Monday, May 16, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community “For a Few Paintballs More”

Well, I guess I completely underestimated the writers last week in casually remarking that the second part of this paintball opus would be another homage to action movies in general.  I realized when “Pistol Peggy” emerged from the smoke of a paintball battle a-la Darth Vader’s entrance to the rebel blockade runner in the original film just what we were in for tonight, and I have to admit to a twinge of excitement in spite of having grown fairly sick of all things “Star Wars” in the past few years.  By and large, the episode followed through with some really fun scenes and playful character moments (how great is it that Abed-as-Solo gets Annie as hot/bothered as we’ve ever seen her on this show?) built around the well-known mythology of the original trilogy.  It didn’t quite live up to last week’s outstanding Spaghetti Western motif, but it managed to come through as a fairly energetic and amusing resolution to the most high stakes story we’ve seen on Community (if Greendale loses, it seems the college will be financially doomed) while putting some closure on that pesky Pierce problem that’s been hanging over the entire season.  I’m not sure how you do a “Star Wars” themed episode, though, and fail to put either Britta or Annie in the metal bikini.  Just saying, who was asleep at the wheel on that one? 

So we discover this week that Dean Spreck of rival City College is behind all of this—disguised as Pistol Patty he’s set Greendale up to allow its own students to destroy it from the inside out while his implanted-students-cum-storm-troopers finish off any feisty survivors.  As Troy puts it, “They’re an unstoppable juggleknob…juggernaut.”  So it seems, anyway, before the rag tag group of rebels composed mainly of the study group and all our favorite bit characters band together and mount one final attack on the City College crew’s stronghold (protected, of course, by one gigantic mother of a gun).  The infamous opening crawl played a bit cheesy, and it’s unfortunate that even on Community the limitations of pseudo-realism prevented a truly spectacular “space battle” to determine the fate of Greendale.  On the bright side, they managed to make a golf cart make the jump to light speed via a nice little trick of camera work, which played nicely for a laugh, and a somewhat enthralling action sequence ensued.  I hate to say it, but I also wasn’t a huge fan of Abed calling out the thematic switch from Western to “Star Wars”, if only because these paintball episodes feel almost like special episodes wherein the characters we know are inhabiting other roles and realms—Abed’s usual meta-observations sort of rob us of that guilty pleasure.

The scenes of the night were easily the Abed/Annie romance and the final assault on City College’s troopers.  The Abed/Annie material found really fun ways to parallel Han and Leia’s most romantic moments in a manner which nodded at the films while reworking the dialogue to serve the show’s own characters.  Abed’s seductive suggestion that Annie is attracted to him because “There’s not enough immaturity in your life” is both a fitting line to explain why the characters of Abed and Annie don’t fit together and an ample explanation of why they’re about to kiss anyway—Leia needed a scoundrel; Annie needs a little immaturity.  Well played.  Only slightly less funny was the extensive assault on the Gatling-gun centered stronghold of the City College team.  The homage was much looser here but made up for it with some great individual moments for pretty much everybody on the team:  Jeff gets a big speech and then gets blasted in the chest and heads home (because Denny’s is for winners), Shirley embraces the role of sacrifice for the greater good, Britta becomes an unlikely war hero, Leonard gets to call the City College students “knob gobblers”, and Troy’s plan works as he gets a true hero’s death, via “Shawshank Redemption” climactic triumph scene after getting absolutely destroyed in a barrage of paint. 

