‘Community’ and the Mediation of Honesty
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Cult sitcom Community is a proliferation of parody and pop culture references – the episodes range from paintball filled action stompers to a singsong Claymation Christmas. The show is at its best when it balances parody with emotional nuance between its lead characters. Nowhere is this more evident than in this writer’s favourite episode, “Critical Film Studies.”
The episode involves the group planning a Pulp Fiction themed birthday party for Abed, but he insists on dining only with Jeff at a fancy restaurant. This episode’s homage is split in two between the main plot based on the 1981 comedy My Dinner with Andre and the b-plot inspired by Pulp Fiction. My Dinner with Andre is a movie with a simple premise, an honest conversation between two men over dinner. Jeff and Abed’s conversation is just that: honest. Their scenes are shot frequently in medium close ups to invite a connection between audience and character. The use of dim lighting, drab beiges and greys adds a layer of realism making their conversation seem even more authentic.
However, the pure honesty from both characters as they exchange anecdotes about past traumas is only temporary. A fact made clear by the frequent cutting to the rest of the group in the Pulp Fictionesque diner. Here the cinematography is bold with bright neon and primary colours. Wider shots keep the characters at a distance from the audience as well as removing it from reality and placing it into a visually hyper-stylised world; one with no truth or honesty. Characters lie and manipulate one another to achieve their own selfish goals. Chang is that character who manipulates Troy into accidentally destroying Abed’s gift from Jeff. The juxtaposition between realism of plot A and the fantasy of plot B speaks to how film and television mediate honesty.
“Critical Film Studies” seeks to find truth, or at least how truth is mediated through the lens of a camera and through the words we share with each other on a daily basis. That truth in characters only comes about because they are written or filmed that way. Their honesty is restricted. The episode’s ending has both plots converge with the final scene involving the entire group dressed as Pulp Fiction characters dining in the fancy restaurant. As the final shot fades, the message is clear: Pure honesty between people is impossible but if you’re happy among friends, does it matter?
Community is available to stream on Netflix.
Ryan O’Rourke – Film & TV Writer