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TV Diary | Community: “Contemporary Impressionists”

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TV Diary | Community – Episode 3.12 – “Contemporary Impressionists” – Original Airdate: 3/22/12

Episode Grade: B

I’m normally loathe to give NBC credit for anything as it relates to their treatment of Community. From putting it in the unenviable position of leading off one of the toughest television nights of the week against a monster (though inexplicable) hit like The Big Bang Theory to the unceremonious removal of the show from its schedule back in December, it’s easy to make a case that NBC hasn’t often done right by Community. With that in mind, it’s kind of surprising that NBC actually did the right thing in laying out Community’s return by airing its first two episodes out of order. “Urban Matrimony And The Sandwich Arts” was definitely an easier doorway for newcomers to walk through if they’d decided that they wanted to sample the show after hearing all of the hubbub from Community fans about its return and the ratings bore that out, as the show notched a season-high in both total viewers and in its rating in the 18-49 demographic. “Contemporary Impressionists,” on the other hand, is a much more esoteric installment that likely would have perplexed newbie viewers had it been the one to hit the air first. And it’s not bad, but it’s just not up to Community’s usual high standards. Opening after everyone has returned from semester break, the initial scene sets up the two main storylines that “Contemporary Impressionists” is to focus on: Abed running afoul of a celebrity impersonator service [1] after developing an addiction to hiring the impersonators to help him re-enact movie scenes, and Jeff’s declaration to everyone that the new therapist he’s seeing has prescribed anti-anxiety meds which make the narcissistic Winger even more confident in himself, much to budding psychologist Britta’s dismay. As any sitcom worth its salt is wont to do, the two plot threads intertwine as the episode ambles on with Troy enlisting everyone to work a party for the impersonator service [2] in order to help Abed, while Jeff’s ego is fed by his positioning as a Ryan Seacrest stand-in [3]. Both provide laughs but neither are anything close to what the show is capable of when it’s at its best. Perhaps the most intriguing thing to come out of the episode is the potential fracture of the Troy/Abed BFF relationship after Troy expresses his frustration with Abed when, after expending considerable energy in keeping everyone in the study group on task at the bar mitzvah as a means of keeping Abed’s legs intact, Troy comes home from the event to see Abed with yet another celebrity impersonator [4]. The two friends have a heart-to-heart [5] that ends with Abed declining Troy’s offer to go hang in their Dreamatorium room and the re-appearance of the Abed from the Dark Timeline from “Remedial Chaos Theory.” As The AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff theorizes in his review of “Contemporary Impressionists,” Troy’s trying to hold onto the childlike whimsy of his friendship with Abed in the face of the reality of having to grow up and likely reluctantly embrace his “skill” for air conditioning repair [6]. Do I think it’s likely that Abed and Troy will grow too far apart during the remainder of Community’s run? Not likely, but Community has shown itself to not fear breaking up the status quo so I suppose anything is possible. And, frankly? That’s one of the marks of a great show – one that’s unafraid to take chances and risks. That’s one of Community’s hallmarks and is why it has the immeasurable respect of so many. It’s also why it’s easy to excuse a “lesser” episode of the show like “Contemporary Impressionists.”

[1] Business name: The Doppel Gang.
[2] Since its owner, a former French Stewart impersonator who’s played by French Stewart himself, threatens to break Abed’s legs as repercussion for the $3K debt that Abed’s racked up with The Doppel Gang unless Troy gets the entire group to work a bar mitzvah as impersonators and the event goes off without a hitch.
[3] Any time someone compares him to the diminutive Seacrest, he hears in his head, “You’re more handsome than the guy who’s famous for being handsome.” That Joel McHale gets to play the impersonator of his real-life E! Network punching bag is a delightful meta touch.
[4] He apparently got a two-for-one deal on a Robin Williams stand-in, getting to do Patch Adams and then Popeye. Abed was to play Olive Oyl, naturally.
[5] Or, as much of one as a character like Abed can have.
[6] By all accounts, we haven’t seen the last of John Goodman or his Vice Dean Layborne’s attempt to pull Troy into Greendale’s air conditioning repair program.

