1
Dec
2011
Community: Season 3, Episode 9
Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism
Jordan
That this is the second to last Community before the show's indefinite hiatus makes me very sad. However, the fact that "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" was a very good episode, and the fact that next week offers up a Christmas episode make me willing to do something we're all practiced at when the holidays come around: repress. So for the rest of this review, we will be ignoring the elephant in the room and just enjoying a good show doing good, funny work.

The show was fairly evenly divided tonight between its two plots (so much so it seems unfair to call one the A-Plot and one the B-plot, so let's dispense with that for this week, and if it makes you feel better, blame the egg nog), both of which contained a fairly solid mixture of laughs and emotional payoff. Each plot was built on the kind of gleefully ridiculous absurdism Community does best, yet each also dealt with the shifting dynamics between these characters very well.

Troy and Abed order a special edition of The Dark Knight packed with special features that would make any Batman geek squeal (admission: I would totally want a personalized message from Christian Bale in Batman voice, and it would probably say "Jordan is Batman now," just like Abed's). Annie, in her efforts to tidy up the apartment (considerately leaving the half eaten sandwich alone after a tiff over buttered noodles), steps on said dvd and, panicking, decides to stage a robbery to convince Abed it was stolen, after her plan to attempt to replace it was vetoed by Troy as a sitcom cliche Abed would be sure to notice. Unfortunately, Abed takes this is an opportunity to become Batman again, using the grappling hook Troy bought him last Christmas to enter the apartment of his landlord, who he quickly discovers has a fetish for women's shoes.

All of this is good fun, and would have been enough to carry the plot by itself, yet the tiny beats thrown in throughout about the way these new roommates are adapting to each other carried it up to the next level in my mind. Annie is trying not to let her obsessive neatness get in the way of the boys' good times. Troy freely admits (as Annie follows Abed to the landlord's apartment) that "You were supposed to tone us down!") and Abed is willing to look past Annie's mistake, in order to preserve his secret identity. This sweetness acts as a nice undercurrent to the plot line, which is just a blast otherwise.

The other plot works in the same way, though that sweetness comes later and ends up being far more meaningful. Initially, it seemed that Jeff's efforts to best the Deutsche bag (see, 'cause they're Germans) foosball players would just be a trifle, like Jeff's pool playing in season one. However, it quickly developed into a much better joke: that foosball is inherently evil and brings out the worst in people. Again, this would have been enough to make a great plot line, especially once Shirley let herself off her leash and became Jeff's foosball trainer.

Yet as Jeff and Shirley bonded, both sharing the way that foosball filled holes in their lives and why they eventually abandoned the game, the plot slowly morphed into an exploration of the traumas these two overcame to make it to where they are today. That Shirley turned out to be the bully who tormented Jeff and caused him to abandon the sport is not all that surprising; this sort of twist happens all the time on sitcoms. And that the two wound up becoming closer by realizing the ways they have both evolved since their bad old foosball playing days could also be seen as a bit trite. Yet the show plays those points so well, helped out by great performances from Yvette Nicole Brown (who oozes pain and regret) and Joel McHale (who nails Jeff's humiliation and anguish) that the storyline became something much more meaningful than the initial cliche.

I have talked before about how I think the show has been misusing Shirley this season, but I think tonight's episode got us back to a representation of the character that seems more well rounded and three dimensional, and less limited to jokes about Christianity and her naivety. Shirley is a woman with a lot of rage and bitterness in her past. She is a character that is as flawed as everyone else in the study group, yet she has found her own personal salvation through religion. This sometimes gives her a smug, holier than thou approach to those around her, and it often leads to her disapproving of the things her group members do, but the show does well to remember where Shirley comes from and how she got here. She was a bully as a kid. She drank too much after she got divorced. She has had problems, and just because she feels like she is closer to redemption than the rest of her group does not mean those problems are gone forever, nor does it mean that she is right. That the show managed to remind us of all of this in a storyline that also delved into Jeff's deep seated issues with the abandonment of his father (and the time Shirley made him pee his pants, causing him to cut his hair, move schools, and completely change his personality), came up with the hilarious notion that foosball is evil, and gave us an anime battle between Jeff and Shirley...well, that's just the kind of show Community is at its best.

"Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" combines the show's sense of humor and pathos incredibly well, turning in an episode that is moving and hilarious, while also giving us resonant moments for many of our characters, granting us a deeper understanding of them as we laugh and grow to care more about them. In short, its a very good episode of a very good show that should have a strong future ahead of it. Ok, so maybe I've never been very good at repression. It's off to the foosball table for me. I've got some rage to work out.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"Animal hospital?" "The animals are the patients." "That makes sense."

-"I can't exactly give him a cat monocle. That would be pretentious."

-"They aren't evil people who are good at foosball. They're good at foosball because they're evil!"

-"Shut up Leonard! I found your Youtube page. What's the point of reviewing frozen pizza?" Leonard gets better and better...

-"Were you guys just walking around with a soccer ball so you could do that to someone?" I loved how perplexed Jeff was by this, and how long he was stuck on it.

-"Women's shoes? But Rick doesn't have a wife...or women's feet..."

-"I'm getting tired of saying this to people, but look into investing in a shoe safe."
Tags: Community
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