I don't review Community, but it's been a particularly slow week so I thought I'd alleviate the tedium with a quick, impromptu review of this week's episode "Critical Film Studies", which was a very clever and well-written half-hour.
The premise was very simple, as Jeff (Joel McHale) conspired to get Abed (Danny Pudi) to a surprise Quentin Tarantino-themed birthday party that Britta (Gillian Jacobs) had organized at the diner she works at, only to discover Abed's a changed man who no longer bases his life on pop-culture. Instead, after being given the opportunity to be an extra in the Cougar Town, Abed's attempt at method-acting channeled a fully-developed personality he calls "Chad" that made him realize he's been wasting his own life. But the emergence of "Chad" (giving Pudi the chance to play a debonair character) put the success of the costumed Tarantino shindig in the air, as Jeff tried in vain to make Abed realize that it's okay to be obsessed with pop-culture references.
Community is a comedy that often has dialogue with its fanbase (partly because creator Dan Harmon is so prevalent on Twitter), and understands the pro's and con's of being a committed fan. "Critical Film Studies" posited some interesting questions about how fans interact and communicate these days, where social common ground has started to shift away from sport and more towards film and TV. Abed's the ultimate example of a person who's become utterly consumed by the media, to the extent that it's the prism through which he communicates to the wider world. The character appears to have some degree of autism, which further exacerbates the problem. But I'm sure many people reading this blog are somewhere on Abed's spectrum: a person who quotes movies most days, or understands certain aspects of the "real world" via how a TV show explains it to them. Hopefully people keep a healthy balance between reality and fiction, but it's true that the media's become so ingrained in our lives it's started to become our lives. (So writes the man running a TV blog.)
Some of the best stuff in "Critical Film Studies" was the two-hander between Jeff and Abed in the posh restaurant, with Jeff trying to make Abed realize that human communication is all about lying and how talking via references is a perfectly understandable way to filter the world and your thoughts. The only complaint with this episode is that, if we're honest, it wasn't especially funny. There was comedy value in seeing the cast dress up as their favourite Pulp Fiction characters, of course -- Chang (Ken Jeong) as a boxer Butch, Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) as mustachioed hitman Jules, Britta as Mia (with some great dance moves), Troy (Donald Glover) as the loud-shirted Pumpkin, Annie (Alison Brie) as Honeybunny, and Pierce (Chevy Chase) as The Gimp ("... I'm hot and my balls are touching a zipper") -- but it was otherwise pretty light on the big laughs and aimed for something more soulful.
Anyway, those are just a few thoughts I felt like sharing. There was also some great direction from The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade, who once co-starred with McHale in the US version of that sitcom, and who appears to be embracing his film-making future after the recently-released movie Submarine. More power to him, as he appears to have unexpected skill in delivering slick visuals and a deep mood. The opening with Jeff wandering into the restaurant to find Abed, leaning on voice-over, was really evocative; setting the tone for an unusual episode about how the media has a hand creating who we are, how we behave, why we let it influence us so much, and if we're okay with that.
written by Sona Panos / directed by Richard Ayoade / 24 March 2011 / NBC