After the more toned-down post-hiatus debut episode last week, Community returns to its crazy, high-concept form with an episode packing in a season’s worth of movie references and some surprising developments. But, as Abed says, is it all “really crazy, and inaccessible and maybe too dark”?
The study group returns from their break, where they find out that Abed has been hiring celebrity impressionists to reenact movie scenes. Jeff is on anti-anxiety medication, which Britta fears will enhance his narcissism and inflate his ego so much it will completely take over. Britta, meanwhile, is being tasked to pick a person to study and diagnose for her Psych class. Chang is frustrated he has to resort to using extreme measures—like tranquilizer guns—because he’s a “one man army”; the school is broke, and can’t hire anymore security guards. After some pouting, Dean allows him to get potential security guard interns for class credit.
Vinnie, the owner of the celebrity impressionist place and a French Stewart impersonator (played by French Stewart himself) arrives to collect the $3,000 that Abed owes. Abed admits he doesn’t have the money, but Vinnie realizes the entire study group could be used as impressionists for a gig and could use that to cover the cost. However, Vinnie tells Troy that if they fail at the gig in the slightest, he will break Abed’s legs. They arrive at “Howie Schwarz’s Star Mitzvah”—Jeff as Ryan Seacrest, Shirley as Oprah, Annie as Judy Garland, Troy as black Michael Jackson, Britta as white Michael Jackson, and Abed as brown Jamie Lee Curtis. Pierce tries to be Burt Reynolds, but gets cast as Fat Marlon Brando. Chang also gets a gig at the Star Mitzvah as a security guard, where he meets some kids who he could use as his security guard “army,” as well as a Moby impersonator who looks exactly like Dean Pelton. Eventually, someone calls Pierce “Fat Burt Reynolds,” which is good enough for him.
Jeff’s ego gets worse and worse as people compliment him on his Seacrest impersonation (he’s more attractive than the guy famous for being attractive!) and it all comes to a head at the awards ceremony, when all the awards, including most handsome young man, go to Howie. Jeff goes insane, hulks out, and terrorizes the party. Britta finds him afterwards, detoxing on the medication and coming to his senses, and gives him a ride home. Jeff offers to let Britta study him for her psych class, but Britta decides she wants to study and diagnose someone simple, like Abed.
Troy comes home to find that Abed is hiring more impersonators, despite the group working so hard to get him out of debt. Abed doesn’t understand why Troy is upset, since they’re both simply doing what they want to do; Troy tells him that sometimes, to be friends, they just have to trust each other. Things seem okay, but Abed says he wants play by himself, and leaves Troy hanging on the handshake. In the Dreamatorium, Abed encounters Evil Abed from the Darkest Timeline (now with a real goatee) who tells him about the advantages of travelling alone. Abed questions if he’s real, to which Evil Abed says—“Are you?”
It seems this episode was switched with the previous episode—we have the study group returning from their Christmas break after “Regional Holiday Music.” It’s probably good that this wasn’t the episode used to bring in a new audience, because it definitely had a bit of a closed-off feel to it; a lot was packed in this time around, including continuing plot threads and crafting some new ones, not to mention some very wacky developments. In fact, this seemed to be quite a bit of set-up for the second half of the season—Chang’s Army, Britta’s diagnosis project, and what could be a fracturing of the Troy/Abed friendship, not to mention the Evil Abed reveal.
Speaking of which—Evil Abed! I have to admit, even though there’d been talk about a return to the Darkest Timeline, it was a huge surprise to see him. Danny Pudi was, as always, absolutely perfect in his Evil Abed performance. It was left vague exactly what was happening in that scene, but as we learned in “Geography of Global Conflict,” the science does check out for interdimensional travel in the Community universe. But if we continue seeing the evil incarnations only in the Dreamatorium and acting as sort of an evil consciousness, with the question left open as to if it’s real or not, it would definitely be an interesting way to bring them in without completely breaking the show’s sense of realism. Either way, we’ll see.
