TV Review: Community 3.9, “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”

Did that episode seem a little strange to anybody else? I mean, spectacularly strange, but strange nonetheless.

Jay D.

Contributor

Rating: ★★★★½

Did that episode seem a little strange to anybody else? I mean, spectacularly strange, but strange nonetheless. The two dominant storyline’s set off in completely different directions in what seems like an uncharacteristic lack of unity only to match up beautifully at the end. But more on that in a moment.

“Foosball” was a pretty interesting take on the general dichotomy on the show. On the one hand we have juvenile simplicity, on the other we have organic complexity. In Annie, Abed and Troy we see a sort of childish collision of personalities. A rather simple circumstance develops into full out chaos. It starts out rather plain and appropriately nerdy: Abed and Troy get a new special, signed edition of The Dark Knight on DVD. Shameless product placement aside, the two decide to make an epic night of it. Annie, in her maternal cleaning frenzy steps on it and breaks it. And thus a perfect set-up for a zany sitcom bait and switch. But Troy squashes this expectation, anticipating Abed’s encyclopedic knowledge and keen sense of observation. In a weird role switch, Troy becomes the voice of reason and Annie the harbinger of disorder.

So Annie does what any responsible adult would do. She destroys the apartment and feigns a break in. Fortunately for Annie, Abed takes the bait and launches a full fledged investigation, again like any rational human being would do, dressed in a Batman costume. And you know what? It was actually pretty refreshing to see. There was nothing contrived, nothing “wacky” about all of the hilarity that burst out of the scenario. The irony of Troy screaming “You were supposed to tone us down” as he and Annie climb out onto the fire escape to chase after Batman is certainly not lost on any of us, but it was fully expected from these characters. It was the Annie, Abed and Troy show, unplugged, for half of the episode.

Community "Foosball" Troy and Annie

And as delightful as that was, the other half was almost completely unhinged. Jeff gets annoyed at some Eurotrash toolbags playing foosball and is determined (as always) to show them that he is better. But we find out that Jeff was once in love with the game, but gave it all up. Turns out Shirley (and Yvette Nicole Brown was amazing in this episode) is pretty damn good at foosball and offers to coach Jeff. A few more steps removed and we find out that (spoilers ahead, but you knew that) Shirley beat Jeff when they were kids and taunted him to the point of peeing his pants. All his pent up angst and lack of identity diverges from that exact moment, and Shirley was the cause. This ultimately results in an uncanny Anime foosball showdown (Update: per my confusion, Alec pointed out that the animation sequence is a parody of the MTV show R.J. Berger. Certainly clears it up a bit, making Community as esoteric as it is awesome). Oh, and Britta and Pierce are nowhere to be found.

But by the end, it all comes back around. Shirley and Jeff are able to realize that they have in fact developed into okay individuals and become friends like never before. Once again, this half of the show had its truly funny moments, but was almost surreal. Flashbacks, animation sequences? Seems a bit drastic.

But I still really liked the episode. I was totally into all of the tomfoolery and the plot twists actually sucked me in instead of throwing me off (I wasn’t expecting it, were you?). Everything felt in its place for some reason so I knew there was something that had to bind everything together. It just all felt too…cohesive. So I dug deeper, and this is what i came up with.

It all lines up perfectly in one beautiful and revealing moment at the end, when the show really brings it all home. As Jeff and Shirley walk off, arm and arm, they are transformed into their childhood counterparts, and we see two children walking out of the Greendale cafeteria. But rather then hint to us that they are still kids, it demonstrates how the two of them were able to move forward. And that is the point at which both storylines collapse upon themselves. Order leads to chaos, which leads right back again to order.

The characters grew up significantly in this episode, and it was incredible to watch it unfold. Abed throws away his costume, forgives Annie and the whole experience allows the three roommates to collectively take a leap into adulthood. Not because they were able to resolve this particular situation, but because they understand the need for it to be resolved. Jeff, on the other hand, is finally forced to confront his age in the episode (he’s only two years younger then Shirley) and his still brooding childhood angst. He saw past all of this with Shirley’s help, and dare I say, in order to become a respectable adult. Shirley went the other way, and was able to understand the value of her childhood and how important to let go here and there. So the whole episode converged at this singular point. Life is a blend of your kid self and adult self. Hey, would you look at that? Isn’t that the whole point of Community?

Through this filter, I’m actually able to accept the grappling hooks, winding plot and cartoons from the show. Why? And you can call me out if I’m way off base, but I think it might be the show recognizing its own maturity as well. Those of us who are major fans of the show most likely found tonight extremely sentimental despite all of its absurdity. But as much as the show loves to revel in its childish antics they understand the need to make this a secondary target. That’s what this season has been all about. Crafting plots and jokes that are organic to the group so even when it is completely off kilter, it is still grounded. It’s struck this balance between the child, pop culture addict and the witty high culture addict in all of us. Tonight was the writer’s way of tipping their hat and paying homage to this way of life and I thank them for it.

In related news, next week will mark the end of Community. An interview with Yvette Nicole Brown revealed that the last few episodes of this season will be shown, and then who knows for a while. I just really want to see it come back, it’s just getting warmed up in my opinion.