Community: Intro to Recycled Cinema

"He's serious. Let's face it, it's pretty obvious when he's acting."

Some of my favourite episodes of Community feature Abed's films, especially 'Introduction to Film' and 'Documentary Filmmaking: Redux'. This one, unfortunately, is my least favourite of the 'Abed's films' sub-category of Community episodes. Although, like much of the rest of season six, there's nothing really, objectively terrible about it (let us never again reach the lows of 'Intro to Knots' or 'Advanced Introduction to Finality'), it just doesn't quite work the way it should.

Here's the crux of the problem with this episode. As that rare internet creature, a person who enjoys both Community and The Big Bang Theory, I couldn't help but be reminded of the famous 'Sheldon in a ball pit' scene from the latter when watching Abed sneak up on Jeff in the pile of frisbees. Just as I was thinking that Abed should pop up and shout 'Bazinga!' - Abed actually popped up and shouted 'Bazinga!' It's a mildly amusing reference to the similarities between Abed and Sheldon and a pop culture reference that makes sense. But it is also, essentially, another series' joke simply played out without any particularly interesting twist or fresh take on it.

Granted, the theme of this episode is supposed to be 'recycled cinema', so there's an argument to be made that recycling other products is the point. And it's true that the many Star Wars references, from the cantina scene, to Jar-Jar Binks (except he was never popular) to the trash compactor, are fun in their way. But Community already did a Star Wars homage in season two's 'For a Few Paintballs More', and although I prefer the Western vibe from 'A Fistful of Paintballs', it was still a far more effective homage to those films than this, partly because the unfolding plot seemed to mean more to our characters, even though there was arguably less at stake.

That links to the other problem with this episode, which is that none of the characters really care about any of it, which makes it hard for us, the audience, to care. The story is supposed to be a metaphor for the film industry, with Abed's creativity shoved aside in favour of doing a rushed job on a low budget that everyone knows is terrible. The trouble is, it's more tempting to see that as a metaphor for the production of this episode than the movie industry - a string of ideas without much plot, which tries to tack on a meaningful moment towards the end, but which is really just a series of bad jokes about and making use of cheap special effects that everybody just needed to get through as quickly as possible.

Bits and pieces

 - There are a lot of references to Chris Pratt in this episode, and while he's still a big star, the sheer volume of times we hear his name makes this feel dated already, less than a year later.

 - This episode firmly places Greendale in Colorado (which we might have learned already, I can't remember!)

 - Britta and Annie appearing as Jeff's daughters, even in the film, is seriously weird (though it's notable that Annie and Jeff once again take advantage of play-acting to get close with each other).

 - I do like the final scene in which Chang comes back and no one says anything, though it sits in place of a final tag - which makes sense considering how much of this episode is a fake movie.

Quotes

Dean (on Chang): There's nothing but upsides to him leaving.

Abed: I had a real life former cop help me with the dialogue.
Character from the film: I'm gonna punch you in the heart!
Abed: Real life former cops aren't great with dialogue.

Britta (to Annie): You make everything harder for all women when you do that.
Annie: I'm improvising.
Britta: Improvise pockets!

Jeff (on everyone leaving Greendale): Even Pierce got to die!

Abed (to Jeff):... and we stop thinking about Chris Pratt so much because it is not healthy.

Not totally terrible, but if you want to watch a metaphorical representation of how big studios stifle the creativity of directors on science fiction and fantasy films, watch Jon Favreau's Chef (a fun movie which is very obviously a metaphor for working with Marvel, and which will make you desperately crave grilled cheese sandwiches).

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

3 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

Chef has been in my "maybe someday" queue for a while now, and you just gave me a great reason to bump it into the "watch sooner rather than later" queue.

Juliette said...

I'm very fond of it - it's just kinda nice in a weird sort of way! And a very obvious metaphor for working with Marvel!

Josie Kafka said...

Just watched Chef. I never would have seen the Marvel allegory if you hadn't mentioned it, but knowing to look for it meant I couldn't un-see it. Totally right, Juliette!