Even if Community was slightly (yet lovingly!) spoofing the form, “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” was exactly that: a documentary. If a new viewer tuned into the show for the first time last night, they’d have a strong understanding of who each of the Greendale Seven are.
After last week’s Andy Dick-encouraged pill freak out, Pierce lands in the hospital, and partially out of boredom and mostly because he’s vengeful, he decides to bequeath (I bet that word has about a 329% increase of usage from just a day ago) gifts to his “friends.” Kudos to the episode’s writer, Megan Ganz, who previously wrote “Cooperative Calligraphy,” a.k.a. The Bottle Episode, for making Pierce seem more restrained than he has recent weeks, even though his mental fuckery is more powerful than, say, him ruling over a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Pierce asks Abed to document everything in the style of The Office and Modern Family, because in the director’s words, “It’s easier to tell a complex story when you can just cut to people explaining things to the camera.”
To Shirley, Pierce gives a “compact record” of the rest of the group supposedly talking about how much they hate her. Shirley’s the character with the least amount of character development, and along with Pierce, the most (rightly) underused. Even Pierce admits as much to her, and giving her the “gift” first is a smart move, albeit cruel; don’t mess with the big dogs until you’ve planted seeds, to completely mix metaphors.
Troy can’t decide what gift he’d like most: a drum kit, a signed photo of LeVar Burton, or a million wishes, so he could get a million signed photos of LeVar Burton. But Pierce does one better: he gets Burton to come to the hospital, which should have been a blessing but is actually a curse. In the episode’s slyest shot, we, through Abed’s camera, see and hear Troy freaking out, “I TOLD PIERCE A THOUSAND TIMES: I NEVER WANTED TO MEET LEVAR BURTON; I JUST WANTED A PICTURE. YOU CAN’T DISSAPOINT A PICTURE,” followed by a scene of him rocking back and forth singing the Reading Rainbow theme to himself. For the rest of the episode, Troy just stares wide-eyed at Burton, afraid to say the wrong thing to his hero. Troy might be my favorite character because he’s so child-like, in a good way, but also deeply insecure. Who among us can’t relate to that? Plus, he loves Firefly.
While Annie gets a tiara, which she thinks is Pierce showing her the dangers of her elitism even though he actually just gave it to her because she’s his favorite, Britta receives a check for $10,000 with an empty “Pay to the Order Of” line. She’s supposed to give it to the charity of her choice, but if she were to write her own name on it, who’d know? Well, she would (although she admits to Abed that if he hadn’t been filming her, she’d have made it out to Britta Perry; yet another nod to the blossoming relationship between the two), and that’s too much guilt for her to take. For all Britta’s talk of doing good in the world, she’s also just a broke community college student, with loans and rent to pay. The writers have done a fantastic job of giving the Rebop-loving Britta more substance this season, and Gillian Jacobs hasn’t disappointed. The adorably awkward scene where Britta admits that she’ll never have any money because she’s both stupid with it and a generous friend is great because of a) Britta’s dance, and b) instead of actually figuring out what’s wrong with her, Britta just regurgitates what a semi-famous actor told her. She tries to try so hard. Her back-and-forth with Jeff, where she plays “Jeff Winger’s dumb, gay dad” is a scene to remember come Emmy-season. She also had my favorite line of the episode: “I was nostalgic from a very early age.”
Which brings us to Jeff Winger, Pierce’s rival. We know very little about Jeff’s father, other than he’s something Jeff doesn’t like to talk about — the perfect way for Pierce to get to him. Because although Jeff deep down knows his conman of a dad won’t actually show, there’s a part of him that’s afraid he will. One can reasonably assume that the reason Jeff acts the way he does is because of his upbringing; he shields himself to the world, making himself seem like a big, bad guy, but he’s just as bruised and damaged psychologically as the rest of his world (to quote Haley from American Dad! after Roger asks how her Intro to Psychology class is going: “It’s only day three, but I understand the whole world now”). That shield drops, though, when a towncar pulls up to the hospital, and instead of his father, it’s actually Pierce. Jeff goes ballistic, but shortly thereafter, is sitting next to Pierce, his father figure, in his hospital room, napping. Dude’s got issues to work out.
While Jeff and Britta are afraid to care, the rest of the group, minus Abed, wear their heart on their sleeves. It’s not tough to see what they’re feeling, whether it’s Shirley’s passive aggressive wondering what her friends said about her, or Troy literally screaming and crying. That’s why putting Abed behind the lenses was such a brilliant move. It’s the show’s most meta moment, where one of their own is seeing his fellow friends in the way only the viewers can.
Josh Kurp could hang with LaVar.