The sixth season of Community seems to be shying away from some of the high concept event episodes of seasons past. The latest episode, “Intro to Recycled Cinema” probably comes closest. The episode blends scenes from a movie that Abed is directing with scenes of the production. It’s an episode with lots of good stuff, and maybe some not so good stuff.
The concept is pretty simple – Chang gets famous. He brings his blend of alien wackiness to a commercial for ham and becomes a cultural phenomenon; Steven Spielberg is even knocking at his door for the upcoming movie based off Play-Doh. The twist is that Abed has a few minutes of video starring Chang from an abandoned movie project. The school can stand to make some actual money from cashing in on Chang’s new fame, so long as they produce a crappy film incredibly quickly. This seems to upset Abed, who believes in the craft and doesn’t want to create a bad film. In another weird callback to Buzz Hickey, the few minutes of Chang’s video actually comes from a script Abed was working with Hickey on in season five. You can tell by the character’s name of Police Justice. And by the fact that Abed specifically says an ex-cop helped him write it. “It turns out ex-cops aren’t good at dialogue.” This is another weirdly unceremonious reference to Hickey. The episode where he and Abed decided to collaborate was actually a pretty touching one, and he gave Abed a couple of pretty cool lines. It’s almost starting to seem like there’s some legal reason they can’t properly acknowledge a character that was pretty major for a whole year.
Despite the episode coming across as being Abed heavy, in some ways this is more of a Jeff episode. In that Jeff gets some character moments tied to the events sandwiched into the beginning and end of the episode. It’s a bit of a rocky transition, although in retrospect it makes a little more sense. It just seems like Jeff’s dilemma could’ve cropped up a bit more during the production scenes, where character development is largely relegated to the sidelines for wacky antics involving animated gingivitis characters, bad acting, and silly costumes. Don’t get me wrong, I like this stuff, and the gang taking an improvisational approach to plotting the film can be pretty funny, it just feels a little separate from the character stuff. Especially given that Abed’s trepidation at making the film is resolved without any major moments really. Abed’s nervousness is pretty much ignored by everyone, and eventually Jeff pulls Abed aside and compares making the movie to working out. This also introduces Jeff’s Chris Pratt fascination, which actually does sort of reach a resolution. It’s also something that sounds like a slightly more fitness-focused version of a recurring Harmontown rant.
Jeff and Abed are pretty much the only players this episode. Everyone else is backgrounded and maybe given a moment or two. Chang’s reacceptance to the group is nice. Frankie gets to still know steel drums, which was a nice callback. Annie and Britta get some back and forth about gender, which is hardly new ground, but still true to their characters. Keith David gets to be a futuristic minotaur. For an episode so focused on Jeff and Abed, and the dynamic between them, it’s strange how little of the episode is actually character focused. Especially given how extreme the character stuff gets at the end. Jeff actually starts strangling Abed. In an episode with only a handful of character moments scattered throughout it feels like an unearned extreme.
Also the Big Bang Theory reference wasn’t anywhere near as prevalent as I was hoping. Given my established feelings about that focus-grouped anti-nerd show that so many nerds love, I was perversely looking forward to my favourite show tearing into them. However that “bazinga” moment from the season’s trailer is literally the extent of it. Which is totally fine and probably a good call, Dan Harmon hardly needs to piss more people off. I just wanted to go on record about that.
There is legitimately funny stuff this episode. Jeff’s bitter fixation on Chris Pratt is both character-driven and entertaining. Steven Guttenberg’s producer character is pretty funny. He’s so goofily enthusiastic about Abed’s crappy film. It’s a nice change from the jaded archetype one might expect.
Of course they never actually get to do much with the film when Guttenberg’s company collapses. “Wait what’s chapter eleven? Wait what’s YouTube? What’s Internet? What’s broadband.”
The other thing that makes the slightly clunky character beats all the more disappointing is that they feel like legitimately important developments, at least for Jeff’s character. This season has seen a Jeff who’s generally admitting to caring about Greendale, and who’s committed to sticking by the school and helping out. He admits he considers the Dean a friend, etc. It’s a Jeff who’s a little more upbeat beneath the typical cynicism. However this episode is based around a bit of a shocking event. Chang gets out. He escapes Greendale and moves on to bigger and better things. Jeff is suddenly stricken by the realization that he’s never going to leave Greendale. He’s the oldest of the group, he has a job there, he’s long since given up on returning to the legal world. He sees everyone else in the group as having all this potential that he lacks. Which, nominally, is why he suddenly gets so worried about a scene in Abed’s movie we don’t even see until it’s important to the plot. The whole thing feels like a smart character beat for Jeff that’s handled a little badly.
I like the ideas in the episode on paper, and it was funny, but it all feels a little clumsily stitched together. It’s an episode focused on Jeff and Abed that gives neither character satisfying conclusions. It comes close, with Jeff’s confrontation with Abed and Abed’s acceptance of the film, but both are too sudden to feel earned. Like the ending of this article.