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COMMUNITY: “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” Talk
“Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” featured a rare pairing of Jeff and Shirley. It’s so rare in fact, I’m almost certain they haven’t shared a storyline since “Social Psychology” way back in Season 1, which happens to get a mention during the episode. It’s unfortunate as the two really do work well together. Jeff, with all his vices and emotional insecurities, naturally feels threatened by Shirley’s constant quest for the moral high ground, even if he may agree with it. Shirley, for all her talk of doing good, harbors a past she feels deeply ashamed of and being friends with the study group only reminds her of that past. In a way, Jeff and Shirley are polar opposites, which means there’s plenty of naturally occurring friction between them, which always leads to great drama and comedy.
We’ve been given brief glimpses into Shirley dark past, but “Foosball” takes things back farther than we’ve ever been. When she was 12, Shirley played foosball as a way to empower herself when boys paid no attention to her. She became so good at the game (it’s the soccer of ping pong) it went to her head, turning her into a bully. During one such match, she caused a boy to pee his pants, humiliating him so bad he gave up playing foosball. It was at that point the boy vowed to change who he was so no one could ever bully him again. He changed his haircut, started working out, and wearing nicer clothes. That boy is Jeff Winger.
Having two characters realize they knew each other as children isn’t an unheard of situation, but I can honestly say I never thought Community would create a connecting past with any of the characters. Technically Annie and Troy already have a past together, having gone to the same high school, but it’s already been established they never interacted and it’s only come up a few times. On the other hand, Jeff and Shirley’s shared past came out of nowhere. Normally these kinds of reveals leave a bitter taste in my mouth, feeling forced or unnatural, but I really liked the way this was done. Jeff acknowledges they have little in common when he lets slip that he has no use for her religious self. The truth is they have more in common than anyone else in the group. They love gossip (as seen in “Social Psychology”), have had rough childhoods (though in different ways) and enjoy seeing people get what they deserve. They discover their similarities and wind up having a great time together. To have them bond so well only to immediately tear it apart was shocking and hilarious all at once.
Their shared rage had the tough job of needing to be laugh inducing while still passing for real emotion. Jeff was seriously hurt by what Shirley did to him when they were kids. In a way, Shirley created Jeff. Because of her, Jeff went down a path of narcissism (his absent father also contributed) he may not have went down if she hadn’t push him so hard. They play the anger pretty straight, unlike their earlier training session where Shirley had Jeff shouting, “kill!” while taking shots on her goal. It didn’t seem likely they were going to make their rage funny just by being rage. In another moment that took me completely offguard, Community switched to an anime inspired animation. Now that was a well placed, complete over the top facial expressions, badly lip synced speech and a cat! It was completely out of the blue and I loved it… at first. Unfortunately, it over stayed its welcome, taking what could have been a really nice moment of forgiveness and understanding and undermining it. Other than that, the storyline was flawless. Another great look at some beloved characters.
As for the other storyline, involving Troy, Abed and Annie, things were a little more on the silly side, which is always acceptable. It didn’t reveal much about any of the characters, but Annie’s guilt and attempts to hide a The Dark Knight DVD she broke were cute and easy. Alison Brie and Donald Glover provided some fantastic facial expressions and we got the return of Abed-Batman. I don’t know who comes up with Abed’s monologues, but he should be given a raise. Each one got a big laugh out of me, especially the one just before he climbs out the window (“The night beckons. Its black fingers curl and uncurl, going like, “Hey, come here.”). Ultimately Annie’s plan to frame their landlord was for not, as it’s implied Abed knew what was going on the entire time and decided to just go with it. After all, Abed knows everything when it comes to classic sitcom tropes, and this was a scenario littered with tropes.
Stepping back and looking at everything, this was a great episode of Community. It’s not quite up there with some the show’s more groundbreaking episodes, but when it comes time to re-watch this episode some time in the future, I’ll be thrilled to see it all play out again. Community doesn’t always need to break the mold, even if that is what it does best, but it does need to be entertaining, which is exactly what “Foosball” was.