Community S4E06 – Advanced Documentary Filmmaking

At the start of season three, there was a Community episode called “Biology 101,” where the group struggled with whether or not to keep Pierce around after everything he’d done the previous season. Following Annie’s lead, everyone agreed that Pierce deserved another chance — except for Jeff. Jeff argued that Pierce had crossed a line — that “being excluded didn’t drive Pierce crazy, being crazy drove Pierce excluded.” Ultimately, as the disagreement over Pierce grew, Jeff found himself being excluded from the group and growing crazier — until finally he empathized with Pierce, and the group embraced Jeff as they had embraced Pierce.

Community S4E6 ChangAt the time I found that episode immensely frustrating; I agreed with Jeff, Pierce had been terrible. Forgetting that required a suspension of disbelief that is hardest for me, which is one that relies on human beings behaving irrationally. Why should they forgive him? There was no real reason I could see that these people would conceivably stay friends with Pierce Hawthorne — it was obviously the mere result of Chevy Chase’s status as cast regular.

“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” is essentially the same storyline, but with Chang, and again I found myself on Team Jeff, only to be disappointed.

It was obvious to me as a viewer, as it was to Jeff, that Chang’s “Changnesia” was merely part of his latest psychopathic scheme. It was also obvious to me, as a viewer, that Jeff’s plan to unravel Chang’s plot would fail, if only because Jeff revealed his plot within the first five minutes of the episode. In attempting to foil Greendale’s bid for a “MacGuffin” grant to study Changnesia, Jeff winds up “proving” that Chang — now known as Kevin — needs the help. In the end, it’s Kevin who forgives Jeff, and Jeff apologizes to the group for not believing Kevin sooner.

What made this so frustrating for me is something only Jeff seems to remember, and repeatedly brings up: that the season three finale had Chang imprison and literally try to murder the study group. Community has always played fast and loose with basic reality, but the idea that the study group and Greendale as a whole are so forgiving they’re willing to buy into the “Changnesia” story and forgive a man who attempted to murder them is a step too far. Once again it’s impossible to ignore that the real reason the characters have accepted Kevin is merely because the show wants to keep Ken Jeong on staff. When Chang inevitably reveals his true sinister plot towards the end of the season, it will be difficult to sympathize with the people at Greendale who allowed it to happen.

Community S4E6 Gareth camOn a technical level, as Community‘s third foray into an Abed-made documentary, “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” is well-executed. Abed’s documentaries are always funny. Troy and Annie teaming up as investigators and Troy’s total misunderstanding of good cop/bad cop technique makes for some good lines. A favourite scene of mine recalls the 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, and has Abed deem certain footage “too upsetting” to show, but instead films himself reacting to the footage. Unfortunately, the utterly stupid “Changnesia” plotline makes these aspects difficult to enjoy.

It should also be said that Pierce’s role in this episode boiled down to an embarrassingly extended joke about blackface and eventually yellowface, a joke which managed to be both terribly offensive and terribly unfunny even on the level they were going for (“ha ha, isn’t Pierce racist?”). It’s a joke far below the capabilities of the Community writers, and it’s the second time in two episodes that we’ve specifically done a blackface joke. Really? I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps it was this episode which led to Chase’s racist breakdown on set. While I cannot and do not condone Chase’s use of racial slurs, if this is the caliber of writing being given to Pierce this season, it was undoubtedly in everyone’s best interest that Chase be written out.

Hopefully one day the staff will find it in them to rightfully cut the chord with Chang, too.

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