In case you needed reinforcing as to why last night’s episode was monumental. (The below is merely an excerpt form Seitz’s blog post.)
And as in “Critical Film Studies” — still the show’s aesthetic peak, though this episode came close — you got to see the show’s actors show off their chops in service of a story. When we were watching Abed “play” Jeff Winger, we were not seeing Jeff, but Abed’s conception of Jeff, which was plenty intriguing. But there was something equally thrilling happening at the level of pure performance: We were seeing Joel McHale play Jeff Winger as imagined by Abed. McHale was channeling aspects of Danny Pudi’s screen presence (the intense stare, the birdlike head movements and jabbing hand gestures, the slightly clipped delivery) even as he was playing “himself.”
I’ve read elsewhere that Pudi should get an Emmy for this episode, and I’d be delighted if he got one. He deserved one for “Critical Film Studies,” in which he played Abed playing Andre Gregory in My Dinner With Andre while dissecting his self-image in a candid, unexpectedly serious conversation with Jeff. But it would be ironic indeed if this were the episode that finally won Pudi some kind of industry recognition for his brilliance, because much of our insight into Abed came via McHale’s performance as Abed/Jeff, and from Alison Brie’s equally complex but more emotionally direct performance as Annie, who struggled to separate her feelings about Abed from her feelings for Jeff.
I can’t think of many shows in the history of American network TV that have managed Community’s trick of being pretty much like every sitcom you’ve ever seen and like nothing you’ve seen anywhere, in any medium. It’s at once a goofy, shenanigans-driven comedy, a self-aware commentary on pop culture, and an examination of ethical and philosophical concepts, and it demands to be viewed on all three levels simultaneously; that’s a lot to ask of people who are mainly looking to unwind on Thursday night.