The Telefile

Community: Worst Documentary Ever

by Ethan Alter March 15, 2013 10:38 am
<i>Community</i>: Worst Documentary Ever

All season long, I've bemoaned Community's attempts to recapture what it was before instead of trying to move forward and embrace what it is now. "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking" is a case study in that, as it resurrects the documentary device that the Dan Harmon version of the show employed to such memorable (and formally innovative) effect and proceeds to get a failing grade in execution.

Perhaps the central problem with the episode is that it wastes the documentary gimmick on the show's worst character -- former Spanish teacher/security guard/despot Chang, who could have easily been written off the show following the events of Season 3, but was brought back under ridiculously contrived (even for a sitcom) circumstances as a nicer version of himself due to his "Changnesia" -- a fake disease that has supposedly rendered him unable to remember any of his past crimes. From the beginning, this storyline has been flat and forced, but the writers have refused to abandon it, even though the end game is blindingly obvious. So we suffered through 22 minutes of the study group acting like complete morons by one-by-one coming to embrace Changnesia as a real thing only to "discover" in the closing credits sting that -- surprise! (not) -- Chang has been lying this whole time and is actually planning to wreak more havoc upon Greendale. (The characters themselves aren't hip to this revelation, though, as resident documentarian Abed didn't capture it on his camera. Which unfortunately means that we're in for a few more episodes of them being unable to see his obvious façade.)

Leaving aside the Chang stuff for a moment, this version of the documentary stunt also flopped because the writers didn't have a clear model they were striving to imitate. In past seasons, Harmon always hitched the gimmick to specific docs, including Heart of Darkness and The Civil War. Although "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking" namechecked Hoop Dreams and Capturing the Friedmans, it had very little stylistically in common with those films or any other non-fiction feature. Instead, it was a loose assemblage of documentary devices (handheld camerawork, talking heads) swirled together into an almost deliberately amateurish home movie. Had the writers actually gone back and watched Season 3, they would have remembered that Abed has become a skilled documentary filmmaker in the world of the show, even if his chief talent is mimicry. (The Heart of Darkness homage is all the more hilarious because it's such a close, careful replication of the real thing.) So yeah... Bad idea + Bad execution = Bad episode. Let's leave the past in the past from now on, hmmm? In the meantime, here's each character's least real moment in this fake documentary, as well as their funniest line. And boy, were there slim pickings for the latter this week.

Least Real Moment: Striking a truce with Chang, even going so far as to shake his hand. It's times like these that this whole "new Jeff" routine is tough to believe in.
Funniest Line: "They're the same idiot."

Least Real Moment: The way she completely britta'd that video interview with Shirley seemed implausible even for Britta.
Funniest Line: "Told you it was controversial."

Least Real Moment: His random Tree of Life slam. This dude loves My Dinner With Andre but not Terrence Malick? Nuh uh... I ain't buying it.
Funniest Line: "Doubtful. When he's alone, he mainly just practices smiling and frowning. We've all done it."

Least Real Moment: Her bad cop/bad cop routine with Troy, which played like a discarded idea from last season's Law & Order spoof.
Funniest Line: "I'm telling you, we should have sprung for the name brand glitter. Look, cheap glitter, expensive glitter. Money talks, people."

Least Real Moment: Ditto.
Funniest Line: "Growing up I had a cat named Troy, a bird named Troy and a hamster named Troy. They were all older than me. Oh my God."

Least Real Moment: Hiring Chang -- the guy she had sex with and feared might be the father of her kid, two details she didn't mention last night -- to work in her sandwich shop. While her religion consuls her to forgive and forget, this seems like a trial even Jesus might shy away from.
Funniest Line: "I believe the Good Lord made Chang, Chang. Kevin is a choice."

Least Real Moment: Pierce's Archie Bunker-esque racism has always been a part of his character, but it's gotten obnoxiously blatant this year to the point where it's no longer even slightly amusing. The too-broad blackface Señor Wences bit was the tipping point that pushed Pierce completely into the realm of a crotchety old man cartoon.
Funniest Line: Nothing. When does Chevy Chase quit the show again?

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