11/18/2011 05:00 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2012

Community - Season 3, Ep. 8: "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux"

Of all the episodes to air on the heels of the news that Community would initially disappear from NBC's midseason schedule in January, "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" was a perfect example of why this show is probably doing so poorly in the ratings and what makes this show so special in my opinion. Richard Lawson of The Altantic Wire wrote a piece entitled "What 'Community' Did Wrong." As I read through it, I couldn't disagree with any of his assessments of the show but everything he listed as a negative were things I loved about the show. I happen to like television shows that are somewhat insular. I want to be rewarded for being a dedicated viewer of the show with callbacks and background jokes. I may be a weirdo but when someone asks me if they can just start watching a television show from now and skip all the previous episodes, the shows where I can respond "No, you have to watch from the beginning" are the ones I enjoy the most. I'm sure that doesn't do NBC any favors.

One of the first things I noticed this season was the inclusion of Jim Rash (Dean Pelton) in the opening credits. I figured we were due for a Pelton-centric episode but this went above and beyond my wildest imagination. The school board gives the dean a modest budget to update Greendale Community College's current long-running commercial. The dean, of course, asks "Greendale's brightest, most coincidentally diverse (Hispanics notwithstanding" study group" to help make his modest dreams come true. Abed, seeing the writing on the wall, decides to make a documentary of the making of this commercial ("Ever seen Hearts of Darkness? WAY better than Apocalypse Now").

It appeared the little commercial was going to be fine (and under budget) until, through Jeff's machinations, Luis Guzman, probably the only famous alumni in Greendale history and bearer of his own statue agrees to appear in the commercial. Suddenly, the dean see an opportunity to make his "just good" commercial into something special. That's when meglomania sets in under the watchful eye of Abed's documentary crew.

There's so many things going on in this episode - Jeff's over the top Dean Pelton impression, Troy and Britta's attempt at a friendly hug, the Modern Family style interviews - but it all centers around Rash's amazing performance. He's always been amusing on the show but this episode he's on another level. No longer the fun-loving dean, Rash's voice becomes more gravely as Pelton's demands break everyone on the campus until there's no one left (except Abed). I particularly enjoyed Abed telling everyone what was happening to the dean but refusing to do anything about it because of all the great footage. Finally, Luis Guzman shows up to an empty campus. The dean shows Guzman his edit of the footage which, of course, horrifies him. It takes Guzman to get to the heart of what makes Dean Pelton tick: he's ashamed of Greendale. This used to be a huge theme with Jeff in season one but apparently he's not alone in thinking he was better than this school. The dean thought he was better than Greendale because of his university degree but like everyone else, he learns that Greendale is great because it accepts him for who he is.

In the end, Abed bails him out by breaking the documentarian code and making a commercial out the footage he gathered ("some flies are too awesome for the wall" ). When Pelton apologizes to the study group, they forgive him because, as Jeff puts it, "We've all been there which is why we're all here." If you've been watching, you'd know how true that statement is.

As great as I thought this episode was (I'd only put it behind "Remedial Chaos Theory" this season), I couldn't imagine what someone watching Community for first time would think. Episodes like these are gifts to long time fans who long ago drank the Kool-Aid and poison to people who just turned on NBC to see if it lives up to the critics' praise.

Crib sheet:

  • In thinking about Community's rating woes, I noticed that it is not available on Netflix Instant Watch. A show like this could really benefit from having all the episodes avalable online. I think if people had the whole summer to catch up on the show, it would have an Arrested Development like followng when season four started (if there's a season four).
  • What DID Dean Pelton do to the ice cream machine?
  • I wonder if the look on Abed's face after Troy and Britta's lingering hug was surprise or concern.
  • Seriously, how great was Joel McHale's impression of Dean Pelton?
  • I'm still waiting for Shirley to be the focus of an episode this season. Even Chang has had his own storyline.
  • Ken Jeong is probably the most famous person on the cast yet he barely shows up in episodes (I'm not complaining). Does Dan Harmon have blackmail on him that keeps him on the show or does he just like hanging around on set?
  • Pierce was once again shifted to the background spending the episode inside trailers. Any time the writers can't figure out how to incorporate Pierce into a story, they just take him off the board.
  • I've never seen Hearts of Darkness. Is it better than Apocalypse Now?
  • "Shirley. The voice. Can you make it more...I thought it would be more sssss...what's another word that means "more happy threatening?"
    "The word he's looking for is "sassy." He better pray he don't find it." - Dean Pelton and Shirley
  • "This isn't Hollywood Pierce. If it were these glasses would be tinted and I'd be friends with Stevie Nicks too." - Dean Pelton
  • "The dean had his seventh epiphany today which gave me an epiphany of my own: the Dean is a genius. He has to be. If he isn't, I've given almost two weeks of my life to an idiot. That is unacceptable therefore the dean IS a genius and I WILL die protecting his vision."
    "Are you by any chance familiar with Stockholm Syndrome?"
    "Is it something that the dean created because if not, I don't care." - Annie and Abed
  • "As a licensed psychology major, I am declaring this production a violation of human rights." - Britta