Time and time again this season, we’ve seen that the best way to bring the Greendale study group together is to pit them against each other. It’s essentially Sitcom Writing 101, but the ways the show would continue to generate conflict without alienating its characters or making them unlikeable is its secret weapon. This is at the heart of Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking, and it’s no coincidence that it’s a great episode of the show. Community’s legacy may be tied to its ability to deftly break from the traditional sitcom format – and it certainly deserves that distinction – but the magic trick of this episode is in how it breaks down its characters.
Picking up right after the events of Early 21st Century Romanticism, the episode sees Pierce in the hospital after overdosing on his pain pills. Episode writer Megan Ganz smartly clues us in early on Pierce’s game, revealing that his stint in the hospital and “bequeathal” to each of the study group members is all a ruse to expose how poorly he’s been treated. This frees us up for the rest of the episode to see that seemingly kind gestures are really just insanely complicated acts of psychological torture. Ganz, who also wrote Cooperative Calligraphy, seems to have an iron grip on the inner lives of the characters in the show; who else could come up with an inspired beat for Troy wherein meeting LeVar Burton is the most traumatizing experience of his life?
Troy’s breakdown is easily a highlight of the episode, and it gives Donald Glover the spotlight in what’s been a remarkably solid season for him. I’ve been catching up on Atlanta lately, and it’s easy to see why his performance on Community made him such a reliable presence on his show. Troy was usually a pretty steady character, as opposed to the malleability of Jeff or Britta, but Glover was always able to sell whatever Troy was into on a given basis. More often than not, Troy has at least one of the best line readings of any given episode. That he’s able to make Troy’s catatonic state once he lays eyes upon LeVar Burton so funny and compelling is a testament to Glover’s natural abilities.
Do any of the characters hate Pierce? The events of Documentary Filmmaking would surely suggest so, but it’s a magic trick of the show that we don’t believe so by the episode’s end. By all accounts, what he does to Jeff – and really everyone in the group, save for Abed who strangely doesn’t receive anything – is monstrous and should see him exiled, but the group’s long-standing familiarity with each other goes a long way to make their forgiveness of him understandable.
There isn’t anything quite as revolutionary in Intro to Political Science, but my god, is it filled to the brim with jokes. That’s not to say that Documentary Filmmaking wasn’t funny as hell too, of course. It’s nothing more than a softball to hurl jokes at politicians and the political process, but writer Adam Countee makes the character development the basis for the absurd plot developments. Annie’s genuine excitement for the Greendale election leads Jeff to run against her so he can highlight the pointlessness of elected office at the school. The “primary” section of the episode, and the subsequent debate, provides for some great rapid-fire jokes at the characters’ expense. I always appreciate when sitcoms throw in “blink and you’ll miss it” jokes and sight gags, like in the highlight reel of each candidate.
Throw in a pitch-perfect romantic subplot for Abed featuring Eliza Coupe and you have a real winner on your hands. By 2010, America had mostly escaped the Bush-era casual racism towards Middle Easterners had diminished, but the lingering sentiment was in the air well enough to make the Secret Service members’ suspicion of Abed work on more than one level.
I had forgotten how much the show had leaned on Jeff and Annie pairing off together, and it’s come to some mixed results in this season. It makes sense on paper; Annie’s sunny optimism goes nicely against Jeff’s jaded nihilism. We saw them paired together in Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design, against each other in Asian Population Studies, and now here. Their shared affection for Greendale, and each other, is what always brings them closer together in the end, and both episodes in this installment highlight provide a nice showcase for why the show continues to endure today.
Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking Grade: B+
Intro to Political Science Grade: B