by Josie Kafka
Abed has always wanted to be in a mafia movie, and it’s only appropriate that he (intentionally? accidentally?) creates one that centers on the Greendale cafeteria’s chicken-finger shortages. “Contemporary American Poultry” works perfectly as a Goodfellas parody, but it also succeeds in illuminating the key to Abed’s character. (And I don’t mean the pop culture references.)
It’s almost impossible to review this episode without cataloguing each reference, homage, and parody. From the shredded backpack to the voiceover (which I almost with they hadn’t explained in the final scene), “Contemporary American Poultry” is one long, accessible in-joke. I’ve only seen Goodfellas once, but I laughed throughout. A laundry list of humorous moments, though, isn’t going to do anything to capture the spirit of the episode.
So instead I’ll address the core conflict: Jeff, as putative leader of the group, becomes unimportant. Why? That’s made clear in Abed’s voiceover: Jeff is a leader but doesn’t actually do anything. He’s just the boss. Abed, on the other hand, can see all the angles and work them with remarkable skill. His chart of each character’s wants and needs shows just how complicated his understanding of others is.
Abed’s most important characteristic is his desire to make everyone happy, even if he has to go all capo-de-familia to make it happen. That’s the key difference between Jeff and Abed: Jeff wants to be in power; that is how he understands his value. He wants his little hand gesture to get everyone to zip their lips, as my fifth grade teacher used to say. Abed doesn’t want power. He wants happiness for himself and others, because that is how he measures his value.
Things turn sour for Abed, however, when what used to make everyone happy (backpacks, Annie’s Boobs) no longer work. Abed is forced to send a message about his own pain in the only way he can understand in this context: mafia-style revenge. Doing so, however, makes one last person happy: Jeff (well, Jeff’s ego). And by ceding the chicken-finger territory to the new syndicate run by Leonard, Abed returns the group to a more manageable level of happiness, with none of the heady highs and lows of a Scorsese movie.
As far back as I can remember I always wanted a Raiders of the Lost Ark poster on my bedroom wall. Slightly less far back, around about my late teens, I wanted a Goodfellas poster on my bedroom wall instead. And unlike that Raiders poster I'm still waiting for, you can bet your ass I got it.
On rare occasions one of your favourite shows will produce an episode that you think was produced specifically for you. A perfect episode that appears to have been designed solely to showcases everything you personally love and cherish about that show. 'Contemporary American Poultry' is such an episode. Not only is this a brilliant episode of Community, but also a pitch-perfect parody of one of my all-time favourite films. Community has done film parodies before, but this is the first time they devoted an entire episode to parodying a single source. The trick with an episode like this is to make it accessible as possible to those who may be unfamiliar to the thing you're parodying. And they pull it off beautifully.
'Contemporary American Poultry' doesn't really get the respect it deserves. Because they aired so close together, it is constantly overshadowed by a certain paintball episode. Which is a shame, because as far as I am concerned this is one of the finest episodes Dan Harmon and his team have ever produced.
Cool Cool Cool:
• Troy: “If God were edible—not that I’m Catholic—but if it was cool to eat God, he’d be chicken fingers.”
• Abed: “As far back as I remember, I’ve always wanted to be in a mafia movie.”
• Jeff: “Why do you have a monkey?”
Troy: “Uh, it’s an animal that looks like a dude. Why don’t I have ten of them?”
• Troy: “My monkey hates this caviar.”
Three and a half out of four streets ahead.