NBC is currently watching a war unfold within its own ranks: Who can cram the most pop culture references into any given episode of a comedy show? Before this year, the award clearly went to “30 Rock,” a program that effortlessly slid between Huffington Post and “Harry and the Hendersons” references without missing a beat. No matter how many times Steve Carell uttered “That’s what she said,” or “Outsourced” did … whatever it is that “Outsourced” does…they just couldn’t keep up with the culture-consuming writers of Tina Fey’s hit, hip show.
But this season, a dark horse appeared on the horizon. While the first season of “Community” dealt with establishing the characters and giving Joel McHale a chance to prove he was more than just a pretty face from “The Soup,” the second season quickly moved beyond the sly wink of self-awareness to become a show that reached, as Patton Oswalt describes it, “the ETEWAF* singularity.” It was the closest TV has ever come to being the Internet (sorry, Tosh), with in-jokes doubling back on themselves the way a Television Without Pity forum thread might. Nothing was sacred: not Dungeons & Dragons, Charlie Kaufman or the Web itself (which creator Dan Harmon has used on occasion to throw his fans off-track with fake spoilers on his Twitter feed).
But last night both “30 Rock” and “Community” reached their respective peaks in terms of a meta-media analysis. While Liz Lemon met her match in a walk-and-talk cameo with “The Social Network” scribe Aaron Sorkin (who I swear to God I thought was Eric Roberts for a good five seconds) in an episode called “Plan B,” “Community” busied itself in “Critical Film Studies” by making the most unlikely double-parody of all time: a “Pulp Fiction”-meets-”My Dinner With Andre” mashup that would have been impossible to pull off on any show that did not feature the incredible Danny Pudi. (Honestly, who in the 18-25-year-old demo has even seen that ’80s film that is literally just two people talking in a restaurant for 110 minutes?) So while the Wallace Shawn references may have gone over some viewers’ (read: everyone’s) heads, the scene in which Pudi’s character, Abed, talks about his experience on the set of “Cougar Town” was one of the most riveting monologues ever given in a 30-minute comedy show, as ridiculous as it seems. That dinner monologue pulled off the impossible: transcending its own esoteric references and becoming something greater than the some of its pop-parts.