‘Community’ – ‘A Fistful of Paintballs’: The good, the bad and the Pierce

Senior Television Writer
05.05.11 160 Comments


It’s paintball time again on “Community,” this time with a spaghetti Western flavor and a sprinkling of Sawyer, and I’ve got a review coming up just as soon as I stop trying to fluster you with my handsomeness…

“She’s pretty awesome today.” -Abed

What he said.

There were times this season – particularly in that early stretch when the “Apollo 13” and zombie episodes aired within a three-week span – where it seemed like “Community” couldn’t stop chasing the success of “Modern Warfare.” You couldn’t exactly blame the creative team, as that episode was not only the high point of season one, not only the culmination of everything this show aspires to do, but an episode that seems likely to wind up in an all-time sitcom time capsule alongside everything from “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” to “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” to “The Contest.” When your show is capable of doing something that great, and is put together by a bunch of smart, funny pop culture omnivores, why wouldn’t you try to keep doing episodes like that, even if you risk repeatedly invoking the law of diminishing returns?

But doing a second paintball story? That takes onions, folks. That’s just inviting a direct comparison – a comparison that nothing short of “The Godfather Part II” of sitcom episodes might be able to live up to.

And yet… I’m so glad they did it.

Was “A Fistful of Paintballs” as funny as the original? No. Was it as technically impressive? No – or, at least, it didn’t have the breadth of the original, which is part of the issue. Topping “Modern Warfare” was going to be almost impossible, not just because of the surprise factor of it (you couldn’t believe a sitcom was doing an episode like this and actually pulling it off), but because it incorporated bits and pieces of so many different kinds of action movie – science-fiction like “The Matrix,” zombie-ish horror like “28 Days Later,” Hong Kong action like “The Killer” – leaving very little territory unexplored for a follow-up.

And that’s where “A Fistful of Paintballs” was smart. Because “Modern Warfare” covered so much ground, the new installment went for depth instead of breadth, focusing entirely on the style of the spaghetti Western and doing a very impressive job of it. The revamped opening credit sequence was gorgeous, the score sounded very much like Ennio Morricone’s work on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” the different showdowns had the requisite number of close-ups, etc.

And it helped that Andrew Guest’s script chose Annie as the point of view character for so much of this. Most of the members of the “Community” cast are impressive with how versatile they are, how many different styles they can convincingly, entertainingly work in, but there’s this level of intense, hilarious commitment that Alison Brie seems to bring to things – particularly stories that work against her inherent girl-next-door-ness to the degree that this part did. She was so fierce, so kickass as a strong loner heroine that I could very easily imagine her as the lead of an actual, not-for-laughs Western.

The casting of Josh Holloway as the mysterious Black Rider only added to the fun. Holloway always seems just a degree shy of being a comic book drawing – the jaw is so square, the stubble so rugged, etc. – and, like everyone in the regular cast, he embraced the spirit of the exercise. He played things straight, which only made it more amusing.

And just as “Modern Warfare” sought to address both the first season’s most prominent ongoing story and its most problematic in Jeff and Britta’s flirting, “A Fistful of Paintballs” attacked the Pierce-as-villain angle head-on. I don’t know if the show is ever going to find a satisfactory way to reconcile Pierce’s behavior in the middle of the season with his going presence in the group (a lot of that will depend on next week’s conclusion), but the writers are very much aware of it, and Chevy Chase made a meal out of playing Pierce as an Old West crimelord.

Again, not a sequel that exceeded the original, but one made in the same spirit, and that often filled me with the same level of pleasure that this show is actually being made, and by people who love it and the stuff that inspired it as much as I do.

What did everybody else think?

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