Episode Title: "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux"
Writer: Megan Ganz
Director: Joe Russo
Sixteen years after the last commercial for Greendale Community College was created, Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) screens the old commercial for the study group and he asks for their help in creating a new commercial for the school. Even though the Dean doesn't blackmail Jeff (Joel McHale) this time, almost the entire study group is on board except Pierce (Chevy Chase) who demands his own trailer and catering and Abed (Danny Pudi), who decides to film the whole experience as a documentary.
Sensing that the Dean would be prone to a spectacular mental breakdown, Abed tells his friends that the experience will be akin to the "Heart of Darkness" documentary chronicling the difficult production of "Apocalypse Now." Except, Abed shares this info less as a warning and more as an excited declaration about the eventual outcome of his own project. Also, Francis Ford Coppola is a cinematic genius. Dean Pelton is not.
That doesn't stop Annie (Alison Brie) from deluding herself about the Dean's abilities, when her own sanity starts to snap. After two weeks into a single day shoot, Annie becomes convinced that the Dean knows what he's doing. The alternative that she wasted half a month following a madman's whims is just unacceptable.
Jeff gets the worst of it, having been cast as the Dean himself. And even when Jeff tries to openly lampoon the Dean's catchphrases, physical mannerisms and feminine body language, his attempts to anger the Dean into firing him only result in an even bigger role in the commercial. Keep in mind, the Dean seems to have some sort of physical desire for Jeff and he projected his own self image upon Jeff for an idealized version of himself in the commercial. Of course the Dean was going to love it!
In a way, what comes next is partially Jeff's fault. He makes sure that all of his scenes are shot in front of the bronze statue of Greendale's most famous graduate, Luis Guzmán. Jeff even "helpfully" alerts Guzmán's lawyers to get his scenes stricken from the commercial. This backfires when Guzmán calls the Dean directly and says that he would love to be in the commercial when he gets free in the next few weeks.
At that point, the Dean begins his descent into insanity. Forgetting that he isn't a really a director (or talented), the Dean demands that Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Troy (Donald Glover) reshoot a hugging scene for 12 hours until they are both traumatized at the sight of each other. The one day production spirals out of control and takes over the entire college in the subsequent weeks.
Even Jeff starts to lose himself in the role of the Dean, having stayed in the full costume and bald cap for half a month, with his understudy, Chang (Ken Jeong) mimicking his every move. When the Dean finally decides that the idealized version of himself should have hair, Jeff refuses to remove the bald cap for the integrity of the role. But Chang is only to happy to be the star, ripping off his bald cap to reveal his Jeff-styled wig beneath.
Finally, even Annie concedes that the Dean is crazy and the crew abandons him… but not before he makes Jeff cry! By now, the Dean is several thousand dollars over budget and belligerent with the Greendale College Board, with his own job on the line if the commercial is a bust.
When Guzmán finally arrives weeks later, the Dean is practically living in his office alongside a wild opossum. Guzmán refuses to be in the commercial after seeing the Dean's edit and he comes to realize that the Dean isn't just crazy… he's ashamed of Greendale. Knowing that his time as Dean may be near the end, the Dean undergoes a rebirth of sorts by burning his college degree and smearing the ashes on his naked body to reaffirm his love of Greendale.
But much to the Dean's surprise, the College Board loves his commercial, deeming it "good enough." Dean admits that what they saw wasn't his commercial, but the two men are more interested in what kind of tacos to have for lunch. Abed confesses that he violated the narrative of his documentary to save the day because "Some flies are too awesome to remain on the wall."
Later, the Dean apologizes to the study group and even Jeff is quick to accept him back with a hug… which quickly becomes a group hug. And only Abed notices that Britta and Troy don't seem interested in letting go of each other.
"Community" creator Dan Harmon admitted that this episode was "the least accessible, least marketable episode in its alienating history!" And that's true, but what did you expect from a parody of a twenty year old documentary about a thirty two year old film?
This was Jim Rash's first real showcase as a series regular, and he was "Deantastic" as always. "Community" has always had a somewhat bizarre sense of humor and Rash embodies that into the Dean's personal "Heart of Darkness." Hell, Jeff gets sucked into the madness just by pretending to be the Dean. Plus, I don't think there's been a better use of Chang all year than his brief moments imitating both Jeff and the Dean.
But for all of the craziness, this was still a really funny episode that even managed to slowly advance the Britta and Troy romance that's been simmering in the background. More than that, the denouement got to the root about what "Community" does best: comedy with a heart. By the end of the half hour, if you don't feel for the Dean then you don't have a heart. Every member of the study group has had their dark days but they still manage to forgive each other and the Dean. There's nothing fake about Jeff's gesture to the Dean and it comes off as a genuine moment of affection.
Of course, Pierce has learned nothing because his (personally rented) trailer was driven to Los Angeles, where he encountered a similarly tempered Jeff Garlin. Even Luis Guzmán had some unexpectedly heartfelt moments describing his love for the college. It's been suggested that this is a meta message for NBC to appreciate "Community" for what it is. And I can see that.
"Community" may be off the schedule for a while but it has a truly passionate following. NBC can argue that "Whitney' has slightly better ratings, but I can guarantee that no one will ever be as enthusiastic about that show in the way that "Community" fans love this series.
Here's a hint for NBC, if you don't want "Community" to be slaughtered in the ratings then stop scheduling it against "The Big Bang Theory." And if you're watching "The Big Bang Theory" instead of "Community," then I say "Stop supporting the faux geeks!"
Greendale is your home, and we would all loose something special if "Community" went away and never came back.
Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.