Community Watch: Critical Film Studies

Wasn’t really what you were expecting from a Pulp Fiction-parody, was it? Well sorry baby, but Community had to crash that Honda.

We got the costumes, sure, but that’s about it. Other than Troy’s b-story with the briefcase, there weren’t too many parallels with the plot. No one inquired about the appearance of Marsellus Wallace, and no one asked anyone else to remain calm while their valuables were relieved.

Of course, this episode was more a nod to My Dinner With Andre than Pulp Fiction; Pulp Fiction was used more as a representation on the nature of Abed. Though both My Dinner With Andre and Pulp Fiction are referenced aloud many times throughout the episode, the homages were handled in a more serious and understated way than, for instance, “Modern Warfare”. Even though the show was rife with references, it wasn’t really a parody of anything.

Instead, this is an episode that perfectly exemplifies all the best aspects of Community. It was a pop culture treasure trove, but not at the detriment of its over-arching plot. It was poignant at times, but broke up the drama with well-timed jokes about fecal matter. It advanced the arcs of Jeff and Abed – the two central characters involved.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the episode also featured Britta looking way hot with Uma Thurman hair.

The episode begins with a voiceover narration from Jeff – already a stark departure from the norm. Jeff is meeting Abed alone at a classy restaurant downtown. Abed explicitly requests Jeff to be there for dinner alone, and Jeff agrees since it’s Abed’s birthday. However, Jeff has another plan in mind; the Study Group is waiting in surprise at a local 50’s diner, decked out Pulp Fiction-style! Annie and Troy are Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, Shirley is Jules, Pierce is The Gimp, and Britta is Mia. Jeff has even bought Abed a wallet that says Bad Motherf***er on it, as well as the briefcase that (Jeff believes) was actually used in the film.

Jeff tries to get Abed to leave the restaurant, but Abed doesn’t read his none-too-subtle cues. Plus, Abed is acting weird… by which I mean Abed is not acting weird. After some prodding, Jeff learns that Abed has had an emotional breakthrough. Abed is a changed man following a horrific trip to the set of Cougar Town, as he realizes that by living vicariously through pop culture, he has not lived a life of his own. He yearns to experience real highs and pitfalls, as well as carry on real conversations.

Jeff, partly out of frustration from his foiled surprise plans, tells Abed that there are no such thing as “real” conversations, and that fake people talk about how fake the world is all the time. He goes onto say how conversation is just a man-made construct to distract people from reality. Caught up in a wave of vulnerability, Jeff confides in Abed one of the more traumatic experiences of his life, when he was forced to wear a little girl’s Halloween Indian costume.

Ironically, in Jeff’s attempt to dissuade Abed from the notion of having a real conversation, he inadvertently has one. However, the magical atmosphere is broken when Pierce, dressed as The Gimp, interrupts the dinner and storms off. Abed, finally realizing that he is missing a Surprise Pulp Fiction-themed Birthday Party, decides to leave. When Abed asks for the check, the waiter wonders why he is deviating from the plot of My Dinner With Andre. Jeff realizes that Abed’s whole life-altering experience is just another one of his film parodies, and he leaves – angry and embarrassed at his own openness.

If any of you are confused, it’s really quite simple. Jeff, after trying to convince Abed that there’s no such thing as a “real” conversation, actually has a real conversation, which is actually a fake conversation. And this episode is about a guy having an unexpectedly enjoyable evening with a friend he’s been avoiding lately after they emulate a movie which is about a guy having an unexpectedly enjoyable evening with a friend he’s been avoiding lately.

Eventually, Abed and Jeff make amends when Abed comes clean about his motives for the night’s events. Abed has realized over the past year that while his friends have matured and changed, he has not. While his story about the Cougar Town set trip was false (or was it?), the feelings of isolation he expressed were real; while Abed stays the same, he feels his friends are growing apart from him.

In an ironic twist (that’s my cap for saying the word “ironic” in this article, or I’ll have to go fetch my pair of hipster specs), Abed’s confession that he lacks a character arc ends up creating one for him. Abed has always been very self-aware of his… self-awareness, but he has never really acted despondent about it until this episode. This is as emotional as we get from Abed.

The B-Story was mostly throw-away, but at least provided some awesome visuals of the Gang’s costumes, and of the glowing briefcase. The plotline centered around Troy’s feelings of friendship inadequacy; although he’s Abed’s best friend, Troy feels outdone by Jeff’s gif to Abed, and of Jeff’s idea for the party.

Maybe there weren’t any Royale-with-Cheese jokes, but this is the best possible Pulp Fiction episode we could have got from Community, mostly since the episode had everything fans like about the show. It balanced high-brow humor with the low, subtle nods with the obvious pandering, and the nerdy references with the plot. The only thing it was really short on was laughs, but this show makes me laugh pretty consistently. I’ll take an episode like this any day – we can always laugh next week.