Friday, November 18, 2011

3x08 "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" (Greendale is Where I Belong)

"Documentary Filmmaking: Redux"
Original Airdate: November 17, 2011

The latest episode of NBC's third-year comedy Community fell on the heels of some disheartening news this past week: when NBC's January line-up was announced, the show was noticeably absent from its traditional Thursday night 8PM time-slot. This caused a wave of backlash and sorrow across the fandom, and everything from petitions to creative ways to generate support for the show have since popped up across the Internet. People have hashtagged #SaveCommunity and #sixseasonsandamovie like no tomorrow - everyone from TV critics such Michael Ausiello and Meg Masters to writers for Lost, SNL, and Happy Endings have also taken to Twitter to garner support for the little show that could. So it was with nervous anticipation that thousands of us tuned into last night's episode - perhaps because we felt like "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" had so much riding on it. And it's true, if we are being honest with ourselves: before we even watched the episode, we either consciously or subconsciously held the episode to a higher standard simply because of the week's unfavorable news. But as I have said dozens of times in these reviews, the best thing about Community is that it always exceeds my expectations, and - moreover - always exceeds expectations that I never knew I had. We've had a rough week as Community fans, and this is just the episode that we needed to talk us down from the edge. Not only was it full of laugh-out-loud humor, but also what the show's strongest suit is - heart.

So last night's plot premise was pretty simple: Dean Pelton recruited the study group to help him re-shoot a commercial for Greendale, because their current one looked like it jumped straight out of Blossom and any other late 80s/early 90s television show you could think of (complete with the awesome graphics of that era). The study group reluctantly agreed to help, because for one thing, the Dean manages to guilt them into helping, by mentioning how Greendale "mainly gives" to its students. I thought it was interesting that everyone did have the decency to look slightly guilty at this. After all, what school's Dean would let you do the things that these students have done? (Remember that time Jeff took an ax to the study room table, or when they trashed the study room looking for a pen or when a giant paint grenade exploded and destroyed the study room? You get the picture.)

The whole episode is shot as "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" was (in documentary-style), so naturally Abed is behind the camera the entire episode, doing what he does best - observing and filming. Jeff somehow ends up as the Dean in the commercial (and Joel deserves an Emmy on his imitation of Jim Rash-as-Dean alone), and naturally attempts to screw the commercial up by standing in front of the Luis Guzman statue so that the Dean can't use the footage. His excuse? "I'm always willing to go the extra mile to avoid doing something." Initially, the whole commercial was going to be shot in a day - the Dean didn't have high expectations of himself or his cast/crew (or even those watching), so he simply accepted things the way they were. That is, until Luis Guzman called to inform the Dean that he'd like to be in the commercial. This is the trigger for the Dean's descent into insanity.

And it's interesting - I've always thought of the Dean as kind of this comic relief character (much like Troy), in the way that he is aloof and not very serious. Or, rather, so serious in devoting himself to causes that don't matter, that it becomes comedic (so maybe a bit of Troy with Britta thrown in, for good measure). I never really once questioned what the Dean's motives were, though. I always assumed he just wanted to have a sense of pride in himself because he had never felt that way before. Regardless, I'll cover the later scenes momentarily, but the takeaway from the beginning of this episode is that once the Dean discovers that someone famous wants to be in his movie, he goes full-on crazy. And it's entertaining to see other characters (Annie, Jeff, Britta, Troy) slowly dissolve into the craziness as well. Annie, in particular, is fun to watch insofar as character degeneration - notice how her outfit and hair become more and more disheveled. (Also, take note of: her binder with stacks of Post-It notes on the front and papers spilling out from inside, as well as her lanyard of Sharpie markers).

It is now day twelve of a commercial shoot that should have taken the Dean 24 hours to create. Everyone is exhausted and borderline psychotic. Jeff - who initially detested wearing the Dean costume, complete with a bald cap - has an epiphany, which I know was meant to be played for dramatic laughs, but is really quite interesting to parallel against the Dean. Jeff says: "I've become a stranger to myself. I'm bald now. I've always been bald. I've really only dreamt of having hair. But now, the bald man's awake." 

So here's the thing - the next scene that occurs is between Jeff and the Dean and is a great sense of role reversal. And I couldn't quite put my finger on why it was role reversal the first watch-through of the episode, but I think I've discovered it thanks to my re-watch. Jeff is finally beginning to accept himself the way that he is - flaws and all. We've seen him struggle so much over the course of two years with his love for the study group, and also his acceptance of actually being at Greendale. In "Football, Feminism, and You," Jeff tells Annie that he needs to make peace with being at Greendale. And you know, I don't think he truly had up until this season. It seems like Jeff has grown to accept the fact that Greendale is where he belongs. It's not where he would have chosen to end up, but it's somehow just weirdly exactly where he NEEDED to end up. What's ironic is that right as Jeff realizes this in the episode, the Dean realizes that he doesn't like who he is. He would rather pretend to be someone else than see himself for what he actually looks like. Because the truth is that he despises that man, and we've never really seen this side of him before. The Dean can't accept the image that stares back at him, so the logical thing is to change. But while Jeff's change is good in that he is learning to adapt and grow, the Dean's change is bad because it's a forced change - it's trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. You can't make someone be something they were never meant to be in the first place. Greendale is all about molding students into who they were supposed to become, not entirely different people in general. Does that make sense? Jeff comes to terms with his flaws, while the Dean asserts that Chang's hair "is reality" (and it's obviously not). It's this, again, skewed view of reality that the Dean would rather accept than face the real reason why he is so obsessed with the commercial in the first place. Remember the footnotes I have been giving about facades this season? Here's another!

