In the second episode of its fifth season, Community featured a sub-plot involving a great deal of Nicolas Cage. As a result, I feel obligated to write about it. My obligation is belated. I am aware Community S5/E2 “Introduction to Teaching” doesn’t count as a Nicolas Cage film. I’m doing this anyway. Apologies.
With the gang having re-enrolled back into Greendale Community College, several study group members enroll in a two-day film studies course on one, Sir Nicolas Cage. The course, led by Kevin Corrigan’s thoroughly plussed film Professor Professorson, aims to investigate a single premise: Is Nicolas Cage good or bad? Short of a warning against shotgunning Cage films in marathon-styled succession, a warning Abed will of course ignore, there’s little else involved in the class. ‘Watch five movies. Report back to me.’ With the exception of Abed, everyone else seems resigned to failure in their assignment; classifying a career as bonkers and bipolar as Cage’s within a good-or-bad dichotomy just seems cruel. He’s hypnotizing in Leaving Las Vegas and gloriously naked in Adaptation., but with hammy turns in Next and (of course) The Wicker Man, you’re not sure what to think. And it’s best to not dwell on the impossible.
Naturally, Abed treats the professor’s warning as a challenge. Unlocking the essence of Cage seems like a kind of pop cultural forbidden fruit, one whose rind Abed must pierce to taste the sweet, sweet Cage nectar from within. When Abed takes a taste, the consequences are disastrous. His presumably frenzied 24-hour Cage-a-thon finds Abed stringing together film titles, Cage-isms, acting jags, frantic fits, and explosive outbursts in a rat’s nest of movie trivia. (Think Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, just with way less math.) It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect in a Nic Cage highlight reel. Like this one.
Community’s acknowledgment of what’s long been obvious to most of Reddit and Uproxx is forgivable, but its ambitions toward that subject matter are less so. Complexities and contradictions are part of Cage’s appeal, but Community reduces any nuance to easy punchlines within its B-plot. Shirley likens Cage to one of Hellraiser‘s cenobytes, both good and evil. The unexpected reference impresses Abed, and it should impress us, but Dan Harmon’s better than this. He’s been better than this within the same episode. Classifying Johnny Depp as the “bad” kind of good actor is spot-on, yet for a show that can offer such an incisive look into pop culture, the episode’s Cage material is one-dimensional, settling for a middling “it’s both” argument over nuance.
Danny Pudi’s Cage impression is solid but as Jack Black would sing, it’s low-hanging fruit, especially for a celebrity Abed once refers to as “one of pop culture’s great mysteries.” It’s easy to reference Windtalkers. The difficulty lies in doing something with those references. (adds Windtalkers to Netflix queue)