Dean Pelton fashions himself a DeMille-style film director, complete with riding crop. Terrible unhappiness follows

By Christian Blauvelt
Updated November 18, 2011 at 08:15 AM EST
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“I am living a documentarian’s worst nightmare. I have become the subject of my own film.”

Abed didn’t say that during “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux,” but he very well could have. Actually, that quote comes from Jan Jurgen (Justin Theroux), the Herzog-esque filmmaker who “directed” Rain of Madness, a faux making-of doc about Tropic Thunder that’s funnier than the movie itself. Rain of Madness was the Hearts of Darkness to Tropic Thunder’s Apocalypse Now, meaning that it’s pretty much like the movie Abed was making — a devastating portrait of a deluded director undone by his own hubris. In Rain of Madness the mad director we see slowly becoming unhinged is Damian Cockburn; in Hearts of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola; and in Abed’s movie, none other than Dean Pelton. (In reality, the people who are truly going crazy are Community fans, after we learned this week that NBC is benching our beloved series this spring. #OccupyGreendale)

What prompted this Conrad-esque journey up the river of insanity? Well, the Dean just received $2000 to make a new commercial promoting Greendale. The old one was an early ‘90s relic, with spandex-clad students awkwardly tossing Frisbees, exchanging high-fives and giving thumbs-up on cue and a long-since-forgotten African-American Dean touting the virtues of Greendale’s typing course — the most advanced in the southwestern Greendale area! The pastel animatics were a nice touch, though. And it was informative! It told us we could even enroll by fax.

But with a $2000 budget, Dean Pelton wasn’t going to let that early Clinton Era artifact play during late night reruns of Fantasy Island any longer. And he was going to recruit Greendale’s most serendipitously diverse study group — Hispanics excluded — to be the college’s ambassadors to TV Land. The Dean would direct, while Annie would serve as his script girl. Check that, supervisor girl. Check that, script supervisor. (I love how for decades the position really was called just “script girl.” And not just in America. I was watching the TV miniseries version of Scenes From a Marriage recently, and when Ingmar Bergman reads the production credits aloud at the end of each episode, everything he says, of course, is in Swedish. Except for when he announces the “script girl.” Yes, the Swedish for “script girl” is “script girl”!)

This was the perfect position for Annie. It called upon her latent talent for organization and slightly anal personality. As the production progressed, though, you could judge her state of mind from the number of pencils she had stuck in her hair. One pencil meant all was well and ordered in her Annie brain. Two, she’s on shaky, quasi-Stockholm Syndrome-afflicted ground. Three? It’s rabbit-hole time.

NEXT: Troy and Britta undergo a marathon hugging session, and Jeff’s identity slowly disintegrates

Shirley would play a happy but slightly threatening (read: sassy) version of herself, a mom who can afford Greendale’s reasonable tuition. Britta and Troy would announce the fun of “meeting different people!” then share a hug. Pierce threatened to rent a trailer and not come out of it until Greendale had rented him a trailer; and then he wouldn’t come out of that until they gave him a catering budget. Noting that Hearts of Darkness is way better than Apocalypse Now, Abed vowed to be “a fly on the wall” who would make a documentary about the Dean’s imminent mental collapse. And Jeff…oh, poor Jeff. After dueting on “Kiss From a Rose” with Dean Pelton last week, he was subjected to the next logical step in the Dean’s obsession: Pelton wanted Jeff to play him.

No rhetorical fireworks could save the former lawyer this time. He just had to suck it up, don a bald cap, and find a way to get all his scenes cut, first by putting on an even more extreme version of Dean Pelton’s flamboyant Ned Flanders persona — which the Dean loved! — then by shooting in front of a statue of Greendale’s most famous alum and Paul Thomas Anderson veteran, Luis Guzman. Greendale didn’t have the right to use Guzman’s image, a fact Jeff kindly informed the actor’s attorneys. But rather than forcing those scenes cut, Guzman agreed to pay tribute to his alma mater by participating in the shoot.

This threw the Dean into a tailspin. He’d already been flitting dangerously close to megalomania, what with his Cecil B. DeMille couture of knee-high boots, tan suit, and riding crop. After hearing of his willingness to participate — even though he couldn’t name a single one of Guzman’s films, crushing Boogie Nights fans everywhere — the Dean doubled down. Now, with a big-time celebrity attached, he had to become an auteur. The next day he showed up wearing shades and a sweater jacket that showed way too much of his chest for comfort and bestowed an orange on Annie for Scene 4. Apparently he had become Greendale’s Gillian Armstrong and found that citrus was a crucial aesthetic ingredient for the fulfillment of his vision.

