The critically-acclaimed, but low-rated cult sensation Community underwent an upheaval after its third season, when Dan Harmon, its creator, was fired. Just before his exit, he started a monthly live show called “Harmontown”, which became a weekly show and podcast and post-occupational outlet for his creativity. Harmontown is a documentary that chronicles a selective tour the self-titled podcast undertook several months after Harmon’s termination. While the documentary doesn’t completely depict the comprehensive topics and ridiculousness of the weekly podcast and live show, it does explore Harmon’s own self-destructive genius and the rise of an unlikely hero who was once just a fan.
In May 2012, Dan Harmon plays an irate voicemail left by Chevy Chase on Community creator’s phone, which spurned a series of events that would lead to Harmon’s termination. Months before, Harmon began a weekly anything-goes live show and podcast called “Harmontown”, starring his friend Jeff Davis of Whose Line is it Anyway? fame and Harmon’s girlfriend Erin McGathy. The anything-goes, open-form show offered slapdash improvisational skits, audience engagement, and deep philosophical discussions about topics ranging from racism to gender equality, all with a fair share of cameos from the likes of Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, and Eric Idle. In early 2013, the group undertook a nationwide Harmontown tour with the unexpected audience member turned Harmontown Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master, Spencer Crittenden, embark for a soul-searching expedition as Harmon finds peace with post-Community life.
Harmon is a functioning alcoholic with egomaniacal tendencies who is admittedly stubborn and has difficulty working with others. His name is just as much affiliated with failure as it is success. His pilot for Heat Vision and Jack, which an over-hyped, camp action show starring Jack Black, continues to be ridiculed for its incredibly high production budget and failure to be picked up for production. Harmon was also fired from The Sarah Silverman Show, which caused a year-long silent treatment with life-long friend and writing partner Rob Schrab, who remained on the show’s writing staff.
Spencer, the loveable and shy Dungeon Master was plucked from obscurity after having a hankering to discuss D&D with Harmon during one of the first several recorded episodes. The weekly D&D game became a perfect fusion of Harmon, Davis, and McGathy’s improvisational talents, combined with the Spencer’s uncanny ability for storytelling and description. Spencer became the secondary face of the show. His humble background as an Apple Genius has made him an accessible personality and an unpredictable hero, even if he retains his low-key, introverted characteristics. Still, he shines and is loved by the masses, just as much as Harmon’s. Dan, Jeff, or Erin never hamper Spencer’s meteoric rise; they appear to his biggest fan.
Director Neil Berkeley was tasked with capturing the tour as it unfolded, often times capturing Harmon at his worst. Harmon, a self-destructing ham, loves the camera more than he lets on, often times allowing Berkeley to film Dan sleeping next to his girlfriend and even sitting on the toilet. The film also inserts talking head interviews with Dan’s friends and co-workers, as well asoutlining the roller coaster timeline that makes up Dan’s career.
The documentary reveals the pivotal tour that shaped much of how Harmontown is conducted, even today. D&D continues to be a mainstay, Dan and Erin’s fights and spats remain (usually Dan’s fault), and Dan offers backstage insights into show business through his self-depreciating, intoxicated, filterless, and skewed sense of the world. What the documentary fails to address is the humility that ensues during the shows, especially the tour. Audience members are often brought up on stage to share their desires, fears, and even successes, leaving these individuals with an impression that they are accepted by the gang and other audience members. Perhaps that is what the podcast is for, and the documentary focuses on the inherent chaos that follows Harmon, or is he the catalyst for all his own travails?