Episode 308: Documentary Filmmaking: Redux
Hairdresser’s much anticipated review of “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux
This is going to be broken up into various sections. Fun!
I. The Pursuit of Perfection
To me, this is the overarching theme of this episode. The Dean is inspired by the news that Luis Guzmán will be appearing in the new Greendale commercial, so he goes all out in order to create the best community college ad the late-night syndicated TV world has ever seen. I’ll be going more in depth on the Dean’s psyche later, but his quest to reach the transcendent has some really interesting fallout. When I watched this, I was really reminded of “The Crash,” the best episode of Mad Men, Season 6. The situations mirror themselves: Mad Men has Chevy, Community has Luis Guzmán, they both want to do something they’ve never done before, and they’ll both do anything to get it. Both episodes have an anxiety to them that either paralyzes or kick-starts the characters into action, depending on the character. This anxiety is rampant in both cases: putting genius on a timeline is tough, and when it comes up short, the real hysterics start. Both episodes have a harsh falling action as the realization that maybe perfection is impossible.
In both cases, this is brought on by a catalyst, a spark, something big. Chevy, Luis Guzmán (I’m not getting tired of typing these things in succession).Both Greendale and SCDP (I think it was still called that at that point) were in a fugue state at that point. They got their impetus! Yay! Let’s go! That feeling of exhilaration with an opportunity like that is special. It’s burning, you can’t sit still, you’re almost compulsed to action. The Dean wants to throw everything away after he finds out Greendale’s most famous alumni is coming back. Don wants to make the ad campaign to end all ad campaigns, so he desperately searches old ads to find perfection. It’s an interesting analysis of each character: Don looks back at his legacy, his invented life, what he’s made. Dean Pelton wants to ignore his past and start anew. It’s a divergence that leads to the same quest with the same results. The excitement and inception manifests itself according to the person, which I found interesting.
Now you have the ambition, you gotta sit down and grind it out of you. Or in Mad Men’scase, do meth. That’s where the separation of the two becomes more apparent: The Dean thinks he can power through on his own steam, while Don relies on chemical inspiration. The Dean’s epiphany (if it can really be called that) powers some weird vibes in the execution.
Imagine the Mad Men ensemble working together on a project. Now imagine them on meth. They reenact the William Tell scene with exactoknifes and Ken does a jig. In other words, Don is the only one working, if you can call it that. He searches for an old ad he did that Peggy doesn’t think exists. They’re not really trying, or they’re trying too hard to find something that doesn’t exist. The Dean turns into a raging asshole of determination. The Dean has one path of success, while SCDP is willing to throw anything at the wall in hopes that it’ll stick. Not surprisingly, Dean Pelton is more dedicated than Don is. Don gives up, saying he doesn’t want the place to turn into a whorehouse. Apparently meth isn’t as powerful as Luis Guzmán.
4. Realization that this might not be all that great
The Dean peers over his work, an incoherent mess. It’s messy, it’s frantic, it’s awful. In SCDP, they didn’t spell Chevy right. It’s a heavy realization, getting a C on a test you thought you aced. The Dean has a total breakdown, smearing himself with ashes in the most surreal scene of the episode. Don just says “fuck it” and explains how it’s not his fault. Yes, Don, the moral relativist as always. Community has always been a very moralistic show, so it’s nice to see it continue in that vein. The Dean, for all his weirdness, is one of the most sympathetic characters on the show, and it’s heartbreaking to see him fall to these depths. I stopped empathizing with Don somewhere in Season 4.
Well, the Dean owns up to it. He makes a video explaining why he’s leaving. Don is an asshole and doesn’t care. Classic Don.
I’m leaving this one up to you guys. I’ll put it down in the Discussion section to remind you.
