One question that’s dogged my constant coverage of various comedies for Paste is how important exactly is it for a show to be funny? That is to say, is the worth of a comedy directly proportional to the number of laughs I have? It’s a question that goes a little further than just TV comedies, too, it’s something that is bound to come up to people giving serious consideration to stand-up comedy or film or even comedy music. It’s also something that dogs criticism anyhow, since there’s only so much you can say as far as finding something funny or not. If you really think The Cleveland Show is uproariously funny, the best I can do to dissuade you of this opinion is to revert to a childish “Nuh-uh it isn’t.”
One of my favorite things about Community has long been that its comedy does in fact go further than mere joke-slinging. Frequently that leads to hilarious episodes that also feature interesting character growth and interactions, not to mention some well-done satire. That’s all fine and dandy, though, if you don’t actually find it to be funny. The comedy is still at least half the selling point, and I’ve yet to see a TV show that really stands in the middle-ground between comedy and drama.
“Critical Film Studies” might have been the least funny episode of the season for me. Partially it could be that the jokes just weren’t clicking, but I I think there were also fewer of them than the show normally features. Due to the show’s spoof, or homage as Abed likes to have it, this one was consistently enjoyable but a bit light on the chuckles. It felt serious at times and was almost uncomfortable in some ways.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the episode and didn’t feel like fewer jokes really detracted from the show’s experience. In fact, I appreciate that it’s not the same show week in and week out. Some episodes are more emotional while some are sillier and the show’s become large enough to encompass both these camps without anything feeling out of place.
What gave the episode its faux gravitas was its main plot deriving from the fantastic Andre Gregory/Wallace Shawn/Louis Malle collaboration My Dinner with Andre, which if you can overlook the pretension is a hallmark of 80s film. Jeff unwittingly reprises Shawn’s role in a scenario devised by Abed. It’s a really interesting plot device because it allows Abed to both try and speak maturely with his friend for once and it goes back to his love for pop culture, although pop is quite an exaggeration in this case. Although their discussion is funny, it’s also about the seriousness of discussions and covers Jeff’s nihilistic view of humanity and Abed’s anxiety about his identity. While this is a bit deconstructed when Jeff finds out what’s really happening, it’s still a pretty intense story.
The other half of the episode is just the rest of the gang waiting around for Jeff and Abed to show up for his Pulp Fiction-themed birthday party. Comparatively this half feels small and silly, but this is necessary to break up what’s going on during the rest of the episode. The conflict between Britta and her work is also pretty interesting because it continues season 2’s interest in showing us the characters outside of just Greendale. Every time we see more of this, from Jeff’s law firm to Annie’s apartment to Shirley’s regular bar it’s been fascinating and really deepened the show.
The episode’s B-plot, such as it is, isn’t Community’s funniest either, but they’re both good and I wouldn’t change anything about them. Plus, even a Community episode that’s holding back will offer some of the most intelligent comedy on television. As with the great years of The Simpsons, one of the important lessons is that to be a great comedy you don’t have to feature start-to-finish laughter, you just have to be good.
•This episode was directed by Richard Ayoade, the British comedian best-known for the IT Crowd (although I prefer him in The Mighty Boosh, which I think fans of Community should give a look). How’d they get him, you possibly ask? Well he’s old friends with John Oliver.
•”He watched Cougar Town-it’s as if he didn’t want people to like him.”
•My roommate in college had the wallet from Pulp Fiction, too.
•The 30-minute PG-rated cut of Pulp Fiction sounds wonderful
•Abed does do a really good Andre Gregory impression, right down to the hand movements.
•Speaking of behind-the-scenes visits, we had one of those recently for Paste over at Community recently…
•How many goddamn times is Cougartown mentioned in this episode? IThat’s a drinking game that will get you trashed.
•Pre-racial America is a pretty great term
•“Everybody poops their pants” – uhh no
•”You know how many fake people are pointing out how fake things are right now?”
•Troy calling wine “no no juice” doesn’t work well for me. KInda irksome, actually.
•”Sometimes emotional breakthroughs are overrated.”
•Remember when Jeff was poor and living in his car? Um…. whatever happened to that?
•”I doubt I’ll ever forget my dinner with Andre dinner with Abed.”
•”They said market price: what market are you shopping at?”