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
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.
"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
"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
"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!"