Since it premiered in 2009, Community has always had a consistent undertone of pop culture references and homages. In fact, the show has taken the art of TV and movie references to a whole new level, layering some nods to cult favorites so deep that only the most attentive and loyal viewers are likely to catch them. (If you have doubts, go on YouTube and search “Community and Beetlejuice”.)
This week’s episode, “Contemporary Impressionists,” is one of the more forthright Pop-Culture-O-Rama’s that the show is known for. It does feel slightly forced, though, and less organic than similar episodes like “A Fistful of Paintballs” or even “Epidemiology,” the latter of which is a Halloween/zombie episode that uses far more tact in its weaving of pop culture allusions into the narrative.
Due to the show’s unexpected hiatus, the opening feels strange since it is supposed to be the beginning of the new semester and everyone is talking about what they did over winter break. Obviously if NBC hadn’t removed Community from the schedule, episode 312 would have aired in January which would have aligned with the students returning to school as opposed to the end of March when the semester is almost over. But I digress.
In her continuing effort to become a psychiatrist or psychologist (we’re not sure she knows the difference), Britta has signed up for yet another Human Psychology class in which she will actually get to diagnose a fellow student. Abed, meanwhile, has discovered that he can rent celebrity impersonators for his own use and has begun acting out scenes from movies at random times of the day.
The Most Improved Over Winter Break prize goes to Jeff, however, as he has taken egomania to a whole new level. “I can see you’ve noticed my swagger has a new swagger,” Jeff says as he struts into the library, an air of self-confidence washing over the room. Apparently his new shrink has put him on anti-anxiety medication which Britta thinks will turn him into an “uncontrollable monster” due to his lack of self-doubt (whatever little inkling of it he had before).
Chang, who now comprises Greendale’s entire security force, requests additional man power from Dean Pelton who points out that the school is so broke they get 80 percent of their electricity from the apartment building next door. Nevertheless, the dean gives Chang permission to recruit some unpaid “security interns” to help protect the campus from whatever dangers he feels are an imminent threat. Obviously nothing could go wrong with Chang having even a minuscule sense of authority.
Britta corners Jeff and tells him that if he doesn’t get off his medication, he could develop “hyper-narcychosis” (not a real thing) due to his unchecked self-confidence. She tells him that until the medicine is out of his system, he has to stay away from flattering situations like “weddings, soft lighting, formal wear and gay bars.” Too busy being handsome, Jeff ignores Britta and throws on a pair of Aviator sunglasses. (“Final boarding call for Beefcake Airlines.”)
Abed’s developing addiction to celebrity impersonators becomes an issue when Vinny (French Stewart), the owner of the celebrity impersonator agency, The Dopplegang, shows up to collect the $3,000 Abed owes him. To help Abed pay his debt, the group agrees to help Vinny at a bar mitzvah he has to staff that weekend. Vinny, himself a former French Stewart impersonator, tells Troy that if they don’t do a spectacular job at the party that a Ving Rhames and Michael Chiklis impersonator will do a great impression of breaking Abed’s legs.
At the bar mitzvah, the gang does their best to live up to their celebrity alter egos. Jeff is Ryan Seacrest (naturally); Abed is Jamie Lee Curtis from True Lies; Annie is Judy Garland; Troy is 1970s Michael Jackson; Britta is “White Jacko”; Shirley is Oprah; and Pierce is convinced he can pull of Burt Reynolds. Abed is having the time of his life with all the different impersonators, so Troy is forced to try to keep him focused so that Vinny doesn’t send his guys after Abed.
As the night goes on, Britta’s worst fears come true. All of the lonely, older women at the bar mitzvah flock to Jeff and begin feeding his ego. After losing the award for Most Handsome Young Man (which went to the young man whose bar mitzvah it is), Jeff jumps on stage, rips off his shirt and demands that everyone look at him. After Hulking out, he runs off only to be found later lying face down on the side of the road, having returned to a Bruce Banner-like state.
When Troy returns to the apartment, he finds that Abed has hired another slew of impersonators, proving that he doesn’t fully understand what his friends just did for him. After Troy confronts him about the problem, Abed retreats to the Dreamatorium by himself where he imagines he is piloting a spaceship along with Evil Abed (from “Remedial Chaos Theory”). This is not a good sign of things to come.
“Contemporary Impersonators” has some genuinely funny moments (such as Dean Pelton being knocked to the ground by the luster of Jeff’s new confidence), but it will likely rate among fans’ least favorite episodes simply because it feels too contrived.
When delivers his signature line “Cool. Cool cool cool.” to Evil Abed, Evil Abed replies “Hot. Hot hot hot.” A new catchphrase?
One of the funniest moments of tonight’s episode was the reversal of Jeff’s standard “Shut up, Leonard.” After he tells Jeff he’s “lookin’ good,” Jeff thanks Leonard for the compliment as well as his service to his country. Pure gold.
Obsessive fans will appreciate Britta suggesting an intervention for Abed, pointing at each member of the group and asking “Intervention? Intervention? Intervention?” Annie did the same thing last season.
Brilliant moment: the Patton reference in the episode’s closing sees Chang in front of his newly recruited minions asking “Who’s ready to Chang the world?” That play on words will never get old.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”