This is a tough one. And not only because I have to try and follow Eric who did us all a solid by covering "Documentary Filmmaking Redux," one of the best episodes of Community to date. But that episode's brilliance was rendered bittersweet thanks to NBC's announcement a few days prior that the show would be going on hiatus in the spring. Then two cold and bleak weeks went by, everyone stuck in the darkest timeline and wearing their felt goatees until finally, tonight, Community returned with more evidence as to why NBC would be crazy to cancel the show - otherwise called "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism."
"I can't exactly buy him a cat monocle, can I? It's pretentious."
The episode opens in the cafeteria and, although it takes time to set up both of the two main threads--Jeff and Shirley's bonding (?) over foosball as well as Annie, Troy and Abed's superheroic spin on a classic sitcom situation--it is also wise enough to give Britta and Pierce as much time and lines as possible since they are all but absent from the rest of the episode. This is hinted at when everyone is asked their plans for the weekend, implying right away that this is an off-campus, extra-curricular affair. So, what are everyone's plans for the weekend? Pierce rephrases it to 'who' is he doing this weekend (which, if you don't speak sexist, means nobody) and Britta is volunteering at an animal hospital to pay off some kitty laser eye surgery. I would have gone with the monocle. After dispensing with the two extraneous group members of the week (sorry Pierce and Britta) it only leaves the main storylines remaining.
First, TroBed--and by roommate extension Annie--just received their long awaited copy of the Limited Edition $299.00 The Dark Knight DVD (signed by Christian Bale - "Abed is Batman now") meaning their Saturday night is set. And of course, with Bale officially handing the cowl over to Abed, I'm sure they won't get into any kind of reflexive, pop-cultural influenced shenanigans As for Jeff and Shirley, well, before they can get to their surely separate plans, Jeff just can't take the loud foosball playing fools any longer. Nick Kroll guest stars as one of the three German foosballers --even though it only takes two to play--and delivers a pretty funny, hammed up performance (with just the right amount of over accenting). Jeff is obviously too cool for both them and the game but when challenged, well, it's Jeff. Too bad he fails to score the much needed goal and leaves the German Kroll searching for a word to express his shameful joy. It's on. And do I sense some more daddy issues? Perhaps.
What a strong and funny cold open. Perfectly structured to introduce our dual narratives without sparing a laugh and giving screen time to beloved characters who won't factor into the rest of the episode. Let's start with the less emotional, more zany AnnTroBed narrative and how...
"You moving in here was supposed to tone us down!"
Having been passive aggressively warned about what to clean and not to clean, Annie tiptoes around her new place on some unsure feet and soon enough, steps on the precious special edition DVD. Sorry, limited edition. The scene is perfectly bookended by Troy's humming, first happily as he emerges from his blanket-fort before ending the scene with a sad, cry humming exit. Both hilarious. Troy also knows that since this scenario is a sitcom staple there will be no fooling Abed. The best thing to do is to come clean and, in a great choice, Annie Aderall instead begins to dig a deeper and deeper hole of lies. She starts by staging a fake break-in (which The Simpsons did one Christmas episode) forgetting that, after the police prove to be ineffectual, Abed as the recently anointed new Batman must take things into his own hands. And thus, the return of Abed in his full Batman costume complete with the voice and amazing one-liners. "The night beckons. It's black fingers curl and uncurl, going like, hey come here." The re-emergence of Abed as Batman not only scared Annie into a confession but also pretty much solidified that this week's episode was going to be, if nothing else, hilarious. We also got to hear Annie's best Christian Bale Batman earlier and she's not too bad either (let's face it, the whole cast is amazing).
