I’m always a little hesitant when a show goes back to a theme its already done, and done perfectly. For instance, “Fizbo” is Modern Family’s greatest achievement to date, but when we saw Cameron’s clown again, in “Princess Party,” the episode, well, fizzled. Same thing with when The Simpsons revisited Angry Dad earlier this year, or the Frank Grimes’ son episode in season 14’s “The Great Louse Detective.”
But I should really hold Community to a different standard than I do every other sitcom, though, because it’s not every other sitcom; it’s the best sitcom (on air right now, at least), and “A Fistful of Paintballs” was yet another example of why this is true.
“Modern Warfare” was a rightfully lauded episode that did everything to perfection: it lovingly parodied action films, with a unique style not seen before in a sitcom, but still managed to be funny. It’s too early to tell if “A Fistful of Paintballs,” the Godfather, Pt. II to the original’s Godfather, so to speak, will top it (we have to wait until next week’s “For a Few Paintballs More” to really know), but once again, the show went gungho.
Except instead of action movies, it was Westerns, specifically Spaghetti Westerns, even more specifically, the films of Sergio Leone, the famed director of A Few Dollars More and many other great movies starring Clint Eastwood. In a clever callback, the episode begins with Anthony Michael Hall and the rest of Greendale’s bullies chasing Fat Neil, who’s about to get painted out — until Annie comes, and takes care of everyone. And by “takes care,” I mean she’s a total bad ass.
I’ve been waiting for this Annie for a while now. Too often she’s the good girl, while the others, even Shirley, change their personality on an episode-by-episode, or even scene-by-scene basis, so it was fun seeing her come out of her shell, guns literally a’blazing, as the Ace of Hearts. She soon meets up with the rest of the Gang, except Chang, who’s trying to form an alliance with anyone who will listen, and Pierce, the old man’s only friend left in the group. “Fistful” could have easily been a disconnected finale, and still end up a great, yet safe episode, but its to the shows’ credit that a surprising amount of plot development occurred, making it engaging to newbies to the show (assuming an oblivious person just so happened to tune in for the first time last night — possibly some Lost or Pretty in Pink fans?) and essential to hardcore fans. The relationship between Annie and Pierce, in particular, last focused on during “Celebrity Pharmacology,” played the largest role.
A few days before the events of “Fistful,” even before the giant, evil ice cream cone declared that the winner of the paintball contest would win $100,000, the study group voted on whether Pierce should remain with them next semester. The vote had to be unanimous, and there was only one hold-out: Annie, who tries to always see the best in people — but even she gives up on him, after he provides Jeff with blanks for his gun, something that actually saves her from the Black Rider, played by Josh “Son of a Bitch!” Holloway, a.k.a. Sawyer from Lost.
I don’t want to say too much about the episode yet (which is why I won’t get into the vote anymore than I have already) because it’s probably unfair to; so much of it was set-up for the finale, and my opinion could very easily change based on its conclusion. But credit goes to Joe Russo, for directing another visually impressive episode (he also did “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”); to Andrew Guest, for writing an episode that actually expanded the plot, rather than, “LOOK, THEY’RE PLAYING PAINTBALL AGAIN HAHAHA” and not going back to the Jeff and Britta story of “Modern Warfare”; to Vicky, for her dance; to Unnamed Artist, who drew that flattering, forehead-heavy photo of Jeff, wanted “Gay and Alive”; to Annie’s boobs, and I don’t mean the monkey (I’m a dude, give me a break); to Troy, who’s look and squeal of honest joy when he saw Abed reminded me viewers that we were watching a comedy, rather than a genre film; to the Star Wars-like final scene between Darth Ice Cream Cone and her Stormtroopers; and for the show in general, because we were only learning who the characters were during “Modern Warfare,” so we laughed at them, rather than truly carrying what happened. Now, though, with another season of development, the stakes felt higher in “Fistful” due to an emotional bond between viewer and the show. I’m not saying Jeff Winger is the second-coming Tony Soprano, but there is something to be said about the relationships we form with sitcom characters, which is why so many people were upset at Pierce for becoming a seemingly over-the-top villain; we cared because he deeply hurt Troy (remember the LeVar Burton scene?) and because it felt like it didn’t fit who he is.
Now, I think, it all makes sense — everything’s been gearing towards next’s week finale.
Speaking of: maybe I’m over thinking things but is the Magnitude oral history a bit of a spoiler? I’m guessing he was the one doing the voiceover during the “Next Week On…” preview, and City College must play a large role, too.
Josh Kurp would love to go to Fort Hawthorne.