Community: Documentary Filmmaking: Redux

“Some flies are too awesome for the wall.”

Usually it is not a good sign when a show starts repeating itself. Community already had fun parodying documentaries last season with 'Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking'. But that episode was specifically about poking fun at sitcoms that use documentary style, such as The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. This episode, however, was a clever deconstruction of behind the scenes making of documentaries, resulting in one of the best episodes Community has ever done. In your face, NBC!

This entire episode was essentially just one extended parody of Hearts of Darkness, Eleanor Coppola's documentary film about how her husband and everyone else went completely round the bend during the infamously troubled production of Apocalypse Now. It's a bold move to do a parody of something that much of your (small) audience likely has never seen or never even heard of. Dan Harmon wasn't kidding when he described this episode as the least accessible and least marketable episode in the series' alienating history. But that is surely what we all love so much about this show; it's never afraid to take risks.

'Documentary Filmmaking: Redux' cast Abed (Filmmaker) in the role of Eleanor with Dean Pelton as the increasingly crazed auteur trying to realise his vision of a new commercial for Greendale. As the shoot dragged on, the Dean's madness quickly engulfed the entire school, and it was Greendale’s most serendipitously diverse study group (Hispanics excluded) who suffered the most as a result. Britta (Anarchist Cat Owner) and Troy (Best Friend) are subjected to an endless series of Kubrickian retakes (Shelley Duvall feels your pain, guys). Annie (Script Supervisor) gets Stockholm Syndrome, coming to believe the Dean is a genius because she is unwilling to accept the idea she's wasted two weeks of her life following an idiot. Pierce (Local Curmudgeon), star of stage and screen, goes ego crazy long before the Dean does, but keeps it confined to the trailer he won't leave until he gets a trailer.

As for Jeff (Former Lawyer), he was stuck in costume as the Dean so long he came to believe he is actually a bald man (he even starts making bald friends). Serves him right, in a way, since this entire situation was his own fault. If he hadn't suggested shooting in front of the statue of Greendale's most famous alumni, Luis Guzman (President Ceramic Club 1993), believing it would prevent footage of him being used, then the star of Paul Thomas Anderson's cult classic, IMDB, wouldn't have wanted to be in the commercial in the first place. Jeff, when are you going to learn that your efforts to do nothing will always backfire?

Undoubtedly, this was Jim Rash's episode. He's been one of the best things about the show since the first episode and this was his chance to finally be centre stage. Dean Pelton has always been one of the Community's more cartoonish characters. By giving us this glimpse into his mind and soul we were allowed to see that, beneath all those costumes and eccentricities, there is a genuine human being who is just as messed up as everyone else at Greendale.

When he finally came face to face with his Kurtz (Luis Guzman) the Dean was confronted with the horrible truth about himself; he hates his school. Like everyone else, he thought he was too good for Greendale because he went to a proper university. But thanks to Guzman (and one complete mental breakdown) he now realises that Greendale is the best school in the world because it accepts everyone for what they're not. It might not have all the wealth (Ratings) and prestige (Emmys) of a big successful university (CBS Sitcom) but this is a special place and you (NBC) should worship it and the people who are there.

Notes and Quotes

-- Not only does he manage to keep his head while all about him are losing theirs, Abed also saves the day by deciding to give his documentary a happy ending. He is indeed too awesome for the wall.

-- Even though we didn't get to see the Dean's commercial, I loved that it contained a Wilhelm scream, the Mark Sheppard of sound effects.

-- Coppola came out of his madness with one of the greatest films ever made. We don't know exactly what the Dean came out with, we just know it was something even Luis Guzman didn't want to be part of. And this is a guy who was in Pluto Nash and Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.

-- Day 1 ($173 Under Budget). Day 2 ($6,125 Over Budget). Day 9 ($14,125 Over Budget). Day 12 ($17,125 Over Budget).

-- On the first day of the shoot, the Dean showed up dressed in his best Cecil B. DeMille costume (complete with riding crop). I can imagine that the Dean has a massive wardrobe at home filled with all sorts of costumes for every occasion.

-- Looks like they are serious about Troy and Britta. Abed isn't the only one who is worried by this development.

