used it as a means to examine the show’s own rapidly disintegrating identity. It aimed for some the most formally daring experiments ever put on TV (and stuck the landing every time), but also took a sometimes brutal sledgehammer (is there any other kind?) to the characters. It made them cartoony, and neurotic, and abrasive in ways that were so intense, they HAD to have been intentional. And not a negligible part of this abrasiveness was directed at the fans, the network, and the medium itself, and it was born from the peculiar blend of self loathing and self aggrandizement that characterizes Harmon’s personality.

    This really gets to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? I don't necessarily disagree with any of it, but it's very relevant that nowhere is creating a good TV show that is entertaining to watch even mentioned. Making the characters mean caricatures might be excellent as it relates to providing a view into Dan Harmon's psyche, but it is awful as it relates to making a good television program, which (as we might recall) was the actual job of everyone who was employed to write for the show.

    That the Jeff-as-hulk plot was meant as a fuck you to some executive at NBC (to whom the viewing audience would have no connection whatsoever) is demonstrative of Dan Harmon's hubris in taking a television program that people cared about and turning it into a platform to demonstrate how much he hates himself. The National Broadcasting Company should be ashamed that it ever put such self-indulgent schlock on the air.

     

  • you don't like metal machine music, do you?

     

  • If I were a fan of Lou Reed when it was released, I probably would have been disappointed by the record, but it wasn't part of an ongoing narrative, you know? That makes a great deal of difference.

     

  • it could be argued that it was, but i will concede music and television are different mediums and deserve slightly different approaches. however, it does prompt an idea i've been toying with idly about the variations in being a fan. what follows is rambling that is just inspired by the ongoing discussions here and not really a part of it:

    i am a fan of music. i love it dearly, and i will defend it, broadly, to any detractors. i am unwaveringly supportive of the entire medium. there are examples of it i detest, and i will denounce them thoroughly, often declaring them anathema to what music is about if they counter my fannish notions of the sanctity of the medium.

    there are bands/artists i am a fan of, too. i love love love prince. his music is amazing to me, and his personality delights me despite all of the contradictions, maddening controversies, and general weirdness. when someone attacks prince's music, i find myself defending it on musical grounds. when someone attacks prince, i find myself offended on his behalf, upset, and defending him in general.

    i am also a fan of community. it's not that i don't think the show has flaws, but i am vastly forgiving of them, as i am with prince's flaws, and attacks on the show are more hurtful to me than they should be. i'm a fan of dan harmon, too, no matter how fucked up he is. he has an earnestness and openness that is amazing, endearing, enlightening, and inspirational to me. i don't drink koolaid in his name, but i am willing to let him get away with a lot of shit. if he wants to spend an episode of his show taking the piss out of an executive somewhere, i'm willing to roll with it and cheer him on.

    the difference between dan harmon and prince is that while i am a fan of the medium of music, i am not a fan of the medium of television. i like it. i respect it. i accept that it can be beautiful, moving, powerful, and artful, but if television ceased to exist tomorrow, i'd survive. if music ceased to be tomorrow, my world would collapse. so when someone attacks dan harmon's television work, i don't have that broader context to address the attack with. being a fan of music in general allows me to engage in the critique of musical artists i have an unhealthy adoration of without taking it quite as personally. with television, i don't have that filter.

    i think there are/ought to be words to describe the differences between these types of fan, but i don't have them. i don't really have much of a point except to say that while i like to read criticism in general and of communityspecifically, my position as a… not blindly supportive fan, but… optimistic/idealistic/largely positive fan makes me more forgiving, accepting, and open to dan harmon's vision rather than seeing community as a work of television fiction that should be judged on those merits. i prefer to judge it against what i interpret as harmon's vision. i support his vision. if this is the way he says it is, so be it. i either like it or i don't, but i don't demand it be other than it is.

    (of course, season 4 wasn't harmon, and therefore, in a sense, wasn'tcommunity. when it looked like it was the only community we'd get, i was willing to try to like it. now that harmon is back, it's dead to me.)

    i like that you, lloyd, and others address the show on a different level. it should mean different things to different members of this group. i don't want my rambling above to imply otherwise.

    that's all i got right now.

