Community recap: French Stewart and the Star Mitzvah
There’s an episode of Arrested Development’s third season that surely ranks among the greatest half-hours ever produced for television. Okay, that doesn’t really narrow that down because that applies to quite a few of Mitch Hurwitz’s dearly departed/soon-to-be-resurrected series. But I’m thinking of the episode “S.O.B.,” in which the Bluths stage an elaborate fundraiser to rescue their financial fortunes. In fact, the title even stands for “Save Our Bluths.” It’s such an incredible episode because the fundraiser becomes a highly-meta, last-ditch attempt to convince Fox to believe in that show: all-star guests; the last moments would be taped Live (!); and someone would…die.
I bring this up not only because Community is the clear heir to Arrested Development, because of both its artistry and cultish appeal, but because last night’s installment, “Contemporary Impressionists,” seemed like its “S.O.B.” Maybe some of it was lost in Community’s desire to make fun of the über-vanity inherent in contemporary Bar Mitzvah culture, but, oh, it was there. It had an all-star guest cast (Ryan Seacrest, Jamie Lee Curtis, both Michael Jacksons, Fat Brando, French Stewart playing a faux French Stewart). It had Jeff losing his shirt. It had Abed finally meeting his evil twin. And a kiss between a two very unexpected castmembers. Even an unintentional nod to the way NBC Britta’ed their lineup for three months, since this was the start of a “new semester.”
Chronologically speaking, I suppose this was to have been Community’s first episode after “Regional Holiday Music,” since everyone was discussing their activities over the break. Shirley was excited because at her church’s Christmas pageant Andre was Joseph, Baby Ben was Baby Jesus, Jordan was one of the wise men, and guess who was in charge of casting? Pierce had finally digitized his VHS tapes to region-specific CED video discs. Those are going to be around for awhile. Britta was just too intro-to-human-psych’ed to think of anything other than their midterm exam project: diagnosing a fellow student. Which she’s kind of been doing all along anyway. Jeff had been to a psychiatrist who doesn’t look like Elizabeth Shue, talked about his dad (which means, if Andre and Shirley’s wedding takes place after this in the chronology, he still has some daddy issues to work out), punched some pillows, and was put on anti-anxiety meds. Britta was horrified because she knew his self-doubt was the one and only thing preventing his ego from being unleashed in its true, monstrous form.
And Abed must have spent the holidays running from the law, because into the study group barged a U.S. Marshal ready to take him into custody. Abed put his hands over his head and shouted, “I didn’t kill my wife!” Given the ever labyrinthine rabbit holes this show is willing to go down I really wouldn’t have been surprised had Abed been revealed to have once had a Mrs. Nadir. But it turns out, he discovered a celebrity impersonation service over the break and has been using it to act out his favorite scenes in movies. Which means that that marshal in question was the worst-ever Tommy Lee Jones impersonator. Dude, if you’re going to be Tommy Lee Jones you first need to get the Texas drawl down. Then the palpable whiff of “I don’t want to be here, and I’m totally just doing it for the money.” Which this impersonator should have been able to relate to. Say the real Tommy Lee Jones were approached for a guest spot on Community playing a faux version of himself, like Mr. Stewart. I guarantee you it would go something like this….
NEXT: A hypothetical conversation with Tommy Lee Jones.
Community Producer: Mr. Jones! My God, we love your work. The Sunset Limited was truly a staggering masterpiece. You’re one of the few actors who really understands the essence of Cormac McCarthy. So would you be interested to make an appearance on Community as a marshal or a bounty hunter?
Community Producer: But, as an iconoclastic artist yourself, don’t you want to support a show that’s fiercely original?
Jones: In a way.
Community Producer: I mean, come on, you played “Two-Face” in Batman Forever, so you can totally relate to Abed’s split personality, right? We need you to play an impersonator of yourself playing a grizzled law enforcement officer tracking down Abed for killing his wife.
Jones: I don’t know, really.
Community Producer: That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you, right?
Jones: I suppose.
Community Producer: Okay, we’re not really getting anywhere here. Hey, how did you go about shooting The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada?
Jones: With a camera.
Community Producer: Wait…isn’t that John Ford’s line?
Jones: I have no idea.
Community Producer: So will you take the part?
Community Producer: Okay, you seem really unhappy. We don’t need to keep talking.
Jones: Doesn’t matter.
That, my friends, is how you mimic Tommy Lee Jones.
Anyway, Annie was really concerned about Abed’s latest J. Thaddeus Toad-style mania. Apparently, he spent the whole of New Year’s Eve in a closet with a bad Tom Hanks-in-Castaway impersonator. Yes, he was Wilson. And not Rita Wilson.
