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Community Watch: Season 3, Episode 8 - Documentary Filmmaking: Redux
It has been an incredibly rough week for Community fans. I am, of course, referring to the news that the show will be put on hiatus after the mid-season break. We’ve spent the last few days expressing our own form of grief over the news (personally, I need to get a few new posters to cover the fresh fist-sized holes in my wall), but the truth is that the only thing that could help us with our depression was a brand new episode. Hence why it was so great to watch “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” tonight and the only thing that made it better was the fact that it was a brilliant episode.
“Greendale has the most advanced typing class in the south-western Greendale area and now you can register by fax!”
The episode opens with a commercial that is so set in the 1990s that you’d expect it to run between episodes of Family Matters and Boy Meets World (the nostalgia factor alone is worth more than its fair share of chuckles). What we’re watching, of course, is an ad for Greendale Community college that has apparently been airing for approximately the last 16 years. This leads us to the main plot of this week’s episode: Dean Pelton has been given $2,000 to produce a brand new commercial for the school and he is enlisting the study group to help out. By this time, though, you may notice that the camera is a bit lower quality than usual and shaking a bit. This is because Abed has once again decided to exercise his documentary muscles.
Fans may remember that the last time Abed did this, Season 2's “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” the episode ended with Jeff being so angry with Pierce that he physically assaulted the old codger. This time around Abed is trying to capture a different kind of madness. Everyone’s favorite pop culture junkie believes that the making of the commercial will result in Dean Pelton being driven completely insane. He likens his newest work to the documentary “Hearts of Darkness,” which captured the psychotic production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (Hence the use of the word “Redux” in the episode title).
The first scene with the group also introduces the minor B-story of the show, which involves Pierce refusing to act in the commercial until the production hires catering. When told that he won’t be getting catering, he says that he won’t leave his trailer until he does. When told that he won’t be getting a trailer, he decides to rent a trailer. To break it down: Pierce won’t leave his rented trailer until he gets an actual trailer, which he won’t leave until there’s catering. I’ll get more into this later in the recap, but this is actually quite clever and, in a way, Chevy Chase poking fun at himself.
”We open on a typical day at Greendale, only the students all look happy and you can’t smell that smell.”
Quickly we arrive on the first day of production, and during rehearsal we learn about the individual journeys that each character will be going on in the episode. First there’s Annie, who, as she tends to do regularly, dives in head-first and is assigned as the script supervisor, essentially surgically attaching herself to the project. Next is Britta and Troy, who have agreed to be in a scene together in which they hug. While from an outside perspective this wouldn’t seem to be that big a deal, there has been a significant amount of tension between the two characters since they shared drama (literally and figuratively) in last season’s “Competitive Wine Tasting.” Finally there’s Jeff, whom the dean has hired to play…the dean. While Jeff was reluctant to take part in the commercial from the beginning, this pushes him over the edge and he attempts to sabotage his own part in the video (which always ends up backfiring). This starts with him performing the weirdest – and, therefore, most accurate – imitation of the dean he can, hoping that Pelton will be alienated and kick him off the project. This backfires as Pelton believes that the portrayal is unquestionably brilliant.
Notice someone missing? Shirley is fairly minimized in this episode, which is unfortunate if not only because she was so great playing off of Britta in last week’s “Studies in Modern Movement.” But considering how many plots there are in the episode, it’s understandable that one character had to be sidelined. Despite so much going on, however, the episode never gets lost. All of the situations are played out perfectly and there aren’t any loose ends to tie up. Once again, just another example of incredible writing from the crew behind Community.
”I suggested to the dean that we shoot our scenes in front of the Luis Guzman statue because the dean has no legal right to broadcast Guzman’s image… I’m always willing to go the extra mile to avoid doing something.”
Speaking of loose ends, this episode brings back mention of the Luis Guzman statue, which was first erected all the way back in the fifth episode of the series. In the shows continuity, Guzman, character actor extraordinaire, is the most famous graduate of Greendale, but has never actually appeared on the show. That is, until now. As described above, Jeff convinces Dean Pelton to shoot all of his scenes in front of the statue and even goes as far as to call Guzman’s lawyers to warn them about it. Remember what I said about backfiring? Upon hearing about the commercial, Guzman calls Dean Pelton personally and says that he would love to not only appear in the ad as a statue, but is even willing to do it in person. And much like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to the start of World War I, this phone call ends up lighting the powder keg that is Dean Pelton’s sanity.
Realizing that he now has a celebrity appearing his in his cheap little commercial, Pelton decides that he needs to shake things up and redo everything that they did…except for Jeff’s role, which will not only stay but be expanded. As noted by title cards, by the end of the first day of shooting the production was $173 under budget. By the start of the second day, they have gone $6,125 OVER budget (keep in mind they only started with $2,000 in the first place).
“It says I’m supposed to be a book, reading a book, but that doesn’t make sense.”
Just as Abed predicted – and narrates – Dean Pelton has lost his mind. He has rewritten the script, filled the set with random pieces of abstract art, and has completely shut down the school. They begin filming the Troy and Britta hugging scene (which is accented with a giant granny smith apple and the famous butt flag) but Pelton shows disgust with every take. “You get this wrong one more time I’m segregating the school,” he says. While Troy and Britta seem to enjoy hugging each other at first, by the time they’ve reached hour number 12, both students are left crying in fetal positions on the floor and the idea of hugging each other absolutely repulses them.