     

  • I didn't mention that it was entertaining, because I thought this was self-evident since I used the word "loved." I enjoyed S3 very much, and in no small measure because of its tortured weirdness.

    I liked the Jeff-as-Hulk plot; I think it digs, like Abed creating Evil Abed, at the undercurrent of solipsism both characters have (they are, after all, the most uncommunicative of the group). If it was also a fuck you to an executive (Harmon doesn't actually acknowledge that; he just says he got a note about making Jeff less angry, but never bothered to change the script) I didn't think it actually showed.

     

  •  glazomaniac I don't like Metal Machine Music, but I respect the concept (much like I do Gus van Sant's Psycho).

     

  • i do like metal machine music, but it'd not rank as a favorite lou reed album (hello, berlin). the comparison just popped into my head, so i thought to reference it.

     

  • Parks and Rec is way too nice and they treat Leslie like a saint, but Community should never dip into meanness because … ? Comedies are bad when they're mean? Huh? We all have our own preconceived notions of what Community is, right or wrong, and when the show deviates from that through natural progression or experimentation fans tend to wildly react and compare the show to how they think it should be, rather than evaluating what's actually happening. 
     
    The worst kind of discussion is laying out arguments like "this episode is bad, so I don't like it." For people who do like that episode, you're making them feel bad for liking it, and you're assigning some seemingly objective term to what's clearly about preference. When Stephen was rewatching season 3, someone was commenting on it in tinychat, saying things like, "What a turd of a season," and "I was never more disappointed." That's toxic discussion, and lends nothing to any real discourse. 
     
    Then there's the fact that Janine thinks SBT was saying the only important thing was what the author of the work was saying, not whether or not it's "good" (though in this case, good only means what Janine approves.) The fact that people who hate season 3 often say people who like season 3 do so for arbitrary, bullshit reasons is alarming, and I don't know if any progress will ever be made to bridge the gap here. People who hate season 3 are so loud it seems like it's a majority, but it's just a vocal minority.  
     
    I don't even know how prevalent that is over the internet. Since we're a small group, it only takes a couple vocal people to tip the scales here. It's like baryon asymmetry: sometimes in nature asymmetry arises, and it doesn't mean one outcome is more likely.  
     
    The funny thing is that not even people who love season 3 like this episode (with a couple exceptions.) It's like trying to tear down season 2 because of Wine Tasting. 
     
    And people have a tendency of nitpicking really hard with this season for whatever reason (expectations?) You could do the same for season 1 and find weird shit, especially if you come in with a hardened set of expectations: Abed is faster/stronger than Troy how? People don't care for Jeff/Slater. People complain about how outwardly outlandish the episodes are here, but the season 1 plots and classes are really silly if you break them down. The big concept episodes only come later in the season. Britta (and a couple others) aren't the same characters they would be later, but we excuse that, yet any Flanderiziation later on (pretty natural on TV comedy shows) is an effrontery to our basic decency. …But do you like that stuff I listed? Is there any objective reason why you should? No. It's preference.  
     
    So please stop trying to make people feel bad for liking the goddamn show that brought us all here. All your opinions aren't immutable laws written in nature.  
     
    I don't like discussing Community anymore here because it leads to nothing and people are stubborn. Plus, I really doubt anyone was waiting for me to chime in; I'm the last person asked about these things.

     

  • Well, I think one of the reasons why CI gets so much derision compared to something like Wine Tasting is that CI feels so representive of all of the biggest problems of Season 3 – the cartoonishness, the dialing up of the characters' worst traits, and the overly-indulgent vibe it gives off. Wine Tasting just feels like an off episode – the kind that all sitcoms, even the very best ones, are prone to at some point. (It's the same reason why Geography of Global Conflict is rarely held up as the pinnacle of S3's weaknesses).

    I say this as someone who liked Season 3 a lot and appreciated what it did for the show, even if its ambition caused it to be less consistently enjoyable than the first 2 seasons. For the most part, I think the show balanced its increasing indulgence with strong character work and continuously good humor. But when it went off the rails, it really went off the rails, letting go of all of the deep-rooted characterization that has always been able to ground the show at its most heightened. Although I find this episode to be more palatable than the "Chang takes over the school" arc – at least this one has the great Troy/Abed scene at the end to keep its head out of the clouds completely. To me, the Chang arc is Season 3's true lowest point.