What’s intriguing about this entire situation is what exactly the episode is trying to say. If Abed rejects his friendship with Troy, is he going to the darkside? Back in “Critical Film Studies,” we were given an entire episode about how Abed doesn’t need to change like the other members of the group do. Are we now amending that? It seems strange to touch on a character whose popularity is centered on his relative simplicity, where he’s simply the “magical man” who inspires the group to better themselves. But ultimately, this is one of those things that will depend on how it plays out.
Troy’s character arc was actually the most interesting part of this episode. Overall, Troy might be the most fleshed out of the entire cast; we’ve been watching his character coming of age and growing up as the show has progressed. He began as the high school jock, then shed that façade to be himself as he became closer with Abed and more willing to be “weird,” and then become more and more of the adult of the group through “Mixology Certification” and now this episode. I really, really liked Donald Glover in his last scene with Abed; it was an abnormally quiet and serious scene, but it worked and Glover did admirably. The scene itself utilized a very strange situation to bring up the very real issue of friendship and trust. Community has never been one to directly address any big political or societal issues, but when it comes to discussing the meaning of love and relationships, it’s brilliant.
Jeff’s ego story was fun, but in an odd way it was a little too cartoony for an episode that, at its core, is about Troy and Abed’s friendship. Granted, the Dreamatorium scene was surreal, but it worked as a shocker; in the rest of the episode, things were actually grounded in some reality, albeit exaggerated. So while Jeff’s story was certainly well-integrated into the plot, his crazy hulk rage just felt out of place with the rest of the tone. It was certainly hilarious—and hey, it’s Joel McHale angrily roaring and shirtless—but from a critical standpoint, it was a little off.
Interestingly, the rest of the episode was mostly set-up, which is certainly odd for a mostly-episodic sitcom. Chang’s army certainly has promise, but we saw so little of it that it’s hard to judge. And it’s still up in the air if Britta’s attempts to diagnose Abed will be a major plot thread; if Evil Abed is going to be recurring, then it might actually be crucial to the plot. Otherwise, it was nice to see Britta trying to be genuinely helpful to Jeff—and hey, she was completely right about her predictions, so it looks like the Psych classes are paying off after all!
Getting a surprisingly serious look at Troy/Abed was definitely the strength of the episode, but unfortunately, the rest of the stuff just didn’t click well together. The heart is there, and there were plenty of laughs, but as a television episode, it wasn’t Community’s strongest. I commend the solid attempt to tie together random threads like celebrity impressions, an army of children, and egomaniacal Hulk-parodies into one surprisingly cohesive plot (all in the same location, too!) And of course, it set up some potentially great stuff. But in terms of tone and overall structure, it’s a little too weak and doesn’t feel smooth enough to be the show’s best. But hey, we got the return of Evil Abed–if anything, that scene will go down in Community history.
Some stray tidbits:
- Tag: A Patton parody, where Chang, covered in various bottlecaps, stands in front of the Greendale flag and brings together his army of children.
- Aside from our main guys, we get glimpses (and sometimes just sound bytes) of impersonations of: Sean Connery, Bono, Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, Geena Davis, Lorenzo Lamas, Cher, Robin Williams…and I’m probably missing way more.
- It really is fun to say “Based on the novel Push by Sapphire” isn’t it?
- Shirley’s got Oprah’s laugh down (and I couldn’t stop laughing at that, myself.)
- Troy’s description of Lorenzo’s Oil was adorable.
- If there are any Jeff/Shirley shippers out there, that spontaneous kiss must have been very exciting.
- The Sad Bruce Banner theme after Jeff’s hulk-out was perfect.
- Evil Abed’s catchphrase is “”Hot. Hot Hot Hot.” Oh yes.
- Best moment: Dean’s collapse at Jeff’s good looks. “Oh my god, even his shadow!”
- Second best moment: Briitta’s MJ impression. “Jeff is in grave danger…hee hee!”
- “I’m an exceptional narcissist, Britta.”
- “If you had hit a small student, they could have died.” “I wouldn’t do that, I have a heavy flashlight for them!”
- ”You have an unusually high buttcrack!”
Below enjoy some images from the episode!