‘Community’ Review: “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking”
At this point, I wonder if we'll ever see the Dan Harmon-free 'Community' as its own thing. With NBC losing so many first season shows (and now second season shows like 'Smash'), the likelihood of 'Community' carrying on for another season seems more and more likely, so when does it become accepted as a new thing?
The problem is that 'Community 2.0' is just not as sharp. It's strange that after the loss of Harmon (a well known drinker), the show has become addled. There are a couple laughs here and there (Annie's got a great moment on the trout farm where she says that something smells... wrong), but this new version works best when it plays on our love of the characters. When it goes for big jokes, it mostly whiffs.
Which is a problem, because you can tell this is supposed to be a funnier episode. Here, Ken Jeong's Ben Chang (now Kevin) is the focal point, and his "Changnesia" is the subject of a documentary that Abed is making at the Dean's request for a scholarship grant. The only one in the group who thinks Changnesia is a con is Jeff, and the joke is that we think he's going to take Shirley's advice about second chances, but lies to participate in helping, with his goal to expose Chang.
The problem here is that we've seen Jeff Winger grow and change as a character, and putting him on the outside at this point feels like reruns. Having him work with Chang, or having him prove he's right feels like it would have been more interesting, and after three seasons we the audience don't trust Chang and it feels like the writers should know that. As Jeff keeps pointing out, Chang did try to have the group killed. And there may be something meta here about how sitcoms often have amnesia about big events, but it doesn't play. Perhaps this episode is supposed to function as a metaphor for how we should view the show from now on -- after all it's an episode about starting fresh and second chances. Or at least it would be until the end credits reveal that Chang has been doing his whole Kevin act as subterfuge (for what, to be continued).
The trout farm joke is funny, but too much here plays on references that don't quite sing (Kevin writes on his body), or aren't all that funny (the grant is named MacGuffin) or are just too on the nose (it's great that a network television show would reference 'Grizzly Man' but there's no real joke there), while callbacks don't work like they should (Hey, Britta's bad with cameras, etc.).
More than most of the episodes of late, this feels like a builder, like much of what was planted here is intended to pay off later, but it's hard to know for sure since so many ideas have already been abandoned or don't seem to be in play (what's up with Britta and Troy?) After earning some goodwill back last week, this episode leaves you with the half-satisfied feelings of much of this season.