S3E9: Tonight’s Community was simple and sweet, and after last episode’s departure from anything resembling a network sitcom, it was a bit of a shock to the system, but it was a welcome one. I enjoy the series’ high concept episodes immensely – most of them are listed among my favorites of the show’s entire run, but that’s because they’re so remarkable, so memorable. Tonight’s episode shows that while Community is certainly adept at going off the wall, when you take away the crazy ideas, it still retains a base of genuine humor and solid, emotional human relationships. Plus, the tag with Leonard reviewing frozen pizzas on YouTube is a stroke of sheer genius.
“Abed is Batman now. –Christian Bale” –Abed’s Special Edition Dark Knight DVD
First up, Abed finally gets his hands on a super-mega-non-existent special edition of The Dark Knight that even includes a personalized message of up to four words from Christian Bale. Unfortunately, Annie accidentally steps on it and breaks it. Of course, the next step is for her to try to cover it up by secretly replacing it, but Troy stops her in her tracks with, “Do you know how many sitcoms have tried the secretly replace an item thing? Abed does.” And with that, we know it’s going to go in a completely different direction in a way that only a story involving these three characters could.
Annie decides to pretend they’ve been robbed and that the thief took a necklace she makes up (with way too many lie embellishments) and the DVD. When the cops come they say they probably won’t regain the items (and the cop notes that he’s the same guy who once taught Annie the importance of gun safety by fake shooting her – remember that one?). Abed takes matters into his own – or Batman’s – hands, comes up with the idea that the landlord is the culprit, dons his Batman costume once again (two years since the last instance – it was time), and descends to his apartment to get his things back. Side note: I love that while Abed’s persona is all Batman, his strength and coordination cause obvious struggles; it really emphasizes that he’s in his own little fantasy world within the real world (and by real world, we mean the world of Community).
It turns out the landlord is stealing things, but he’s stealing women’s shoes (which is a strange fetish, especially in addition to the odd hippie/Woodstock porn he’s watching when Abed breaks in). Annie still takes the opportunity to plant the DVD and say the landlord did it, but he denies it. Eventually they all walk away with nothing more than a warning from the cop telling them to invest in a shoe safe for Annie’s tempting ballet flats. Of course Annie eventually apologizes and Abed-Batman is gracious about it – because Abed is the best person of the group, after all. I love that at the end of all this, Troy really does buy into the notion that Abed was Batman – or that he’s so committed to the friendship that he’s willing to pretend that’s what he thinks. Either way, it’s adorable.
”You were Big Cheddar?!” – Jeff
”You were Tinkle Town?” – Shirley
Meanwhile, Jeff gets into an altercation with some German foosball players (one of whom is played by the hilarious Nick Kroll), which takes him back to a time when he used to love foosball as a kid, before one bully ruined the game for him. He finds out that Shirley is actually an amazing foosball player and insists she teach him so he can beat the Germans. She’s vehemently against it, saying it makes people evil, but when Jeff praises the mean side of Shirley so highly, she is pulled in and teaches him to play, just as the Germans come around specifically to hold up Kroll's character so he can kick a ball. I laughed way too much at that tiny bit, and I laughed even more at Jeff’s reaction about how elaborate it was. (That ball must have cost 25 bucks!)
Apparently, you have to be really angry to win at foosball – funny, I always thought you had to be a drunken frat boy. Shirley and Jeff's mutual appreciation of the angry game eventually leads to the pair having lunch (at the same terrible Mexican restaurant where the Dean forced Jeff to go when Annie was moving) and discovering a terrible truth. Shirley thinks foosball is evil because she got so competitive she made a little boy cry when she was a kid, and Jeff hates foosball so much because he was that little boy. That one moment led to Shirley becoming such an innocent, devotedly Christian woman, and to Jeff becoming a pretentious, self-obsessed douche. Ah, the power of foosball.
They end up facing off in a match swathed in rage – so much so that the scene turns into an animae show for far longer than the joke really worked, but maybe that’s just because I don’t watch animae. I can admit, however, that by the time they apologize to each other, it’s pretty funny in that spastic cartoon style. They decide to best the Germans by flipping (foosing?) the foosball into the very center point of the table, where none of the little foosball men can actually reach it, which was hilarious, because I’m pretty sure that annoying phenomenon is why I’ve never seen anyone complete a game of foosball. But what happened after that little victory is what’s great about this episode. As Jeff and Shirley ditch foosball to go see a movie, we see the kid versions of themselves walking off into the distance and I for one was a little moved – and genuinely so.
Just like Abed would want, these television characters, despite their crazy characteristics and outlandish behaviors, are extremely real to us. We feel with them and for them, and something as simple as a childhood fight remedied years later amongst two friends is enough to move us completely. And a series that can do that is one that definitely deserves the ardent praise Community receives from the small, yet vocal community of folks who love it.