Community season 2 episode 19 review: Critical Film Studies

Community gives in and finally does Pulp Fiction. At least, it tries to in Critical Film Studies…

2.19 Critical Film Studies

After last week’s somewhat downbeat war crimes-fest, hopes that Community would come back fighting were most definitely not misplaced. Critical Film Studies may not be the out and out laugh fest that we’ve come to expect, but it’s almost certainly a return to form.

A reference within a reference, this weeks’ episode is ostensibly an homage to My Dinner With Andre, but that’s just the crispy coating. Critical Film Studies also has a delicious centre in the shape of a series of Pulp Fiction spoofs, the best of which is Shirley dressed as Sam Jackson. Based around the surprise festivities planned for Abed’s birthday, hence Pulp Fiction, the birthday itself is the catalyst for the outer homage.

Having planned a Pulp Fiction-themed party, taking place at a retro diner where Britta works (yes, you read that right. Britta somehow has a job), and the brainchild of Jeff, the party involves the usual dressing up and more movie memorabilia than is really necessary. However, as Abed isn’t in on the secret, he scuppers his own party by inviting Jeff to a posh meal at a fancy la eaterie the same night as the surprise. And so begins what is quite possibly the perfect storm of Abed weirdness.

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Appearing at the restaurant in a horrific cardigan eclipsed only by Chang’s crime against fashion last week, and talking like a middle-aged WASP halfway through a midlife crisis, the Abed that we know and love is nowhere to be seen. Telling Jeff that a hilarious experience involving Cougar Town and involuntary defecation is responsible for his throwing off his pop culture obsession, before demanding that Jeff give him a real conversation, somehow doesn’t get Jeff’s bullshit detector ringing, and this is a man who is trained to spot liars.

So convincing is Chad-bed’s apparent desire for a more conventional lifestyle that Jeff calls off the surprise party, and in an attempt to give Chad-bed a very real conversation, he goes on to reveal personal secrets that he really should have taken to the grave. The little Indian girl story explains so much.

Of course, this is Abed we’re talking about, so nothing is as it seems. Thanks to a careless waiter, we, along with Jeff, discover that the entire evening has been one of Abed’s homages. Everything from the cardi to the conversation was entirely fake and the collective sigh of relief breathed around the world is actually audible. Feeling a little ignored by Jeff in recent weeks (the ex-lawyer has been strangely loner-like), Abed planned an unusual evening with a weird friend, just so they could hang out. Bless. Sort of. Admittedly, that sounds a little twee out of context, but the journey to the reveal is absolutely fantastic. Danny Pudi’s Chad-bed monologues are brilliantly performed and convincing as hell. But the highlight of the performance is the momentary look of horror on Abed’s face as Jeff goes off book and unburdens himself at the dinner table. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s hilarious.

This is possibly the most screen time Abed has been given since the show started and it’s delicious, Add the fact that Jeff and Abed is a screen coupling we don’t see too much of, and this was an episode well worth waiting for.

Elsewhere, the other homage ticks along nicely without Jeff and Abed as the rest of the gang wait patiently in the diner Britta is about to be fired from. Among other things, we discover that no one likes Britta (although there’s a good chance you came to that conclusion yourself weeks ago), that Troy has jealousy issues and is rubbish at wrapping, and that Shirley should wear a goatee more often. She’s totally rockin’ it.

Critical Film Studies is something of an unusual episode, despite the fact that it contains all the elements that work so well for the show. That’s not to say it isn’t a great episode. The full and total explanation of Jeff’s character flaws in the space of two very short stories is comedy gold, and as previously mentioned, Abed’s Chad creation is genius.

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And if that isn’t enough to recommend it, the show was directed by Richard Ayoade, of Dean Learner/IT Crowd/Submarine fame, a comedy genius in his own right and the perfect fit for Community.

Clearly, the show’s production team are gaining in confidence each week and aren’t afraid to experiment with the show’s format or use less than obvious references, knowing that their audience will go wherever they lead. Not really sure why the Cougar Town hatred is so prevalent, but it’s funny, so it’s allowed. Maybe Glee just got too big to touch? Either way, it’s a marked improvement on last week, so the notion that Custody Law was just a hiccup may yet prove true.

Read our review of episode 18, Custody Law And Eastern European Diplomacy, here.

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