Community: Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking

"Thank God he didn't take it. Could you imagine bouncing a check to Kunta Kinte?"

Documentary parodies are nothing new in the world of comedy. The Baron Haden-Guest (better known to the plebs as Christopher Guest) has made a career out of them, while mockumentary sitcoms like The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family (which this episode is essentially a parody of) have proved to be popular. While Megan Ganz clearly has a lot of fun with the documentary format here, it is ultimately nothing more than a gimmick, a different way to tell the story. Fortunately this story is so strong that even without the documentary format I would still consider this to be one of Community's finest.

I’ve noticed that Community’s best episodes, such as ‘Modern Warfare’, ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ and ‘Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’, are the ones that eschew subplots and focus on a single story. This is very much the case with ‘Intermediate Documentary’. The gang is gathered at the hospital after Pierce overdoses on painkillers. He tells them he is dying and wishes to leave them gifts. This is, unfortunately, a lie. Pierce is fine, he’s just decided to inflict psychological torture on the only people who actually seem to care about him. Obviously he didn’t get Jeff’s text about opening his heart. Even though Pierce is far, far, far, far, faaaaaarrrrr from my favourite character (at this stage the only thing he has going for him is that he is not that which shall not be named), this episodes makes good use of him by once again casting him as the villain.

Pierce knows enough about his “friends” to make them all unravel (in Annie’s case, unintentionally). Of the various revenges he dishes out, Shirley and Britta’s were by far the weakest, although both still had their funny moments. Annie and Abed was exempt from Pierce’s wrath: her because she’s his favourite and him because he was making the documentary. Unless Pierce's revenge on Abed was to make him look at hours of dailies featuring Pierce. Now that would be torture.

The funniest part of the episode was Tory’s encounter with LeVar Burton (the best celebrity cameo this show has ever done) which allowed Donald Glover the chance to waltz off with the entire episode. To say Troy was star struck by the host of Reading Rainbow is something of a major understatement. Whenever Burton was around Troy was completely catatonic. When he was elsewhere, Abed’s other half was having the type of emotional freak-out that gifmakers on Tumblr drool over.

But it is with Jeff that Pierce really goes too far and pays the price. Pierce uses the spectre of Jeff’s long absent father to mess with him, completely underestimating just how deep those wounds are. The ass kicking he got as a result was much deserved. Which brings me to the only problem I had with this episode: it was all wrapped up far too neatly. Once again Pierce acts like a complete jackass to everyone and once again the group, even Jeff, sort of forgive him. What does this guy have to do before they decide enough is enough?

Notes and Quotes

--I know LeVar Burton best for TNG and Roots, I’d never even heard of Reading Rainbow until this episode.

--This is the first episode without any scenes set at the Greendale campus.

Troy: "I've told Pierce a thousand times, I never wanted to meet LeVar in person! I just wanted a picture! You can't disappoint a picture! I hate you Pierce! I hate you so much!"

Jeff: "If you're lying to me, if my father isn't coming, if a car pulls up and anyone other than my father steps out, say an actor or you in a wig, if you pull any Ferris Bueller, Parent Trap, Three's Company, FX, FX2: the Deadly Art of Illusion bull--- I will beat you. And there will be nothing madcap or wacky about it."
--I love it when this show references obscure movies and their sequels.

Annie: "I don't want to die in a place like this. People shouldn't die in the same place as People magazines do."

Britta: "It's called a Complisult. Part compliment, part insult. He invented them. I coined the term. See what I just did there? That was an explainabrag."

Pierce: "It was the pills, they just took me over. I saw awful things: aliens, demons, Critters 3, and something called Bruce Willis Surrogates."
--That line was the funniest thing Pierce has said all season, maybe ever.

Four out of four omnipresent cameramen who never capture each other on film.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

10 comments:

sunbunny said...

Is Reading Rainbow just an American thing then? I grew up on it and I can still sing the damn theme song. Reading Rainbow, Reading Rainbooooow. Aww. Childhood. I had a bunch of episodes taped. My favorite was the one was about whales. And one about recycling!

Poor Troy! I really felt for him. I think I'd react that way if I ever met Joss Whedon. Yeah, Troy carried this episode pretty completely. I totally pitied him but had no qualms laughing at his OTT reaction. That's a hard line to walk.

Other bits were funny (I particularly enjoyed Pierce trying to get out of his Jeff prank) but this one was all about Troy.

Annie is Pierce's favorite. That makes sense. I like how her torture was totally of its own devising. I'm so Annie. So much of what she does on this episode I can see myself doing. I also like to give random situations meanings they were not intended to have. :) She would have looked adorable in that tiara btw.

Mark Greig said...

If Reading Rainbow ever was shown here in the UK it was buried away where no one could find it like so many shows.

Annie would look adorable in anything.

celticmarc said...

LOL

Awesome review Mark. All my DVD's are in boxes right now, so I barely remember this one. But Troy's reaction to KK is unforgettable indeed, boxes or no boxes.

And we're going to have a fifth season with the return of Dan Harmon !!!

sunbunny

recycling is a good thing; please recycle, reuse and whatever the third R is...oh yes, reduce.

Juliette said...

I want to like this because I love mockumentaries (and Levar Burton) but it's just too depressing. I prefer the seaosn 3 Hearts of Darkness spoof.

And yes, I think Reading Rainbow must be an American thing, I'd never heard of it before this episode. Sesame Street crossed over though - that was one of my favourite childhood programmes!

celticmarc said...

Juliette

(besides the typo LMAO) I've been watching Sesame Street in my teens AND early 20's. Why should the kids have all the fun ?

UlyssesBenoni said...

We never had it in the UK, I never seen it but i love this video
http://youtu.be/-FD1K8OvVCs

celticmarc said...

woahhhh

Seriously, I do not want to see the disappearance of paper in favor of electronics...

ChrisB said...

Agreed that Troy carries this episode, but Britta and her nonsense always makes me smile.

Reading Rainbow is also generational. By the time it aired, I was too old for it.

a.m. said...

I'm so sorry Reading Rainbow didn't get more international play because it really was a great show. I like to think I would be a little more cool than Troy if I met Levar Burton, but the jury's still out on that one...especially if he started singing the theme song! I still tell my students that if they find a book in the library with the rainbow in the corner, it's definitely a good one to read!

I loved this episode and it was mostly because of LB and Troy.

Scott Riggan said...

I'm late to the party with Community, but now that I'm on board it's because of this kind of episode.

1) Abed's deconstruction of the documentary is perfect. 2) We don't have Chang or the Dean (can I get an "amen"?). 3) And most importantly, our study group is made up of such clearly defined characters. Example: when Abed says "Just act natural" and Annie fixes her hair, Shirley adopts a more concerned expression, Britta looks at the camera with suspicion and distaste and Troy ... walks like an Egyptian.

How do you choose just a handful of quotable lines?

"Vengeance? I was never one to hold grudges Jeffrey. My father held grudges, I'll always hate him for that."

Shirley, after explaining to the camera that she sometimes uses guilt as a weapon, tells Abed that she's "just shooting a talking head. Or did you *want* me to be the only one who didn't have one?"

"Well, more fish for Kunta."