    As for Harmon's response to the episode – I think he sees that a lot of Season 3 was too indulgent, and he's been critical of the season as a whole in certain places, hasn't he? His "we're going to try to get back to the tone of the first 2 seasons" comments about S5 certainly suggest it.

     

  • Capt. Blicero , I'll say, I also don't like discussing Community anymore.  Not just here, in general.  I can very much understand that sentiment. 

     

  • Every time you argue pro-CI I can't help but think it's both really well argued AND a fabulous excuse for a bad episode. Having listened to the commentary again last night, Harmon's silence throughout is deafening. Usually he can't stop talking; he's either really enthusiastic about explaining the impetus for something he's really proud of or he'll mercilessly trash his own work, but here he's just silent (Dan. Harmon. silent.) as the others express incredulity that anyone wouldn't like stuff in the episode. If there was as much to this episode as you say, he would have told us one way or another how we were watching it wrong, as he was happy to do in past commentaries. It's bizarre to listen to. I know they talk about the huge difference that is "working in a vacuum", but really?

    I will say that I liked Britta therapizing Jeff and I thought it was sweet how much he was shown to need her. In a non-cartoon context that's a really good story. I also liked the cabal of impressionists, especially how they managed to find dead ringers within the group for both MJs and Oprah. Pierce's mini-story was arguably the best part. And this episode is loads better now with season 4 in the books. So there's that.

     

  • Britta and Jeff is the one saving grace. It is excellent.

     

  • If there was as much to this episode as you say, he would have told us one way or another how we were watching it wrong

    there are a million and one reasons why harmon might've been silent during that commentary: weariness, drunkenness, editing, and many other perfectly reasonable alternatives to "the episode sucks in harmon's mind." i'm not saying you're wrong, but i am saying you're extrapolating a testimonial that isn't necessarily there.

     

  •  Haha, I guess it does sound like sophistry a little. And if the whole season was like CI, or if CI existed in complete isolation, I would agree it's self indulgent wanking (though I'd still find it funny). But CI exists as part of a whole, and it follows the themes the season had set out from its first episode quite well. I don't know why Harmon isn't boasting on the commentary (I would add he's also not trashing the episode either), but I don't especially care. It's interesting to get the author's perspective sometimes, but it's not indispensable to interpretation.

    I loved Britta and Jeff too (they're my favorite thing in the episode), but I think the scene works, precisely because Jeff is so exposed (in more ways than one *snicker*), and it's moving to hear him be so earnest, when he cannot fall back on self-deprecation or swagger; and it's great to see Britta so accepting and non-judgmental. But again – this wouldn't be as touching if it didn't come in the wake of all that heightened silliness.

    P.S. My hatred of S4 is compounded because it messed with Harmon's circle in fairly definitive way. I'm sure that all the S3 strife would have been counterbalanced in S4, but now all we have are fucking puppets and Tritta.

     

  • Well he could've talked about it in any number of places if he felt strong enough about it. If it's the pivotal episode that its supposed to be and so many people took it the wrong way, you better believe the most insecure person in the world is writing a Dan Harmon Poops about it.

     

  • Original pitch for Jeff's story, from the commentary: Jeff goes to a party full of Ryan Seacrest impersonators and he's such a naturally good Seacrest that he gets cornered by them and they threaten to cut his pretty face, but the real Seacrest shows up, except with a falsetto voice and playing an impersonator, and he shames everyone into letting Jeff go. I'll take Hulk Jeff over that.

     

  • It's a mostly fun episode with an interesting premise (hiring celebrity impersonators, and then being in debt to the company is a cool modern comedy plot) with some surprisingly good moments mixed in. I liked the Troy/Abed conversation at the end, there's the "two Michael Jackson's" joke, the French Stewart impersonator, and a few nifty jokes thrown in. So yeah, I thought it had funny parts and redeeming qualities. That's how I feel of every bottom-tier Community episode, where it's season 3 or 1. There's really no need to compare the show to some Platonic ideal that was created when Chris McKenna and Dan Harmon pooped in the same bathroom or whatever. The show's never been perfect, and I'm fine with that. 
     
