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Wednesday, 30 of September of 2020

Community – “A Fist Full of Paintballs” & “For a Few Paintballs More”

Ah! My study group! How long has it been?

I’m done with whatever you call this.

Troy as the King of Clubs

Look how happy he is!

Oh, where to start? How to start?

First: I do wish I had done an individual review of “A Fist Full of Paintballs.” The two episodes are different enough that they practically stand alone, if only because “For a Few Paintballs More” drops the full on Western theme for something a little more rote, and in line with “Modern Warfare” (despite the Star Wars call to arms, the episode never approached the space western all that seriously beyond Abed being Han Solo (and being awesome at it)).

Second: The conclusion to the “Pierce is a jerk” arc is actually satisfying, and largely earned. I do kind of wonder how long the show will commit to the dynamics change they’ve put on  for season 3, or if they’ll even commit at all.

Third: Despite quibbles, both episodes are pretty fun, aren’t they?

“A Fist Full of Paintballs”

I was intrigued by the idea of Community doing a Western feel in paintball, but I ended up more bemused by the episode. Whereas “Modern Warfare” used a variety of different action film nods (Pitch Black, Terminator 2, The Matrix, etc.) in very specific ways, with little iconic lines and props to drive home the idea of parody and cultural knowledge, but also used the action film motifs to do very specific things with Jeff and Britta’s relationship at the time. But “Fist Full” ‘s use of the Western feels a lot like Chang’s shirt in the episode: drawn on with a Sharpie to give the illusion of being Western-themed.

Where “A Fist Full of Paintballs” crumbles is that, well, it’s a Western parody made by (and for(?)) people who don’t watch a lot of Westerns. Yes, there’s Troy dressed in Bart’s outfit from Blazing Saddles, but what other specific Westerns does the episode draw from? Instead of deploying specific instances of Western films, Community takes it easy and just cobbles together the “idea” of a Western (saloons, stand-offs, dancers, mysterious gunmen, tight shots of eyes, faces, and hands) and makes them feel awfully cramped inside of Greendale (Westerns also have pretty large, open spaces).

I acknowledge the fact that Westerns are out of vogue, and that the language of the Western is largely regulated to being an “idea”, which is why there’s nothing specific: their audience may not get specific references, and for a show that plays to its audience as well as Community does, it knows that.

But the entire experience is less immersive and specific scene-to-scene than “Modern Warfare” is, and a result feels a little half-baked. And the ideas of a Western, conflict between law and outlaw and codes to which people adhere, don’t come through in the episode as clearly as they should. The tension between Pierce and the rest of the study group doesn’t feel at home in the genre. The stand-off between Pierce and Annie, while very appropriate, ultimately feels short-circuited because of the demands of the parody (the Black Rider’s appearance).

That’s a lot of negative stuff from a very critical distance, and it does dampen the episode for me from a thematic and parody level. But it’s still very fun. I love the costuming, from Troy’s above mentioned look to the return of Jeff’s cowboy outfit to Chang’s above mentioned shirt (what the hell happened to his mad paintball skills?!). Fort Hawthorne, I thought, was really beautifully staged and while it was in the cafeteria that the episode attempted the idea of a wide open space and failed for me, it still worked as an overall set piece.

Josh Holloway is clearly having a blast (wish he had stuck around for part two), and I love that the episode allowed him two patented Sawyer moments: “Son of a of bitch!” and giving Annie a nickname (Bean Allergy. Awww.). I’d love for him to have to come back to Greendale to have to work out some on-line class issue.

But, all in all, it wasn’t quite enough  for me to be super-engaged, and so I was hoping for some real payoff from…

“For a Few Paintballs More”

And I did and didn’t get it. I liked the idea of shifting to Star Wars/war film mentality, since Star Wars is often considered a Western, but in space. The genre stuff never cohered, and Danny Pudi was hilarious in the Han Solo mode, the rest of the episode never tried to be anything beyond a direct sequel to “Modern Warfare” sans-action film specifics. And I’m glad for that.

