Review: Community, “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking”

Science tells us hitting his head would only cure him if hitting his head was the original cause.

I admit to have been a little confused when I saw we were going for “Abed Makes a Documentary,” Round 3. Did we really have to do this again? (And we’re not even counting the semi-documentary in Season 2’s “Messianic Myths” and the historic Ken Burns-style “Pillows and Blankets.”)

But who am I to complain when “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” is easily the strongest episode of this season so far?

This episode wasn’t filled with a crazy amount of laughs, but it was full of some pretty good moments. There weren’t any of the awkward pacing issues, overly rushed endings, and most importantly, competing subplots that have plagued this season. We just get a solid episode whose conceit (although not novel) is naturally executed. This was an episode where it simply felt like we were in a good place, and that hasn’t been true for much of this abbreviated season.

The episode opens with the title cards for another documentary by A.G. Nadir. The Dean, on course to help “Kevin” recover from Changnesia, discovers that his rehabilitation is actually a financial drain on the school. He has tasked Abed with filming a documentary about the pun-filled disease in a bid to obtain grant money from the MacGuffin Neurological Institute, whose coffers must be as deep as its name is fantastic.

While the rest of the study group warms up to Kevin’s wide-eyed, youthful optimism, Wet Blanket Winger is having none of it.

Jeff sets out to use the documentary as a tool to investigate Chang, waiting for the inevitable moment when Kevin reveals his former Ben-like ways. While ostensibly helping the grant bid, Jeff sends out Annie and Troy – or rather investigators Houlihan and Partner – to find out where Chang was before awakening with Changnesia. Shirley and Britta are tasked with following Kevin at present to get footage for the documentary. Pierce, meanwhile, is chosen to host the reception for the grant committee (whose “blackface Senor Wences” bit would be sure to ruin any grant consideration in the event Jeff is unable to prove Chang a fraud.)

Britta, after being remarkably on-point (even if accidentally) the past few episodes, has finally returned to being the worst. Britta Brittas the attempt to film Shirley, as she reveals her most personal and touching story (Shirley was legally dead for three minutes?!) Naturally, everything she gathers is, according to Abed, “unusable crap.” All is right with the world.

The top prize, however, goes to Houlihan and Partner. Annie’s/Troy’s investigation harkens back to another fun episode (the Law-and-Order inspired “Basic Lupine Urology”), with a few extra quirks. Troy’s consistent effort to assert the opposite of whatever Annie says was almost as wonderful as his knowingly adorable smile to camera after each “argument.” Annie, meanwhile, plays him like a fiddle to become the bad cop in their routine to shake down the trout farmer to reveal his dark secret.

When the grant committee finally arrives, Jeff thinks he finally has the smoking gun to bring the Chang out of Kevin (although it should have been a clue that his smoking gun came from Britta’s accidental footage.) Jeff brings Chang’s ex-wife, Alessandra, during his presentation to reintroduce her to Kevin, then showd footage that Chang actually remembered her number all along. When Kevin reveals a plausible story about finding the number in the vents, a desparate Jeff locks lips with the former Mrs. Chang saying that it should only bother him if he knew who she was. (“My logic is flawless!”)

After The Dean and the group regain control from Jeff’s crusade, the grant committee awards Greendale the $40,000 to study Changnesia since Jeff’s lengths to prove its falsehood means the disease is clearly misunderstood. Ultimately defeated, Jeff relents saying if there ever were a persona anyone wanted to leave behind, it would be Chang.

…of course, by the ending tag, we know that not everything is as they Chang.

Ken Jeong was really excellent in this episode, convincingly playing the innocent Kevin. His rediscovery of microscopes and his reasoning that he must be 15 years old as determined by use of a mirror are all quite excellent. I would have liked to have given Kevin a little more time to integrate with the group before he revealed the dark side (if at least to give us a new dynamic to work with for a little while), but because we have fewer episodes to play with, it’s an easily forgivable decision.

“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” weaves a well-knit story. Each character in our study group something to do while all working toward the same final goal, leaving no one actor doing something just to do something (well, aside from Chevy because, well…) While it wasn’t the funniest episode, it really felt like no minute was wasted to create a naturally flowing story that came together in the end. Welcome back, Community. I’ve missed you.

Final thoughts:

  • Who is Chang’s co-Chang-spirator? City College seems like the best bet, but if “German Invasion” taught us anything, it’s that the study group has plenty of enemies…
  • “I was pretty relieved to see it was a naked Asian guy, not an angry trout.” If I had a dollar…
  • The not-so-subtle writing on the blackboard: “It’s not what Community can do for you, it’s what you can do for Community.” Watch it live, people!
  • Chang’s recitation verbatim of the whole Shirley/Jeff scene was wonderful. It had the danger of going on for too long, but I think they hit the right time.
  • “Rent Memento.”
  • I already mentioned it, but I’ll say it again, I love the name “MacGuffin Neurological Institute.”
  • Golden moment: When Britta starts a sentence with the phrase “With my photography skills,” Jeff immediately passes camera to someone else.
  • Troy’s realization of the origins of his name
  • What happened to Troy and Britta? With the clear tension between Jeff and Britta last week, it’d be nice to revisit Troy and Britta again, just to remind us it didn’t fall apart when no one was looking.
  • Broken Lizard’s Jay Chadrasekhar came back to direct this episode. Perhaps the reason why it came together better than earlier episodes?

Grade: A-. Still not quite perfect, but I’m glad to see us get here for the first time, now that half the season is over. (It’s worth noting that it probably would be a B or B+ compared to previous seasons, but within the localized season 4 grading curve, we end with A-.)

Written by: Dwight Tejano

Dwight is the founder of Open the Fridge, which he started in 2008 and rebooted in 2010. Due to the nature of early adopting, his bank account is normally empty. He likes to sing in world-renown choruses to forget such things.

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