7
May
2010
Community: Season 1, Episode 23
Modern Warfare
Jordan
Whenever a show leaves its comfort zone to do a gimmick episode, there's a level of risk. Often times, the show can get so caught up in what its trying to be for that one episode that it forgets to be what it is every other week. When Scrubs did "My Sitcom" it simply became a one-note joke about if the show was more like a standard sitcom and didn't do anything at all to deepen the characters or to move the story forward. When Buffy turned into a musical for an hour in "Once More With Feeling" it knocked the doors off the place, both as a really solid musical and as a way to give the viewers access to the currents of doubt, paranoia, tension, and loneliness that were already running under the series' sixth season. Fortunately, "Modern Warfare" falls into the latter camp as Community becomes an action epic for 22 minutes yet doesn't skip a beat in moving its characters forward.

I would say that, more than just one of the strongest episodes this show has done yet, "Modern Warfare" is one of the strongest episodes of television I have seen this season at all. It commits so fully to its construct of Greendale as a post-apocalyptic wasteland that every joke also feels like a moment you would actually see in any given action movie. But as deeply as the show commits to its vision of an action movie, it never goes over the top or alters its characters to better fit the cliches. Instead, the episode keeps pace and allows us to have big, real character moments in between the parody setpieces. There's even a great meta-joke in which the gang gets pinned down by snipers from the Glee Club and Jeff, in clear rivalry with the much more popular (and much less quality) Glee screams, "write some original songs!" Its funny both in the context of the episode, and as a surface level indictment of Glee, but it also reveals a deeper strength that this show has over its apparent rival. While Glee traffics in cliches, and populist visions of high school, homosexuality, race, and the musical as a genre, Community has taken its college comedy premise and made it wholly its own. If anyone on television is writing some original material right now, its Community, a show so at home marching to the beat of its own drum that it can change the tune entirely and not miss a note.

That this post-apocalyptic wasteland was created in a battle over priority registration treads the line of going over the top, but manages to stay hilarious because of how perfectly it draws the characters we have gotten to know this season into the equivalent of a battle for their lives. Each of them has a real reason to be fighting here, and in the scene in which they all share their dreams around a fire (which post-apocalyptic movie doesn't have this moment?) works as both parody and as an actual character moment. Plus, that this can be defined as a Jeff and Britta episode, yet so fully utilize the entire cast again shows Community's mastery with its ensemble. I have never been the biggest fan of the Jeff-Britta tension storyline, but this episode handled it so naturally I forgot all of my previous gripes about it and just hung on for the hilarious ride. It was clear from the get go that we would get whittled slowly down to Jeff and Britta, but not knowing who would go when added an odd amount of suspense and a lot more laughs to each person's death (which, by the way, also fit with their characters). As Troy was cut down in his prime, Annie's desire to not get made fun of created her undoing, Pierce's stubbornness lead to his death, Shirley's faith kept her in harm's way and Abed's pop culture obsession got him capped, each character was given a great showcase in an episode that wasn't even meant as one.

I also like that the show left us with the possibility that for once, in TV like so often in life, sex might just be sex. Jeff and Britta, who do have tension and who were under a lot of stress, might maybe have just had sex without turning all gooey inside and falling madly in love as so often happens in television. The look they gave each other at the end ensues that their storyline is not done (and of course it isn't, the show began with that as its center) but the idea that sex didn't automatically throw these two in a relationship was incredibly refreshing. Community has made great hay of subverting sitcom cliches in its first season, and if they manage to turn Jeff and Britta into a perfect subversion of the standard, tired will-they-won't-they routine, it will just be another brilliant step along the show's path. This episode amped up every relationship just like an action movie would, and used that amplification to examine their relationships with a strong dose of humor, just like a great episode of Community would. This was one for the ages, folks, and one of the best episodes of television I've seen in recent memory.

Grade: A

Notes:

-"Who are Sam and Diane?" "Ok, we get it, you're young!"

-"Come with me if you don't want paint on your clothes."

-"You could schedule all your classes on Monday, then take a six day weekend!" That's the dream!

-"Checkmate, bitches! And tell the drama club their tears will be real today."

-Its blood! I thought it was paint, but I'm just bleeding. What luck!"

-"I'm gross? You seem pretty well practiced at putting panties on while holding a gun."

-"I asked you first." "Real mature." "Said the woman wearing Hello Kitty underwear."

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Tags: Community
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