II. The Commercial’s Effect on the Study Group
Jeff: This is pretty much Jeff’s worst nightmare: he has to portray the Dean. So, in a very Jeff decision, he turns it up to 11, interspersing every third word with “Dean” and claiming “this is my sister’s outfit,” a nice callback to “Intro to Political Science.” In typical Greendalian fashion, this plan backfires and the Dean loves it. He wouldn’t be Jeff if he just gave up here, however, so he intentionally shoots his scenes in front of the Luis Guzmán statue in order to incite copyright laws. Stupid sexy Jeff. He calls Guzmán’s lawyers to advise them of the commercial, and surprise! Luis wants to be in it. Even with the total reworking of the script, he’s still gonna be in it, with even more screentime. Greendale seems hellbent on teaching Jeff lessons, so it’s fun to see him just get screwed over sometimes. He seems more frustrated than disturbed compared to the other characters at first. He just wants to get out! But when Pierce mistakes him for the Dean, he loses himself completely. He becomes the Dean, and when the Dean tells him the bald cap is phony and to take it off, Jeff refuses. It’s a weird little meditation on identity, and when Chang rises to the occasion (hilariously wearing a bald cap over his Jeff wig), he’s booted out. This is the last we see of him until the end of the episode, when he’s naturally the first to forgive the Dean. They’ve all been to dark places, and while Jeff’s may have been quieter, he knows all too well the feeling. He even hugs the Dean! Aww.
Annie: She wants to work in hospital administration, so being a script supervisor, or “supervisor girl” according to the Dean, is right up her alley. Annie is meticulous with everything, so ostensibly she’d be the perfect woman for the job. As she puts it, she’s basically the star, and it’s hard to argue with that. The Dean’s impossible expectations start to come out when she can’t find a movie he’s in (I am shocked Boogie Nights didn’t come to the Dean’s mind). As the episode continues, she determines the Dean is a genius, because why else would she be wasting her time doing this? It’s a brilliant little piece of cognitive dissonance that’s totally consistent with her character. This episode does a really good job at pushing the characters to dark, weird places. Of course, having Chang play Jeff play the Dean is the breaking point, and she finally acknowledges that he is insane. Then, group hug!
Britta: Of course Britta will hug Troy for the commercial! They’re best buds! Air buds! But their hug isn’t good enough to pull a 400 year old dagger out of the nation’s heart, and they’re compelled by ropes to hug. It breaks them in a hilarious fashion (I can never get enough of Troy crying). Not even Psyche 101 can explain what’s happening to her. Her and Troy going for a comfort hug, then freaking out is one of the funniest parts of the episode. She declares it to be a violation of human rights (and she’s not wrong).
Shirley: Shirley has a great reason for coming to Greendale: she needs to balance school and homelife without breaking the bank, and Greendale offers that. However, her segment isn’t happy and threatening enough (the word he’s looking for is sassy). The Dean’s egomaniacal tendencies manifest themselves first to Shirley, who’s one of the more aggressive members of the group (in many cases passive!). I think it’s interesting she doesn’t really have interaction with him after the Heart of Darkness scenario. What do you make of that?
Troy: this is the first step to a real relationship with Britta, aside from the confusion of “Competitive Wine Tasting.” It’s cute, then is subsequently ruined in Season 4.
Pierce: Pierce’s ambitions of showbusiness have always been a favorite part of his character. He’s a sympathetic David Brent with a bit of an attitude problem. When he finds out he’s going to be put in a commercial, he demands a trailer. When the Dean says that’s not going to happen, he rents his own trailer and won’t come out of it until he gets his own trailer (and catering). He then ends up in Hollywood. Classic Pierce!
Abed: This, for me, was the most interesting reaction to the commercial. Abed wants to be a filmmaker, and he knows an Apocalypse Now scenario when he sees one, so he pulls out his camera.Community has established that Abed’s films are incredibly meta and self-referential (a bit like the show). When the Dean has a mental breakdown, Abed has something to break down and according to him, he “follows the fire, not the smoke.” Abed’s meta infatuation makes him the perfect person for documentation. He’s more interested in the execution and style of the Dean’s documentary than the finished product. Abed clearly has some prescient qualities, and in a scene with Britta, he tells that this is all going to end in self destruction. He might even try taking it to some festivals! Abed’s films have always been pretty self serving, from the Jesus meta meta meta (I’m missing a few metas) film to the piece about his parents to Piece’s bequeathings. Abed’s detachment from emotion makes him the perfect documentarian, searching for objective truth. He’s the only one who has a full grasp on the situation. Here’s the moral conundrum: should Abed stop it? He only has so many cameras. This is a telling line for Abed. He wants perfection too. He wants to see the Dean collapse for the sake of art. I think Abed knows he should intervene, and the ensuing moral struggle is difficult for him, but it’s been shown before how unrelenting Abed is. Even when the Dean realizes what his relentlessness has done and asks for privacy, Abed keeps rolling. The camera is his way of understanding emotions, a way to replay scenes from his life. It’s an interesting concept, one that makes Abed less robotic. He wants to understand and empathize, he just needs some help. When the Dean finally hits rock bottom, Abed does something he doesn’t regularly do: he sacrifices his art for the Dean. He makes a commercial that’s better than good: good enough. As he puts it, “some flies are too awesome for the wall.” I really liked his final monologue, where he says that telling the sad stories can make them happy. He decided to tell the story, so no matter how objective he wanted to be, he still had most of the control. It’s a great moment for Abed, and his stories will only get better.
