Episode 216: Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking
Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking Review
Whether it’s useful or not, many people like to split Community in half: “normal” episodes to the left and “concept” episodes to the right. It’s not like these people aren’t on to something, but sometimes it does a disservice to the episode itself to think of it through only through those lens, and with this I’m speaking about episodes that fall into either arbitrary camps. “Intermedia Documentary Filmmaking” is one of those special Community episodes that breaks down the walls between those two camps, and delivers an episode that proves that the show is best when it defies those expectations. The episode is clearly employing a mockumentary format to tell its story, but it all feels so organic, that it’s easy to get lost in the episode and forget anything’s different. Like the proverbial chicken and the egg, the best kind of Community “concept” episodes are the ones that make you ask: “what came first? The concept or the story?” Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking is such an episode.
When Pierce winds up in the hospital after finally overdosing on the pills he’s been taking for his leg for quite a few episodes (a great, subtle use of serialization that the third season could have learned a lesson from), Abed takes it upon himself to make a documentary of the hospital visit. Feeling neglected for a long time now, Pierce uses his hospital stay to play mind games with each member of the study group (except Abed) as retribution for how the group has been treating him lately. What’s great about this development, is that it hardly comes out of nowhere, and the episode picks up a lot of running threads and obscure jokes concerning Pierce and brings them to a head. There is a nice natural progression of events that all lead up to this episode. Anyone that classifies Pierce’s actions in this episode as “out of character” or “not built up to enough,” needs to go back and look at the past events of season 2.
In half a season’s time, Pierce:
- loses his mother
- has reawakened father issues courtesy of Colonel Sanders
- starts to struggle with his age in the group
- breaks both his legs
- has his birthday forgotten by the study group, and covered up by the members
- gets ignored by the group during Troy’s 21st birthday celebration
- once again gets reawakened father issues, thanks to a play
- gets excluded from a game of Dungeons and Dragons, without being informed why
- overdoses on pills prescribed to treat his leg
Not exactly a fun year, all in all.
Can Pierce be a dick? Absolutely. But so can the other study group members, Jeff especially, and the group seems to be much more forgiving of everybody else’s transgressions over Pierce’s. Because of this, Pierce sets out to torture everyone by giving them each a gift that brings out their biggest insecurities to light. Everyone except Annie, that is, since she’s his favorite.
The gifts are as follows:
- Britta: a check for the amount of $10,000 with the “payee” line blank, so that she may write down any charity she chooses… or her own name
- Shirley: a CD recording made by Pierce of when Shirley leaves the study room, to shed light on what the group says about Shirley behind her back
- Troy: Levar Burton to come visit him personally
- Annie: a tiara
- Jeff: Pierce supposedly tracks down William Winger, Jeff’s long lost father, and has arranged a meeting for the two
We’ve all seen the episode, so we know how they all react. Britta and Troy’s “gifts” are comedic goldmines, and Shirley’s is a nice touch on acknowledging her more judgmental side. Jeff’s bequeathal is easily the biggest one, as far as the weight it has on the character, and in turn, his arc. Having serious father issues of his own, Pierce takes it upon himself to force Jeff’s to resurface as well, because misery loves company. What I especially like about this storyline, is that it stays true to the character, no matter how abruptly it comes to an end. When Jeff attacks Pierce (and in another sense, his own father), it’s the first time the repressed hatred he feels towards the man has surfaced. Pierce essentially is the catalyst in bringing William Winger back into Jeff’s life, and although the true ramifications of this aren’t manifested until the season three finale, it all stays true to who Jeff Winger is. Jeff Winger wouldn’t go out immediately and track down his father, because he’s only coming to grips that he might actually care about his existence. But that doesn’t stop him from at least salvaging the only semblance of a fatherly relationship he does have in his life, which is why it actually is incredibly sweet to see him at Pierce’s bedside.
In fact, he’s not the only person who benefits from Pierce’s agonizing bequeathals. With the exception of Troy, everyone faces one of their biggest weaknesses head on, and it’s a moment of clarity for each of them as they’re brought to light, even if it was unintentional on Pierce’s part. Because that’s what Pierce is in reality: mildly malevolent, but ultimately much more harmless than the group gives him credit for.
Lastly, the episode plays it smart with the use of its mockumentary format, getting its jabs against the format in early, and ending it on a note of appreciation for what it does have to offer. There are certain stories and jokes that a show like Community wouldn’t be able to tell as effectively without it, and this is a shining example of one of them.
- Besides being a wonderful examination of these characters, it’s also one of the funniest episodes of the entire series. I could list virtually any of the quotes here, but I’ll give special mention to Jeff and Britta’s hysterical role-playing.
- “Well what do I know? I’m Jeff Winger’s dumb gay dad!”
- It makes sense for the character to be sidelined during these kind of episodes obviously, but a part of me wishes we would have gotten to see Abed in front of the cameras during one of the mockumentary episodes.
- On a personal note, I was never a huge fan of Britta, comedically, until I got to this episode. I didn’t think she was bad or not funny in the slightest, but I never considered her as a personal favorite until I saw the Britta we see on display here. BRITTA FOR THE WIN!
- Troy’s arc is still great upon rewatch, but I can’t help but say it’s lost a little luster for me personally compared to the other comedic storylines. I think it works best for me when I didn’t know the jump cuts to his outbursts were coming.
On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-748155533 (page 694)