*Just for completion’s sake, here’s who all of the major castmembers were stand-ins for at the bar mitzvah: Shirley (Oprah); Jeff (Ryan Seacrest); Annie (Judy Garland); Abed (Jamie Lee Curtis); Pierce (Fat Brando); Troy (Michael Jackson – Before); Britta (Michael Jackson – After).
*Jeff Winger is a giant douche. Although we’ve seen him come through for his friends on more than one occasion, he’s still a douche. But in “Contemporary Impressionists,” his douchiness was on steroids and it’s a credit to the inherent likeability (and considerable talent) of Joel McHale that we still invest in this guy and actually like him. Britta’s wannabe psychological methods to try to keep Jeff’s ego in check throughout the episode were inspired – “When you do too many push-ups it looks like you have boobs! You have an unusually high butt crack!” – and the climax of the b-story (Jeff morphing into an ego-driven Incredible Hulk) was humorous. There were funny spots but, again, this isn’t Community at its best. It’s easily Random Other Show best, but we’ve been conditioned to expect a bit more from Community.
*And the less that’s said about the c-story, the better. I’ll be completely honest – I didn’t even realize until he showed up within the first few minutes of “Contemporary Impressionists” that Chang had been absent in “Urban Matrimony And The Sandwich Arts” and you know what? I didn’t miss him. At all. Ken Jeong is a talented comedic actor but everything that Community has done since removing him as a professor at the end of season one has felt like an attempt to shoehorn a valued actor into spots that just aren’t working, and this season’s attempt to make Chang a security guard is even weaker than last year’s Chang-as-wannabe-group-member. I hate to say it because I do like Jeong, but it might just be time to cut bait on this character.
*It’s easy to contrast the Chang character with Dean Pelton, another supporting player who’s usually found in ancillary positions. However, unlike with Chang, it’s impossible to imagine Community without Pelton and that’s a credit to the immense talent of Jim Rash. Now, having a school administrator to play against makes much more sense than whatever the show’s tried to do with Chang but Rash is just so damn good in the role that he’s indispensible. His orgasmic collapse at the sight of Jeff in aviator sunglasses – “Oh my God… even his shadow! Look at his shadow!” – might have been one of my favorite moments in series’ history. It was complete perfection. Rash is the most overlooked member of the cast in general, but he’s one of the best without question.
*I’m assuming that the Tommy Lee Jones impersonator in Abed’s scene from The Fugitive in the episode’s first act isn’t supposed to be pretty good. Because if not? Yikes.
*Don’t think we didn’t see how into Jeff ripping off his shirt Annie was, Community. We saw it.
*Didn’t catch this myself, but Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall noted that the music that was used when Jeff awoke from his Hulk-esque rage on the side of the road was the same music used in The Incredible Hulk TV series when Bruce Banner found himself in similar situations. Very nice touch.
*”I’m very psyched for the new semester. Or should I say, “Intro To Human Psych-ed?'”
*”I’m an *exceptional* narcissist, Britta.”
*”We’re broke, Ben. We now get 80% of our electricity from that apartment building across the street.”
*”I don’t know who told you that pouting was an option for you, but all you’re making me feel right now is hatred for Renee Zellweger.”
*”Thank you, sir. You won’t regret this unless I rise up against you. I have no idea why I said that.”
*”Oh, that thing about Danny Thomas? I looked it up too. Weird.”
*”Thank you, Leonard. For that compliment and for your service to this country.”
*”Final boarding call, Beefcake Airways.”
*”What do I look like? A sucker?” “French Stewart.”
*”Pierce, who came over in the middle of the night that one time that you forgot how to fart?”
*”Oh zip it, White Jacko.”
*”Britta – stop talking. If you have anything else to say, say it in a high-pitched voice while walking backwards.” “Jeff is in grave danger. Hee hee!”
*”I’m Brando? Could be under ‘Fat.'”
*”Can you believe some jerk brought a scalpel to a bris?”
*”Boogie Nights. You’re Fat Burt Reynolds, right?” “I’ll take it.”
*”Nooo. Diagnostically, you’re way out of my league. I’m gonna go with someone a little less complicated. Like Abed.”
*Episode courtesy of Hulu below.


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