    For me, it still competes as the worst Harmon episode ever, but I don't want to trash it either. I just really like the show. 
     
    But how would people rank this episode with season 4 episodes? Hm….

     

  • Capt. Blicero I'd have to do a rewatch of CI to be sure, but I think I'd rank it somewhere in the middle of the pack of S4 episodes. I think BHA, Herstory, CEFR, and probably EMB are all better, or at least more solid. In terms of the problems it has relative to the effectiveness of its jokes, CI is most comparable COST, which I quite enjoyed. And the rest of the S4 episodes rank far below it.

     

  • Capt. Blicero I think this is way, way better than anything in S4.

    By the way, in response to your post above, we're all here because we really like the show. I don't like my commitment even remotely in question (have you MET me!) and I don't like the "I guess I just like liking things" dismissal of people who deign to strongly object to something on the show. I like that Janine feels strongly about stuff in s3 and I like that Semi feels strongly about CI and that it challenges my pov (if I was about anything else I would've never asked her to write the response). If anything we need more of people expressing their views aggressively rather than being content to agreeing to disagree because "it's all good, man". Like Eric said, I think on the CI board, "the show isn't holy"; this episode pretty clearly crossed some self-imposed lines about the way it functions, so the criticism is more than valid. I think I've been exceedingly fair in giving things a fair shake and going out of my way to court dissenting opinions because of my psychotic compulsion to never get too comfortable with anything.

     

  • Capt. Blicero The only S4 episodes I would honestly consider ranking above any Harmon-era episodes are the only 3 I consider worth a damn at all – Cooperative Escapism, Herstory, and Basic Human Anatomy. Even with those 3, it'd be close and I would probably favor the Harmon episode in quesiton. It's just hard for me to view S4 as anything but glorified fan fiction now that it's going to be the only non-Harmon season…so even though, say, Basic Human Anatomy is technically a better episode of television than this one, I don't think it's a better episode of Community because it just isn't capable of being true to the characters in the same way a S1-3 episode would.

     

  • While this is definitely one of Community's weaker episodes, I actually like "Contemporary Impressionists" better than the episode that follows, "Digital Exploration of Interior Design", thanks to the the Britta half of the Hulk storyline.

    Watching Britta in full Psych-major mode using terrible metaphors and random visual aids to explain things but actually correctly analyzing someone's issues is one of my favorite character quirks of hers (it's also the best part of "Advanced Gay").

     

  • Well articulated and eloquently stated as always, Semi-T.  I agree completely with your sentiment on Harmon's motivation here and in particular love the connection of Jeff's extroverted conflicts here and Abed's introverted conflicts here to Harmon's mindset when crafting the episode.  This is a breaking point for all three involved– a point of no return.  One person hulks out and recedes from the chaos, and the other two go deeper down the rabbit hole.  

    I love the concepts of this episode quite a bit (despite some of its plot elements), even though I dislike the execution and tone of its proceedings.  I definitely concur that it's supposed to be this jarring to illustrate (much like Pierce in Celebrity Pharmacology) that Abed has gone too far and the lovable TV antics truly have shifted from making movie references to Inspector Spacetime cosplay to Batman as a defense mechanism instead of for fun to Abed needs real life movie interjections in his life since his imagination time is focused primarily on keeping the group from breaking apart and/or venting the warp plasma, as it were.  But somewhere along the lines this episode shifts a little too far from showing us the discomfort to making us feel nothing but discomfort.  Still, it's evocative and memorable– I'd take that overCompetitive Wine Tasting any day of the week.  

    "I love you, DRUGS!"
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    My only real two gripes with this episode that I can't easily placate, personally?  

    1.  This moment is just too much even for Community and its past, present, and future usage of Chang:
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    2.  I love love love the beginning and end points of the Troy/Abed conversation, but dislike the dialogue in the middle.  It's that shaky line writers have from time to time of having to get from Point A to Point F and skipping steps along the way.  It's not terrible, but it always takes me out of the moment and I want to love everything about this conflict, not cringe at its execution.

