COMMUNITY Recap: 'Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

COMMUNITY Recap: ‘Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking’

February 18, 2011 by  

Mind games. Daddy issues. LEVAR BURTON!

COMMUNITY was out in full force this week, and in the process we learned a lot more about how our favorite characters work when faced with (admittedly strange) adversity.

The episode opened with the study group finding out that Pierce had been hospitalized after going too far with his Andy-Dick-hallucinating pill problem. The group is understandably frazzled, and they immediately rush to his side. They arrive to the startling news that Pierce is dying.

This is false, of course— it’s still a sitcom, and not one written by Joss Whedon (who, for the uninitiated, is famous for his willingness to kill major characters). No, Pierce just constructed this lie to “exact [his] revenge” on his friends for leaving him out so much lately.

You could tell right off the bat that this week’s episode was going to be much grittier in feel than we’re used to with this show. The fluorescent lighting of the community college was gone, and we are left with just three handheld cameras operated by Abed and his documentary film crew, there on Pierce’s request to document the “remainder” of his life. The entire episode is in this mockumentary format, made popular by shows like THE OFFICE and marked as trends by MODERN FAMILY and PARKS AND RECREATION. As Abed says, “it’s easier to tell a complex story when you can just cut to people explaining things to the camera.”

Jokes aside, this episode did cut deeper emotionally than most episodes of COMMUNITY even attempt to and it did so quite successfully. In the process of “bequeathing” his earthly possessions to his friends, Pierce achieves his goal: he digs into their deep-seated insecurities, rendering them as helpless as he was lying on that bench or being led around by Andy Dick. In the process, viewers are treated to quite the show: we get to see the very idiosyncrasies that make the individuals in this study group tick.

Shirley was given a CD on which Pierce suggested was audio of the study group talking about her behind her back. Shirley spends the rest of the episode speculating on what it was they might have been saying about her, and what could have driven them to say it. When Britta finally forces her to listen to the CD it amounts to nothing (it’s just Pierce trying to get the gang to talk about each other in mean ways), but it highlighted Shirley’s need to be loved and accepted by the group — something that, interestingly enough, also very much defines Pierce and his struggles. I guess the main difference between the two is that Shirley is a much gentler human being.

Annie is given a tiara, with only the simple explanation from Pierce that she’s his “favorite.” Seeing what his gifts are doing to the rest of her friends, Annie drives herself up the wall trying to figure out what torture he meant for her. Was she meant to feel guilty? Was the tiara made of blood diamonds? She raises this question to Pierce, in a panic. She settles on the theory that the tiara was a lesson: “If I think of myself as the type of person to pick favorites and torture the rest, I’m going to die friendless and alone.” The audience of course know that this theory applies more to Pierce than to Annie, but I’m not entirely sure the dear girl got that point. But she’s still adorable.

For Jeff, Pierce had a plan that could be construed as the most nefarious and potentially scarring of the night — he told him that he had been in contact with Jeff’s oft-absent father (William the Barely Known, mentioned in passing in last week’s episode), and that he was on his way to see his son. Jeff, being Jeff, spent a good chunk of the episode trying to remain suave and push down any feelings this news was making him have. It was Abed and his camera crew who finally broke through the shell, showcasing a short montage of outburst the impending reunion had caused in Jeff.

It was a pity that, due to his role “behind that camera,” Danny Pudi as Abed was so absent in this episode. But I suppose he was acting as Abed’s own strange idiosyncrasy: the observer. He sees each of these characters much as we do; he is at once an outside observer and a main character, someone who seems to be striving towards objectivity in his camera work but can’t seem to quite get there.

Troy was given the gift which I thought had the most hilarious (and heartbreaking) results. Pierce somehow tracks down Levar Burton (former star of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and host of the nostalgic favorite READING RAINBOW), one of Troy’s all-time heroes. You’d think this would make the boy happy, but no. In his own words, “You can’t disappoint someone you’ve never met!” From the second Burton appears, Troy’s face freezes into what I like to refer to as his “Pharaoh Job Interview” face (introduced in episode 1.21, “Contemporary American Poultry”). It is a hilariously heartbreaking storyline. Any fangirl or fanboy (and you know Troy is one) can relate to the impending terror of the possibility of disappointing someone they have spent their life admiring. If I met Joss Whedon or Jo Rowling on the streets I would surely make the same face.

There’s also the added bonus that Donald Glover cries funnier than most people tell a joke, and the scene where he’s huddling in a corner in the bathroom singing the READING RAINBOW theme song and quoting STAR TREK made me want to give him a huge hug while laughing hysterically. That’s the sign of a good scene.

Britta is given a check for $10,000 and a blank name line. She is faced with the quandary of whether to give the money to charity (which is her first instinct, as Queen of the Social Activists), or keep it as a much-needed boost to her own bank account (does NOBODY on this show have a job except for Annie?). She ends up signing the check over the Red Cross, but she is left with the guilt of knowing that, had the camera crews not been present, she would have taken the money for herself. We all know this to be true; Britta has grown a lot as a character since her first appearance in the pilot, but we all know she’s still a bit deluded about her social awareness. There was a quite beautiful moment, however, when Britta convinces Levar Burton to stick around and give Troy another chance.

And it’s moments like these that make this show so great — no matter how ridiculous, or animated, or into a “theme” it can get, these characters really do care about each other, and they’re (sometimes) willing to drop their neuroses to help each other out. In that moment Britta wasn’t just the conceited activist. She wasn’t reaching out to Levar Burton because she knew it would get her “Good Person Cred” to do something nice; she did it because she is genuinely a good friend.

The show can go through as many brilliant high-concept episodes as they want (paintball, mobsters, space travel, animation…), and it’s brilliant. But it’s the feeling that these people actually like each other — despite their vast differences — that gives the show the heart it needs to keep going.

Overall, I thought this episode was great. Hilarious, and touching in that deeply-buried way COMMUNITY does so well. And yet I still have no idea what they’re planning to do about Pierce now that he’s so often portrayed as the villain. At this point I’m not even sure what I want them to do with him. He really is a tragic character if you think about it. But, as was said in this episode, “he thinks friendship is a competition and he’s trying to get the upper hand.” Where do you go with that, on a show where so much relies on the connections between the characters? Pierce spends so much time trying to tear those connections down.

What did you all think? What do you think the show should do with Pierce’s character?

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One Response to “COMMUNITY Recap: ‘Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking’”

  1. Hope Rehak on February 19th, 2011 3:58 pm

    I read this once before seeing the episode without realizing I know the author! I thought your writing about Troy/Donald Glover is (like the rest of the review but most especially) on point! “Cries funnier than most people tell a joke” is perfect and true since his days as a member of Derrick at NYU. I’ve loved him so long…