We then jump ahead to four days later, the commercial now $9,642 over budget (again, they started with only $2,000). Dean Pelton has introduced green screen and motion capture into the proceedings, sticking Garrett into a green, ping-pong ball covered suit so that he can play a microscope. Because you haven’t reached true levels of crazy without him, Chang has apparently appointed himself as Jeff’s understudy and is wearing a bald cap over a Jeff wig over his own hair. The dean gets a call from Greendale’s board checking in on the commercial’s progress and he tells them to fire him if they don’t like what he’s doing with the ad. Covers of Greendale’s Gazette Journal Mirror document Dean Pelton’s outrageous behavior as though it were a trade magazine. He has completely gone over the edge. By day 9 they have gone $14,125 over budget.
“The dean is a genius. If he isn’t, I’ve given almost two weeks of my life to an idiot.”
Poor, sweet, young Annie. She should have known what she was getting into when she decided to become so involved with the commercial and now she’s paying the price. While everyone else realizes that Dean Pelton has gone way too far, Annie has five sharpies hanging from her blouse and what looks like 20 pencils in her hair. When asked by Abed if she has heard of something called Stockholm Syndrome, she replies, “Is it something the dean created? Because if it’s not I don’t care.”
We then head back over to Pierce’s story as a new trailer is being left on the campus. While Pierce believes that it’s for him, Leonard informs him that it’s actually for Luis Guzman. He then proclaims that Guzman can have his trailer back when he gets his own trailer. Getting back to what I alluded to earlier, what makes this such an amazing B-plot is that while it works perfectly for Pierce to be in this situation, it’s really more about Chevy Chase, who, over the course of his career, has developed a not-so-flattering reputation behind the scenes of grumpiness and diva-like behavior. With that in mind it feels like this episode is a bit of a revelation, with Chase having no qualms about his own attitude.
So we’ve seen Dean Pelton totally lose it, Troy and Britta break down, Annie go insane and Pierce…stay normal. All that’s left is Jeff, who has not only begun to accept his role in the commercial, but started to live it. With his hair under a bald cap for the last 12 days, he has completely forgotten about having hair and has even made bald friends. He has become his character – just in time for the dean to fire him and replace him with Chang. This leads Britta to claim that the production is a violation of human rights. While Annie defends the dean at first, she realizes that he wants his role to be played by a Chinese man in a blond wig and realizes that the “director” has gone nutter butters. With that, everyone is gone.
“I loved my time here, I got laid like crazy. That’s way before Boogie Nights too.”
And, of course, that’s when Luis Guzman finally arrives on set. Dean Pelton takes the actor to his editing room, which has clothes lines hanging all around and a possum roaming the floor. The dean then begins to show Guzman what he has created, which leads to the actor hitting pause and saying that he needs to go make a phone call. He then does a talking head interview with Abed, explaining that he had to tell the dean that he wouldn’t be in the commercial and that Abed had to do something to help out. To this Abed simply replies, “I’m a fly on the wall.” When the dean busts in and scolds Guzman for doing the documentary but not the commercial, he says that they have gotten rid of the trailer (only what he doesn’t know is that Pierce is still inside).
Then things start getting real. Guzman points out that Dean Pelton isn’t crazy, but rather that he’s ashamed of his school. He tells the dean that Greendale is special and something that should be appreciated, not looked down on. After Guzman leaves, the dean says that he can’t finish his commercial, but that he knows how the documentary ends.
Moving to his office, he begins to record a video journal. As he narrates, he takes his diploma from Appomattox University (not a real school) off the wall and sets it on fire. He then proceeds to strip naked and use the ashes from the burning paper to draw streaks across his face a la Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in, you guessed it, Apocalypse Now. The twelfth and final day of filming is over and they have gone $17,125 over budget.
”Some flies are too awesome for the wall.”
It’s finally time for Dean Pelton to show off the commercial he made to the Greendale board. While he thinks it’s going to be the trainwreck that he spent the last two weeks filming, it’s actually something quite great. In addition to material that the dean shot, some of Abed’s documentary has made it in as well. It’s clear that the aspiring filmmaker took the project into his own hands. While the dean tries to explain that it wasn’t the commercial he made, the board members don’t care and say that it will last them another 16 years.
On a laptop the study group, minus Pierce and Abed, watches the making-of documentary with looks of shock and disgust. The dean walks in, Abed trailing with a camera in his hands, and asks for forgiveness. Jeff replies with a simple, “Yup.” When Pelton asks why, Jeff stands up and says, “Because we’ve all been there, which is why we’re all here.” (This is scored with one of my favorite bits of Community music, “Greendale Is Where I Belong”). There’s then a group hug and Jeff, Annie and Shirley agree to help get the opossum out of the dean’s office. Left behind are Troy and Britta, who continue to hug, not only suggesting that they are past events from earlier, but are developing a deeper relationship.
Finally, the tag brings us to Hollywood, CA where a well-known actor goes to his trailer only to find Pierce inside. The star says he’s not leaving his trailer until he gets a new trailer. And a granola bar.
Once again Community has done it. An amazing mix of ridiculously funny comedy and poignancy. This is the first episode to really focus on Jim Rash and he knocks it out of the park. Truly another episode for the ages. Please, NBC, don’t get rid of this phenomenal show.
After School Special:
“I always see it during late night reruns of Fantasy Island.”
I should write a comic about Supervisor Girl.
“I don’t want to wake up in 30 years and wonder ‘What if?’”
“Actually, I might end up taking this to some festivals”
“He’s also using the PA system for casting calls.”
“I am trying to pull a 400 year old dagger out of this nation’s heart and you two are hugging.”
“I’m in Psych 101 and even I don’t know what’s happening.”
Troy crying – continues to be the best thing ever.
“You are a microscope. No that’s a toilet. That’s clearly a frog trying to get out of a box.”
“As a licensed psychology major…”
That’s a pretty sweet windmill.
Going full Brando.
The dean stole Jeff's underwear!
“I’m horrible. I’m horrible.”
Troy's thumb on Britta's back.
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