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COMMUNITY: “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux – RECAP
For the second time this year, Community has to live up to itself as it attempts a similar concept already explored in a previous episode. Last season, “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” explored the show as if a documentary crew were filming it, much the same way The Office and Modern Family are shot. It was a very successful experiment, hitting some great emotional beats for characters like Jeff and Pierce. “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” let’s you know by the title alone the show is well aware it’s been down this road before. For the first chunk of the episode I was pretty unimpressed by anything that was going on. Redoing the whole fly-on-the-wall thing felt lazy. If the drive of the episode had rested entirely on Abed’s filming, Community would have been in a very bad place. Thankfully the actual story, Dean Pelton attempting to film a new commercial for Greendale, takes off like a rocket, turning a snoozer into one of the most bizarre and hilarious episodes of Community to date (I feel like I’m saying that every week).
The story goes as such: the last time Greendale filmed a commercial was 15 or so years ago (a big selling point in the original commercial is you can now register by fax). It’s corny in that early 90s kind of way; a completely believable commercial (also, did anyone else spot Chuck’s Ryan McPartlin making a sneaky little cameo?). Because the study group has such a racial diversity, Dean chooses them to be the stars in his new commercial. At first he’s just pleased to be directing the ad, with Jeff playing the Dean and Annie acting as the script supervisor (who more perfect than uptight Annie to keep track of continuity?). But when actor and Greendale graduate Luis Guzman takes interest in appearing in the commercial, the Dean decides to extend the shooting until Luis can fly down for the shoot.
This is the point where things get nuts. Abed compares the episode to Heart of Darkness, the documentary of the production of Apocalypse Now, but I was more strongly reminded of the Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen the film and I’m not sure I would recommend it. It’s bizarre and hard to follow at times, but it to focuses on a director way over his head, attempting to create something when he himself has no idea what it really is. He constantly changes his mind about the story (he directs a play instead of a commercial), eventually becoming so obsessed with making a work of art that the whole production turns into a play within a play within a play. Now, Dean doesn’t start go that far down the rabbit whole (though there is a nice wink to it, with Jeff playing Dean and Chang playing Jeff playing Dean), but his obsession of making something drives him over the edge. You know he’s nuts when he hands Annie an orange, calling it Scene 4.
Further adding similarity to Synecdoche, New York; Annie’s devolution into a Dean worshiper brought to mind one of the female leads, played by Samantha Morton. It’s not a plot similarity, Annie just ends up resembling her, carrying around her giant binder containing all the information about the commercial, just as Morton’s Hazel did regarding the play. The way she becomes totally into whatever the Dean has planned was just so delightful. Annie, being the most impressionable of the group, coupled with the power of being script supervisor (she believes she’s the star), absolutely had to be the one sucked into Dean’s world. The commercial went to her head just as it did Dean’s, and since he gave her the job in the first place why not worship him? Of course, Annie eventually, as does everyone, abandon Dean when he reveals just how crazy he’s become.
Jeff, having been wearing his Dean costume (including bald cap!) for almost two weeks has startslosing his grasp on reality. Whenever Jeff is broken mentally it’s hilarious. Joel McHale has the ability to sell anything, but he sells unhinged the best (I’d say that applies to all the cast members). Having completely given into being bald, his fragile psyche is completely crushed by the insane ego of Dean, who has reached the point of refusing to film anything that isn’t reality, and Jeff’s bald cap isn’t reality. To make it all even funnier, Chang is chosen to replace Jeff after taking off his bald cap, showing his Jeff hair underneath. By this point, the commercial had reached such a ridiculous point, with so many background characters thrown in (hi Fat Neil! Magnitude!) I couldn’t help loving every minute of it. If it weren’t for people addressing Abed and his film crew, you’d hardly know this was a documentary!
But it is, and that comes to be a big part of the end to the episode. Without any help, Dean naturally produces an utter fustercluck,. Even Luis Guzman hates it! This is when we enter one of Community’s weirdly poignant (but always excellent) moments, as the Dean realizes everything he’s done has been because he’s ashamed of Greendale and wants to turn it into something it’s not just so he won’t be embarrassed to work there. After stripping naked and covering himself in the ashes of his university diploma, Dean presents his commercial to Greendale’s board of directors. Well, he tries to. It looks like Abed decided to intervene and put together a better commercial using some of Dean’s early footage and some of Abed’s. It’s actually a pretty decent way to justify the whole documentary template. Without it, there wouldn’t have been a happy ending for Dean, and he needed one. He gets picked on a lot and just got in over his head trying to prove he could do something important. As Jeff says before the study group gives him a group hug, “We’ve all been there.” Gosh, I love this show.
Sure, the documentary style wasn’t a fresh gimmick for Community, but the character story was so worth it. There was much to love once the commercial started shooting. Those first few minutes were bland, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. On top of all I mentioned above, there was some momentum in the Troy/Britta relationship as the two lingered after Dean’s group hug. And Pierce was sidelined, but in a completely hilarious Pierce way. Honestly, I can’t understand why anyone could not love this show. It makes me sad its future is threatened. Maybe it’s too weird, but that’s where it gets all its charm. Do the show a favor and spread the word. Community is still amazing.