These are the kinds of Community episodes I really like, when character backstories clash with the people they are now, and members of the study group learn to get over themselves and like each other. I like the episodes a whole lot more when they take already likable people and make them unlikable even just for a little bit, their insecurities and idiosyncrasies on full display. This episode really cemented the Jeff-Shirley friendship in a way that didn’t feel forced or false, and felt like a proper welcome for Annie into the Abed-Troy apartment world. I wish the episode had happened earlier in the show’s run; in the case of Jeff and Shirley, for example, breaking the tension that’s existed between them means they can now move past it, forging ahead into new comedic territory. And, you know, sadly there might not be much more time for said territory to be discovered. Ugh.
In any case, I’m trying to enjoy the show while I can (plus, a screener just arrived for next week’s episode, and it’s taking all my willpower to not stop writing this and just watch the next one … or play Skyrim, whichever I can grab first), and “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” deftly found a way to link the show’s coolest character and the show’s lamest one — at least by the overcompensating-for-lack-of-father-figure standards of Jeff Winger.
See, back in the day, he was quite the foosball player; it was a fun thing to do that was a little manly, but didn’t involve throwing anything. But when Jeff was 10 years old, an older player embarrassed him, sucking all the fun out of the game he used to love. Now it seems that a group of annoying European douchebags, led by vocal chameleon Nick Kroll, have taken to bullying people at Greendale’s own foosball table. After all, foosball is the soccer of Ping-Pong, and they love the game. Jeff wants to be the hero who finally shuts them up, but they’ll only leave if he scores a point on them, and they’re really good. So Jeff practices, and practices, and practices, alone with his rusty skill set. Shirley walks in on him, executes a snazzy near-impossible trick shot, then walks away. This is what dramatic people call the “inciting incident” (if my memory of eighth grade theater studies serves me, and I’m sure it doesn’t).
What follows heightens the game of foosball far beyond the already high stakes established by the episode. After Jeff finally convinces Shirley to train him, she begins to tease her dark side, barking orders at Jeff as he frantically twirls the poles (I guess they allow spinsies?) in a desperate attempt to simply score a goal on the Bible-thumping badass. Then, as they head to the mall for celebratory margaritas, Shirley goes to an even darker place, revealing the story of how when she was 12, she embarrassed a kid so badly at foosball that he peed his pants, thus swearing to never play the game again. It all happens in a black-and-white flashback scene, that seemingly contains a kindergarten-size Abed as well. Cut back to the restaurant, where the color has completely drained from Jeff’s face as he stares at Shirley in horror. Because he was that little boy “Tinkle Town,” which makes Shirley not only the crusher of Jeff Winger’s dreams, but also the notorious foosball bully “Big Cheddar.” Earlier he claimed to like Shirley when she’s bad, but this — this was too much.
It’s a testament to Community’s ingenuity that they were able to follow up this awesome reveal with a scene that made things even more chaotic and ridiculous. The inevitable face-off between an embittered Jeff and a seemingly Satan-possessed Shirley transforms an angry game of foosball into an epic battle straight out of Dragon Ball Z. And to play with conventions even more, it doesn’t end with a bang, but a whimper — an animated Jeff and Shirley admit, once the fire has died down, that they really like each other. There’s just something so funny about a scene that goes from zero to 100, then back to zero, all within a 90-second span. (For the sake of you recap “completists,” it’s worth noting that after this, Jeff and Shirley pair up to deflate the Europeans, even though Nick Kroll did make a convincing real-life foosball kick at one point.)
Meanwhile, the episode’s other story line kicks off with Abed showing off his latest purchase to the group: A very special-edition Dark Knight DVD that contains a personalized message and multiple select commentaries. It has now become his most valuable possession, and therefore the center of his entire life. Later, Annie is cleaning up the apartment, and while dusting off the TV, she accidentally steps on the discs and breaks them into little pieces just as Troy enters, humming the song Abed used from the Halloween episode. Annie has no idea what to do; sure, she could just replace the disc with another one, but does she know how many sitcoms Abed has seen where there’s some sort of switcheroo? Every single one. Yes, despite Annie’s nearly impeccable Christian Bale impression (a comedian I like, Mike Lawrence, once described the voice of Batman as a drag queen at the end of the night who’s just given up), she needs to confront Abed and break the news to him gently. That’s the Annie thing to do, though Annie’s clearly changed a lot this season, and she chooses the path of least resistance: staging a break-in.
The loss of his DVD, and the inability of the police to help out — despite Annie’s very colorful report — sends Abed once again into full-on Batman mode. Even more exciting is that this time he’s got “gadgets” and an excuse to use them. Abed realizes that the crime was clearly an inside job, so he fingers the landlord, attaches his grappling hook to the fire escape, very slowly lowers himself down one floor, opens the window to the landlord’s apartment as the man’s watching a Woodstock-themed porn, and hilariously unsuave-ily rolls inside to confront the poor bastard. He finds only a closet full of shoes (which is what happens when you don’t keep a shoe safe), though Annie slips in a DVD shard. This season, Annie has become much more self-interested, so she realizes the only way to keep herself out of this mess is to thicken the plot.
Eventually, Annie is forced to come clean, but she tells Batman, not Abed — and Batman totally understands. He warns Annie not to tell Abed, which makes me believe that Abatman knew the whole time and was playing along the whole time to teach Annie a lesson, not about gun safety. Regardless, Abed returns, and all is a-okay. “Abed, where you been?” Troy blurts out, because when it comes to good friends, sometimes the best thing to do is simply play along. Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that there was barely any Britta or Pierce. Though there was plenty of Leonard and his frozen pizza reviews.