Community season 4 episode 6 review: Advanced Documentary Filmmaking

Review Emma Matthews
18 Mar 2013 - 05:50

There's a glimmer of hope in this week's Community episode, which is both funny and recognisably Greendale. Here's Emma's review...

This review contains spoilers.

4.6 Advanced Documentary Filmmaking

As Community rumbles slowly through its fourth and least consistent season, sitting down to a new episode has become something of a trepidatious affair. Where a new episode used to be something to look forward to, these days, there’s just no telling from one week to the next what the show will deliver. Given the almost depressingly poor show in Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations, the trepidation ramped up to near-dread as the airing of Advanced Documentary Filmmaking approached. Would the mutilated monstrosity now known as Big Bang Community be back in full force? Or could a tiny glimmer of the show we love still survive, and in a Supernatural demon possession kind of a way, somehow wrest control of just one episode this season?

The answer to that is, almost unbelievably, yes it can. Wouldn’t you know it, after pushing its luck to the absolute limit last week, Advanced Documentary Filmmaking somehow did not suck. In fact, in places, it actually came close to being funny – consistently funny. Even more incredibly, the episode also managed to spend some time being recognisable as Community. It would seem that occasionally, the TV Gods do actually listen... Admittedly, given the episode’s mockumentary format, it most likely would have been very difficult to make the show any other way, but with its clear intention to bring about the return of the psychotic force of nature that is Ben Chang, the show made huge strides in the right direction. Yes, after weeks of under-use, the brilliant Ken Jeong is finally back in the game, which can only be a good thing.

With ‘Kevin’ now the college’s favourite mental case, the students of Greendale get together to raise money to study the clearly non-Memento-based brand new condition that is known simply as Changnesia. Abed naturally decides to document the whole thing, while simultaneously robbing Jeff blind in an effort to get his hands on better equipment. So far, so Community, right? Exactly! Add in Jeff’s natural predilection for manipulating the people he cares about in an effort to prove Chang is faking, and we’re about as close to an actual Community episode as we’re likely to get this season. And while Advanced Documentary Filmmaking won’t be making any Top Ten Community episode lists any time soon, the sheer joy of not having to spend one second with Big Bang Community this week puts it pretty near the top ten on that alone.

It’s true that the Abed documentary format, rather than being totally fresh, is smack bang in the middle of Community’s comfort zone, but that’s easily forgivable – a comfortable Community is infinitely preferable to the clearly uncomfortable show that we’ve witnessed these last few weeks. This week at least, the show was able to raise some interesting questions about the characters, rather than force feeding us stereotypes and dross.  Questions like, who or what can possibly be left that still wants to take a pop at Jeff/the College? It also highlighted the rather disconcerting lack of Winger awareness within the group – they’ve known him four years, and still can’t tell when he’s using them. Just FYI the group – lawyers don’t change their minds unless there’s something in it for them.

What’s most interesting here is that, given the lack of coupledom, Britta, Jeff and Abed back being their usual ‘quirky’ selves, and no brow beating life lessons in sight, just how schizophrenic this show has become. There’s barely a trace of Big Bang Community here and while it’s to be applauded, it’s possible the inconsistency is not helping the viewing figures, or the show’s standing in any way. But that’s a conversation for another day...

Anyhoo, with the precious grant money raised, despite Winger’s incredibly expensive meddling, Chang finally confirmed what his arm had told us several minutes earlier, and suddenly everything seems slightly more right in the Community-verse. Yes, one for six isn’t the greatest strike rate, and there’s no way we’re out of the woods yet, but how nice it is to know that there’s still a Community spark in the writer’s room somewhere. It’ll take a few more of these before the dread retreats, but until then, let’s be grateful for small mercies, and Troy’s parents’ love of small furry animals... 

Read Emma's review of the previous episode, Cooperative Escapsism in Family Relations, here.

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