I have a feeling that if some of you didn’t like “Contemporary Impressionists” that much it’s due to the larger role given to Chang. He noticed that there was an urgent law enforcement situation in the study room with the escaped wife-killer and all, so he fired his tranquilizer gun, to the horror of safety-conscious Deans everywhere, but Dean Pelton in particular. (Line of the Night #7, Courtesy of the Dean: “If you had hit a small student they could have died!”) But somehow, by using his best Renée Zellweger squint-plead, he got the Dean to grant him the power to hire security interns. He’s building an army…do I detect the faint whiff of paintball in the air? Could a showdown with this army be the season finale’s ultimate battle for control of Greendale? To quote Hypothetical Tommy Lee Jones, “I don’t know, really.” But I certainly hope so!
NEXT: French Stewart plays a French Stewart impersonator who finds it’s no longer lucrative to be French Stewart.
Jeff was starting to feel so secure, purged as he was of any lingering self-doubt because of his anti-anxiety meds, that he finally did it. He donned aviators. (Line of the Night #6, Courtesy of Jeff Winger: “Final boarding call, Beefcake Airways.”) It was time for an intervention. Britta told him that he had to stay away from any flattering settings that would unleash his ego: weddings, soft lighting, formalwear, gay bars. She should have said to stay away from Dean Pelton, because the moment he saw Jeff in aviators he fell to the floor writhing with orgasmic paroxysms. It was probably the funniest thing we’ve seen on TV, period, since Jim Rash stuck his leg out à la Angelina Jolie at the Oscars.
Anyway, Vinny, the owner of the Doppel Gang, the celebrity impersonation service Abed had hired to live out his fantasies, came to collect. Abed owed him $3,000 for his services. And if he didn’t pay up, Ving Rhames and Michael Chiklis impersonators, fake though they may be, would serve up broken bones that are very real. However, there was another way to pay off this debt. Abed’s friends could help out at a big event on Saturday. I mean, they sure looked like celebrities! Shirley could be Oprah; Annie was Judy Garland or Anne Hathaway, if she added a few fake teeth; Troy and Britta were both versions of Michael Jackson; Pierce was Fat Brando, though, stuck in the ‘70s as he is, he insisted he was Burt Reynolds; and Abed was an uncanny Jamie Lee Curtis in her True Lies phase. But Jeff? Jeff was a dead ringer for Ryan Seacrest. He uses the same hair gel, he has an even sharper jawline. (Line of the Night #5, Courtesy of Vinny: “You’re actually more handsome than the guy who’s famous for being handsome.”) Fans of The Soup everywhere were cracking up, considering Joel McHale’s endless ribbing of Ryan Seacrest on E!’s finest.
NEXT: Let the Star Mitzvah commence!
The group agreed to participate, but Britta still believed an intervention was necessary–for Abed or Jeff, or, better yet, both. Troy defended his roommate’s right to be weird. (Line of the Night #4, Courtesy of Troy Barnes: “Shirley, who got you a copy of Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire and a copy of Push autographed by Sapphire?” Abed, of course.)
So Saturday arrived and the event in question was a Bar Mitzvah. Or rather a Star Mitzvah. And not only was young Howie Schwartz becoming a man, he was developing terrible taste. The ground rules for the impersonators were as follows: quote lines from movies you’re sure your impersonatee was in, and don’t curse, burp, fart, or cough unless you’re Walter Matthau. Ha, it’s funny ‘cause it’s true. This meant that Britta wasn’t allowed to vent her concern about Abed unless she did it in a “high-pitched voice while walking backwards,” since she was Michael Jackson circa 1993. Michael Jackson circa 1973, played by Troy with a giant Afro, received a nice compliment from an old Jewish grandmother in attendance, which is Line of the Night #3: “I was so sad to hear of your passing.”
Is your head spinning right now or what? There are so many levels to this. First, I can’t believe how true to life that bubbe’s comment was. That’s exactly the kind of thing an old lady would say to a Michael Jackson impersonator at a Bar Mitzvah. Not two weeks ago did I attend a community theater performance of William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos at a Long Island synagogue. One of the actors there was a tall, pudgy, bearded, Seth Rogen type. He was playing a psychiatrist. After the play, when we all mingled in the temple’s reception area, an old lady came up to me and asked, “Were you the shrink?” I still don’t know how to take that, and I don’t know how she thought I could have shaved my beard in five minutes. But clearly the Community writers have been to some temples in their day.
NEXT: Does this mean we can make fun of Michael Jackson again?
