Feb 06 2012

Why Abed and Troy from Community are the Best Geeks on TV

Published by at 10:00 am under Editorials,Television

by Remy Carreiro

Alright, I’ll confess. This piece would not exist if it were not for Unreality. Let me explain. Last year, this site ran a piece about Community that piqued my interest. Well, it wasn’t so much about Community, as it was about Abed’s Batman impression. Anyone who has seen that impression will tell you, there is no better Christian Bale Batman impression. Trust me. I looked. There are really good Batman impressions, but somehow, Danny Pudi (who plays Abed on the show) nails it. The gravelly voice and the deadpan stare. The unwavering seriousness a man in a bat suit needs to carry with him to be taken seriously.

The impression was great, but what stood out to me was how it seemed more of a love letter to Batman than an impression or a satire. And THAT, my friends, is the main difference between Community and every other geek show on TV. Community makes the jokes, but it does not jam them down your throat. It doesn’t punch you in the face with a joke to make sure you get it. The pop culture references on Community are far more subtle than that. And that is why they work.

In this writer’s honest opinion, The Big Bang Theory is the Olivia Munn of TV shows. It knows the nerd market is a perfect niche audience to address directly, and it does that in a way that is far from subtle. Think about the “nerds” you know in real life. Are they ANYTHING like the leads on that show? It is like they made a laundry list of every nerd stereotype ( good at math, bad with woman, great at video games, loves to read, loves Star Wars, loves Star Trek, quotes movies constantly, quirky sense of humor, glasses and extra skinny, socially awkward but actually brilliant. I could keep going…), and then they took those stereotypes and did their best to split them up equally between the characters. That, my friends, is an impression. That is a caricature and nothing more. And the saddest part in all of it, it is the target audience, us, that is being mocked, right to our faces. And some of us don’t even recognize it. It is ironic. We allow it so by doing that, we perpetrate it. Like the black racist Dave Chappelle used to play.

Now in comparison to the “nerds” on The Big Bang, I want you to think of the Troy and Abed characters from Community. Ah, you feel that too, right? That is the realization that those two perfectly portray who WE are. We love pop culture, but it is not all we know. We love movie references, but we like them WAY more when only a few people pick up on them. We are equal parts cool and nerdy, all at once. We are not just one extreme or the other, we are both. And it is really nice to see both sides getting paid homage to, and not in away where they have to punch us in the face with a pop culture reference for us to get it. Instead, they toss out the jokes quickly, but they have no problem with you missing them. In some cases, I would be so bold as to say they prefer it that way.

So I wanted to list my favorite pop culture moments from Community, but I feel that would ruin these moments for any viewer who has not seen them yet, so instead of telling you about the moments specifically, I will now tell you some references they made (just in Season 2 or we would be here all day), and then you can watch season 2 and see if you can spot them. That is how you know I am a nerd. I make everything in to a game. Anyway, here we go:

– Troy as an Alien, with Abed dressed as Ripley in the cargo-loader-mech-suit from the end of Aliens.

– Troy in Spiderman footy pajamas (A nod to Donald Glover’s grassroots Twitter campaign to play Spiderman in the reboot).

– A space themed episode that pays subtle homage to Bowie, 2001, and The Right Stuff. While that may not seem subtle, it is how seamlessly they execute these moments that work so well. Blink and you miss them.

– A whole zombie based episode that makes a ton of cool horror movie references and has what may be my favorite line ever in a TV show. Abed says to Troy: Be the first black guy that makes it to the end. An obvious nod to the fact that horror is infamous for killing off black characters. It also makes reference to the “cat jumps out and scares audience” trope used in so many horror films. They use it about four times in a row to great effect. A genuine laugh out loud moment for the horror buff.

– A Christmas based episode that is done in stop motion animation and pays tribute to all the great Rankin-Bass Claymation episodes of yesteryear. An interesting side note, the actor who plays StarBurns on the show (who may be my favorite secondary character in a sitcom in a long time) is responsible for the segment. His name is Dino Stamatopoulos and he also does all the stop motion for Robot Chicken! Bam. You just unintentionally learned something!

– Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre are both referenced in one episode, but both are alluded to before their respective jokes are revealed, which makes the revelations that much better. It was even made cooler for me because, up until that episode aired, I thought I was the only person who saw My Dinner with Andre. God my egocentricity knows no boundaries.

– Troy and Abed constantly mention a movie called Kickpuncher, a satire of all those cheesy, over-the-top action movies of the early 80’s. In one episode they get together with friends and make fun of the movie while they watch it. A definite nod to the brilliant RIFFTRAX and MST3K guys. Kickpuncher 2 is even brought into the mix later on.

And as far as nerd credibility goes, the celebrity cameos on the show are unrivaled. From Betty White as an insane teacher to Jack Black as a fun and goofy fat guy who just wants to be accepted (he comes from the Courtney Love School of acting. Play yourself and you can’t fail). My favorite by far, though, would have to be Anthony Michael Hall playing COMPLETELY against his Breakfast Club (which gets called out regularly) character. Think Anthony Michael Hall playing the Judd Nelson character at 40. Yeah, it is sort of amazing.

The Chevy Chase character dressed up like The Beastmaster, later saying he only wore it because he thought people would think it was cool and he had never seen the movie. Geek baiting. We ALL know someone like that. Chevy’s character, Pierce, also has a painting of himself (from his SNL days) over his bed.

In one episode (about Paintballing) there are so many pop culture references made, it is hard to keep track. My favorite, though, were nods to 28 Days Later, Terminator, and The Warriors. Perfect decade progression there, too. The Warriors from the 70’s, Terminator from the 80’s and 90’s, and 28 Days Later from the 2000’s. That is like a pop culture hat trick. I think that is a Hockey term that has something to do with 3. A reference within a reference. How META of me. Abed would be proud.

