‘Community’ recap: Episode 8: ‘Documentary Filmmaking: Redux’
Dean Pelton directs a commercial for Greendale which quickly spins out of control, while Abed shoots a behind-the-scenes documentary of the trainwreck as it happens.
The episode opens with an unmistakably ’90s commercial for Greendale (the kind that airs during late-night reruns of “Fantasy Island”) calling out the schools’ advanced typing classes and ability to register via fax. Dean Pelton has managed to get $2,000 from the school board to film a new commercial and has decided the study group, with their diversity (Hispanics not withstanding), are the perfect stars. They all agree—other than Abed, who is already filming a documentary about the making of the commercial (because “Heart of Darkness” is way better than “Apocolypse Now”), and Pierce, who says a “screen of stage and star” like himself needs catering and will be in his trailer until his demands are met. (He rents himself a trailer that he locks himself in.)
Filming starts the next day, with Annie as the script supervisor, Shirley as an upbeat mom type (although the Dean wants her to be slightly more sassy), Troy and Britta as hugging students (who are giggling at the idea of hugging,) and Jeff in the role of Dean Pelton, which he immerses himself in, bald cap and all. “Welcome to Dean-dale Community Colle-dean,” yells Jeff-as-Dean “I’m a silly goose, honk honk! Dean-a-lee-do!” certain that the Dean will hate it, which naturally backfires, as the Dean is enamored of Jeff’s portrayal. Jeff convinces the Dean to film all of his scenes in front of the statue of Greendale’s most famous graduate, actor Luis Guzman. Jeff’s sure this will make the footage unusable, as the school won’t have permission to use Guzman’s likeness, and he calls Guzman’s lawyers to alert them of this fact. As he readily admits, Jeff is always willing to go the extra mile to avoid doing something.
Instead, Luis Guzman calls and offers to be in the commercial. This simple phone call sends the Dean spiraling out of control—he now sees the commercial as a way to get Greendale on the map, and declares everything they have already shot unusable, for realsies, and is going home and rewriting everyone’s parts — except for Jeff’s, who is perfect, other than needing more screen-time.
Soon, classes are shut down, Fat Neil is cast as a book reading a book, Garret is some sort microscope being rendered in motion capture technology, and the Dean is walking around the set in tinted aviators and an unzipped grey hoodie. He has Troy and Britta film their hug over and over for 12 hours straight, until they are both crying on the floor as he screams “Fight the power with your hugs! You get this wrong one more time and I’m segregating the school.” On day 9 of filming (and at $14,125 over budget) the Dean fires Jeff, replacing him with Chang, Jeff’s self-proclaimed understudy (who is wearing a bald cap with a Jeff wig under it). Jeff leaves crying, which causes “licensed psychology major” Britta to declare that the Dean has made them all prisoners of his insanity. Annie defends the Dean until she realizes what she’s saying is actually crazy, and the Dean says that anyone who doesn’t want to help him can leave. In a blink he’s alone, save for Abed and his still-rolling documentary camera.
Luiz Guzman, the actor whose phone call started all of this madness, finally comes to the now-deserted campus, and finds the Dean/director editing in his possum-filled office. Dean shows Luis a rough cut of his take on the commercial, which causes Luis to immediately back out of the project. Luis said he thought the original script was fine, which the Dean replies to with “Of course you think that, you went here.” Luis calls the Dean out, saying that Greendale’s a great place and that the Dean doesn’t deserve to be there.
The Dean says he can’t finish his commercial, but he knows how Abed’s documentary will end and begins filming himself at his desk talking about he’s failed the school because he’s insecure and snobby. He prepares to show some board members his commercial, but rather than whatever incredible nonsense the Dean had spliced together, we instead get an actual commercial, with the most of the original script —but including a couple bonus scenes like a silent “pop pop” from Magnitude, and Luis Guzman saying “I loved my time here, I got laid like crazy” — ending with the original ’90s group dance. The board members say it’s better than good, it’s good enough, and it should last them another 16 years. The Dean asks Abed if he made the commercial for him— Abed says it was mainly footage from the first day with some of Abed’s documentary filling in the gaps.
The Dean comes in to the study room, where Jeff, Britta, Shirley, Troy, and Annie are gathered around a laptop watching Abed’s documentary (which features a nude Dean dancing around the campus with the ashes of his burnt university diploma rubbed all over his body). The Dean wants to apologize for going off the deep end, but can’t find anything to say other than “Can you just forgive me?” After a second Jeff replies, “Yep” and the Dean sighs in relief and asks why. Jeff says “Because we’ve all been there. Which is why we’re all here.” and gets up and hugs the Dean, who lets out a tiny squeal. The group (minus Pierce, who is still barricaded in a trailer) join in the hug, and as the rest of them go to help the Dean get the possum out of his office, the camera lingers on Troy and Britta, who are in a tight embrace, which elicits a pointed look from Abed as he tells them the scene’s over.
With the news this week that “Community” has been dropped from the NBC schedule come January, seeing all of those film cameras around an empty Greendale campus was a little too on-point. Although we should get answers to our questions about what’s going on with Jeff, and if Troy and Britta really going to get together (and how in the world Abed would handle that), the bigger questions about the future of this beloved, low-rated, show remain. But really, NBC, would it be so horrible to let these people come back for season 4 and get their diplomas? Think of the syndication numbers! We’d all be winners!