Think back, friends, to your long-ago youth, and remember what it was like on the first morning back in school after a long vacation. Sure, you’d be bummed about classes starting up, but there was always that thrill of seeing your friends for the first time in what felt like forever. New gossip! New haircuts! New pet monkeys! So perhaps it’s because absence makes the heart grow fonder that we absolutely loved this first new episode of Community in a month. Or we could just be honest and say that we’re pretty sure “Contemporary American Poultry” was the best half-hour of the series to date, featuring zingers that zinged, pop-culture riffs that popped, and a tiny monkey in a cage named “Annie’s Boobs.”
Now, to be fair, we did experience a twinge of excitement when we saw the chicken-based title of this week’s episode. Part of us hoped that Dan Harmon and Co. might be using their Thursday-night platform to address the foul (pun!) “why don’t we barter poultry and other goods for medical care” nonsense that everyone involved with the Nevada senate race is currently clucking about (yes! again!). But no. This episode was literally about chicken. Or at least the part of the chicken that is a finger — which is no part at all, but we digress. It seems that the only quality lunch served in the Greendale cafeteria is the deep-fried, preformed digits of mystery meat (paging Jamie Oliver!), and our old nemesis Starburns has been skimming the majority of them for his friends. What to do? If you answered “nothing,” then you have no future in comedy writing. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true.
However! If you answered “launch a pretty damn brilliant homage to Goodfellas replete with freeze-frame voice-overs, montages set to the sad part of "Layla," and fried chicken fingers standing in for cocaine” then tear up your Robert McKee books, Hollywood, 'cause you don’t need 'em! Seriously, this killed, and not just because the meta-ness itself was funny (although the show had us at Abed’s “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be in a Mafia movie”): It was executed to perfection. Abed’s rise to power (featuring a loyal adjutant who drops new scoops of ice cream in his carefully made floats) was detailed lovingly and crazily with newspaper headlines (“STAR-GATE”, with the subhead: “A reference to Watergate, not the 1994 sci-fi film.”), and Troy’s “world’s worst” interview, which consisted of crazy eyes and an Egyptian headdress. Then there were the priceless moments with the study group packaging their white-meat contraband and enjoying the fruit of their protein-rich labors: Annie’s dance-inducing zippered backpack, Pierce’s hackneyed, partly turbaned posse, the aforementioned monkey (second best line of the night: “It’s an animal that looks like a dude. Why don’t I have ten?”). And then, inevitably, as these Mafia movies (and Mafia-movie tributes) go, we saw the corruption that comes after the excitement over fancy, chicken-logo blazers has faded. (Best line of the night: “My monkey hates this caviar!”)
Maybe we’ve just spent too much time with our noses buried in psychopharmacology textbooks — which, as you know, is the “study of crazy farm animals” (Troy!) — but we’ve got nothing to complain about here. Not even the kinda flat, “very special episode”–referencing conclusion. If that’s the price to pay to learn that if it was cool to eat God, then he’d be a chicken finger (Troy!), then we consider it to be a more than fair deal. Kudos to co-writers Emily Cutler and Karey Dornetto: It’s clear they are exceptionally streets ahead.