Community season 2 episode 16 review: Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking

It’s the latest episode of Community and Pierce is dying? Quick, get the camera…

2.16 Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking

Following Pierce’s Andy Dick-induced overdose last week, the toddler trapped in a pensioner’s body spends his recuperation throwing his toys out of the pram in a big way in Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking.

Still, somehow, mystified as to why the group treats him with such disdain, the spoilt rich boy takes the time, money and effort to take incredibly detailed psychological revenge on all each of the group members in turn, simultaneously teaching them a lesson and proving that their feelings about him were absolutely spot on.

Calling the group to the hospital under the pretence that he’s dying, Pierce sets about leaving each member a ‘legacy’ designed to mess with their heads and inflict as much emotional torture as possible, while Abed makes a documentary out of the ensuing pain. Apparently, Abed’s legacy is working for Pierce.

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Through the wonders of documentary making, all of this is explained directly to the camera. As Abed points out, it’s an easy way to bring the viewer up to speed. In sitcom land, the exposition needed and the contrivances necessary to get the viewer to the exposition would be lengthy and in no way believable. The beauty of documentaries, particularly the reality TV-type docs the show seems to be referring to, is that they can say pretty much whatever the narrative needs them to say.

We needed to know why Pierce assembled the group at his bedside, and he told us. We needed to know why Jeff beat the living hell out of Pierce, and Jeff told us. It’s direct, it’s fast and does away with any unnecessary MacGuffins.

What’s most interesting about Pierce’s machinations, petulance aside, is how well he knows the group. He knows exactly what their weak spots are and goes straight for them: Shirley’s insistence on using guilt as weapon, Britta’s fake selflessness, Troy’s fear of disappointing his hero and Jeff’s hatred of his absentee father. It’s almost a back-handed compliment. He clearly pays attention when they talk, and remembers everything.

Despite the record high petulance levels on display, it’s clear that underneath the racism, inappropriate behaviour and general levels of hatefulness, Pierce is a very lonely little boy, desperate to be friends with the cool kids. That doesn’t make any of it ok, but at least there’s some kind of explanation.

Using the documentary as a device to poke a little fun at ‘reality’ TV works beautifully, but the performances in this episode far outshine any of the clever-clever stuff. In particular, Troy’s wordless, almost soundless, day-long panic attack when confronted with his hero, the fantastic Levar Burton, is absolutely hilarious. His breakdown and tantrum perfectly encapsulate his utter emotional turmoil. He wanted a signed picture and only a picture for a reason. The thought of disappointing his hero was so frightening that, when it happened, Troy turned into a crazy person, something anyone with a hero can relate to. Although, total silence is generally considered more rude than disappointing.

Similarly, Jeff’s seven stages of deciding to confront his father also had more than a ring of truth to it. Both Donald Glover and Joel McHale are outstanding in their portrayals of the insanity brought on when confronted by an unpleasant truth, and watching Pierce get what’s coming to him is an absolute joy, and about as authentic as it gets.

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That’s not to say that the clever-clever stuff isn’t effective. Abed’s breakdown of the rules of reality TV, both at the top and the end of the show are spot on, but the most interesting observation is made by Britta, directly to camera.

Her self-revelation that she only did the right thing because there was a camera in her face gave voice to the age-old argument that reality TV, by its very definition, can’t be real. The second a person knows they’re being filmed, the jig is up. Rveryone’s behaviour changes when they know they’re being watched, with the possible exception of Jon Gosselin.

Therefore, reality TV can be as fake as scripted TV, a concept taken to the nth degree by shows like The Hills. Scripted fake behaviour is way more interesting, and easier to edit, than actual fake behaviour. Unless you’re Jon Gosselin.

Once again, Community has taken its unique brand of homage/urine extraction and applied it lovingly and successfully to another popular genre. Perhaps reality TV is something of a soft target, given that we’re all well aware that it’s in no way real. But rather than use the device as an out and out spoof, as seen in the Goodfellas episode, the Community team uses the fly on the wall format to give us a little more characterisation.

Pierce’s emotional targets are things that don’t appear to have been openly discussed during any of the episodes, and we’ve definitely never heard of Troy and Abed’s fake-suicide plan to get Firefly back on the air. Poor deluded things.

We’re over half way through season 2 now, and Community is yet to put a foot wrong. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the presence of television genius. Long may it continue.

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