Community – “Contemporary American Poultry”

“Contemporary American Poultry”

April 22nd, 2010

Pop culture references are something that Community tends to lean towards on a regular basis, especially when you consider that one of the show’s characters (Abed) is largely built around them. It’s a part of the show which usually flies by at its breakneck space, references dropping in to make us laugh for a moment and then moving onto whatever storyline the show is investigating.

“Contemporary American Poultry” is the first time the show has done an extended homage to popular culture, and I feel like I’m trapped between objectivity and subjectivity. On the one hand, I have never seen the movie that the episode extensively pays homage to, which means that I can offer my opinion of how the episode worked independent of Goodfellas and the connections therein; however, on the other hand, I really like chicken fingers, and so I spent the entire episode salivating.

However, I ended up salivating through laughter, so I think that’s a good sign.

I’m trying to keep these reviews shorter than usual, so I’ll open with this: this was an enjoyable episode. The choice to run a single story rather than trying to work the parody into others meant that all of the characters got to play a part within the Goodfellas storyline: Annie got to do a series of adorable and hilarious things (including dancing the robot), Troy got to name a monkey “Annie’s Boobs,” Pierce got to try to coin a new catchphrase (which is actually Dan Harmon’s, “streets ahead”), and Shirley had her moments as well. However, the story worked because the roles that Jeff and Abed were playing in the storyline make perfect sense with their characters. When the episode eventually gets to its emotional conclusion (which, I presume, was ripped out of Goodfellas) it rings true to their characters, Jeff ceding some of his control to Abed and Abed coming to terms with his position in the group. It’s nothing fascinating, of course, but it’s something which still resonates despite the pop cultural context of it all.

Despite the fact that the story got more and more ridiculous as it went along, there was still an element of honesty to it: none of the characters felt like they were being stretched in order to fit the model, and more importantly the characters were still reacting logically. There was a scene early on where Jeff suggested that they get Star Burns fired, and all of the characters spoke up that they didn’t want to go this far. The storyline was obviously heading in that direction, and we don’t ultimately care enough about Star Burns to be very concerned about his employment, but the show took the time to have these ultimately human characters point out that concern. Later on, the group treats Jeff’s suggestion to look in the mirror and apologize in a similar fashion, questioning the logic of it – it’s two completely different circumstances, at different levels of the storyline, where the characters act in a consistent fashion.

I can’t really tell you how the Goodfellas parody played out, or where it sat on the line between parody and homage, but I can tell you that it ended up being pretty funny. It didn’t stop the show from being its normal absurdist self (“I thought it was about crazy farm animals!”) nor did it stop it from having a heart – that those elements remained intact even within such an exhaustive pop culture reference demonstrates the sort of confidence the show is playing with.

You might even argue that it’s streets ahead.

Cultural Observations

  • There should be some sort of rule against airing an episode like this at a time of day when the procurement of chicken fingers isn’t very easy – I already had chicken fingers today, and I nonetheless got a pretty substantial craving that distracted me at times.
  • There were a number of great Troy lines, but I’m pretty sure “I have to stop hanging out with her, she sounds like a chicken finger” was my favourite. Nearly spit out my drink.
  • Fun Hal Holbrook reference considering that he was cast on Sons of Anarchy today – yes, that’s largely unrelated, but I’m officially getting excited for the return of the Sons.
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