I could easily spend another hour just listing references, but that kind of kills the joy in seeing them, especially if you watch the show with a group of like-minded people. To look around and see people miss a lot of these, makes them work even more for me. Community is an awful lot like a TV version of Skyrim in the sense that every single person takes something different away from the show. Some like it because of Senor Chang. Some people like it because of all the amazing tertiary characters. Some even like it because of the sexual tension between the males and females on the show ( wha-huh?). I like it for all those reasons, minus the last one. I also like it because it reminds me of me. It shows me in a light that has never truly been realistically shined on my demographic, and I like that. We don’t all wear tight sweaters and have black rimmed glasses. We don’t all have greasy hair, combed to the side. We don’t all study rockets and know what pi is to the fourteenth digit. We really are just normal people. It is nice to see that. Oh and one more reason I like Community? It somehow achieved the impossible: It made Chevy Chase funny again. For those of us who grew up in the early 80’s, that is the greatest gift you can give a nerd.

 

 





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15 responses so far

  • Alex

    Paul, thank you for verbalizing the main reason I love Community more than almost any other show on television. NBC needs to cut out this on hiatus crap and bring the show back.

  • Danny

    And great shows like this will continue to be canceled, while deplorable reality shows will be made.

    A true injustice!

  • Nutcookie

    This was perfect! you really captured the reasons why I love community. Nice work Remy Carreiro

  • Bert

    You know what cements Troy and Abed as the best nerds on TV right now? The fact that they’re so far from the douchebags on the Big Bang Theory as you can get. They’re strong, confident, and loyal, but also very sweet, welcoming, and helpful. They don’t fight over women, or try to screw people over, and they can be nerds without being creepy outcasts. They’re one of the most realistic portrayals not just of nerds, but of best friends currently on TV.

    In fact, that’s one of the underlying traits of Community which puts it in a league above just about every other comedy out there – it has heart. There’s an underlying warm fuzziness to go with the great jokes – it’s part of the characterization, which makes it feel that much more natural.

    Isn’t it nice to watch good TV?

  • Daniel

    I love Community, but I don’t get why people seem to think all of these pop culture references are subtle. They’re always mentioned, and very obviously in the foreground.

    For a show that keeps the references subtle, look at The IT Crowd. So many references are hidden away in the back of shots, and even a good deal of those that are not tend to be very obscure.

    Again…Nothing against Community. i love it. But the jokes and references are not subtle. I can watch the show with my non-nerd girlfriend and not feel the need to point out the references. They’re right there, front and centre. And it’s great.

  • Alex

    And by Paul, I meant Remy.

  • Baz

    I think Abed was the Alien and Troy was dressed as Ripley in the cargo-loader-mech-suit in that Halloween episode

  • Drester

    You know what the biggest difference between Community and the Big Bang Theory is? It’s the use of that ridiculous laugh track. Shows that use a laugh track are really streets behind. There is nothing I find more annoying in a comedy then that. Every single sentence from Sheldon: HAHAHAHA. No, not every sentence is funny!

    Great article btw, you do not disappoint!

  • RemyCarreiro

    Thanks guys. @ Daniel, I do see your point. They are not so subtle that you need a fine toothed comb to find them, but they are also not so in your face that they turn you off. I feel it is a nice balance, but definitely does not pander, like some of those other shows do. @ Baz, you are 100% correct and my obvious dyslexia won that round (#lieasanexcuse) @ Drester, well, you said streets ahead, so you just won, everything, ever.

  • trashcanman

    Correct on all counts. Watching this show, I’ve realized how much like Abed I am (with some of Britta’s indignant rage). I toss out jokes and references that seem obvious to me that other people just don’t get and am in general somewhat uncomfortable and robotic socially because I don’t really relate to people who define themselves by things like sports and drinking. I often prefer the escapism and poetry of fictional allegory to address real world issues that are just too depressing to take head on. Very seldom has a show caused me to look at myself in those terms, especially not while making me laugh myself silly. SAVE COMMUNITY!.

  • Eileen

    I have loved Community ever since it first came out. I wanted to watch it when I first saw the preview for it with Chevy in 2008. I was like “HE’S BACK!!” I was so excited that I put it on record for every Thursday night, and after I got back home from school, I would watch it. I love this article and the cameo moments you used for each show. I recoginized and loved all of them. Though I did NOT know about Dino Stamatopoulos doing all the stop motion for Robot Chicken! Holy crap that was amazing, thanks for the info on that :) That’s another show I love. I am not much into television, but I do enjoy me some Community and Robot Chicken before I hit the pillows at night. When is Community coming back to air anyway? I know they took a hiatus, but I thought they were gonna air it again? F*CK the Big Bang Theory also, those are fake/wannabe nerds, not the real ones like Abed and Troy<3 Love them both and amazing article as always ;)

  • RemyCarreiro

    Yeah, I like the show much I want to enroll in Greendale. Sad, I know….

  • Drester

    @Eileen
    Nobody knows when or where they will air it. Could be as soon as march or in the summer. They have only 2 episodes left to shoot so that’s at least something.

  • Jacktion!

    Actually, Dino isn’t responsible for the stop motion on Robot Chicken. He had his own (far too short-lived) stop motion series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim called Moral Orel. But he was not responsible for the stop motion on that show, except for short segments during the closing credits that were meant to be stop motion made by Orel.

  • MacGyver1138

    One of my favorite nods to pop culture was the Beetlejuice callout. They mention the character by name 3 times. The third time happens to be on a Halloween episode, and a student dressed as Beetlejuice walks by in the background JUST as the third mention is made. Brilliant.

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