I feel I may have initially underrated last week’s episode of Community. I felt it was a minor episode of the series partially because it never really positioned itself as something audacious or totally ambitious. That’s a little bit unfair since it was very, very good at what it was trying to be, a more “normal” episode of Community. It was a good choice for the first episode back; a simpler less off-putting episode of the series was more likely to bring in new viewers who are sometimes annoyed with Community’s elaborate homages and parodies. I mistook that for the show not trying as hard as it sometimes does, but in retrospect the episode was an immensely well-structured character piece with a lot of laughs. In other words, it was much more of a “major” installment that I’d at first believed and “Contemporary Impressionists” helped highlight this fact.
“Contemporary Impressionists” isn’t a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s slightly more scattershot than “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” and relies just a little bit more on the references and homages that Community’s detractors point to as some of the show’s problem. Where last week’s episode was nicely unified and paid off all the character stories and themes it was teasing out over the course of the half hour “Contemporary Impressionist” is a little less effective in expounding on the topics it chooses to deal with. That’s not to say that it doesn’t grapple with some interesting topics, and I’m actually a really big fan of how the episode ends with an effective coda that adds just enough a wrinkle to the fairly pat sitcom ending that at first seemed to be developing. The basis of the episode itself revolves around whether or not Abed’s divorce from reality is a good or bad thing. Over the winter break Abed’s been hiring celebrity impersonators to act out his favorite movie scenes with him, and while it at first seems like harmless fun things get real when the manager of the company, a French Stewart impersonator named Vincent played by French Stewart, shows up demanding Abed pay his 3,000 dollar tab.
The group almost uniformly agrees that if they pay for Abed he’ll learn nothing and only head further into his own world. Troy on the other hand argues that Abed’s version of the world is far superior and that he’s enriched all of the lives of his friends greatly. They can’t disagree either, Abed is most certainly a giving friend and the group agrees to work a “Star Mitzvah” to help pay off Abed’s debt. The situation quickly goes from fun to terrifying for Troy though as Vincent threatens to break Abed’s legs should anything go wrong. Troy’s left terrified throughout the night as he’s the only one aware of this fact and desperate to make sure that reality doesn’t intrude on his friend’s elf-like sense of wonder. It all leads to a bunch of fun, not least of which is the realization that Gillian Jacobs makes for a bizarrely convincing Michael Jackson impersonator who is absurdly hilarious at moonwalking while talking in a high pitched voice about Jeff’s dangerous use of anti-anxiety medication.
All of the plots tonight tie into this concept of reality vs. fantasy in one way or another, Jeff’s portion has to do with the fact that his new psychiatrist has been pumping him full of anti-anxiety meds even though the only thing that keeps his potentially raging ego in check is his barely existent self-doubt. Jeff’s decision to pitch in as a taller, more handsome version of Ryan Seacrest is exceedingly dangerous for him since he’s the center of attention for all of the older Jewish women who are attending the party, and once they’ve got their complimenting hooks into him even Britta’s brutal honesty can’t snap him back to reality, especially considering the award for most handsome young man is on the line. This is another storyline that deals with the main thread that Season 3 has been building all along, Jeff’s attempts to deal with his father/mental issues and how they’re driving him away from the group, but it ends up leading to what is essentially a punch line rather than any strong statement about his character. Jeff’s Hulk out is pretty funny, as is his slow walk to the old theme from the 80s Hulk TV series, but it’s not exactly revelatory or essential to the episode.
It’s the same for Pierce and Chang who each get stories that amuse but never amount to much more than needing something for their characters to do. Pierce decides to show up at the party as Burt Reynolds because his vanity requires that he not admit that he does resemble Vincent’s suggestion of Fat Marlon Brando. When he gets to the party he’s forced to accept this reality, but a party guest suggests he’s actually fat Burt Reynolds, and Pierce clings to this subtle upgrade in his status. It’s a small moment where reality and fantasy collide once more, but since we don’t spend much time at all with Pierce it doesn’t connect. Similarly Chang’s psychoses continue to rage as his overzealous stint as Greendale’s chief of security becomes more and more absurd. For some reason the Dean decides it’s a good idea to give Chang the ability to hire security interns to hopefully curb his bizarre need for absolute power. It’s a terrible plan, but luckily Chang’s master plan to usurp the Dean as king of Greendale relies mostly on hiring the only people who would be foolish enough to follow him, teenaged boys. Again, nothing much comes of this plot, but getting to see Chang’s bizarre mental math in the thought bubbles that pop up alongside his head is a bit of fun.
The real highlight of the episode comes at the very end as, after the group has successfully resolved Abed’s debt, Troy walks in on Abed sitting at home having hired more celebrity impersonators. Troy’s frustrated and ultimately mad, and while he tries to hide those feelings from Abed he eventually lets them out rather than lie to his friend as they have a strict no lying policy. Abed is characteristically confused by Troy’s insistence that sometimes Abed simply can’t do what he wants to, but when Troy insists that Abed must trust Troy even if he can’t trust that Troy might know more than him, it’s a fairly touching conclusion to the plot. Troy and Abed’s friendship has always run deep, and seeing it challenged here with reality is an exciting moment. Most sitcoms would likely leave the plot here, but what makes Community special is that it pushes further. Abed accepts that to continue his friendship with Troy he must sometimes do things he doesn’t understand for him, but just when all seems right with the world and Troy is prepared to head to the dreamatorium with his friend Abed states that he wants to play by himself. He’s clearly hurt by Troy’s statements and the reality of the situation has strained their friendship. The episode closes with Abed in the dreamatorium alone, receding fully into his dream world. Suddenly though an evil Abed clone appears, and the pair converse over how his presence makes things dark, perhaps too dark. Evil Abed claims it’s only too dark if he shares it with another, and the moment is appropriately melancholy. It’s not necessarily an avenue that needs to recur on the series, but it’s an acknowledgement that even when friends come to an understanding after a disagreement the pain can still linger. Fantasy is always easier than reality, and while accepting that reality is a necessary part of daily life, and an essential part of growing up, that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Abed’s a more mature, understanding person at the end of “Contemporary Impressionists”, but that doesn’t mean he’s any happier for it.
- Jim Rash’s utter ecstasy over seeing Jeff in aviator sunglasses is a bit of physical comedy for the ages. His convulsing on the ground was simply incredible.
- Britta’s psychology textbook cover is pretty hugely terrifying, featuring what looks like a human trapped behind some sort of tight green fabric desperately trying to escape.