III. The Commercial’s Effect on the Dean
Was there any doubt that the Dean wouldn’t pick the study group for the commercial (lack of hispanics notwithstanding)? It’s made abundantly clear that they’re his favorite students (especially in “Paradigms of Human Memory”), and of course he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have Jeff portray him. He just wants to portray a typical day at Greendale, “except for that the students look happy and you can’t smell that smell.” Well, when Luis Guzmán calls, shit gets real. He loves Luis (he even loves him in IMDB)! With that spark, he goes off to greatness. His descent into crazy artist mode is quick, but it feels natural, as the Dean is crazy. He uses the PA system for casting calls, makes Fat Neil play a book reading a book, and berates Garrett’s motion capture performance. He even wants an orange to be in it! Symbolism! Then he yells at Britta and Troy for not hugging correctly. He’ll even segregate the school if they get it wrong one more time. He’ll go back on everything he believes just to get this damned commercial right. He’s even willing to lose his job over it. This is a terrifying new side of the Dean, but somehow it works. His desires for Greendale to be taken seriously is so potent that it eventually had to manifest itself as a monster. When he puts up an ultimatum, everyone leaves in a hilarious bit of editing. When Luis finally arrives, everything is in shambles. No one is there, except for a possum. Luis thought the original script was pretty good! But of course he went to Greendale, he went there. The Dean’s self loathing really comes out in a nice piece of acting by Jim Rash. He finally realizes how special Greendale is, and that he knows how this will all end. When Abed fixes the commercial, it’s a special moment. He got most of what he needed the first day! The study group forgives him quickly, saying “they’ve all been there.” It’s a wonderful culmination of forgiveness and acceptance, the things Greendale are made of.
IV. Notes from the Commentary
Participants: Dan Harmon, Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash
This episode is pre-Pudi twins. Jim Rash is going to be the godfather (according to him). Gillian Jacobs’ godfather didn’t acknowledge her in public due to his divorce. Sad.
Dan calls everyone knuckleheads.
Gillian is pretty much Britta.
People thought the orange was a Coppola reference, but it wasn’t.
The trailer was the “perfect Chevy solution,” according to Dan.
Dan was hungover.
Megan Ganz wrote the episode, and the script got away from Dan.
Joel claims this is Jim’s 4th best performance.
Alison made a chart of how many pencils she should have per episode.
Ken was very excited for the wig/bald cap combo.
According to Jeff, the bald cap was painful.
At first, Mark Hamill was approached to be the statue. He rejected Dan in such a way that made Dan think he was the coolest guy ever.
LUKE SKYWALKER LIKES COMMUNITY. LET’S ALL APPRECIATE THAT.
They were very excited to watch Jim strip.
V. General Discussion
How does the Dean show his accountability? Does he run and hide? What’s significant about this? How is it different than Don?
What do you make of Shirley not having any Deanteraction after his breakdown? Is there anything meaningful there or was there too much to put into 22 minutes?
What’s up with Chang in this episode?
How do you feel that the mockumentary style works for Community? Would you want to see another episode like it, and why or why not?
I don’t feel like I talked about what was funny in this episode. So, what made you laugh?
08/26/2013 – 11:33 AM – 20 LIKES
On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-1017937758 (page 183)