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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: Community, "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking"

Season 4, Episode 6
Grade: A-
Verdict: Moving on from beginning and intermediate documentary filmmaking (as seen in previous seasons), Advanced Documentary Filmmaking delivers Community's strongest episode of the season, allowing us to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Tonight's episode of Community teaches us some things about forgiveness and starting over and trust and yadda yadda. Mostly it teaches us that this show doesn't have to suck anymore, even without Dan Harmon. I admit, my expectations were low, and they've been tempered by the mediocrity we've seen so far in season 4. Maybe my grading would be less favorable if this episode hadn't been something akin to an oasis in a parched, unfunny desert of bad writing and boring plots. Still, it was and so it is.

In this episode, Community moves to an Office/Parks & Rec mockumentary camera style as Abed tries to create a documentary surrounding the mysterious circumstances of Chang's return, capturing his alleged Changnesia and the group's various responses to his memory loss. Jeff is of course fervently opposed to supporting what he believes to be a ploy on Chang's part, and combines his pseudo-lawyer judo with Abed's documentary footage to try to trap Chang in a lie. Annie and Troy team up as good cop/bad cop to investigate, and Britta, Pierce, and Shirley take on small, backseat roles.

Here's a few things I really liked about this episode:
a) small, funny bits of dialogue sprinkled all over the place
b) no focus on the Britta/Troy/Abed dynamic
c) we barely have to watch Chevy Chase phone it in
d) the characters finally stop moving backwards (and in returning to their characteristics of season 2, are actually moving a bit forward in relation to recent setbacks)
e) perfect amount of Dean

I was really skeptical about this whole Chang loses his memory plot. Chang is just this weird character that Community never seems to know what to do with; they even joke about this problem when the Dean refer to all of the roles he's played on the show (teacher/disgraced student/etc.). That said, I think this really worked for them. Community's best episodes always do that thing where they're outlandish and ridiculous but do have a short, serious message or moral that's just enough to make you care and not so much to make you gag. We get that here when Jeff realizes that he doesn't care if Chang is making up his story about amnesia. Ultimately, he wasn't well-liked and wanted to move on from that persona. Given Jeff's past, you can see how he'd identify with that.

The episode ends with the hint of a diabolical scheme on Chang's part, which I was disappointed by. I think we get enough of the asshole character on this show. It'd be nice to see Chang actually just be stupidly naive and sweet for a while, even if he ultimately regresses back to his former self.

I also feel like this episode treads a lot of old territory. I'm thankful for it, but it's not a great thing when the best thing your season's done so far is something that reminds you of old episodes. It'd be nice if it could... you know... tackle both new + funny. And is it just me, or would it have been really cool if they'd thrown in some Memento references?

So, for all of the above, A-.

Favorite quote: "This need to be the Hoop Dreams of things people care about," - The Dean
Favorite moment: Tie between Pierce doing racist hand puppets and Britta's awful camerawork
Least favorite moment:  Last minute of the episode

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