A review of tonight's "Community" — and some thoughts on last week's surprisingly high ratings — coming up just as soon as you make me feel hatred of Renee Zellweger...
Even before Evil Abed is able to pierce the barriers of the darkest timeline to appear before our Abed in the Dreamatorium, "Contemporary Impressionism" is on the darker side for a "Community" outing, which is no doubt why NBC held it to air slightly out of order. (Note that it opens with the study group welcoming each other back from winter break.) It's another episode in which some characters are forced to confront that certain traits that make them love each other — or love themselves — carry a significant downside that's not easily waved away.
Troy loves Abed. As he puts it so eloquently to the rest of the study group when they don't want to help Abed get out of his debt, "Abed is a magical, elf-like man who makes us more magical by being near us... All we had was dumb reality before we met that man. And he's made all our lives better than reality." The problem, of course, is that they happen to live in reality, where you actually have to pay your debts — even if it's to a mediocre Tommy Lee Jones impersonator who helps you re-enact a chase scene from "The Fugitive" — and deal with other responsibilities that can take time away from dreams and magic and "Inspector Spacetime." And just as Annie recognized there are limits to being Abed and Troy's roommate earlier this season, and as Jeff recognized the limits to being Abed's friend in the "My Dinner with Andre" episode last spring, here Troy has to accept that being Abed's best friend will not be 100% awesome, 100% of the time, just as Abed has to deal with Troy at times telling him what to do. Not a hilarious development, but an understandably human one, and that offered us some very good, simple work from Donald Glover and Danny Pudi tonight.
The Jeff story was more overtly funny as it played off his ego, vanity and insecurity, and also off of Britta's attempt to put her psychology education into practice. When you have your main character basking in the attention he gets for being a taller Ryan Seacrest, then turning into the Lou Ferigno version of the Hulk at a kid's bar mitzvah(*), it's going to be silly to a point. Yet in that loopy "Community" way, Jeff's gamma-powered rampage still served as a reminder that this guy is damaged, and that he belongs in the study group, and at Greendale, for reasons beyond his lack of a legitimate bachelor's degree.
(*) Followed, perfectly, by Jeff doing the Bill Bixby walk of shame out of town, completely with the tinkly piano music "The Incredible Hulk" TV show used to use for those scenes.
Even the use of celebrity impressionism as the backdrop for both stories felt appropriate. Whether you happen to look like French Stewart, Bono or Ving Rhames, or even a celebrity you don't want to look like (Pierce as Brando), it's you getting love that isn't real. Nobody loves an impersonator because of who they are, but who they remind people of. So even as the cast got to have fun dressing up in ridiculous outfits — Britta as White Michael Jackson was my favorite, and part of a very strong overall Gillian Jacobs episode — it was in the context of them finding out that being a professional impersonator kinda stinks.
Not a conceptual masterpiece like "Remedial Chaos Theory" nor even as consistently funny as last week's episode, but a good character piece presented in an unexpected way, and with enough laughs (the costumes, Jeff basking in his awesomeness, etc.) to work.
Some other thoughts:
* Dean Pelton's overwhelmed reaction to Jeff in the aviators is one of the single funniest things the show has ever done. Period. Just perfect physical comedy from Oscar Winner Jim Rash.
* I'm going to wait and see on this Chang's Army business. One thing that may have amused only me, though: the potential Dean Pelton impersonator Change discovered at the bar mitzvah was played by J.P. Manoux, an actor I've confused with Oscar Winner Jim Rash often enough that when I watched the "Community" pilot the first time, I thought it was J.P. Manoux playing Pelton.
* If Stewart said upfront that Abed was going to be dressing as Jamie Lee Curtis in "True Lies," I missed it, and it took me a couple of minutes to realize that's who he was. (Given Danny Pudi's lack of cleavage, the minidress looked kind of like a unitard that a wrestler or circus performer might wear.) But once I figured it out, it was very funny. Also glad Yvette Nicole Brown got to bust out her Oprah impression for a bit.
* It's been quite a while since I watched season 1's "Advanced Criminal Law," which aired on the night (October 15, 2009) Abed says he and Troy made their pact to never lie to each other. Was that actually in that episode?
Finally, as to the ratings. In case you missed the good news, where most shows in primetime took a hit in the first week of Daylight Savings Time (a weird annual phenomenon where people apparently choose sunlight and outdoor fun over watching TV), "Community" actually did its highest ratings of the season, with a 2.2 adults 18-49 demo. In adults 18-34, it actually BEAT "American Idol" for the half-hour they were head-to-head. Not a world-beating number, but an absolutely renew-worthy number if that's what the show can do going forward.
Of course, that number was coming off of a ton of fan hype after the hiatus, and it also came on a night when CBS pre-empted "Big Bang Theory" (which obviously has a good amount of overlap with the "Community" audience) for March Madness (which appears to have much less overlap). "Big Bang" is off again tonight, so that's good. And maybe all the show needs to be renewed is for it to do well enough without "Big Bang" there that NBC gets the message that "Community" should air elsewhere next season. (I'm thinking it might be time for NBC to revisit the Tuesday at 8 hour, since I don't see "Last Man Standing" as the same demo, and if "Cougar Town" returns, I don't expect it to be there.) On the other hand, if the initial fan enthusiasm wears off even a bit, and/or the show takes a sizable dip when "Big Bang" returns next week, then we're probably back to renewal being solely dependent on financial concessions by Sony.
"Community" will never be a crossover hit. We've known that for a long time now. But for one night, at least, we got evidence that, under the right circumstances, it could be a viable show for a network in the position of NBC.
What did everybody else think?
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