See Britta’s expression here? That mild expression of rage, frustration, and total confusion? That was unquestionably my initial reaction to last night’s episode of Community, but as the show ended, I had adopted Annie’s megawatt smile and a resolution to stop reading any other television blogs but my own.
Why the pearly whites and the narcissism? Because in retrospect, this was a great episode of Community, just not the one all the television critics told us we were going to see. This episode was called, “Critical Film Studies,” and several weeks ago, tantalizing photographs emerged of the cast dressed as the characters of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. The assumption that we would see a Pulp Fictionalized version of Community was certainly undeniable, but if I had done some critical film studying of my own, and perhaps paid better attention to the episode’s title, I might not have been so quick to jump on the correlation-causation bandwagon.
“Critical Film Studies” was part-Tarantino, part-Louis Malle. I’ve already read one post-viewing recap (we break our resolutions pretty quickly around here) where the author maintains that the cast spent the entire episode doing a My Dinner with Andre parody. This was certainly the long-running gag of the evening, but I don’t think the “entire episode” was a parody of the static Malle film.
When Abed delivers an incredibly long monologue about his visit to the set of Cougartown, his meandering, vaguely philosophical rumination on life is a stock feature of the Tarantino film. I haven’t seen My Dinner with Andre in its entirety, but I am very familiar with its various popular culture spoofs. In fact, Dan Harmon and the writers of Community might think this makes me even more qualified to write about this episode. Remember this?
So when I put this entire episode of Community together, and give thanks that it was at least chronological, unlike its Tarantino influences, I get it. “Critical Film Studies” is indeed critical film studies because it asks us to assimiliate vastly different films and talk about them. Why should we juxtapose My Dinner with Andre and Pulp Fiction? And what do we learn from this unlikely pairing? Perhaps Tarantino’s extended monologues in the otherwise car crash-heavy Death Proof are inspired by the hefty dialogue of a film like My Dinner with Andre. Or perhaps if we consider that this episode of Community also unites cinematic conventions with the television medium, something I was just wondering about in my previous post, then we can examine Jeff and Abed’s relationship in the context of a classic film friendship like that of Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory, or Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield.
The critical study of film doesn’t have to be obscure or abstract; it can be television–a widely acceptable medium that we should use to encourage ourselves to think. Film can be daunting and difficult, but television is never pretentious since its mass availability eliminates any possible elitism. Sure, we can write interesting critical articles about Mad Men for The New York Review of Books, but that high school drop-out from next door is still going to talk about the latest episode at her Monday morning temp job. You think Barack Obama can bridge the bipartisan divide? No way, man! The great unifier is television, and it starts on Thursday nights with Community. If we’re going to watch the tube for hours and hours, then the least we can do to keep our ape brains from atrophying is to think, write, and talk about television critically. Stay tuned!