So does this mean we can make jokes about Michael Jackson again? I think this episode proved the answer to be a resounding “Yes!” Believe me, I don’t mean this as a dig at the King of Pop. Seriously, last night before watching Community, I was actually listening to “Dangerous” and “Morphine.” What I’m saying is that making fun of Michael Jackson doesn’t have to be mean-spirited. Even MJ himself had such a sense of humor about his shape-shifting appearance that he appeared as an alien, looking exactly like himself circa 2002 without alteration, in Men in Black II. I mean, if that isn’t being a good sport, what is? It’s also fascinating to consider how some celebrities have two such distinct phases of their career: there’s Swivel-hipped Elvis/Bloated Elvis, pre-boxer Mickey Rourke/post-boxer Mickey Rourke, Smokey and the Bandit Burt Reynolds/Boogie Nights Burt Reynolds, and obviously Hot Brando/Fat Brando. (With the latter, poor Pierce, having failed to convince anyone that he’s Burt Reynolds, acknowledged that he was Brando and that he could be found on the list under “Fat.”) But the interesting thing is that despite these distinct phases in these performers’ careers, the thing that always stayed the same was their talent. Except for maybe Brando.
Michael Jackson 1974, one of the greatest entertainers of all time:
Michael Jackson 1995, one of the greatest entertainers of all time:
Also, I’m hoping this is the official push to begin a campaign for Donald Glover to play MJ in the inevitable King of Pop biopic. We may have failed to get him cast as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man (sigh), but we will succeed this time. Can you guys think of anyone—anyone, I ask you—who could possibly inhabit Michael Jackson better than Donald Glover? He looks like him, he’s epically talented, and he can sing and dance. Done.
NEXT: Jeff’s ego becomes reaches such mass that it can be officially classified as a quantum singularity.
Anyway, the rest of the episode was a hilarious deconstruction of contemporary Bar Mitzvahs as the ultimate vanity events. (See also: Rebecca Black’s Bat Mitzvah gift, and gift to us all, “Friday”) My favorite thing about the event was the fake Moby who was acting like a DJ even though he was also a fake DJ, who Chang recognized looks exactly like the Dean. (Line of the Night #2, Courtesy of Fake Moby: “You’re friends with Moby?”)
With a faux Morgan Freeman on hand to lend faux gravitas, an awards ceremony began in which young Howie Schwartz was the sole winner of everything: Best Math Student, Cleanest Room, Coolest Skateboard Tricks, Best Halo score. And finally, to present the last award, Handsomest Young Man, came Oprah Winfrey—Shirley. But before she could yell, “We’ve got How-Ard Schwar-arrrrtz!” Jeff stormed the stage, his ego erupting in full Marvel Comics-worthy rage over losing the award. To prove his handsomeness—and show his anger—he ripped off his shirt. Annie was delighted, and so was Howie, who thought this was the Hulk. But no one else was. Yes, this is how Jeff acts when he’s on his meds. Still, considering that The Hulk is the Hamlet of our time, a role that every male actor alive now seems likely to play, Winger did about as good a job as any. His unintentional Hulk was certainly more entertaining than all that Method-fueled brooding from Edward Norton, right?
Anyway, the Star Mitzvah was over. The debt was paid off. But when Troy returned to Casa Trobed, he found that Abed’s celebrity impersonator addiction hadn’t been cured. In fact, he’d just hit rock bottom: a Patch Adams impersonation. (Line of the Night #1, Courtesy of Fake Patch Adams, which is to say Patch Adams: “Knock, knock! Who’s there? It’s your femur bone, he needs some money. He’s broke! Ha, ha, ha!”) Fun fact: my high school once had the real Patch Adams as a guest speaker. That tells you everything you need to know about Shorecrest Prep.
Troy told Abed that he didn’t want to be one of those people who’d tell him what to do. But this time he had to be. Abed had to stop with the celebrity impersonators and listen to the people who have his best interests at heart. Abed understood, but Troy’s refusal to go to this level of weirdness did seem to create a bit of a rift. How did we know this? Because Abed wanted to play in the Dreamatorium by himself. Which made me sad. Though finally we got to see what actually happens in the Dreamatorium. It is a holodeck! Abed had himself transported onto the bridge of a starship, which, if it hadn’t been called the S.S. Abed, looked suspiciously like the Normandy. (Yes, I’m suffering from intense Mass Effect 3 withdrawal.) And his co-pilot? Evil Abed! With a real goatee, not just a felt one. He truly was from an alternate universe, because, while Abed said “Cool. Cool, cool, cool,” Evil Abed said, “Hot. Hot, hot, hot.”
What can this mean? Will Abed and Evil Abed collide like matter and antimatter, destroying the Universe as we know it? Does Jeff possess some feelings for Shirley, hence that very public smooch? Should Pierce head up Burt Reynolds’ fan club? And were you freaked out by Abed’s Jamie Lee Curtis or what?