The phrase "fish in a barrel" describes an effortless or simple action, one with guaranteed success.
I'd hardly say writer Megan Ganz, or anyone else involved in the production of "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking," spared much effort in putting together this pitch perfect episode, but it definitely delivered in terms of success.
From the moment Abed referred to the mockumentary style of filmmaking using the above idiom, claiming it's an easy (read: lazy) way to tell a complex story, I knew we had something special in the offing. Some might call it an homage to comedies such as The Office and Modern Family, but this had lampoon written all over it, based on Jeff's spot on Jim Halpert deer-in-the-headlights glances at the camera alone.
Consider the episode an overall "complisult," if you will.Abed's final voiceover, a perforation of the much maligned overuse of the device (looking at you, Modern Family!) almost had me in tears it was so dead on:
"After a while it can become cramped, chaotic and stinky... you can always wrap it up with a series of random shots, when cut together under a generic voiceover, to suggest a profound thematic connection. I'm not knocking it. It works."
Suuuure. It was clearly an intended jab at its more lauded, viewer-magnetic competitors. I imagine creator Dan Harmon and Ganz are sheepishly grinning just a little bit today.
What I didn't expect, though, was how well Community lends itself to the use of this concept. Not that I want it to follow the same pattern weekly, but as much as I love my Parks And Recreation, I don't think I've yet seen a better use of the form than here. As always, Community shines best when it's skewering pop culture.
Everything I love about the show was powering on full thrusters, from the impeccable characterization to some of the funniest, wit-laced dialogue in its history, including the most under the radar scatological joke I think I've ever heard ("Mr. Hawthorne is ready to begin his bequeathing." "Shouldn't you be telling that to an orderly?") In fact it was so off the wall amazing, I nearly transcribed the entire episode for the Quotes Section.
How much more perfectly could each of the "gifts" (or, rather, weapons of psychological vengeance) that Pierce bequeathed upon the others have challenged their personalities and brought their individual issues to the surface?
What better way to get Shirley to recognize that she uses guilt as a weapon, and test her Christian dexterity, than to place in her mind the idea that she's the target of a perceived wrong? How greater to show Jeff that he can't just bury his inner demons and glibly meander through life unscathed, than force him to confront the source of his underlying anger? Would Britta's eyes have been opened to the fact that she might not be as selfless as she lets on, or at the very least needs to find a good accountant, if Pierce hadn't dangled such a tempting carrot before her while in front of a camera?
Might Annie have continued on, so unrelentingly tough on herself and risking becoming a bitter, sad person had she not been given the tiara as a cautionary symbol - despite Pierce's claim she was actually just his favorite? How could Troy be taught the lesson that nobody's expectations of him, either real or perceived, should cause him to be anyone other than himself if Pierce had not produced his idol LeVar Burton in the flesh, at whom he could silently gawk?
Ok, so maybe no one actually learned anything that will stick, save perhaps for Abed, whose filmmaking skills have vastly improved since "Six Candles," but as is more often than not the case, Pierce's vengeful acting out yielded a bit of introspection and catharsis for each of his classmates. It certainly made for a fun and interesting episode don't you think?
Perhaps my favorite exchange of the evening, aside from the geektastic Firefly shout out, was that of Jeff and Britta's escalating role play as each other's father, the whole of which I cite below:
Britta: Hey, Hi I'm Jeff's dad.
Jeff: Hi Jeff's dad, I'm Britta's dad.
Britta: What? Why?
Jeff: I dunno, got drunk, didn't have a condom, and her mom gets freaky when she hears Oingo Boingo.
Britta: Oh god, I wish could relate, but much like my son I'm a closet homosexual.
Jeff: Don't apologize for that. You're talkin to the guy who banged Britta's mom. I have no standards.
Britta: Well, then what do you say we take a tumble? I'll put on a wig.
Jeff: That's it, you're under arrest. I'm an undercover cop.
Britta: It's not illegal to be gay.
Jeff: It is here in Iran.
Britta: Not when we're in the Green Zone!
Jeff: That's Iraq, stupid.
Britta: Well what do I know? I'm Jeff Winger's dumb gay dad!
Will Britta ever learn? When it comes to a quippy battle of wits, no one can best Jeffrey Winger. The dude was lawyer. He one-upped people for a living.
As you likely can derive from the 5.0 rating I bequeathed upon it, "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" is an instant classic in my book and quite possibly my favorite episode of the series to date. What did everyone else think?
Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.