This week, Community bequeaths more of its sticky goodness all over us. So let’s get to it!
Episode: “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”
We open slightly disoriented. What’s with the weird lighting, the strange camera angles…? Oh, we’re in Abed’s documentary. Okay, cool.
Abed takes a meta moment to explaining what’s going on—a hospitalized Pierce has requested that Ay-bed document his life—and why he’s doing it this way: It’s easier to explain a complex story when you can just cut to people talking to the camera. Yep (wink, wink), it is. Abed admits that he was initially cagey about the project, that he feels intensely bored by Pierce as a subject. Me three, I thought. I’m so much happier when it’s a true ensemble episode, or 22 minutes of Troy-Abed mayhem, or any number of situations in which Jeff ends up with his shirt off. I was bummed. (It’s Gregory Hines all over again!) Only…then I thought, Maybe this is a dare. Perhaps this is the show’s way of saying, Yeah, we’re sick of Pierce, too, but we’re going to make you care about him, and we’re going to use Abed to help us. Ok, tough guys, challenge accepted. Let’s do this.
Last we saw Glendale’s resident curmudgeon he was passed out on a park bench, having gotten looped on painkillers that made him hallucinate a tiny encouraging Andy Dick (bad trip, man). His loyal study groupies have rushed to his side, but it’s too late. Pierce is feeling slighted, and a slighted Pierce is a dangerous Pierce. He warned them as recently as Fat Neil’s D&D intervention: Don’t screw with me; invite me to your crap. Feeling like Tiny Andy Dick is the only one who cares—and that it took a near-death experience to get the gang to pay attention to him—Pierce decides to do what he does best: screw with his friends.
To execute his mind games, Pierce tells everyone he’s dying (he’s not) and says he has something for each of them. And so begins the day’s bequeathing: To syrupy, guilt machine Shirley, a CD that allegedly contains a recording of everyone trash-talking her; to holier-than-thou (but also broke) Britta, a tantalizingly blank check for $10,000, to be made out to the charity of her choice; to Annie, a tiara (made not of diamonds—blood, Holocaust or otherwise, probably), simply because she is Pierce’s favorite. We don’t find out what Pierce has bequeathed Troy, only what the lovable goofball hopes to inherit: a signed photo of actor Lavar Burton—or a million wishes (but he’d only use those for a million signed photos of actor Lavar Burton).
When it’s Jeff’s turn in Pierce’s Den of Head Games, the old man hits our salty hero where it hurts: He bestows upon Jeff the imminent return of his long-lost con man dad. Jeff thinks Pierce is bluffing, but he’s also intrigued. Not surprisingly, Jeff has Daddy issues. And then—Lavar Burton (OMG, Reading Rainbow!!!) arrives to Our Lady of Really Fake-Looking Hospitals, proving that Pierce can actually deliver. (Only, Troy did not want to meet Lavar Burton–he only wanted a picture, because you can’t disappoint a picture!)
After the bequeathings are through, Pierce sits back and watches the gang implode, struggling with what he knew they would: Britta with her cool-girl need to seem charitable versus her poor-girl need to pay the rent, Shirley with her insatiable curiosity versus her desire to trust, Annie with her own insurmountable neurosis and Jeff with his I-am-an-island persona versus his need for his daddy. Pierce’s plan to make the group go insane works—Jeff and Sourface role play their loose and/or Iranian, homosexual parents! Troy has a psychotic break in the men’s room!—only, in the end, Jeff pushes back: You’re right, he tells Pierce. I do need to see my dad. But if he’s lying, Jeff says, if his father is not actually on his way to see him, Pierce will be the unlucky recipient of the ass-whooping of his life. Pierce is, of course, lying, and Jeff makes good on his promise, pummeling the poor old guy into the ground, shouting accusations at him that he knows are really meant for his pa.
In the end, everyone comes to their separate conclusions, some more illuminating than others: Shirley realizes she uses guilt as a weapon, Britta finds out (with help from Kunta Kinte) that she’s not selfish, she’s just stupid with money, Jeff accepts that he has unfinished business with his dad, Pierce realizes that even well-thought-out evil plans sometimes go awry, and Troy, oh, poor, poor Troy. I don’t know if he realized anything—he spent most of the episode catatonic, with his eyes bulging out of his head.
I’m not gonna lie—”Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” was not my favorite. I’m happiest when the gang is safe and sound in the study lounge, where maybe the dean will wander in wearing assless chaps or Annie’s Boobs could be scampering around causing itty-bitty simian mischief. Maybe what I really missed was Abed. Because he was the documentarian, we didn’t see too much of him. This show is like something you Jenga: Remove one piece and the whole thing might topple. This episode didn’t topple, but it also wasn’t blow-your-mind brillz. Even a middling Community is better than most other shows, but I probably won’t watch it again and again like I did Mixology Certification, when Troy turned 21, or the paintball episode, when Joel McHale ended up very, very naked (ulterior motives, admitted). But it was aight. I thought the documentary style was more superfluous than anything else, a fancy bell/ whistle that didn’t add much to the show.
Then again, if I do watch it again (okay, let’s face it, I will. Life is not that exciting around here, you guys), maybe I’ll discover a new layer, see something I didn’t the first time. Either way, what Community does better than any other show is take chances. You never know what you’re going to get when you tune in (will our beloved study group be zombies this week? Or perhaps in stop-motion animation?), and that means sometimes you end up with an episode that is sort of…meh. I’m ok with that.
So what do you think? Did you like the documentary convention? Were you surprised that Troy’s “acting natural” is walking like an Egyptian? Did you ultimately feel sympathetic toward Pierce? Does the show falter without the calming force of Abed? And most important, what do you think of Jeff’s new less-upright hair???