(Interesting note: This is the second time in two weeks that Jeff has cried during an episode. It makes me wonder how therapy has affected him. My question is answered by the end of the episode, more fully.)

With the Dean going full-out crazy (and even Annie realizing how insane he is), the entire cast quits the commercial, which then forces the Dean into a very dark place. We've reached the Dean's breaking point by the time Luis Guzman arrives. "Of course you think that," he spits to Guzman in anger (Guzman is attempting to assure the Dean that the first commercial was good), "You went here." Now, this is a bit of a shocker because we all know how much the Dean has tried over the years to assert his school as a real school (and to compete with City College for recognition, etc.). So it's a bit of an eyebrow-raise moment when we hear him express disdain for Greendale. "Worship this place," Guzman advises. "It changes peoples' lives."

I think it's interesting that we finally see the motivation for why the Dean acts as obsessively as he does. He's trying to force change on something that's not meant to change. Greendale will never be an Ivy League school, or even a top community college, but it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be a place that fuels acceptance and tolerance. A place where people are embraced because of their flaws. Let's face it - there are too many places out there that shun people with flaws. Shouldn't there be a school that wants you the way you are, and wants you to be the best version of yourself you can possibly be?

There's a quote by Andy Stanley that says: "A true friend is someone who accepts you just as you are, but who loves you too much to leave you that way." And I think that genuinely encompasses the whole feel of this storyline and also the season in general. Truly, the characters within this show have been changed by one another - not, again, forcibly - for better. It's what Community has done for its fans, as well. 

At the end of the episode, Abed comes to the Dean's rescue by finishing up his commercial (and one thing to note about Abed is that he really always tends to rescue those who need it in the face of creative disaster). He exemplified the same humility and kindness when it came to Shirley in "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples." And you know, I love that it is Abed - just Abed - who does this. It's nice to be reminded that he is not a robot. At the end of the episode, Abed asks a poignant question: "Will your story acknowledge the very nature of stories and acknowledge that sometimes sharing the sad ones will make them happy?" Ponder that question for a moment.

The Dean enters the study room to apologize to the group and ask their forgiveness. And in a very un-Jeff-like manner, he forgives him. When the Dean asks why (puzzled, as we all may have been too), Jeff responds with: "Because we've all been there. It's why we're all here." Then, to further this un-Jeff-like behavior, he offers the Dean a hug. (I swear that therapy is molding Jeff in a very unique way this season). Ludwig Goransson's "Greendale is Where I Belong" (which first played during the Jeff and Annie kiss in "Pascal's Triangle Revisited") begins to play. And I will admit it: I began to cry. Because Community is something special. It's that place that we all yearn for - a place where we can be loved and accepted. A place where we belong, because we're flawed, but where we are loved all the same. That's what Greendale is. That's what Community is, to its fans.

Additonal de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- Take note:  Jeff hasn't given a Winger speech since 3x03. Just something to point out.
- "Britta Perry: Anarchist cat owner."
- "Troy and I are buds. Best buds. Air buds." Troy/Britta is quickly becoming too adorable for me to handle. Their hug at the end was perfection.
- The montage of Troy and Britta's commercial hugs literally had me rolling with laughter. Donald's "STOP SAYING I'M DIFFERENT!" stole the entire episode for me.
- "I'm in Psych 101 and even I don't know what's happening."
- Joel McHale continues to look good in every episode. That green sweater was nice.
- "Okay, I don't know why, but this is the last straw."
- "Some flies are too awesome for the wall."

According to sources, episode 3x09 will be Jeff/Shirley themed and titled "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism." Until then, folks! :)

(P.S. Since the news broke of the hiatus, I've contemplated what to do with this blog once the last episode for 2011 airs. I could take weekly requests via my Twitter, where I would do re-watch reviews of either season 1 or season 2 episodes. Drop me a comment or a tweet if you'd be interested in reading. Otherwise, I may retire this blog until Community returns to the air). 


  1. Good review. One point of clarification: the "Greendale Is Where I Belong" theme actually appears for the first time all the way back in the debate episode, when Annie takes down her hair in the library. It's used again in the Family Day episode, when Annie is convincing Jeff to help Pierce with Amber.

  2. I would love to read a review about season 1 and season 2, and then its extras, and the comic that it came with season 1.
    I am kind of obsesed with this show, and proud to call myself a Human Beign

  3. @jheaton - I didn't know that! I am mildly obsessed with how pretty that song is. :)

  4. Don't you dare put this blog on hiatus! I read it every week. Keep going. For Greendale!