    To explicate– this conversation between Troy and Abed has an immediate parallel to Advanced Gay, wherein Abed is telling Troy explicitly to do what will make him happy (even framed the same way):

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    But here's how the conversation plays out in full (sorry for the text spam):

    Troy: I am mad at you.
    Abed: You said you weren't.  You never lie, we made a deal.
    Troy: I know.
    Abed: October 15th, 2009– friends don't lie to each other.
    Troy: I KNOW- I lied.  Because you don't like people who tell you what to do and I don't want to be one of those people.
    Abed: Then don't be.
    Troy: I HAVE to be!  You have to stop renting celebrity impersonators.  Vinnie was gonna break both of your legs.  I had to work really hard to help you!
    Abed: But that's what you wanted to do.
    Troy: YES.
    Abed: But I can't do what I want to do?
    Troy: I guess not!  Not all the time.Sometimes you're just going to have to trust that I know better about stuff.
    Abed: I don't know if I can do that.
    Troy: …THEN I guess you're gonna have to trust that… you're gonna have to trust me.  
    Abed: Well…I don't want to stop being your friend, so… I guess I'll let you tell me what to do sometimes. Still best friends?

    Now, Troy being mad at Abed and Abed not being able to relinquish control are focal points of this episode and this entire season (Troy needing to leave Neverland [Ranch in this episode, wink] and ascend to manhood without losing his friendship to Abed).  But it's that middle part that irks me everytime– trying to start off with TROY in the bad light for this conversation to center things on Abed's logical focus (so that he can't relent, understandably, except he has a very weak position here).  Now the idea behind this conflict is perfect, but what gets me is that it just needs a little tweak to be perfect.

    "But that's what you wanted to do– remember when you came to me and asked what to do and I let you decide what was best for you?  I can deal with my own stuff too."  A direct parallel to a past episode where the tables were ever so slightly reversed.  Abed doesn't even have to mention that if TROY had left for air conditioning repair, it would have hurt everyone else with his decision.  And the undercurrent of "well Abed, the difference here is Troy is being THOUGHTFUL in his decision making, while you're being THOUGHTLESS in your need for gratification through celebrity impressions."

    It's nothing egregious, true.  It's just it feels like they artificially weakened Troy at the beginning of this argument just to make it easier for Abed to walk away without having to change too much because they need this to play out later in P&B (even though EVEN then, it doesn't resolve as well or evoke as much emotion as it does here, agreed guys).  And I'm not trying to play Gene Siskel here and say "well they didn't do thinks the way I'd imagine it, ergo they're flawed," but the dialogue just gets me each time I watch this scene. 

    All that having been said, the performances and that non-buddy handshake, are equally stellar and heartbreaking.

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    (Abed's Mind here:  It's only a matter of time now before we're broken up– it's over…)

    In any event– sorry again for long reposting of dialogue there— I hope I didn't ramble too incoherently about my slight objection to its execution.

    And again, great discussion points, Semi-T.

     

  • That's an interesting take on the T-A scene. I've never thought about it like that and conversely, if I remember correctly, Loki was very upset that Troy was so condescending to Abed.

    I think Troy was also artificially weakened with the For Shame! speech defending Abed. Not only is it a contrived to keep everyone but Troy from knowing about the threat from Fake Ving Rhames and Michael Chiklis, but his unconditional support clashes with the tension in their relationship. In 309, he's supportive out of fear and that should have applied here without the threat.

     

  • There's a new thing to consider for s3! Should they (and could they have found a way to) make Abed irresponsible while giving him enough ground to stand on that he remains sympathetic? VSA might have done that the best, even if it had to get just a tad maudlin to do it. But here and in P&B, it's too easy to see Troy as a responsible burgeoning adult with Abed holding him back with his arrested development. Their relationship really shouldn't be that way, and hasn't been in the past. Maybe we needed a few more scenes like Abed dancing at Shirley's wedding and Troy pulling him away cause he's not ready to give up on their funtimes yet. Abed getting in debt to the Mob does not lend itself to sympathy, beyond "Oh he's the wacky one so I like him" (which is definitely a step down when it comes to Abed's characterization).

