First, a big thank you to Brett Harrison Davinger for his excellent recaps of the previous two episodes of Community. I couldn’t agree more with his assessment of Season 4 thus far as being quite confusing and uneven, the new show runners struggling to find their voice while still being loyal to the series’ tone. I’ve had a difficult time describing to people why this season is so bad – aside from it just being unfunny. The best comparison I can come up with is it’s like buying department store brand clothing instead of a well-known label: it’s similar, but it never fits quite right.
After a mediocre season (to put it nicely) so far, this week’s episode of Community was a slight return to form for the struggling comedy which has become almost without humor in what is likely to be its final season. While it uses the Abed-making-a-documentary crutch we’ve seen previously with greater success (“Introduction to Film,” “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”), this latest iteration does manage to have a few genuinely clever moments.
“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” continues the storyline of Chang, er, Kevin who is suffering from changnesia and can’t remember anything from more than a few months ago. While Dean Pelton was initially skeptical, he now believes Kevin is suffering from a legitimate neurological disorder and agrees to help him adjust to his new life at Greendale. The dean has enlisted Abed to make a documentary about Kevin’s disease and the daily struggles he faces in hopes of securing a $40,000 grant from the MacGuffin Neurological Institute for further research into changnesia. Regarding Abed’s film, Dean Pelton says, “This needs to be the Hoop Dreams of things people care about.”
I have to stop here. The “MacGuffin Institute”? Really? I have always loved the obscure references to cinema that have populated Community, but this one is just too ridiculous. For those who don’t know, “MacGuffin” was coined by Alfred Hitchcock as a name for the inciting incident that sets a story in motion. Its use here wouldn’t be so terrible if it wasn’t literally the MacGuffin for this episode. I can’t help but think that under Dan Harmon it would have been used much more suitably. But I digress.
Not surprisingly, Jeff is unconvinced that “Kevin” isn’t just an evil ruse perpetrated by Chang in an attempt to unleash more horror upon Greendale. In response, Jeff develops a ruse of his own and enlists the rest of the group. Pretending he has finally accepted changnesia as a real disorder, he gets Annie and Troy to do some forensic investigating into Kevin’s origin story. Jeff hopes they will uncover something he can use against Chang. Instead, Partner and Houlihan (Troy and Annie, respectively) are only able to track Chang back to a trout farm run by Mr. Sullivan who used Chang (or Kevin) as free labor for three months before driving him into town.
Meanwhile, Jeff discovers that Kevin has an amazing short term memory now and that he can recall entire conversations verbatim. This makes Jeff even more suspicious. Watching some footage Britta captured (unintentionally, of course), he sees Kevin dialing a phone number from memory in Shirley’s sandwich shop. Believing this is the proof he needs, Jeff is ready to unveil his evidence at the presentation organized for the MacGuffin Institute representatives.
As it turns out, the phone number belongs to Chang’s ex-wife Alessandra. Kevin claims he didn’t know how he knew the number but that he had a strong urge to call it repeatedly. In hopes of proving Chang is faking, he kisses Senora Chang to make “Kevin” jealous. It doesn’t’ work, but it does result in proving to the MacGuffin Institute that more research is needed into the phenomenon and impact of changnesia.
Jeff becomes a social pariah for his treatment of Kevin (“I became even more Chang than Chang at his Changiest.”), but there are no hard feelings as Kevin makes nice and Jeff tentatively accepts that changnesia could be real. The ending tag, which is typically reserved for Troy and Abed, shows that Kevin really is Chang and that he is working with an unseen accomplice. As he walks away, Chang begins laughing manically and it’s clear his reign of terror is far from over.
For this first time this season, I wasn’t completely let down by an episode. Changnesia is hilarious and never gets old. The episode opens up with a definition of changnesia that is also pretty funny:
Changnesia: n. 1. Complete loss of memory caused by a trauma that was, itself, also forgotten. 2. Also known as Kevin’s disease
When Dean Pelton describes Chang as a “homeless vent dweller,” I nearly choked on the cookie I was enjoying at that moment. I’ll be honest, that was pretty funny. The puns are also in full effect here, such as “Welcome to Shirley’s Sandwiches where the food is Kevinly.” Not bad either.
The writers give Pierce some ridiculous part involving racist hand puppets that is unfunny and unnecessary, but I guess Chevy demanded more screen time. It’s also apparent, once again, that whoever does Joel McHale’s makeup is unaware that an orange complexion isn’t his best look.
“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” will hopefully be a turning point in the eleventh hour for Community, though I doubt it will make much difference. Chang was way overused at the end of Season Three and the current trajectory of the story looks to be making the same mistake.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”