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Community Review: "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" (3.8)

November 18, 2011  |  1:57pm
<em>Community</em> Review: "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" (3.8)

If you’re reading this article you’re almost certainly aware of Community’s current troubles. The show is not officially canceled by any means. It has a full order that will, we’ve been assured, be fulfilled. However, that’s the only good news. After December we don’t know when the show will be back, or how long it will be back for. Anyone who remembers the third season of Arrested Development may end up feeling some deja vu here. Similar scheduling shenanigans forced that show off the air after the fall, and Fox only aired the final episodes in one short, difficult-to-find block in the middle of February. Community still has enough episodes left that what happens here can’t be exactly the same, but if the show isn’t back to airing regularly by the end of March, then short of a miracle happening we can expect this to be its last season.

That this week’s episode was “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” almost feels like a commentary about the entire situation because there’s no episode that better illustrates both why the show is so beloved and (part of) why it remains only a cult and critical success. Dean Pelton is asked to make a new recruitment video because Greendale’s old one is embarrassingly outdated. At first he has a simple script and intends to shoot it as cheaply as possible, doing a competent job and using our favorite study group as his cast/crew because of their diversity. However, after Jeff contacts Luis Guzman telling him that the school is using his likeness without permission, Guzman is flattered and decides to come down and actually appear in the video.

Guzman’s appearance changes everything for the dean. If the school’s biggest celebrity alumnus will be appearing, then this needs to be the ultimate recruitment video. The shooting goes overboard in a very direct parody of Apocalypse Now (with some interesting overtones from Synecdoche along the way) and is soon way over-budget and far longer than the original one-day shoot that was allotted.

It’s another one of Community’s “gimmick” episodes, and in some sense there’s not too much else to it than the parody. But everything on screen still really relies upon our knowledge of the characters and the situation. Television almost always aims to be easily digestible, it’s a format designed so that you can tune in and watch an act of a show and feel like you know enough of the situation that it’s ok. Jump into this episode’s second act and you will likely be completely lost. Chang performing as Jeff performing as Dean Pelton only works for laughs if you understand these characters, otherwise it’s quickly lost in a morass of self-referentiality. If you haven’t seen “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” or don’t know why there’s a Luis Guzman statue, then you’re probably left wondering what’s going on here and asking why the cameraman keeps talking.

This also wasn’t the season’s funniest episode. That being said, it was still extremely good, and its laughs felt very much earned. It was also nice to see Pelton, as performed by the wonderful Jim Rash (who co-wrote The Descendants), finally get the spotlight. Rash didn’t make his way into the opening credits until this season, but he’s long been one of the show’s main characters and an indelible part of what gives Community its identity. Having an episode that’s about him rather than the study group really grows the show and its world.

“Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” really did everything right. Great characters and relationships that we haven’t seen before (including greatly heightening the tension between Britta and Troy), well-crafted character-based jokes and a situation that’s not only unique to the show, but quite unique to television period. But for those same reasons it’s not something you can have a casual interest in, and likewise it’s not made for a larger audience. Mass audiences haven’t seen Synecdoche or My Dinner with Andre, nor do they wish to have a character with a “quirky” character trait like Abed also be a fully fleshed out person. Community has always taken the hardest route to get where it wants to go, and unfortunately there are only so many people who are willing to take that journey with it.

Stray observations:
•This is more of a personal question: how advanced, exactly, can a typing class be?
•”You know I love being seen agreeing with you, Troy.”
•Anarchist Cat Owner – I’d love to get that as my lower third.
•Joel/Jeff as Dean Pelton is masterful. That’s one of the best bald caps I’ve ever seen.
•Guzman’s relationship with Greendale is something I was hoping wouldn’t be forgotten. It was great seeing him actually in the show.
•“I loved you innnnnnnn…. IMDB.”
•Pelton is always entertaining, but this is the first time we’ve seen this much range from Jim Rash.
•“If you get this wrong one more time, I’m segregating the school.”
•“I don’t know why, but this is the last straw.”
•”Can someone help me get a live possum out of the office?”

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