It’s no surprise that Community has some of the most ardent (and vocal!) fans of any show on television — the kind who create webpages for the most minor of characters, obsess over subliminal background story lines, and rant in apoplectic fury at any humble recapper who dares criticize their favorite program (ahem!). In its own inimitably bizarre, superhumanly dedicated, occasionally annoying and yet indisputably impressive way, Community has sought to create and sustain an entirely hermetic and functioning world, one as inclusive and rewarding to insiders as the fictional Greendale is to its own motley crew. “This place has always accepted me, sickness and all,” Pierce declares, touchingly, at the end of this week’s episode. “It accepted all of you.” He could just as well be speaking directly to the show’s fans who feel increasingly at home in Community’s reference-heavy, paint-splattered world. But how about the rest of us?
Last week’s episode, part one of the two-part paintball season finale, was a charmer: the sort of fun and full-bore homage at which Community excels. This week, however, left us cold. As in: out in the cold. Because, really, “For a Few Paintballs More” was Community at its most insular: It was for people who caught every minor characters’ appearance, for those who understood every pop-cultural tip of the cap — to Star Wars, The Warriors, and more. In short, it was an episode of Community about being a fan of Community. And while we are never anything less than impressed with Dan Harmon’s kamikaze-like dedication to the surreal playpen he and his writers have constructed, it also leaves us feeling the way the rest of the Greendale Human Beings must feel about the study group: wondering why those guys get to have all the fun.
To recap: As last week’s spaghetti Western gave way to this week’s Episode IV — a genre shift that left even the characters groaning — the overall threat was revealed: The anthropomorphic ice-cream cone was actually a Darth Vader–esque Dean Spreck, top man (or bottom — like Dean Pelton, it’s all a little unclear) at City College. His student stormtroopers have taken the campus leaving only our heroes — a.k.a. an “alliance of rebels” — to fight off the, in Troy’s brilliant words, “unstoppable juggleknob.” And what followed was a feast for those dedicated fans hungry enough to partake: Leonard talks about taints, Magnitude throws himself on an exploding paint bomb (“Pop what, Magnitude,” Troy cries over his fallen novelty-friend’s form. “Pop WHAT?!?”) and Abed steals Starburns’s vest, claiming the role of Han, the wise-acre, for himself before Jeff “slouches into it by default.” And nothing summed up our frustration with the episode more than this business: As the rebels attack the
Death Star ice-cream truck on two fronts — Troy’s Operation: Troy’s Awesome Plan Is Living Up to Its Name launches a suicide distraction run on the library while Jeff’s Operation: Actual Operation is a full assault on the enemy — Abed, as Han, begins flirting aggressively with Annie, as Leia. All of this leads to some well-choreographed Inception-aping silliness wherein Shirley pulls the fire alarm, setting off the paint-filled sprinkler system, and Abed and Annie passionately make out.
Your opinion of this last part probably determines which side of the fence you’re on with Community. To those on the inside, it’s a bit of high stakes yet harmless fun, not unlike making your Transformers play with your G.I. Joes. Sure, Abed goes right back to normal after his tongue is safely back inside his own mouth (has ever a “cool” been more underplayed?), and, hey, Annie was just accepting her friend’s idiosyncrasies (besides, she’s kissed dudes without consequences in season finales before — right, Jeff?). But for us it was off-putting, another example of the show’s insistence that Abed’s emotionless, pop-culture myopia wins out every time.
Are we being overly harsh? Perhaps. There were a number of rewarding moments and some of them didn’t even involve Troy: Gareth being orange only from the waist down thanks to his being stuck in the air vent, Britta’s speech about her cats, the Cougar Town cameos, “Denny’s is for winners.” And the aforementioned final monologue from Pierce almost pulled off the neat trick of explaining and justifying the character’s wild, and wildly evil, mood swings this season. (We neglected to mention that he won the day by pretending to sell out his friends for pudding only to fake another heart attack and infiltrate the stormtroopers from the inside. $100K for Greendale! E Pluribus Anus for everyone!) But as the study group plots a class to take together in season three — and invites their old frenemy back into the fold — Pierce refuses and walks away. A decision that felt perfectly right to us — but the hushed, emotional manner in which it was shot suggests it may have had a different effect on those who write Leonard in the Little Rascals fan-fic on their Tumblrs.
Human Beings, maybe it’s us. After a year of railing against Chang, we actually find ourselves identifying with the little freak and his desperate attempts to gain entry to the study group. All he wants is to be inside, to be welcome, to get it. And his strenuous, often-shirtless efforts can strike some as annoying, as difficult, as over-the-top. That might as well be us writing on Community week after week, wrestling with a problematic show that we just can’t quit, one that inspires and frustrates in equal measure. Still, Britta probably has a point: We may have a lot to say now, but we’ll no doubt come slinking back around in autumn, ready and eager to see what’s next. Cat ladies, you see, are rarely wrong.
We hope you enjoy your summer break, friends. As for us? Well, according to our Dayplanner, we’ve got a bottle of wine to drink. Alone. In our bathing suit. Chin chin! Or, dare we say, pop pop?