Community Season 3-08 ‘Documentary Filmmaking: Redux’ Recap

The notion of bringing a secondary character to the forefront of an established series is a dicey proposition. You’re asking the audience to follow you into uncharted territory unmoored from the characters they’ve come to know and trust.

People get comfortable with the cast of their favorite series. Cast dynamics become solidified and weekly expectations are created. Changing the dynamic is tricky and if handled poorly can doom an episode and prove costly in the long run of a series, especially a series already struggling to get by.

With that said, Community pulled off this tricky trade-off with unbelievable success. By bringing Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) forward and trusting him to carry an entire episode, the creator of Community, Dan Harmon took a big risk and garnered big rewards with one of the funniest episodes of the season.

Dean Pelton has been assigned the task of creating Greendale’s new television ad; the current ad has been running since the early 90’s and is currently in heavy rotation during Fantasy Island reruns. With a budget of 2000 bucks on the line the Dean, naturally, turns to the study group for help.

While even Jeff (Joel McHale) comes on board, albeit grudgingly, Abed (Danny Pudi) decides to go behind the camera and create a making of the commercial documentary; after all, Heart of Darkness was better than Apocalypse Now, or so says Abed.

We know the commercial will be a debacle, that’s a given. What we don’t know is how and the twisted mind of Dan Harmon works magic out of the idea that the Dean slowly turns into a diva director after landing a big star cameo, Greendale’s own Luis Guzman.

Oh how I’d always hoped Guzman, who’s statue adorns Greendale’s quad, would join the show someday, and here he is in “Documentary Filmmaking Redux” delivering a strong, realistic portrayal of an actor who is baffled by the ludicrousness of what he witnesses from the Dean, as well he should be. By having Guzman comment on the craziness he humanizes the insanity and the weird becomes understandable, even sympathetic.

Jim Rash’s heart of darkness moments are terrifyingly funny from his naked goose-stepping to burning his diploma and smearing the ashes over his naked body, every glorious moment captured by Abed’s all-seeing camera, the crazy just swirls and swirls into a fever pitch before winding up, somehow, in an honestly heart-warming hug.

As for the study group, you have to give this remarkable cast credit for pushing aside their egos to back up Jim Rash with everything they’ve got. Joel McHale is especially brilliant. Jeff is tasked with portraying the Dean and when the bald-cap gets a little too tight after a while Jeff’s madness nearly matches the Dean’s. He even made bald friends.

Sidelighting the Dean’s story were a few brief glimpses of Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Troy (Donald Glover) and their almost romance. The Troy and Britta almost romance is so wonderfully sweet and brilliantly awkward. I don’t know if I want them to get together or just kind of bounce off each other now and then in gloriously awkward/sweet moments that last forever.

Random notes:

  • Many sitcoms attempt moments of sweetness, but the great sitcoms work toward earning those moments and that is what Community did in “Documentary Filmmaking Redux.” The show didn’t just present a sweet reconciliation, the characters earned that moment, a comical but undeniably sweet group hug.
  • With news of Community being taken off of the mid-season schedule, was I the only one feeling like I wanted to join that group hug?Just saying, I may need a hug if this show goes away.
  • I’ve always suspected Jeff Garlin was a major diva.
  • Movies featuring Luis Guzman off the top of my head: Boogie Nights, Waiting…. Was he in Traffic? IMDB is for cowards.