-- Captain Awesome used to go to Greendale? Awesome!

-- Hate to disagree with Abed, but Hearts of Darkness is not better than Apocalypse Now. However, it is way better than Apocalypse Now Redux.

-- Chang (Self Proclaimed Understudy) continues to be underused. Good.

-- Shirley (Moral Compass) also continues to be underused. Not good.

Britta: “It's great that he got a celebrity but why reshoot everything?”
Abed: “Perfectionism, the Dean's first step down a road that ends in self destruction.”

Jeff: “I’ve become a stranger to myself. I’m bald now. I’ve always been bald. I only dreamt of having hair. And now the bald man is awake.”

Dean Pelton: “Okay, you get it wrong one more time, I’m segregating the school.”

Dean Pelton: “Can you just forgive me?”
Jeff: “Yep.”
Dean Pelton: “Why?”
Jeff: “Cause we’ve all been there, which is why we’re all here.”

Annie: “The Dean had his seventh epiphany today, which has given me an epiphany of my own: the Dean is a genius. He has to be! If he isn't, I've given almost two weeks of my life to an idiot. That is unacceptable, therefore the Dean is a genius and I will die protecting his vision!”
Abed: “Are you by any chance familiar with Stockholm Syndrome?”
Annie: “Is it something that the Dean created? Because if not, I don't care.”

Luis Guzman: “What the f*ck is that?”
Dean Pelton: “Oh that's a possum, once you spend some time with them you'll see they're just big gentle rats.”

Abed: “Documentarians are supposed to be objective, to avoid having any effect on the story. Yet we have more effect than anyone because we decide to tell it and we decide how it ends. Will your story be another sad one of yet another man who just wanted to be happy? Or will your story acknowledge the very nature of stories, and embrace the fact that sharing the sad ones can sometimes make them happy?”

Clever, funny and emotional. This was Community at its very best. Four out of four bronze Luis Guzman statues.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

8 comments:

Juliette said...

Loved this episode. I haven't seen Hearts of Darkness, but I have seen Apocalypse Now (and heard the stories) so hopefully a fair chunk of the audience will get most of the jokes...

Also very happy to see less Chang, and I share your worries about Troy and Britta - I just don't see the chemistry there. (Jeff and Annie is something else all together - I'm becoming more of a shipper for them than I've been since Buffy and Spike - not counting True Blood, because the books have an effect on that one)

Celtic Marc said...

"In your face, NBC!"

Well, ladies & gents, I rest my case. Excellent review of a an extraordinary ep of a great show. And YES, let's go ! Let's cancel another Gem (good thing you can't hear me scream)

Oh,talking about screams, anytime, anywhere I hear a Wilhelm scream, I have a huge smile on my face.

Gus Brunetti said...

Genius episode, and you captured it perfecy, Mark.

I, like Juliette, have never seen Hearts of Darkness, and enjoyed the episode all the same. I think great parodies work by themselves too (think Airplane! - I have never seen an airplane disaster movie).

I don't think Chang was underused. I think he was used just as much as it is necessary (and tolerable).

" a Wilhelm scream, the Mark Sheppard of sound effects." - Genius!

Morgan India said...

I haven't seen Hearts of Darkness, but I have read the book by Joseph Conrad AND seen Apocalypse Now. I did it for English at Uni and it is a movie that I pointedly REFUSE to watch again.

Did anyone else notice how fit Jim Rash is? Was not expecting that.

Here is an invisible and tastless cookie for you, Mark.

drnanamom said...

Great review. This show makes me happy in its absurdity.

Gus Brunetti said...

I'm sorry to bring something so tangential to this section, but I must absolutely share it. It's just a testament to how brilliant this show is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19FMU3M7Jtk

ChrisB said...

I must admit that a I envisioned a shark fin when I saw the title of this episode, but I should have had more faith. Wonderful character study of the Dean, and long overdue.

Abed simply rocks. I love the fact that a person with such an interesting brain has such a big heart.

celticmarc said...

2nd evening of rewatch. This one was the dessert.

SOB, Jim Rash was simply magnificent.

My electronic museum of TV Anthology would have a Jeff Winger wing.....