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.