by Mark Greig
Can a parody still work when you have no idea what is being parodied? More often than not the answer is big fat no. But in this particular case, the answer is a resounding yes.
One of the risks when producing a parody is that, if the target is too obscure, the audience won’t understand what you're making fun of. This is why the majority of parody films, even the great ones like Airplane!, tend to go for easy targets; famous films or well-known genres that audiences will be familiar with. More recent parody filmmakers - like the criminals responsible for the likes of Epic Movie - believing that reference = joke, go even further, grabbing everything that is trending on Twitter and shoving it into the film even if it doesn’t fit the type of film or genre they’re parodying.
For a show that is creative and original in so many areas, Community is somewhat mainstream when it comes to selecting topics to parody. This season alone we've had spoofs of Apollo 13, zombie films, conspiracy thrillers, Christmas specials, fantasy adventure, and documentaries. At first glance it looks like this episode will be yet another parody of a famous work of pop culture. But that turned out not to be the case.
Before it aired, 'Critical Film Studies' was heavily promoted as being a tribute to Pulp Fiction. I still not sure if this was the writing team deliberately trying to subvert audience expectations or just the network marketing department being unsure how exactly to promote an episode like this (let’s face it, a Pulp Fiction episode is a lot more likely to generate buzz than a "wait, what are they referencing again?” episode). Anyway, five minutes into the episode it quickly becomes apparent that, despite everyone being in costume (how awesome does Shirley look as Jules?), this is most definitely not a tribute to that cute 30-minute short film about a group of friends who love cheeseburgers, dancing, and the Bible.
What we got instead was a rather brilliant parody of Louise Malle’s obscure 1981 film My Dinner with Andre. What impressed me the most about this episode was how much I loved it without having the foggiest idea what it was parodying. Much like Jeff, I had never heard of My Dinner With Andre. This is one of those very rare times when Community has made a reference to something that went completely over my head. I first watched this episode in complete ignorance as to what was really supposed to be happening. But I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind that the Pulp Fiction parody I had been promised had failed to materialise. It is that good.
I started writing this review with absolutely no intention of watching My Dinner With Andre. I loved this episode, seeing the film wasn't going to change that. But about halfway through curiosity got the better of me and I took the time to sit down and actually watch My Dinner with Andre. Long story short, I didn't enjoy it. But that's not really relevant right now. I didn't watch the film to see if I would enjoy it, I watched it so that I could have a better understanding of the episode. I wanted to know if I would find this episode more or less funny after I saw what it was parodying.
From Jeff’s narration to Abed’s jumper, ‘Critical Film Studies’ is a note perfect recreation of the film. With the exception of the B-plot with the rest of the group at the dinner, the episode follows that exact same structure as the film, devoting the first half to Andre/Abed and the second to Wallace/Jeff. Andre’s portion of the film is mostly just him rambling on and on for over an hour about all the crazy shit he got up to in Europe with weird theatre types who liked to carry out improvisational experiments. This episode mocks that by having Abed telling Jeff about a strange story about his visit to the set of Cougar Town and the profound effect it had on how he looked at the world.
Since I share Abed’s fondness for the adventures of the Cul-de-sac Crew, this was my favourite part of the episode. It is also the part where watching My Dinner with Andre really paid off as it allowed me to really appreciate how fantastic Danny Pudi’s performance in this episode is. The first time I watched this episode I just saw what Jeff saw - Abed being weird by not being weird. If I had seen My Dinner With Andre beforehand I would’ve cottoned on to what Abed was doing right from the start. It’s a pitch perfect impersonation of Andre Gregory with Pudi nailing his speech patterns and mannerisms. If this was a just world, Pudi would have a shelf full of Emmys by now. Sadly, this is not a just world and he hasn’t had so much as a nomination.
That is most certainly not cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.
Notes and Quotes
--Danny Pudi really did visit the set of Cougar Town and appeared in the background of an episode as Abed.
--Annie’s wrong, everyone doesn’t hate Britta.
--This episode was directed by The It Crowd’s Richard Ayoade, who worked with Joel McHale in the never-picked up pilot of an American remake of The IT Crowd.
--The music playing over the final scene is Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1, the same one used in the film.
Abed: “What could I do? It was Cougar Town.”
Jeff: “If you want me to take it seriously, stop saying its name.”
Troy: "They said market price. What kind of market are you shopping at?!"
Abed: “Everyone else is growing and changing all the time and that’s not really my jam. I’m more of a fast-blinking, stoic, removed, uncomfortably self-aware type. Like Data, or Johnny 5, or Mork, or Hal, or Kit, or Woodstock and/or Snoopy, and Spock probably goes without saying...”
Jeff: “Do you know how many fake people are talking about how fake the world is right now?”
Jeff: "I'll have the salad."
Waiter: "Excellent choice, sir."
Jeff: "Yeah, I nailed it."
Abed: "We don’t lie when we’re alone."
Jeff: "Biggest lie ever. Nine out of ten lies occur six inches away from the bathroom mirror. We do most of our lying alone."
Jeff: “The point being, you don’t have to worry about being normal or real or whatever this is tonight. The world is a sick place full of sick, sick people.”
Britta: "What, I have 3D vision now?"
Annie: "Yes...you do."
Britta: "You don't know me!"
Four out of four great sitcoms with embarrassing names.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.