As soon as “Contemporary Impressionists” started, I wondered why Community decided to switch this episode and last week’s “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts,” since this week’s episode so obviously referenced the break they had all just come back from. Was it not finished in time? A simple scheduling snafu? Had Renée Zellweger learned of its existence and pouted her way to getting it off the air (but only long enough to delay her shame one week)? Greendale needs another week of electricity stolen from the apartment across the street before the jig was up? A clever tie-in to this week’s New York cover story?
Then the final scene of the episode came on. Abed, alone in the Dreamatorium, transported himself to a spaceship where he could have a conversation with Evil Abed (who, like many of us, was wearing his felt goatee to demand six seasons and a movie). It was a cool scene, if not inaccessible and maybe too dark. Also Abed literally said, “This is inaccessible, and maybe too dark” in the scene. And that’s when I remembered: Oh yeah, there are a whole bunch of people in the world who think Community’s not for them.
I suspect “Contemporary Impressions” was too meta to try to court a larger audience after a hiatus. How meta was it? Well, I’ll never again be able to look at Gillian Jacobs without seeing the action-figure-in-a-microwave visage of the late Michael Jackson. And there are plenty more examples where that came from, all rooted in Community’s ability to cleverly craft an episode that was pretty much 100 percent meta-pop-culture riffs, even if it had to employ the dude from Workaholics to do it.
Abed is often a bystander in the events of Community, and this week was no different, even though everything started because of him. He’d developed an affinity for employing celebrity impersonators to hang out with him, thereby ensuring he could reenact scenes from his favorite movies whenever he wanted. It was becoming a pretty nasty habit that set him back a substantial amount of money. Soon he was in way over his head, and the leader of the gang — a French Stewart impersonator played by … French Stewart — needed payment fast. All would be forgiven though, he said, if the group helped out at Howie Schwartz’s Star Mitzvah that night, playing the various celebrities they likely changed their Facebook photos to — you know, on that day where everyone changed their Facebook photos to their celebrity doppelgänger. Anyone remember that? That day? Man, being the world’s only Facebook archivist (self-certified) is a lonely trade.
It didn’t take long for fake-but-real French Stewart to match everyone up. Shirley was Oprah. Annie was Judy Garland. Troy and Britta were Michael Jackson, the early and late years, respectively (add that to the list of “Things You Can’t Unsee”). Abed became Jamie Lee Curtis, I guess. Pierce wanted to be Burt Reynolds but had to settle for fat Brando. And Jeff, ho boy Jeff, he was Ryan Seacrest — because how could he not be? Joel McHale mocks Seacrest all the time on The Soup for being short and handsome, so naturally Jeff was the tall version, and somehow even more handsome than a guy paid to be handsome.
So anyways, in the most meta of ways, Jeff was thrust into a position where he was receiving compliments for his good looks. Meanwhile, he was the one who returned from break having seen a shrink and having procured a prescription to some anti-anxiety meds. And with nothing psychological holding him back, he had become an unstoppable confidence machine that can pull off wearing aviators and can make the Dean faint at the mere sight of his shadow. (God forbid the dean ever see a flattering production of Peter Pan.) Britta was worried, though. Without Jeff’s anxiety keeping him in check, he would become an unstoppable egomaniac and likely tear himself apart. Jeff, free of anxiety, deemed this to be impossible.
We could all see where this was going — though perhaps not in the specific direction of having Jeff Hulk-out in front of fake Morgan Freeman and fake Bono — but I thought it was nice that this time, Jeff realized Britta was right before something bad happened, rather than after. Even his oversize apple ego could see Britta was just trying to help. That shrink paid off, almost as much as devoting half an episode to a bar mitzvah simply to include the line, “Ladies and non-gentile-men.”
We ended on some somber notes, and not just the fact that Chang was grooming an army in his image. Troy was the only one who knew the severity of the situation Abed had found himself in, and, relieved that Abed’s legs hadn’t been broken by a Vin Diesel impersonator, he returned to the apartment to find Abed — his favorite elflike man — hanging out with a Robin Williams impersonator. Troy felt betrayed; he stuck his neck out for his best friend, and Abed either didn’t have the capacity to truly understand what Troy did for him, or he chose not to acknowledge it. And even though I know it’s pretty much accepted that Abed falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, it was heartbreaking to watch him chat with Troy as if nothing were wrong. Evil Abed, the manifestation that appeared alongside Abed at the end of the episode, represented that side of him that knew there were big issues around the corner. And even though the moment might have been inaccessible and maybe too dark, Community’s heart beats loudest when it emerges from the show’s chaos.