    Don't get me wrong: Showing the down side of Abed is the perfect premise for S3. But you may have found the place where the paths diverged in s3, and maybe there was another way to go (or maybe they just hit a seven-ten split where Abed couldn't remain sympathetic and still be seen realistically as a potential burden).

     

  • Yes agreed it's a very interesting path to take for this season– and it's a shame that it's RIGHT there but they build Abed up as an antagonist only to make him second to Jeff's conflict in P&B, then marginalize him until VSA, then finally bring everything back full force for ITF.  It's not the end of the world or anything– it's just sad given the parallels we've seen consecutively from all these past Season 3 reviews:

    Abed and Jeff are anxious of change more than anyone else in the group.
    Abed internalizes his fears; Jeff externalizes them.
    They both approach resolution to this tension differently, with mixed results.
    And if Abed had just brought up Advanced Gay as a parallel, Troy could HAVE a valid problem with Abed, without seeming weak, and Abed could have a VALID counter, without seeming crazy or nonsensical.  Yes, Abed would still be seemingly OK with having his legs broke- but it's in the same league of rationalizing as what Troy said back in Advanced Gay:

    "Yes, but it's my mistake to make."
    "That doesn't change the fact that it's a mistake."
    "Doesn't it?"
    "….no, it doesn't."

    All the same– I can't fault the episode or this part of the season for at least ATTEMPTING a long term arc and developing it to a strong degree.  Now the resolution to P&B on the other hand is like:

    If in Critical Film Studies, you have the Abed/Jeff plot, but the resolution instead involves Britta realizing she needs to have a better work ethic (WTF?).  Yes, that'd make for an interesting Britta episode, sure, but WHY have that HERE? Similarly so, P&B should be all about the resolution or development of the divergence between Troy and Abed, and the emergence of Evil Abed.  Instead, it becomes all about Jeff (and it IS a good lesson, to be fair– but it doesn't belong there).  

    At best, it works as a parallel to the Jeff/Abed construct this season– Abed regresses to keep his friendship intact, while Jeff is the one who externally conflicts with others and learns the lesson to build himself out of his anxiety.

    But then I'm getting ahead of myself with this P&B talk.  Sorry.
    Point is– Contemporary Impressionists has some really meaty stuff– if the execution were better, it'd be an all-time classic instead of something that makes us flinch.  But I give it points for trying.

     

  •  Crap, this is already off the front page. Damn my teaching schedule and/or need to make money to purchase goods and services!

    It's interesting that you read the T/A dialogue as making Troy the bad guy, because I always read it the other way around. Sure, as Lloyd says, Troy is weakened by the "Abed is a magical man who doesn't need reality" speech from earlier, but I always chalked that up to Troy's customary rhetorical shortcomings.

    It's not Troy who is condescending to Abed, but Abed who acts like a dismissive prick. A wounded, possibly scared prick, but a prick nonetheless. The T/A relationship has always been a rather unequal one, with Troy the wide-eyed, gullible innocent falling for Abed's nerdy siren call, without quite realizing what he's getting himself into (Donald has confirmed this once, when he said the T/A relationship is a tragic one, because Abed will never fully reciprocate).

    Troy is being perfectly reasonable here – Abed was irresponsible and reckless. And seen in this light, his "magical elf" speech appears not as much as oblivious, as delusional – an attempt to convince himself, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Abed is just perfect as he is.

    This is not to say, of course, that Troy's approach to the situation was right. But Troy is not as wily as Abed or Jeff; his heart is always in the right place, but his mind needs to pick up the slack. And one of S3's best arcs traced precisely how Troy matured, and hardened a little: becoming more responsible; choosing to stay with Abed a little while longer, instead of going to AC school, and finally, becoming The Truest Repairman so that he could shatter the ridiculous Sun Chamber with just one exclamation: "He killed someone. Call the police."