With the Western drive gone, and a lack of full-on genre emphasis in the episode, the character could kind of breathe a bit and be themselves, and much of that came through for me in the episode. Troy and Jeff’s battle to lead as a nice reaffirmation of Troy’s growth this season (Donald Glover deserves a damn Emmy) while I was initially not grooving on, made sense by the end of the episode, and I really appreciated that small bit of closure to Troy’s moments in “Certified Mixology” (and the acceptance of his “super plumbing skills” from season one).

Everything’s well-staged, and I really really really loved how it allowed many of Greendale’s guest characters to step up. From Vicki’s “Leeroy Jenkins” moment to Magnitude’s sacrifice (“Pop…” “Pop what, Magnitude?! WHAT IS HE TRYING TO SAY?”) to Leonard’s just beautiful little bits of delivery, I think the real pleasure in the episode comes from the background folks being used in really elegant ways. Just proves even more that a Day In the Limelight episode for the series could totally work.

It was really the Pierce pay-off I was looking for here, though. After the mish-mashy approach the season took to the Shirley/Chang/pregnancy issue, I was a bit concerned that the show would likewise bungle this. While I’ve feel like the show has played fast and loose with a lot of this, particularly Pierce’s place in the group post-“Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”, that last scene is, largely well-done as a resolution for Pierce, who comes to a nice degree of self-awareness here.

I wonder about the impact of this. In a situation where Pierce identifies the group as being sicker than he is, I can’t help but think that the show will gloss over that point. There was no big Jeff speech that saved the group, and that’s what always saves the group. Annie’s point in “Paradigms of Human Memory” about the speeches not being necessary since the group will never break up, prove a nice bit of foreshadowing. But I want the show to commit to this self-examination. After I’ve been frustrated by the show’s refusal to go to darker places (Chang going to jail, Shirley’s baby being Andre’s), I’m doubtful at how much of a dynamics shift the show will do.

But I have all summer to wait to find out.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • “He’s really good looking. Like network TV good looking. And did you see how big his guns were?”
  • “My forehead’s not that big, is it?” “It’s not small.”
  • “I don’t name people, Annie. I’m a deputy. I deputize.”
  • “Why does this keep happening?! And what kind of ice cream place does this?!”
  • “Starting with you, Mr. Insecure.” “You think you’re good-looking, but you’re not. You’re average. You’re just an average-looking guy with a big chin.”
  • “Why would someone who gets paid to do things be at Greendale?”
  • “She’s just saying that to fit in!”
  • “DAMMIT, SHIRLEY! Forget your newborn child, and think about the people that need you.”
  • “Honestly, ask yourself, what does ‘liberal arts’ even mean?”
  • “Quendra. With a QU.”
  • “Denny’s is for winners.” (Line of the season?)
  • “Aw hell, someone’s gotta win this.”
  • How great is that Shirley always had a bag with her? I LOVED THAT.
  • “Yeah, he uses some kind of crystal instead of deodorant.”
  • Feel kind of bad for Annie. That’s twice now she’s kissed a member of the study group only to have them emotionally turn off to her after. Takers on whether or not she kisses Britta in the season 3 finale? (Though I did like that Abed and Annie had a story together. They are so Chandler and Phoebe.)
  • Was disappointed that none of the faculty received cameos during the siege. Would’ve been a prime reason to suddenly bring back Betty White, kicking ass and taking names.
  • At least we got Mike the bully back for a quick minute.
  • Really loved the tag for “Few Paintballs More.” Calls a nice bit of attention to the people who clean up schools, of course, but also the below the line crew who had to start scrubbing down those sets immediately after the renewal notice.
  • Wishlist for next season: More Shirley, more Britta, clearer emotional stakes, Abed loves Good Christian Belles, no zombie sequel, Day in the Limelight episode, more emphasis on classes and studying, more Andre, another school play, and Jim Rash’s name to appear in the opening credits (the guy deserves it).


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