The sequence is a ton of fun to watch and leads nicely to the climactic moment of the season.  Pierce’s old trick of feigning heart trouble to get the upper hand allows him to use the oldest trick in the “Star Wars” book:  He disguises himself as a storm trooper and casually point-blanks the last two City College players to win the game.  More importantly, in turning from an unlikeable “scoundrel” of sorts to a man devoted to a greater cause, Pierce immediately hands over his “reward” of $100,000 to Greendale, without anyone even having to remind him that this would be a good time to be selfless.  “I knew there was more to you than money” no one actually says aloud, but Leia’s line is nevertheless fitting for what feels like a solid redemption of Pierce as a character.  All the more interesting, then, that Pierce then abandons the group after explaining to them that in 12 (!) years at Greendale, he’s never had friends for more than a semester because he presumes they’ll dislike him and then tests them just to prove himself right.  It’s half self-reflection but half condemnation of a group who have always held him in lesser esteem than everyone else in the crew.  They all know they’ve each failed that “test” on more than one occasion, so Pierce’s feelings aren’t without merit as he walks out the door and doesn’t return (despite Jeff’s prediction to the contrary).  I haven’t heard anything about Chase not returning next season, so I assume this is just a tantalizing little cliffhanger to be dealt with later, but there is something a little intense about it—they could always keep Pierce on as a character but have him joining a rival camp (like that “cool” group with Owen Wilson and Jack Black in it!) and antagonizing the study group.  I don’t like that idea, but I can’t think of a good reason to think it might not happen.

I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t take at least a second here to give credit to the crew behind this episode for going out of their way to knock it out of the park with special effects and fun camera work (much of it mimicry of other films, but still accomplished with aplomb).  The Gatling gun is put to outstanding use and actually comes off as intimidating and powerful, slow-mo shots and all.  Troy’s bloody  painty death captured from a high-angle shot behind his bullet-riddled body is as perfectly framed as any sacrificial death from any action movie you can name, and his “Shawshank” moment doesn’t skip a beat either.  Pair it up with last week, and I think it speaks volumes about the quality of the direction and effects crew working on this show, not to mention their devotion to great television and film to recreate so many great scenes so lovingly (and convincingly). 

Taken collectively, it was an odd little season for Community.  There was definitely a sophomore slump early in the season (that space camp/RV episode just didn’t work for me, to name one hiccup), but the show more than recovered with some absolutely stellar episodes and nicely calculated risks (the Christmas episode won over at least two people I know who had been on the fence about the show).  I stopped paying attention to the ratings at some point, but I think there’s something to be said for the fact that this show has become content to be a special something for people who want something unique and unusual from their television comedy.  More specifically, they want a type of comedy that might actually be unappealing to the masses who tune in for every other sitcom on TV (let’s face it—there are as many undiscriminating dumdums who love The Office as there are intelligent, thoughtful viewers) and appreciate a bit of humor that turns the usual sitcom clichés on their ear whenever possible.  It’s the show that you recommend, but not to everybody you know.  You tell one friend about it eagerly but don’t even mention it to that guy at work because he’s nice and all, but he watches Two and a Half Men religiously, which, you know, why are you hanging out with him anyway?  Anyway, an uneven season of Community probably blows the best seasons of more mundane comedies out of the water, so I have very few regrets for having spent 23 half hours with the study group and I can’t wait to meet everybody in the same study room next season. 

Overall Rating:  9.2/10
Season Rating:  8.8/10

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, Whatnot, and Occasionally What-Have-You:

“Why would somebody who gets paid to do things be at Greendale?”

“Oh you haven’t seen how mean this dean can be…ean.”

“The floor recognizes Magnitude.” 
“First off, Pop Pop!”

“We still might have a chance to hit ‘em where it hurts.” 
“Their balls?” 
“Right below their balls?” 

I like the idea of a robot paint bomb for its own sake, but even better that it doubles as the little scuttling robot that wandered the halls of the Death Star.

“Those guys are ballers, yo.  I hope you like getting balled.”

“Welcome to Greendale, you’re already dead!” is a solid smart-ass action line.

“I do happen, Jeff.  I happen very much.”

“Paint in sprinklers?  Are we the little rascals?” 
“I was.”

“I don’t take orders from girls…because they don’t talk to me.”

No one ruins other people’s street cred like Pierce:  He tells the City College students that Jeff wants to be a ballerina and his Achilles heel is wieners. 

“Operation Troy’s Awesome Plan is living up to its name.”

“Commencing Operation Actual Operation.”

“Then let’s kick some taint.”

“Britta I’ve been in a few real wars, but this one is actually the most terrifying.”

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