Community: Intro to Recycled Cinema Review

Community Season 6 Episode 8 brings on some stupid and proves the Stone Cutters might have been right about Steve Guttenberg.

With the previous couple of episodes of Yahoommunity laying on the drama a bit thick, the newest episode injects a much-needed dose of stupid into the season. It’s paced similarly as what’s come before it, hitting roughly the same running time (28 minutes seems to be the unofficial new standard) but the subject matter has been kicked into absurdist overdrive.

The majority of “Intro to Recycled Cinema” is about the gang filming a terrible, shoestring-budget, sci-fi movie at Greendale. This is the closest we’ve yet come to an homage-style episode this season and it’s good, fresh ground for Community to cover. Though, if it’s an homage, it’s not one loads of people are definitely going to recognize as such. The movie (to my knowledge) doesn’t bear much resemblance to any specific B-movies, sci-fi or otherwise (one blatant Star Wars rip-off notwithstanding).

If anything, it feels most like this episode pays tribute to creator Dan Harmon’s own roots. Channel 101 was started in the early 2000s by Harmon and Rob Schrab (director of multiple Community episodes as well as the upcoming Lego Movie sequel). Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, it’s effectively a short-film website that predates YouTube and a lot of great, still-funny stuff was produced for it by Harmon, Schrab, and some of their friends (including Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland) before they had any money.

The clever setup of “Intro to Recycled Cinema” is that we witness the gang on set during the filming process, flubbing lines and improvising dialogue, but there are also frequent cuts to the final versions of every shot, full of cheesy greenscreen effects. This simultaneously lets us in on the silly behind-the-scenes drama and the ridiculous final product, featuring a CG gingivitis monster named Glip-Glop and Chang firing lasers from a phone. It’s all hugely Channel-101-esque as a lot of those productions had garbage effects, used people’s apartments as sets, and had no problems leaving in character breaks and line mistakes. (Specifically, the origins of the movie in this episode can be traced back to the Channel 101 show “The Most Extraordinary Space Investigations”).

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The problem with this episode is the 28-minute runtime still feels indulgent. The bulk of it is devoted to the making of the movie but very little plot or character development takes place during that time, so your enjoyment hinges on how funny you find fake bad moviemaking to be. I’m basically on board with this sort of thing and there are some great moments here, like how Garrett, the film’s only voice actor, can’t come up with any catchphrase except “yooba dooba dooba” for every one of his characters. It’s also pretty brilliant that so much of the film has to be designed around the extremely limited footage they have of Chang at a desk (though the concept kind of gets run into the ground).

Still, I can only laugh at this stuff for so long. When Channel 101 shows work it’s because they actually are made on no budget. They’re a joy because—even though they look like crap and everyone drops out of character regularly—it’s amazing that they still hold together enough to keep you engaged and tell a story. You can’t help but admire everyone involved for having the gumption to create something with such limited resources. Community, on the other hand, might not have the highest budget out there, but it’s still more than your average independent filmmaker has and the people involved are professionals. Tim and Eric’s work suffers from the same thing: pretending to be crappy only goes so far when we know you have the means to do it better.

It’s too bad that so much of “Recycled Cinema” is spent reveling in fake bad-moviemaking without much consideration for the narrative because there are hints of a good plot here. Jeff coming to the conclusion that everyone is going to move on and leave him trapped alone at Greendale is very affecting, tragic stuff, but the episode doesn’t really earn it. It’s a good twist as the story pulls some sleight of hand by setting it up like this is going to be an episode about Abed having a breakdown. However, we find out the breakdown is instead Jeff’s when he becomes fixated on his character’s death scene. But why do we only find out about this scene after Abed’s edited the whole film together? Considering how much of the movie’s production we’re shown, it’s weird this moment of pathos is introduced in an after-the-fact manner.

There’s a lot I do appreciate here. I’ve always admired Community’s dedication to building and maintaining its world so I love that the footage of Chang is from the unfinished film, Police Justice, that Abed was writing with Buzz Hickey last season. Frankie playing the steel drums is a good callback, too. Further, the episode is all about Chang’s acting career, introduced four episodes back.

Some of the improvised dialogue is great (“Space version of Wild West!”). Jeff’s sudden obsession with Chris Pratt is a funny running gag and it’s fun to see Steve Guttenberg here (whaddya know, he can act!).  And nobody’s complaining about Annie’s sci-fi outfit (well, except for Britta).

Still, the plot just feels undeniably empty. This feeling is reinforced by the ending when the movie deal falls through, Chang’s acting career is unceremoniously scrapped, and everyone suddenly doesn’t care about the thing they’ve been working toward all episode. It’s sad because this plot hints at being something more, but in the end it’s all, “Who cares! Group hug!”

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Also, with all the sci-fi glip-glopping and Abed’s downer moral about life being a movie that makes no sense, did anyone else feel like this was just a low-rent, live-action episode of Rick and Morty?


3 out of 5