     

  • Agreed on Troy being reasonable here– to clarify, I'm not saying Troy is being made the bad guy, but being given a weak position artificially by the script to start to make Abed's arguments less weak and crazy, when NEITHER has to have a bad argument in this discussion, given what's available from the past few episodes only to use here. I totally agree with Troy here– and the episode didn't have to frame things this way to have us side with Troy, AND understand Abed's position, AND still find Abed inconsiderate, desperate, and reckless. 

    Abed can push that he as a friend supported Troy even if that meant never seeing Troy again and damaging the group, and Troy can submit that he's only pushing Abed so much here to avoid Abed getting personal harm– and they both can still recoil from a full fledged fight like they do here.  

    Instead, Troy sort of doesn't tell Abed how pissed he is for a millisecond so Abed can call him out for lying, then Troy weakly says "but I don't want to tell you what to do even though I have to because you almost got hurt here without my help!"  Then Abed's argument, so shortly written here without theAdvanced Gay parallel, as you astutely say, just makes him come off as dismissive instead of, well, less dickish Abed.  

    Compare this to the Annie/Pierce parallels in Season 2 (Celebrity Pharmacology and A Fistful of Paintballs).  There, Pierce is JUST as reckless as Abed, JUST as dickish, but gets better writing so it feels less like Pierce/Annie are forced into a stalemate in CP and more like a temporary reconciliation between the person who'd never want to push anyone out of the group and the one who just wants to push everyone around (the immovable object and the unstoppable force, as it were).  Pierce comes off then as a dick we can relate to and forgive, Annie doesn't come off as too trusting or stupid given her living situation, and when Annie does finally say "draw!" to Pierce, it resonates more as a result of this excellent, effective, earlier build up.

    So we have past examples of dynamics that HAVE been written well, we have reason dialogue between Troy and Abed that CAN effectively be called back here to make things flow cohesively, and instead we just get what we get.  And it's not TERRIBLE– it gets from Point A to Point G, but it skips steps along the way.  

     

  • That's just it: I think Abed's arguments ARE weak. They are almost irrationally weak, because he's made to ignore the difference between a true lie and a white lie. And I think that this is the bigger, and insurmountable problem of the scene: the rift lacks resonance.

    Abed may be on the spectrum, but he's not an idiot. Nor is he 4 years old. I can't believe he cannot separate an intentionally damaging lie from a little truth skirting meant to spare his feelings. So by making a tiff over Troy's lie, he appears more like a careless jerk than truly hurt, while Troy comes off as the innocent party. And, ultimately, the whole conflict feels forced.

    I feel about the T&A rift much in the same way I do about S5 of BB: excellent ideas in theory, undermined by the execution in practice (though I think that BB sticks the landing more often and much better).

     

  •  

    Great review, Stephen!

    Re: Chang. His plot grew on me (God, I'm just digging myself in deeper and deeper, aren't I?). I think it struck just the right balance between unstructured insanity (which made his "Ecology" plot seem just weird for the sake of weird) and pretty sharp satire. As a thinly disguised cover for Harmon's id, Chang works really well – the tyrannical outbursts, the megalomania ("Chang eats the sun and drinks the sky"), the power trips – I find them hilarious on their own, but also as a pretty merciless bit of self-criticism.

    I also liked how Chang's plot (like CI, in fact) continues the doppelganger theme the season had set up as early as "Geography of Global Conflict." S3 was a lot about characters coming to blows with their own ids (literal blows sometimes, as in Abed's case), so it made sense for Greendale to fight its own.

     

  • Good review, Stephe. N77. 

    I agree with basically everything you had to say about this episode. For some reason, some of the motifs like the Ego Apple and the Study Group in costume grate on me personally. They're just so visually blunt and I guess I could imagine them applied to any characters on any sitcom. That's probably doesn't explain what it is that annoys me about them so much, though. I feel like the guy on Monty Python going "Stop that! It's too silly!"

    I have some affection for the overarcing "Chang takes over Greendale" plot, though again I'm not sure why. It resulted in several mostly disconnected episodes that varied in quality (FCD wasn't a bad episode, IMO, and everything with the therapist was pretty funny), and it mostly failed to form a larger story that tested the characters and let them overcome their issues in a clear and exciting way. But I really liked that Harmon tried to do a more serialized arc that still allowed for funny, individual episodes, and fit into a larger format for all three seasons. It didn't come off the way it was probably meant to, but it's almost to the point where the failure is better than just a bunch of plain, old episodes, and more in the ambitious spirit I want to see from the show.

