May 6, 2011 – 7:00 AM ET | Last Updated: May 13, 2011 8:51 AM ET
The cast of Community
Recap in 140: Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. Paintball. And Alison Brie (and Josh Holloway). But mostly paintball.
Episode synopsis: Not to overstate things, but watching Community’s first-season paintball epic, “Modern Warfare,” was like having the deepest sleep, eating the perfectly ripened fruit and finding pure, untainted love in your heart — at the same time.
Ostensibly, the episode was a send-up of pretty much every action movie ever, directed by the dude who directed the No. 1 movie in the country right now. Somehow, it meshed that with a totally organic (“totally” might be a stretch; sorry) story about de facto series leads Jeff and Britta consummating their will-they-won’t-they-should-they-who-really-cares-this-show-is-a-lot-of-fun relationship. Oh, and they made fun of Glee. It ruled.
This being Community, a show that has parodied zombie movies, done a Dungeons and Dragons-themed episode and pulled off a clip show made up entirely of clips that never actually aired this season, show creator Dan Harmon and his team of beyond-ambitious writers could not leave considerably more than well enough alone. Nope. Instead, we get a two-part paintball redux to end this go-for-broke, more-hit-than-miss and insanely all-over-the-place season. The first part aired Thursday night.
Thankfully, Paintball II does not try to duplicate “Modern Warfare,” at least not in the first part. Harmon and crew, instead, provide us with an episode with a distinct Western motif with a relative lack of paint. And smartly, it is tied around one of this season’s running themes: Pierce (Chevy Chase) as a villain.
The Dean decides to have another paintball game at the year-end picnic, but hopes to ensure a tamer game by having a less desirable prize than last year, which was the right to choose a schedule for the following semester before any other students. So when the ice cream company mascot sponsoring the tournament — don’t ask — offers $100,000 in cold, hard, sexy, beautiful cash, Dean Pelton is shocked.
Judging by the opening scene, which had Annie (and holy hell, Alison Brie looked good and carried the episode as its pivot) taking out the bully from Season One’s Christmas episode (probably my all-time favourite Community episode), his gang and Fat Neil, chaos has broken out. Sparing you the details, the study group, separated, eventually comes together. And they come together to serve Pierce, who has a plan to win the game, which involves obtaining all of the paintball equipment used last year from Pelton. They eventually accomplish that.
It is lucky that they do, as a mysterious figure — The Black Rider, played by Lost’s Josh Holloway, whom I will obviously call Sawyer from this point on — is dominating the game. Sawyer eventually captures Annie, and tries to shoot her with Jeff’s gun — but it is full of blanks. Jeff and Abed come to the rescue, with all parties escaping unsplattered, but that is not the biggest issue with Annie. She notes that Pierce gave Jeff a gun with blanks.
This is an issue, as Pierce has been a bit of a jerk all year. So much so, that a series of flashbacks revealed that the group had a vote about whether Pierce would return to the group next year three days prior, with Annie being the lone holdout. Pierce makes his familiar complaint when confronted — that the group excludes him. Just with things getting tense, Sawyer walks in on the group, which is when Pierce fakes a heart attack. The gang knows he is faking, but Sawyer doesn’t, and Pierce shoots him for his trouble. Pierce then breaks up with the group, declaring himself superior. Before Sawyer heads off into the sunset, though, he informs our heroes that he was hired by the powers that be, with the mandate not to let any Greendale student win the prize, and that it goes beyond the ice cream company. We see that is obviously true, as a group of men that do not not look like storm troopers come and eliminate Chang, and are told by the mascot to not let a Greendale student win. Presumably, that is where we will pick up next week.
It is funny that Holloway was a guest star this week, as Lost was always a show that I admired for its ambition, but considerably less for its execution. While I like Community far more than I liked Lost, I would say there have been several weeks that I appreciated the show a lot more than I loved the show this season. Specifically, I have not been laughing nearly as much this year — I don’t think an episode has really killed me throughout since “Cooperative Calligraphy,” which was the eighth episode of the season. Again, I did not laugh much this week, except when characters broke from their intense paintball facades.
That is not to say I have not loved episodes: The episodes that focused on Troy’s birthday, Abed’s breakdown and Abed’s birthday are favourites. However, it puts a lot of pressure on the emotional aspect of the show. All of that makes it clear that the ultimate take-out from this episode cannot be determined until next week. Presumably, Pierce finds redemption, possibly sacrificing himself in the name of the group. In the meantime, we can all appreciate the effort the show made with this episode. Like most of the season, “A Fistful of Paintballs” was daring, stunningly shot and completely unafraid to try to do more than any sitcom ought to.
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