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SXSW Review: Unexpectedly Moving Documentary ‘Harmontown’ Examines ‘Community’ Creator Dan Harmon

On 17, Mar 2014 | In Press & News | By SBI

We’re not sure there’s been a figure in the history of television quite like Dan Harmon. The “Community” creator has, over the past few years, become one of the bigger celebrity showrunners, a writer as well-known as any of his creations, and whose fiiter-free, headline-grabbing antics, and rise-and-fall-and-rise again narrative, have seen him become, if not a household name, then a serious cult figure.

Neil Berkeley’s documentary “Harmontown,” which screened at the SXSW Festival this past week, is an investigation into that cult, and the man who leads it. The film follows the national tour that the writer took his “Harmontown” podcast on the road with in early 2013, six months or so after he was fired from “Community” after the end of the third series. The podcast, for the uninitiated is a rambling, chaotic, mostly unprepared couple of hours that features Harmon, actor/comic Jeff B. Davis, Harmon’s girlfriend Erin McGathy, and these days, Spencer Crittenden, a fan who was picked out of the audience to play “Dungeons & Dragons” on the show, and now serves as dungeon master for a game at the end of every show.

The film essentially takes the form of a concert/tour movie: after a brief intro explaining Harmon and his crew for those unfamiliar with them, it heads out on the Harmontown tour bus, as they play a series of dates with guests includingPatton Oswalt and Jason Sudeikis, while talking heads from Harmon’s collaborators (including most of the cast of “Community,” former writing partner Rob Schrab, and Sarah Silverman, with whom he co-created “The Sarah Silverman Program” before they had a catastrophic falling out) illuminate the main man’s back story.

As a concert movie, it’s not particularly memorable. There are some fun extracts from the show, but nothing particularly glorious — the cliquey, in-jokey appeal is the main reason for its success, and the footage will undoubtedly be a boon to fans, but the snippets we see aren’t likely to win over more listeners to the podcast.

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