Community – Intro to Recycled Cinema: Life is a weird, dumb mess, and that’s okay

We haven’t really spent much time with Abed and his filmmaking for quite some time. He graduated Greendale sometime between Season 4 and 5 with a film degree, but ended up re-enrolling in “Repilot”, with his only real job being a commercial for Jeff’s law firm. The last episode to spend much time on Abed as a filmmaker was “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” in Season 4, and even that episode didn’t really explore much of Abed’s character or the creative process of filmmaking.

“Intro to Recycled Cinema” is a brilliant episode which uses Abed’s project to tell a story both about storytelling and about life in general. It’s an incredible half hour of television that feels like classic Dan Harmon and serves as a reminder of how much better this show is with him back on board.

A lot of the episode explores the idea of creative compromise, with a storyteller being forced by the powers that be to change his vision. Abed has to rush his movie into production to capitalize on Chang’s recent fame, not having time to make things perfect. This works as an internal storyline, but it’s hard not to also examine this from a meta perspective as a commentary on Dan Harmon and his time working for NBC. Harmon frequently expressed problems with the network, and for someone as creative and often obsessive as he is, it must have been pretty difficult for him to not spend as much time as he would like on any given episode, or having to cut out scenes and jokes to fit 21 minutes. After all, as a user on Reddit pointed out, Abed is forced to cut out 6 minutes from his movie, and if this episode had aired on NBC, Harmon would have had to cut out exactly 6 minutes.

And so the movie turns out pretty dumb, largely because it’s being made just for money and under ridiculous time constraints, with a creative person thrown in the midst but given little control. Watching the gang pull together the film and try to be innovative with a minuscule budget is funny as hell, and it has that “let’s put on a show” mentality we get from Harmon a lot. It’s consistently funny how much Abed manages to get out of the 30 seconds of footage they have of Chang, like using him saying “are we rolling?” during a scene where the ship is literally rolling. A lot of the gimmick episodes of Community are so endearing because we get the sense that we’re watching a bunch of creative people be weird together, throwing a bunch of stuff out there and seeing what happens, and that’s exactly what happens with Abed’s movie.

But what’s interesting is that the episode doesn’t really suggest that this is necessarily such a horrible thing. Sure, the movie is being made just for money and to exploit Chang’s new found fame, and by all accounts it’s a bad film. But there’s some fun and passion in it, as dumb as it ends up being. Harmon seems to be doing a bit of self-reflecting here as he both criticizes higher-ups for constraining creative people, but also criticizes those creative people (himself included) for being so obsessed with their work that they refuse to let it go. Sometimes, you just have to mess around with something and put it out there. Write your dumb story. Make your messy little movie. Sometimes it’s the process that’s really important, not the end product.

And that’s not just true about film; it’s true about life in general. “Intro to Recycled Cinema” takes this analogy to a deeper level and suggests that like Abed’s film, and like Community, life is one big, weird, chaotic mess, and that’s what’s great about it. “It’s okay to plan some stuff, and it’s okay to figure out what we did wrong. But our plans are randomly gonna fall apart and our lessons are randomly gonna be wrong, and if we just keep the cameras rolling and shoot a lot of crap, eventually, Annie is gonna reach down her shirt and pull out a laser bomb.” Bad things are going to happen to us, but if we just keep pushing on, like Abed continuing to make his movie, we’ll find the fun and joy in all that nonsense.

Life is a dumb, pointless movie full of terrible cgi monsters and goofy costumes, but all we can do is keep the cameras rolling, edit out the parts we don’t like, and every once in a while, great things will happen.

Other thoughts:

  • Abed’s speech comes as a response to Jeff freaking out towards the end of the episode. When Abed’s movie actually turns out surprisingly decent, he realizes that Abed’s going to become a successful filmmaker, but he’s still going to be a community college teacher. I love that the show is incorporating losing so much of its cast into the character’s journeys, with Jeff here referencing the fact that Shirley, Troy and Pierce are all gone. It’s for this reason that I really hope that the series wraps up soon and doesn’t get cancelled before it can get a proper ending, because it would be a shame for the series to end without Jeff finally leaving Greendale and moving forward with his life
  • Annie predicted Chang would be famous, but she thought it would be for eating someone.
  • In another great example of the show referencing the past, Abed’s film with Chang was going to be Police Justice, the movie he was talking to Hickey about last season. He even says that a former cop helped him write it! We miss you, Hickey.
  • This episode is oddly Chris Pratt oriented, with Jeff being pretty obsessed with him. It’s also super weird to see Community reference Parks and Recreation, which would likely never happen if the show was still on NBC. That also suggests that within the Community universe, NBC and their Thursday night comedy lineup exists, and that’s super crazy.
  • I love Elroy’s weird little aside about how he round a green 3 billiards ball, but there’s no green 3 in billiards. Sometimes the weird, pointless little asides like this are what makes Community so great.
  • “Sometimes my eye falls off because I’m a robot.”
  • Everyone who’s NOT a person is saying yubba dubba.
  • In one scene straight out of Star Wars, Jeff, Annie and Britta’s characters are about to get crushed with a bunch of garbage. There’s also a monster, “but so what we’re gonna get crushed!”
  • Elroy absolutely loves Glibglob. “We’re not cutting a frame of Glibglob. That’s like cutting the cowboy out of midnight cowboy!”
  • “Is he doing a bit?”
  • Randall Park cameo!
  • I found the ending of the episode to be oddly sweet. After failing in Hollywood, Chang awkwardly walks back into the room like nothing happened. At first everyone’s weirded out, but they all keep going, and in no time Chang’s accepted and welcomed back in, making a joke about Britta being the worst. As “Repilot” suggested back in Season 5, Greendale remains a warm, friendly place that will always welcome you back in.

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