Mar 17, 2013

Community: "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking"

By Nico Danilovich

Thursday night’s episode of Community, “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking”, finally gave us a glimpse into one of the season’s burning issues: Chang and his “Changnesia”. Instead of simply presenting the story in its usual style however, the show opted to tell the story through the lens of one of Abed’s documentaries. Fortunately, this format allowed for energetic storytelling that also fit the subject matter quite well. Despite this, the episode overall did not achieve as much success as the show’s prior two documentary-style episodes. And so ultimately, while I was glad to see the study group back at Greendale and placed within a well-woven storyline, I was forced to wonder if revisiting the documentary concept for the third time was worth one of the few precious episodes that Community has left.

The episode focused primarily on Jeff and his reaction to the atmosphere of Greendale in response to Chang. We quickly learned that Greendale was set to potentially receive a large amount of funding in the form of a grant meant to help aid the study of Changnesia. Although everyone else bought into Chang’s story and rallied behind the cause, Jeff, smartly, refused to buy into Chang’s story. This plot point worked particularly well because it once again allowed Jeff to fulfill the negative Nancy role of the study group without coming off as a jerk; Never for a second did I buy into Chang’s façade, and even if someone else did, they almost certainly never blamed Jeff for not buying into it. Eventually, Jeff decided to try to expose Chang with the help of his friends, achieving this by pretending to help the cause; he sent the rest of the study group out on “helpful errands” that would actually help him expose Chang. Jeff’s plan almost worked out, but in the end, he only managed to paint himself as a monster in the eyes of his friends. In the style of season 4 Jeff, he could not handle the negative experience of being ostracized by his friends and consequently made amends with Chang. Although this ending seemed emotionally unsatisfying at first, it actually turned out to work quite well, as Chang was revealed to indeed be faking his Changnesia.

During all of this, each member of the study group was successfully utilized for laughs and dynamic storytelling. Abed’s manipulation of the people around him for better equipment and his film/documentary-based jokes were spot on, as was the hilarious dynamic between Annie and Troy. Shirley and Britta’s storyline, though less funny, provided enough laughs alongside an important plot point that kept the story moving. Pierce, in what seems to be a common trend of the season (if not the the entire series), was successfully utilized for one joke and otherwise forgotten. Although these characters were all split up into separate storylines, their storylines all stemmed from the same central issue and thus came off not only as funny, but refreshingly cohesive as well.

The documentary format of the episode worked well as a storytelling device, as it allowed for humorous cutaways and interviews. Additionally, it reflected the investigative themes of Jeff’s quest and served a vital role in the central plot of the episode. However, I was also slightly unimpressed by the decision to revisit the concept of documentary filmmaking. Community has touched upon the documentary style two times before and, in regards to the style at least, it did it better the first two times. All three episodes utilized the format effectively in regards to story, however the first two episodes also explored the concept of documentary filmmaking in a manner that said something interesting about the genre itself. While “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” did make a couple of solid film-based jokes, it never was really able to say anything particularly insightful.

If this season was not the last season or even a longer season, this may have been more excusable. The truth of the matter, however, is that Community is nearing its end and should use this shortened season to ensure that every episode is a homerun. I loved “Remedial Chaos Theory”, but I don’t necessarily want to see another split timeline episode, unless it’s done in a particularly new and exciting way. I would challenge Community to continue to explore new concepts that it has not explored before and give the fans of the show the final season they deserve. If, however, this is not going to happen, at least stay at Greendale and continue to tell solid and cohesive stories like “Alternative History of the German Invasion” and “Advance Documentary Filmmaking”.

Grade: B

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