Community: Season 3, Episode 8
Documentary Filmmaking: Redux
First things first: It's impossible to discuss this week's Community without discussing the fact that NBC has officially pulled the show from its mid-season line-up. While the show has not officially been cancelled yet, this is about the grimmest news for its fate possible short of outright cancellation. Earlier this season, I did one of my impassioned pleas for you to spread the word to get the show's ratings up. Now, Community fans, we should all ban together and try to figure out how to make the show a success in whatever new home it finds (NBC has promised to finish airing the 22 episodes it ordered for season three, and at this point, it looks like that will happen in the summer). For now, though, every episode of the show takes on a bittersweet feeling. There are only a few left now until the show goes off the air indefinitely, perhaps never to return outside of a summer burnout.
It's a shame, too, that the news had to come right before such a brilliant episode of the show. As I mentioned last week, I was a bit wary of Community returning to the documentary well, but I had faith after the return to paintball was so successful last season. "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" was everything I could have ever hoped it would be. It made good on the Apocalypse Now joke in its title (which is the name of that film's directors cut) and was rife with jokes and allusions to that film's making of documentary Hearts of Darkness (which isn't better than the movie, but which does come damn close). It told a story about Dean Pelton that treated him exactly the way I had hoped last week would, possibly handling him so well that the misstep last week looks better in retrospect. It gave us great moments from all the characters, and even some forward movement on the show's less prominent, but still awesome, will-they-won't-they: Britta and Troy.
The Dean decides to shoot a new commercial for Greendale after realizing how (hilariously) dated their current one is, and Abed, predicting that this will quickly become a Coppola-style downward spiral, decides to film a making-of. The shoot seems pretty simple until the school's most famous alumnus, Luis Guzman (nice callback, Community) offers to star. Suddenly, the Dean wants to take things to the next level, and soon the entire school is engulfed in his madness.
None of these breakdowns are particularly enlightening (except perhaps The Dean's, but we'll get there), nor do they really need to be. Mostly, they're just a blast. Jeff, cast as The Dean, plays the character so perfectly his screen time keeps getting upped, until eventually he begins to think he's bald. Troy and Britta are pushed to the breaking point, and beyond, trying to film a hug that will heal the 400 year old racial wound in the heart of America. Annie develops Stockholm Syndrome, worshipping the Dean like Dennis Hopper worships Marlon Brando. And Garrett just isn't taking advantage of the motion-capture technology.
The only dud in all of this is Pierce, whose demands for his own trailer are a little bit of a "show business episode" cliche (Shirley isn't given much to do again, but Yvette Nicole Brown continues to mine her screen time for all it's worth). But even that is made up for in the great tag that has Pierce storming out of a trailer and confronting Jeff Garlin with his madness. It's a random moment, but a very funny one, and worth the little screen time the story took building to it.
This is really all The Dean's show, though, except when it's Abed's. Both characters go through a bit of a transformation tonight, and while Pelton's is showier, Abed's might end up being more meaningful. Abed, ever the outsider, films the episode, refusing to interfere even as his friends all fall into insanity and his school falls to shambles. This is perhaps the flaw at the core of Abed: he understands everything through his lens of pop culture, and he reads people very well as a result, yet he never truly connects with them, at least not without the veneer of a pop culture reference (like in last year's "Critical Film Studies"). Tonight, however, Abed got out from behind the camera and interfered, editing The Dean's commercial and saving his job in the process. Abed has spent most of this series as a fly on the wall; tonight, he learned that "some flies are too awesome for the wall." And more importantly, he learned he is one of them.
Meanwhile, we watch The Dean spiral into total insanity (including a great, also Apocalypse Now-inspired meltdown in his office, and apparently the halls of Greendale) and come out the other side, realizing that deep down, he tries so hard (and holds so many dances) because he is ashamed of Greendale's inferiority. he went to a university, and he came to Greendale to make it better. But as the wise, wonderful Luis Guzman teaches him, Greendale is already a special place. Greendale is a place where people can learn to be themselves, and where they can get a second chance at their lives.
If one thing ties all of the characters on this show together, it is that each of them has made mistakes, each of them has in some way screwed up their life, and each of them has found their way to Greendale, a place that might just give them a chance to make things a little better. Tonight, we finally got to see The Dean take his place in that venerable tradition of fuck-ups for real (though it had often been hinted at before), and we watched our heroes embrace him for his failure. The episode's end, where the group rallies around The Dean because, "we've all been there" was just a great moment for the show, and helped to turn "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" from just a hilarious episode into a sleek restatement of the show and its themes, an episode that told a great story and made us laugh at the same time.
This episode had all of the greatest aspects of Community on full display. It was rife with uber-geeky pop culture references, majorly self-referential (we got to see Leonard, Garrett, and Fat Neil, in addition to the Luis Guzman appearance), completely absurd, hilarious, and yet told a solid, character-based story that managed to move things along without ever sacrificing hilarity. This is the sort of episode that reminds me why I love Community, and why this is a show worth saving. Nothing else on television could pull off an episode like "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux." I can only hope we aren't soon left with a Community shaped void in the television landscape. We would all be worse for its absence.
-That flat A might be a bit of a sympathy grade. I don't think this episode is as great as the all-time classic "Remedial Chaos Theory," but it was pretty great, and I don't feel ashamed bumping it up from an "A-" in its time of need.
-"And now you can register by fax!"
-"That's not an accident. It's the result of very specific targeting."
-"I've chosen you, Greendale's brightest, most coincidentally diverse, hispanics not included, study group..."
-"I'm thinking about breaking into the TV game, since apparently its sticking around."
-"It says I'm supposed to BE a book, reading a book...but that doesn't make sense."
-"Her I understand, but YOU?"
-"The Dean IS a genius, and I WILL die protecting his vision." "Are you perhaps familiar with Stockholm Syndrome?" "Is that something the Dean created? Because if not, I don't care."
-"I'm horrible, I'm horrible."