It's odd, but when Troy yelled "who are you" at Annie during her downward spiral of deceptions it for some reason reminded me of the end of Unbreakable, like Annie and Abed were going to be nemeses. I hope so. In fact, as much as I loved the TroBed bromance, I might love this new threesome even more. Annie adds an interesting dynamic to the good-hearted yet childish duo with her anal retentiveness, innocence and most importantly, ability to fly off the handle and become a total loonball --yes, I have used both loonball and zany in one recap. Every week Donald Glover kills and is easily the show's most likable character--probably because he and Abed are the show's moral compass mixed with an ability to get caught up in the moment (like yelling "get him" at Abed as Batman when he's in the landlord's place). Yes, Annie might have confessed but Abed was too far gone and now sure that the landlord was behind the robbery. We get some great physical comedy from Danny Pudi--so you can add slapstick to his amazing resume--breaking into the apartment and finding the closet full of women's shoes even though the landlord has no wife or women's feet. All's well that ends well as Batman got his man (sort of) and Abed got his apology from Annie. Wait, Batman got an apology from Annie. Abed returns shortly after, prompting Troy to ask "where have you been?"
"I'm gonna put you back on the express train to tinkle town!"
While Jeff, Shirley and the foos storyline had its laughs, it was also a really emotional and well told narrative with a terrific reveal. And for a show that as inventive and referential as it is, I'm surprised we've never seen flashbacks used to this extent before. However, before we get ahead of ourselves by going too far back, let's begin with Jeff stuck in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable place of feeling inadequate. This is not usual for our smugly defensive leading man (although it has reared its ugly head before in a pottery class - I miss Dr. Rich) so he takes to the tables after hours in order to bone up and be prepared for the next encounter with ze Germans. Enter Shirley, and despite Jeff's assurances that "it's a guy thing, not a fresh baked pie thing," she can play some serious foos and the two get down to business and bonding. Like most fun things, Shirley sees foosball as an evil game that can only bring out the bad in people and in this case, well, she's pretty much right but when Jeff opens up about his past, and a humiliation that forced him out of the table sport forever, well, she has to agree to help. She's a good Christian you know, "kill or be killed, you turkey!" Oh, not only is the training intensity escalating, they are soon presenting the Germans with a standard sitcom 'never play at this table again' bet. The German's reply is one of the funniest physical gags I've seen on the show, it literally made me spit take (no joke)--yes, the human foos. Despite what Jeff says, that was hilarious and definitely worth the $25 prop ball.
However, in the midst of Shirley and Jeff's training and bonding, war stories are swapped and it turns out that Shirley's childhood mean streak aka 'Big Cheddar' cross paths with a young and rat-tailed Jeff aka 'Tinkle-Town.' The flashback is great. It's wonderfully filmed in black and white, and is oddly both fresh and captures a certain cliched flashback aesthetic. On top of the rare visual flair from the sitcom, it also packs an emotional punch. Community has been building up Jeff's father issues for sometime and when Big Cheddar Shirley drops the "I know your daddy ain't around or you wouldn't act like a bitch" it's quite a rare emotional punch. The emotional and character stakes have definitely never been higher (thanks Leonard) and I was totally engaged by it all. Especially when the next supposedly apologetic meet-up turned into another level of feud that could only be resolved by resorting to Anime (uh, brilliant!). And even better is when the Anime turns its signature high-energy battling on its head, ending in a very calm conversational "you're a perfectly fine person." They show the Germans that they don't need foosball anymore, now that they have each other and in one of the sweetest endings I can recall, they walk off hand in hand as kids. Call me a sucker, but it worked for me.
"Some crusts are worth eating."
The tag was short and sweet. Most of my enjoyment came not from Leonard himself but from reading the titles of the other videos on the YouTube channel aptly titled LeonardLikesPizza. And if you needed to know, Eugenio's Four Cheese Pizza has good cheese, good sauce, it's a buy! Also, there are some helpful videos on when it's okay to fold your pizza or the consistency of sauces. But enough about Leonard. Community didn’t just return to the airwaves but it also signaled a complete return to form and formula - snappy one liners, self-referential asides, endless pop cultural references and a nice touch of sentiment to wrap it all up nicely. As I said in the opening paragraph, last week was certainly one of the best episodes of a somewhat inconsistent (if mostly good) third season and yet, the last three or four, including tonight's, have me even more worried that we won't reach #sixseasonsandamovie. Oh, and did anyone else notice the weird dub when Jeff said "Luftballons?" Huh.
Community airs on NBC, Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT. It stars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole-Brown, Donald Glover, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong and Chevy Chase. It was created by Dan Harmon.