‘Community’ Recap: Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking

S2E16: I’d like to start this recap with a resounding “YES.” I know some fans aren’t too jazzed about the episodes where Community gets a little real, like the Mixology episode, but bear with me. There’s a reason so many of us think these episodes are so fantastic. Part of it is that these characters that we’ve come to love because of their wild antics are still people that we care about even when things aren’t so goofy anymore. The other aspect behind the awesomeness of an episode like this is that the show’s creators are proving that they love television just as much (if not way, way more) than the rest of us; so much so that they can take the tropes, styles and techniques of other shows, adopt them into their own amorphous world and still make it work. That’s something that amazes me about Community – no matter how far they go with different concepts and styles for each episode (and they’re all wildly different) no episode ever loses that overwhelming sense of the show’s identity. That’s when you know you’re doing it right.

“What are you, Abed? (Looks at camera) Oh, sorry, Abed. ” –Shirley

“Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” could be considered another concept episode, but I don’t know that I’d jam it into that category. Yes, they changed up the whole flow of the show by showing us the events through Abed’s documentary lens and taking an opportunity to try on the mockumentary format that The Office has mastered so well, but I’d argue that this wasn’t just an overarching theme or gimmick that gave the episode shape. Rather it was another way to tell a story that Community would have told anyway, while allowing the show to play with the notion of the documentary style. (I especially like the moment when Abed noted that documentaries make it easier to tell stories thanks to the benefit of talking heads interviews. So true.)

One of the additions to this style is something they’ve done on occasion on The Office, which is to acknowledge the cameraman himself. This time, the cameraman was Abed, so it allowed Abed to remain an active character in the episode while calling attention to the fact that this was a film being made about these fictional characters. It also amazed me that when they filmed a documentary of these fictional characters, instead of pointing out how fictional they are, it actually made them seem more real than they had been – even Pierce. (But in Pierce’s case, it’s not necessarily a good thing. Yikes.)

“Since you’re the new black sheep – oh, I’m sorry, that’s offensive – the black swan.” –Pierce

Pierce is tricking the group into thinking that he’s dying after their non-chalant response to his pill-popping landed him in the hospital for an overdose. (A little heavy for you? Don’t worry, they handle it well.) He begins to call them all in one by one to bequeath them gifts before he dies (I love that Troy clearly confused this word with another similar sounding, inappropriate word that I’ll let you figure out on your own). All this bequeathing starts to tear the group down as Pierce tries desperately to get their attention after they wouldn’t invite him to their “crap.”

I love that both Shirley and Britta learned something thanks to the format – both realizing their faults because their behavior is affected by the presence of a recording device. Britta would have taken Pierce’s $10,000 for herself and Shirley realizes that she uses guilt to pressure people into doing what she wants (the bit where she makes her own talking head interview about it and immediately uses guilt to force Abed to let her continue was so perfect).

Annie of course learns something in spite of the fact that she was the only one Pierce wasn’t trying to teach a lesson. When he gives her the tiara she assumes he’s trying to teach her not to be an elitist (was it just me or did she say “elitism” really strangely?) when really he was just giving her a tiara because she’s his favorite. Of course I can’t help but wonder if that little speech about pitting people against each other and ending up alone got to Pierce on some level even if he tends to barricade himself from any sense-making.


Holy shit, Donald Glover is a physical comedy GOD. If you don’t agree, maybe we weren’t watching the same episode. Troy asked Pierce for a signed photo of Levar Burton for his bequeathal, so somehow Pierce got the actual Levar Burton to show up. (Side note: Community tends to have such awesomely unexpected guest stars and I love it.) Anyway, cut to Troy meeting Levar. Troy’s face looks like he’s a little mouse who’s just been trapped in the corner by a python and it’s glorious. They immediately cut to Troy in the snack room freaking out and screaming “You can’t disappoint a picture!” and later that great scene where he starts crying while singing “Reading Rainbow” as he’s curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor before yelling that quote about phasers. The awesomeness continued as Troy attempted dinner with Levar in the study room, but when he starts singing “Reading Rainbow” he runs crying and screaming out of the study room. I cannot say it enough, I LOVE THIS GUY. He really is incredible. More Troy please.

“Don’t you cut to footage of me freaking out.” –Jeff

“Is there footage of you freaking out?” –Abed

One of the best results of the documentary style was the issue brought about by Pierce’s promise to bring back Jeff’s estranged father (this kind of sounds like I’m recapping The Young and The Restless, but I swear it gets better). When Jeff begins to freak out about this (including that hilarious father role-playing bit with Britta playing “Jeff’s dumb gay dad”) and says if Pierce is fucking with him (note the use of the bleep button in that scene) he’ll beat him, Pierce realizes he has to find a way to remedy the ruse he was planning. This of course results in a transparent ploy to make Jeff think that his father was too chicken to actually see him and when Jeff sees right through it, he pulls Pierce out of his town car shelter and wails on him, yelling things at Pierce that he wanted to say to his father. Whoa. That’s heavy man.

The one thing I’d like to note about this bit of the story is that at the end, when Pierce and Jeff are perhaps playing father and son (a reversal from older episodes) Abed undercuts it all by noting that the documentary format allows you to do what 30 Rock just slammed reality TV for: the montage set to sappy music. It always managed to give a false sense of resolution with the help of simple film techniques – an interesting point. Well done, Community.