Tuesday, April 28, 2015

REVIEW: 'Community' - Chang Goes Viral and the Gang Makes a Bad Movie in 'Intro to Recycled Cinema'

Yahoo Screen's Community - Episode 6.08 "Intro to Recycled Cinema"

Chang leaves Greendale to pursue fame in Hollywood. Abed agrees to complete his unfinished film with the support of Frankie, her movie producer friend Maury (Steve Guttenberg) and Jeff.

Over the years, Community has a found a lot of ways to stage parody concept episodes that allow the cast to dress up in weird costumes and act in an outlandish way that the characters don't typically do. The show has found a lot of success with those types of episodes. Understandably, it can't do that every single week. But there's still enough fresh ideas to make it a concept worth going to a handful of times each season. However, it's very important that these types of stories be deeply rooted in some actual emotional honesty of the characters. "Intro to Recycled Cinema" is a fun episode. It's clear that the cast enjoyed this particular dress-up. But the emotional through-line for what the characters were dealing with while filming this bad movie - specifically with Abed and Jeff - was just too thin to make the whole concept worth it in the end.

This entire episode revolves around Chang making it in the outside world. Earlier this season proved that Chang is a great actor. So, it makes sense that the character would pursue that profession in booking other acting gigs. One such commercial leads to him becoming a viral sensation - just for the way he says "Ham girl!" Ken Jeong delivers the line phenomenally each and every time he does it. And yet, the story really isn't about Chang at all. It's about the rest of the gang reacting to his sudden fame and departure. They are sad when he leaves and claims in an interview that he was a loner when it came to his days teaching at a community college in Colorado. Even though they don't particularly like Chang - though they have been coming around to him this season - they are still sad to see him cast them aside in his journey to stardom.

The action of the episode occurs because of Chang's decision to leave and pursue an acting career in Hollywood. That should be a big moment for Chang but it's not. The episode showcases how he manages to get all this fame in the opening moments - only to then not showcase what this big move means for the character. It is basically set up as something that he wants to do for a moment but not something that will bring a genuine shift to the show. He's not leaving for good and that's apparent very early on in the episode. Despite the show not knowing what to do with Chang for seasons, he is still a character who would have to be more of a focal point in an episode depicting his departure. So this venture is entirely to give the rest of the gang something to do for the week. The audience doesn't see how all of this fame goes to Chang's head. In the end, he's already at the end of that journey. He's flamed out just as quickly as he was discovered. That only works if the audience sees how he went from point A to point B. As is, it's just a way to explain why he suddenly returns to Greendale in the end. And then, everyone just accepts that he's back and continue like nothing big has happened. That's a weak resolution especially considering the gang spends the entire episode trying to pull a movie together because Chang is suddenly famous. Wouldn't they have a bigger reaction to him returning to the study room? Why are they just treating him like they always treat him? It's a nice moment for Chang to learn that the people at Greendale will still treat him the same despite everything that just happened to him. It's just not a moment that the episode earned.

Even though the episode couldn't care less about Chang, it still struggled in making Abed and Jeff's emotional concerns about this movie consistent. Initially, Abed was torn over purposefully making a horrible movie for the sake of making the school some money. One weird analogy from Jeff and all those concerns get thrown out the window. After that, everyone is able to improv and make continuity errors and it's no big deal. Abed does have standards. He makes the movie better than anyone expected it to be. And yet, it is still complete trash. Trash with his name on him. He's not wrong to have standards. Even a purposefully bad movie needs to make some sense. Everyone else around him was just solely concerned with getting it done so they could release it as quickly as possible. That's the one concern that Frankie's movie producer friend has - and ultimately his presence feels off as well. He pops up to outline what all they need to do in order to secure this money. And then, he and the movie are explained away with a cheap joke in the end with him getting a phone call and him not knowing what all these current business terms mean. That joke wasn't earned. It only happened for the sake of saying that Greendale isn't going to get any money from this movie.

So if the entire plot of the episode is rendered completely useless in the end, then there has to be quality substance with the main characters to make the whole story worth. Yes, it is great to see Annie and Britta debating depictions of feminism despite Britta's refusal to pay rent. That's a solid running joke that didn't need to be more than it was. In fact, their banter serves as Abed's big point about this whole movie being worth it to Jeff. Jeff saw this movie as being ridiculous but perhaps his chance for something more than Greendale in his future. Jeff's internal fear about being stuck at Greendale for the rest of his life has been mentioned several times this season. And yet, it hasn't made any kind of progress. He has these worries about everyone around him eventually leaving. Those are genuine concerns that he should have. And yet, the show thinks it can write one heartwarming moment in the middle of the episode to explain away all of those fears. That it's all meaningless because every once in awhile Annie will reach down her chest and pull out a laser bomb. That's the only kind of emotional resolution this episode wants to give Abed and Jeff and it's simply not enough. Not enough to justify this whole story or to completely disregard the concerns that Abed and Jeff had throughout the process.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Intro to Recycled Cinema" was written by Clay Lapari and directed by Victor Nelli, Jr.
  • Initially Abed was making a cop movie with Chang in the lead role because he worked on a script with a former cop who turns out couldn't write fictional cop dialogue as well as you would think. It's definitely strange that the show just doesn't want to refer to Buzz Hickey this season at all after he was so important last season.
  • Dean Pelton was a poor body double for Chang - that wig! - but that was also the point.
  • The steel drum bit with Frankie also continued into this episode with her one big appearance in the movie. It was a bit that didn't work in the previous episode and still doesn't pay off in this one.
  • All the Chris Pratt jokes and analogies were pretty funny though. Jeff just really wants to be him.