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TV Review: Community – “A Fistful of Paintballs” and “For a Few Paintballs More”

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NBC’s Community presented their second season finale in two parts. In the first part, “A Fistful of Paintballs,” Greendale became the scene of a Western when an ice-cream company convinced the Dean (Jim Rash) they would offer a small prize for a paintball tournament, and then announced the winner will receive $100,000 cash. The students went crazy, much as happened last year when the Dean held his own paintball tournament. But when a mysterious stranger known as The Black Rider (Josh Holloway, Lost) reveals he is working for the ice-cream company to win the tournament, and they learn the company is fronted by old rival City College, the Greendale students come together in a more Star Wars-esque battle against the ice-cream company’s white-armored guards. The two sided battle is the second part, “For a Few Paintballs More.” But only one student who can win has his loyalties questioned.

Doing both parts in different formats (Western, Star Wars) allows the week-long break between airings to go down easier. It compartmentalizes much of the story into two distinct, though related, packages. Would this have aired on one night, it might have seemed a little uneven switching gears halfway through. Though, stylistically, both parts are executed in Community‘s typical brilliant fashion, easily putting them near the top when ranking episodes of the series.

Kudos to referencing part one by finding the cache of supplies from last year in the Dean’s closet. Seeing the weird, big, pink, tiger-striped weapon again was a nice reference for fans.

In part one, there is an introduction card for each of the main characters in the study group naming them after a card from a typical deck. All are high ranking cards, and except for Annie (Alison Brie), all are black. At first, this appears to just be a fun pun, yet it’s hard to match up characteristics of each person with the card they are given. While it’s only a slight mystery, for re-viewings, when the reason for the cards is already known, it makes an enjoyable nugget.

When Community tosses out realistic timelines, at least it commits fully. Pierce (Chevy Chase) forms a fort complete with saloon during the initial war. While there is no conceivable way the physical or power structure of such a place could have been created in the scant hours available, the set is a masterpiece of creativity, and every detail shows a level of care the design team puts in, from the piano, to the bar, to the poor dancing people. The same can be said for Annie’s hide out at the beginning, with her Bunsen burner bean cooker and her tin can warning system.

The second part also illustrates the hard work the creative team puts into Community during the library and hallway battle scenes. More than once, a character encounters a row of soldiers who look just enough not like Stormtroopers to avoid a lawsuit from George Lucas, and it evokes a scene from that famous sci-fi trilogy. More than the cast, though they are excellent, too, deserve credit for this series.

Abed (Danny Pudi) further commits, wooing Annie as Han Solo, only to drop the character completely when they are “killed” in the game. While it is usual to see Abed  jump feet first into any scenario where he can relive a movie or TV show, it is thrilling to see the other characters willing to do so as well this time, donning gear and personalties to match.

Besides the amazing look of the two parter, there is a lot going on story-wise, too. Pierce’s exclusion from the group has been a slow burn all season long. While the old man is unpleasant in season one, in season two he becomes even more rude and obnoxious, and it drives his friends away one by one until only Annie sticks by him, and only because she’s supremely loyal to the group. Having Pierce admit he has been pushing and testing them is a nice payoff, acknowledging what everyone suspects is going on.

Having the group fail Pierce’s test, though, is not unexpected. They forgive him when he saves the day and invite him to rejoin the group, despite kicking him out when he betrayed them in part one. It’s what it is expected from an ensemble comedy. Everyone will come back together at the end of the day, and peace and balance will be restored. That is not what happens, though, as Pierce tells the group he’s done with them.

What does this mean? Is Chevy Chase leaving the series? Will Pierce be an all-out villain next year, bent on destroying the study group? He already has formed an alternative study group before, which failed, and people don’t like him, so it’s unlikely he’ll have much help. However, with Chang (Ken Jeong) also struggling to find a place on the series, perhaps it’s time the two team up for awhile and spend some time together. Whatever happens, the whole dynamic has changed. While it feels good to get the poison out of the library, it’s also sad.

How likely is it that Pierce will never return to the study group? Most series would not mess with their proven formula. But Community has shown a willingness to take risks over and over again, as evidenced be their oh so many special episodes just this past year (Halloween zombie attack, Christmas claymation adventure, all-original clip show, etc.) If any sitcom would drastically alter a main character to move in a new direction, it would be Community.

It seems Senor Chang will never officially be part of the group. They haven’t really been comfortable with him, and it’s because they know he is not loyal. In the first part, Chang switches from group to group whenever he thinks it improves his chances of staying in the game. Study Group does not roll that way. Unless Chang changes fundamentally, he cannot truly be one of them.

It’s odd, because Chang just doesn’t fit into the show anywhere, and yet, he keeps inserting himself. As a teacher, he stinks, and as a student, he’s worse. The character is unique in that his inclusion seems to be for the sake of his character, not the series. He doesn’t relate to or help anyone. He doesn’t really do much hindering either. Anyone waiting for him to finally stabilize will never be satisfied. He is completely extraneous. But the character of Chang can only be extraneous, and that’s the point. It’s really a fascinating situation, and a bold choice to include him.

How very satisfying that Jeff (Joel McHale) goes down first in this year’s paintball fight, since he was the winner in last year’s battle episode! Plus, Jeff really gets to win and lead everything. As the unofficial group leader, who acts reluctant, but loves the job, he gets plenty of opportunities. Glad the writers gave this week to someone else.

Terrific choice of surviving competitors Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown). It’s such an unexpected and fun combo! Their final charge in the go-kart is a moment of triumph, even if they are both shot with paintballs seconds later. The fact that they made it further than anyone else is perfect.

Sharp eyes will catch Busy Philipps and Dan Byrd of Cougar Town fame cheering with the crowd when Greendale wins. The camera even gives them a brief closeup. Community previously paid tribute to Cougar Town this season, and having two Cougar Town cast members pop up is a wonderful Easter egg!

Community also stars Donald Glover, and has already been given a third season. It will return to NBC in the fall.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com