‘Community’ Recap: “Contemporary Impressionists”
In last week's episode Troy and Abed spent an afternoon de-whimsifying themselves to get all the weird out. This week 'Community' takes all that discarded wacky humor and reintegrates it full force in "Contemporary Impressionists."
There are two kinds of 'Community' episodes: the high concept, zany episodes and the more restrained, straight-forward narratives that utilize the humor we love without going bonkers, visually. The former is part of what initially drew in and has kept the hardcore fans around -- a half hour comedy on a major primetime network that can get away with the sort of stream-of-consciousness, unrestrained humor that you typically only find on Adult Swim in the middle of the night. It's goofy, imaginative, and free-spirited, sort of like when you were a kid and you'd just start making sounds and doing weird movements because it made sense to you and felt natural.
These episodes can also be a bit divisive. The future of the show has been uncertain as of late, and while last week's episode was more accessible to newcomers, this week dives right into all the absurd stuff. Better yet, creator Dan Harmon and Co. are keenly aware of this and even comment on it in the end-credits stinger.
This week the gang returns from winter break, and Jeff's "swagger has a new swagger." He's taking anti-anxiety meds to quell the only part of him Britta thinks makes him remotely human. Without any self-doubt, Jeff's ego is now free to continuously expand, dangerously absorbing every compliment and turning him into a gigantic, narcissistic monster.
The second part of this week's plot is Abed-centric: Over the course of winter break Abed has become addicted to paying celebrity impersonators to re-enact movie scenes with him. It's so obviously Abed, but it provides the spine of the episode -- and the heart. Without this throughline, those crazed visual gags could end up feeling more alienating to viewers. But this episode gracefully shows us why it can get away with the high concept stuff with an episode that finally attempts to seriously confront Abed's immaturity.
Abed has accrued a large debt to a French Stewart impersonator named Vinnie (and played, of course, by French Stewart, who is still alive). In order to pay off that debt the gang volunteers to be celebrity impersonators for a Bar Mitzvah, with Vinnie aptly nailing the roles for everyone, especially Troy and Britta, who he says are "both versions of Michael Jackson."
Vinnie also manages to pump up Jeff's ego a bit in a nod to a long-running joke from Joel McHale's E! show, 'The Soup,' by telling him he looks like Ryan Seacrest, only taller and more handsome. The idea that Jeff is more handsome than a man who is famous for being handsome is too much for Jeff to take, and so he ups the dosage on his anxiety meds.
The Bar Mitzvah serves as an obvious way to get everyone in one place and allow the stories to coalesce, even bringing in the B-story with security guard Chang, itchy to use his tranquilizer gun. Jeff is confronted by a trio of Jewish women, doting on him about how he's more handsome than that guy that's famous for being handsome, causing the animated ego apple in his brain to keep inflating in one of the quirkier visuals of the evening.
The faux celebrities host an awards show -- giving out a statuette with an Oscar-esque figure holding up a Star of David -- in which they give every award to the honoree of the evening, the 13 year old Jewish boy who is becoming a man. When Shirley, as a pitch-perfect Oprah, announces the award for "most handsome" and the honor doesn't go to Jeff, he literally Hulks out, tearing his clothes and storming around the party like a mad man.
The show finally makes some progress with Abed's immaturity in the denouement, when Troy discovers that Abed has blown more money on celebrity impersonators after his friends spent all night paying off his debt. There's an incredibly touching scene between Troy and Abed, as Troy explains that friends should trust each other, and sometimes that means that Troy knows best. Abed uses his token, robotic rationale to question Troy's logic: Troy and the rest of their friends did what they wanted to do by helping Abed get out of trouble, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be able to do what he wants to do, even if what he's doing runs counter to what everyone else is doing.
It's an interesting parallel to the struggles 'Community' has had at NBC. Even though NBC and the fans saved the show from cancellation, that doesn't mean Harmon and Co. can't keep doing what they want to do. NBC ultimately wanted to keep the show, so they did. The fans wanted to help save the show, so they did. Harmon and his team want to keep making the show that was worth saving, and so they will.
What Abed learns, though, is that he has to trust Troy to make decisions for him sometimes, just like the 'Community' team has to take their criticism sometimes and internalize it in a way that's constructive. The biggest criticism of the show, even from fans, is that the show's humor is a little off-putting and alienating at times. I can see how that's relevant, but it doesn't limit my enjoyment (then again, high-concept weirdness works for me; I love 'Tim & Eric'). Curbing a little of that high-concept wackiness with a little heartfelt undercurrent -- such as this Troy and Abed plot -- is a good way to keep viewers engaged and open-minded, by allowing them to tether themselves to something more relatable.
And 'Community' is really, really good at taking familiar pop culture tropes and acknowledging, de- and re-constructing them.
The show goes for the bizarro gold in the end credits, putting Abed in an animated cockpit with Evil Abed (!), who makes meta-acknowledgment of this moment by saying everyone will find it "inaccessible and too dark." It's these winking moments where you have to give Harmon credit for being aware of how exclusive the humor can seem at times and then pulling an Abed, shrugging it off, and going for it anyway.
The Dean compares Chang's strange pouty face to Renee Zellwegger: "All you're making me feel right now is an intense hatred for Renee Zellwegger."
Jeff shows his swagger to Leonard: "Thank you Leonard, for that compliment, and for your service to this country."
Jeff: "Final boarding call: Beefcake Airways."