March 15, 2013

This Week’s ‘Community’ Recap: Advanced Documentary Filmmaking

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Co-written by Nathan Savin Scott.
Community
Community

Ben: Welcome back, people who either hate or love this show with a fervent passion! This week saw Abed filming the third documentary in his trilogy, following Greendale’s attempt to earn a grant by studying “Changnesia”. Anne and Troy do some sleuthing, Shirley and Britta try to follow “Kevin”, Jeff tries to prove he’s faking it, and Pierce puts on a racist puppet show (because of course). Thoughts, Nathan?

Nathan: Sorry, just putting the finishing touches on my own documentary. It’s called “Nate is Disappointed with Community” and features me frowning for thirty minutes on Thursday nights.

Sorry. I’m being negative. I had high hopes for this episode, seeing that it was directed by Jay Chandrasekhar of Broken Lizard. (He directed Super Troopers, so I thought we’d at least get some inane silliness this episode.) Sadly, nothing of the sort. Jeff did his cynical thing, Pierce did his racist thing, Abed was hidden behind the camera of the “documentary” shoot. I had high hopes for Annie and Troy’s cop pair subplot, but it went nowhere, the funniest moment coming from Troy eagerly smiling at Abed, behind the camera, and Abed giving a thumbs up. Otherwise, yikes. Am I freaking out? Was this episode better than I’m giving it credit for?

Ben: I do believe it was (on a side note, Beerfest wins over Super Troopers). I’m becoming a big fan of the Troy and Anne part (even if that’s not the girl he’s actually dating) and even Pierce’s hand puppets were funnier than they should have been. In retrospect, Chandrasekhar’s influence on this episode is quite obvious. It isn’t very emotionally poignant, and where it is, it immediately goes for either chaos or slapstick. The Troy/Annie thread is a perfect example, considering their discovery of Chang’s past as a victim of human trafficking at a trout hatchery. Although this dynamic became an odd mix of Annie from “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” and Troy from “Basic Lupine Urology”, watching Troy overexaggerate is always a treat and Annie being way too serious is a great foil for it. I did love Troy’s realization he was named after family pets.

And as far as Abed’s place in this episode goes, it was rather underwhelming but gave Danny Pudi some fantastic one-liners to deadpan (“it’s mostly just him practicing frowning and smiling in the mirror. We’ve all done it”). I also love the opening to this episode and it’s retro-futuristic approach to science. It also featured a lot of Kevin Jeong smiling, which is the funniest thing he can do.

Jeff’s plotline seemed to lack any real motivation, though. Nate?

Nathan: You’re a more forgiving man than I. We didn’t get a chance to talk about last week’s episode, because I was busy/lazy/traveling/dog ate homework, but once they resolved Jeff’s dad issue, in a strange one-off episode that was funny, yet terribly anti-climactic, I’m just not sure what the driving force behind the show is any more. In the last scene of this (spoiler!) Chang reveals the entire Changnesia thing is a farce, and he’s working undercover for someone. This seems to be building toward some great final battle, with Chang as the mole on the inside. (War against City College? The ghost of Pierce’s dad? Who knows?)

Which, you know, sure. I’m certain they’ll do a big Saving Private Ryan send-off, and we’ll love it, and the show will go sailing off into the night. For now, though, I have no idea what any characters are motivated by/for, Jeff (despite the dad confrontation) seems exactly the same, and everyone else is there to drop one-liners. I’ll still watch. But, to repeat myself for the two millionth time, this isn’t the show I fell in love with.

Ben: I contend it actually is the show we all fell in love with, yet its flaws are far more obvious. We as a fan base have become less forgiving because we’re aware of the major change which took place behind the scenes. Shirley and Pierce have typically been pushed to the side, Jeff has shown continuous strides yet displays the same superficial habits and insecurities, and the show is just generally terrible at doing romance. It’s a bit like Star Wars fanboyism — I hear far more complaints about Jar-Jar Binks than Ewoks, even though they’re equally cloying and cheesy, because the fictional universe was interrupted by the actual universe.

I also regret not covering last week’s episode, but we always knew it was going to be a single episode. And as far as its climax, Jeff faking an appendectomy in middle school? That’s insane. Like Lena Dunham-crazy, not David Lynch-crazy.

On this episode, however, it did pale in comparison to the past documentary episodes. Troy and Levar Burton? The Dean going insane, burning his diploma, and bathing in the ashes? Those are high standards to match, but I do think it accomplished what a good documentary should. I, for one, was honestly duped about the direction the show might take “Kevin”, and I loved the callback to his divorce. For the first time, Chang began to feel very real and far less cartoonish. And since this is a “documentary” about Jeff coming to terms with the new Chang, convincing the viewer this is actually the case accomplishes its goal. And we had some fun along the way, reminding us this show is still whip-smart. A- from me.

Nathan: Wow. We’re way off on this one. I gave this one a D+. Conflict!! The episode just didn’t do it for me. To pick up on Star Wars and just have a big nerdgasm all over everything, the reason I loved the first three films were because they were about fathers and sons, loyalty, morality, looking out for oneself or doing something for the greater good. It was about choices you made about what type of person you were going to be. Episode One was about taxes and a speeder race.

I’m worried Community is drifting there. Harmon made this show to undermine the very nature of the sitcom, and to let his fanboy flag fly all over network television. This new iteration takes the funny bits (Abed’s deadpan, Shirley’s condescension and judgment, Pierce’s senility, Troy’s physical humor) and presents them without any real context, without rebellion, or social commentary, or even any real motivation. The same faces, the same gags, and I have no fucking idea what the show is about anymore.

Or perhaps I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The new Community is fine. It’s fine. For me, at least, it’s no longer appointment viewing. Except I write about it. So it is.

Next week! “Economics of Marine Biology.” Could we be heading for a Jacques Cousteau documentary homage? A James Cameron aquatic extravaganza? Pierce yelling racist stuff at a flounder? Tune in and we’ll see you next week. TC mark

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