He also needed a hot-button topic to increase the commercial’s buzzworthiness. What topic truly sizzles? Oh, yeah, a little matter called race. “I am trying to pull a 400-year-old dagger out of this nation’s heart. And you…are hugging,” the Dean chided Britta and Troy, terribly unimpressed with their lackluster display of affection. So he tried to capture lightning in a bottle by having Britta and Troy share an interracial hug take after take for 12 hours, like some deranged Warren Beatty. Which is to say like Warren Beatty. That meant Jeff had to sit around in his bald cap for days, as his sense of identity slowly began to dissolve and merge with that of the Dean.

Finally, Jeff got his casting call. By this point his personality had so completely evaporated that he was going to bring to his portrayal of the Dean’s flamboyance not irony but genuine exuberance. Jeff Winger was dead. There’s only so much you can take after watching grown men in diapers represent the Dawn of a New Era in Education. But then, after all that, the Dean decided that he wanted to be seen with hair…that that would truly represent reality. And reality came in the form of Chang wearing a blond wig. Greendale’s Spanish-prof-turned-security-guard would play the Dean onscreen, proving to everybody once and for all that their fearless leader was indeed insane. Everyone abandoned him by the time Luis Guzman showed up.

NEXT: Luis Guzman finds that you can go home again, if by “home” you mean a place where there’s a giant bronze statue of you

After admiring his pudgy Ewok build in his statue, Guzman found the Dean wallowing in his own filth in his office, fending off an opossum while putting his final Mr. Brainwash-style edits to the commercial. Guzman was more than happy to praise Greendale — he got laid like crazy there! — but this wasn’t about Greendale any longer. Dean Pelton revealed himself to be, gasp, ashamed of his own school. Guzman walked out. I can’t help but think Guzman’s monologue about celebrating Greendale and its weirdness is a covert message to NBC–this school (and this show) is special and it should be celebrated for what it is rather than what it’s not.

The time came for the Dean to present his incoherent commercial to Greendale’s Executive Board…and, shockingly, it was good. In Hearts of Darkness, filmmakers George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr showed Francis Ford Coppola, strung out on cocaine and overwhelmed by both the enormity of his Apocalypse Now shoot and the caprice of his actors (namely Brando), speculate that he may not live to finish his film. The plan was, if he should die, to turn Apocalypse Now over to George Lucas to finish the movie. Thankfully, that never happened. But it turns out Abed with his filmmaker’s know-how had gamely stepped in, playing the Lucas to Dean Pelton’s Coppola, and reedited his commercial into something “better than good…good enough.” (Jan Jurgen, and Werner Herzog, would be proud at the way he ultimately made his documentary about himself.) The Board was happy. This was surely a commercial that would last them another 16 years. And Abed and the Dean didn’t even have to get Pierce to recite “The Hollow Men”!

Actually, where was Pierce during all of this? Well, he was carted off to L.A. when his trailer was towed. It was going to be the new on-set lodgings for Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin, who promptly demonstrated little more maturity than Mr. Hawthorne himself by saying he wouldn’t come out of this trailer until they brought him another trailer. I can just imagine Larry David seeing this and saying, “Prett-ay good. Prett-ay, prett-ay good.”

And now we come to it at last, my seven favorite lines of the night:

7. “As a student of character I have a feeling that making this commercial may cost the Dean his sanity. And my camera follows the fire, not the smoke. Ever seen Hearts of Darkness? Way better than Apocalypse Now.” –Abed

6. “This isn’t Hollywood, Pierce. If it were, my glasses would be tinted and I’d be friends with Stevie Nicks.” –The Dean

5. “Stop saying I’m different!” –Troy, after Britta has to repeat “Meet different people!” for 12 hours straight

4. “Some flies are too awesome for the wall.” –Abed, rejecting his documentarian’s “fly on the wall” ethics

3. “Okay, you get it wrong one more time, I’m segregating the school.” –The Dean to Troy and Britta

2. “I’ve become a stranger to myself. I’m bald now. I’ve always been bald. I only dreamt of having hair. And now the bald man is awake.” –Jeff, as The Dean

1. “The bronze adds 10 pounds.” –The Dean to Luis Guzman, regarding the latter’s statue

Was “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” a winner? Would the Board have really been happy enough with the final commercial to tolerate the fact that it went, you know, $16,000 over budget? Why don’t we have more Luis Guzman in our lives? And is Hearts of Darkness really better than Apocalypse Now? (Answer: Yes.)

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