    But the real point here seems to perhaps involve Dan Harmon’s petty spite.

    Well, it's allright if he rebels against the network with great episodes, which I think he's done in the past (AD&D, CFS, some of the better bits of s3), it just didn't work out that way with CI. It seems like with s3 he became a little bit embattled (and if he was paranoid in his dealings with NBC/SONY, he was proven right when they fired him), and his anxieties seemed to overtake his writing the same way they overtook the characters in this dark portion of the story circle. The more we discuss this season, the more clear it seems, but I'm still unsure of which parts I think are too flawed and which ones offer their own good qualities. I think as a whole CI is one of the more flawed, but as SBT's arguments suggest, it partly works as a skeleton key to what the season was attempting, regardless of how much of it worked.

     

  • Great review, Stephen!  Like the majority of TV judges we have out in this world, only more respectfully so I hasten to add /praise, you're tough but fair.  

    I think this episode would be better served by either:

    A).  Splitting the Jeff and Abed conflicts up into their own episodes to maintain their individual tones without one spilling into the other and vice versa.

    B).  Sanding off the rough edges of the execution here– the cartoon moments and the humor on the second half of the episode just feel a tad too shoehorned in and it just gets too jarring without feeling organic and cohesive to everything that came before it.  

    That's why stuff like Annie as Dorothy feel like missed opportunities since normallyCommunity gives better face time when it's trying to discuss certain story points (I'm thinking primarily in this case of Accounting for Lawyers and Celebrity Pharmacology, the former of which has everyone get something to do and only has Jeff's main plot to buttress, and the latter which has Jeff's text-misstep to keep things light while Pierce goes off the deep end and everyone gets a good line in there).  I respect that this episode tried to bring Jeff AND Abed's season long conflict to a head at the same time here (especially in conjunction with how deftly they were both protagonists/antagonists in the last few episodes), but here it's just a tad too shaky.

    Oh, and the Jewish caricatures go too far as well.  Even for a celebrity impressionist party at a bar mitzvah in Colorado.  More Annie and Shirley, less of the former fangals fawning over Jeff.

    Doppeldeaner Count for this Season 3 Episode:  There's the truest doppeldeaner of them all, Evil Abed who finally surfaces more concretely from Abed's mind at this episode's end.  Again, there's Jeff and Abed as introverted/extroverted halves of the same anxiety ridden coin.  There's EVERYONE as doubles for celebrities and the exploration of the pseudo-fame/excitement that comes from playing someone famous.  There's the subtle or not so subtle Michael Jackson parallel here– young and old, one of hope and the other a childhood artificially extended to publicly disconcerting results (the boy who could never truly grow up and soured in the public eye over the decades).  

    There's Jeff confronting his narcissistic godlike persona from Psychology of Letting Goballooned… sorry.. APPLED up by the drugs.  There's Pierce on the opposite side of the Michael Jackson spectrum (again as an apt metaphor of Abed's isolation/hermit self):  A fat Marlon Brando isolated from all who yearns to be seen as the Burt Reynolds of his time (who doesn't want to be seen as having lost his manhood as opposed to clinging to childhood).  

    There's Mr. Moby and the awesome but dated French Stewart impersonator, and Britta lovingly hugging Pierce while calling him Piercenault–  he's finally crossed that line from Season 2 into the Season 3 self that will selflessly help Gilbert in DEP– he can be Piercenault while still fundamentally being Pierce now that he knows what that means. 
     
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    So yeah.  This episode makes you think, even if at times it's thoughts of revulsion.  And it has moments both poignant and tragic, in a good way.  So /cheer to that.

    Now everyone remember to STAY in your QUADRANT (Story Circle terminology, yay! ^^). We're heading into the end zone of this wonderfully chaotic season, people!

    ***EDIT***: Whoops, forgot to mention this nice Season 4 parallel to the Contemporary Impressionists moment:

    http://farm6.staticflickr.com/…

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…