Community: “Contemporary American Poultry” (1.21)

TV Reviews
Community: “Contemporary American Poultry” (1.21)

There’s no denying that Community is a show suffused with pop culture. Almost every episode’s plot has been done by a sit-com or movie previously, and Community does little to hide this—to the point where it sometimes revels in its referentiality. Other than Family Guy and occasionally South Park, it’s a show that’s most reliant on its audience knowing its pop culture references for enjoyment. This is going to be especially true of an episode centered around Abed.

Last night I watched “Contemporary American Poultry” with a friend who had never seen Goodfellas. It was an odd experience. The entire episode is both parody and homage to Scorsese’s mob classic, with a couple additional references to other mafia movies along the way—everything from parodies of specific characters to shot and voice over references. Goodfellas is a lengthy movie, but many of its memorable scenes are brought in here, under the guise of a sort of chicken fingers mafia.

Unlike most modern sitcom episodes, “Contemporary American Poultry” focuses on just one plotline: Abed takes over Greendale’s chicken finger business and runs a mafia-esque distribution system. With this, he becomes a godfather figure, granting chicken in exchange for favors. Jeff is jealous of Abed’s newfound power while everyone else ends up taking it for granted, and that’s all there really is to the episode. Many individual gags step outside of this framework—my favorite being the parrot Troy’s obtained now that he’s connected to the “mob”—but rather than fragmenting things, the entire show is mostly about showing how each of the show’s main characters deal with changes in their power structure.

I’m a huge fan of Goodfellas and Scorsese in general (when it came down to voting for Paste‘s best living director I voted for him as an unequivocal #1). That being said, watching my friend take in the episode I was surprised by how little lacking this reference point affected his enjoyment. For one thing, the references Community draws from are by now so much a part of our pop culture landscape that recognizing them doesn’t requires seeing the movie. This is true of a lot of the show’s references—I’ve never seen Ghost but didn’t need an explanation as to what “Ghosting” meant when that came up before. This is also evidence that the show is doing something more than just taking laughs off of references, that the jokes stand on themselves and are only enhanced by knowledge of their sources.

So “Contemporary American Poultry” scored on its jokes one way or another, but I ended up a bit disappointed by the ending. Community has had its rants in the past, but what transpires between Jeff and Abed doesn’t feel very natural outside of, as Abed says, a “special episode,” and just doesn’t seem right. It also slows down the tempo of the show a lot, which had been building to a sort of explosion, but instead largely just peters out.

Oh well. The build up until that point works regardless of whether you know where the show’s plot came from. The lackluster ending is disappointing, but even this has some nice jokes like the Sixteen Candles riff. Having “special episodes” that so blatantly deal with character issues didn’t come off well, but the rest of the show was successful enough at trying something completely new that it can be overlooked. You can’t hate the show for trying something different with its structure, and for an episode in the first season this is an especially risky proposition. “Contemporary American Poultry” is far from the show’s best episode, but it also offers something you can’t see anywhere else, even from the same show. For that, it definitely deserves some credit.

Stray Observations:
“I think I’m failing psychopharmocology. … I thought it was a class about crazy farm animals.”

“Streets Ahead!” – This should be familiar to anyone who follows Dan Harmon on twitter. “If you have to ask you’re streets behind.”

“If it were cool to eat god he’d be a chicken finger.”

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be in a mafia movie.”

“Why do you have a monkiey?” “Uhh… it’s an animal that looks like a dude. Why don’t I have ten of them?”

-Pierce’s hackneyed entourage is pretty great. That being said, my favorite addition to the episode is Annie’s Boobs.

“For your information, I don’t have an ego. My facebook picture is a landscape.”

“I caught him stuffing my man full of chicken, and Tyler Perry has a whole series of movies about why that’s wrong.”

“And he always knew when to slap the table”

“I dressed like a crazy Pharaoh for you, man!”

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