A review of tonight’s “Community” coming up just as soon as I review frozen pizza on YouTube…
Of the two storylines in “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism,” one tried to get some juice out of a pairing the show has used sparingly in the past, while the other tried to get away with doing a tired old sitcom plot by having a character note early on that it was a tired sitcom plot. The first story wound up being much more successful than the second.
It’s actually a little surprising to me that the show hasn’t gone to the Jeff/Shirley well more often over the years, since she’s just as much his spiritual opposite as Britta is, if not more. If the study group as a whole were a cartoon character (and we got to see both Shirley and Jeff rendered anime style during their epic foosball showdown), Jeff could easily be positioned as the hipper-than-thou devil on one shoulder, and Shirley as the good but manipulative angel on the other. Instead, we mainly get Britta as Jeff’s conscience, which allows the show to have some fun with sexual tension but has lacked some moral juice ever since the writers decided that Britta’s defining characteristic should be her gift for Britta’ing everything. So I think there’s an opening for Shirley here, and in rare combinations like we got tonight, we can see that Joel McHale and Yvette Nicole Brown work very well together.
The foosball story, in addition to giving them a common origin(*), was also a reminder that while they’re opposites in many ways, they also have a lot in common. We’ve learned in the past that Shirley wasn’t always the pious woman with the giant purse and the Miss Piggy voice. This is a persona she’s created to erase bad memories from the past, just like the moussed, toned, too-cool-for-school Jeff Winger we see today is a response to many things in his past – including, it turns out, wetting his pants as the result of some bullying by young Shirley. I really enjoyed seeing the two of them come together, particularly in a story that allowed Shirley to become very amusingly competitive, and that featured a terrific guest star turn by Nick Kroll as the leader of the German foosball posse. (The “I wish there was a word to describe the pleasure I feel at viewing misfortune” was one of the better schadenfreude-themed jokes I’ve heard in a while.)
(*) That’s actually another TV trope, albeit much less common than the one from the Annie/Abed story, where in the later seasons of a show you find out that two or more of the characters actually knew each other as children. “Mad About You” did it, “The Simpsons” has done it a few times, I believe, and even “Fringe” has done it with Peter and Olivia.
Annie covering up for breaking Abed’s limited-edition “Dark Knight,” on the other hand? Well, it gave Danny Pudi a chance to bust out his always-hilarious Christian Bale impression(**) for the first time in a while, and it gave Donald Glover a slightly different note to play as a more manic Troy, where for once he was the most mature and sensible character in a storyline. That was good. But overall it didn’t seem much different, or better, than the many, many, many other sitcoms that have done the – as Troy described it – “‘secretly replace a priceless broken item’ thing” before it. Not unfunny, but a whole lot flimsier than what “Community” is capable of so much of the time.
(**) And gave Alison Brie a chance to attempt her own, briefly.
What did everybody else think? I’m especially curious this week, given that as I’ve been writing this review, several people on Twitter asked me if I agreed with them that this was one of the best “Community” episodes ever – which I’m not seeing at all, much as I enjoyed parts of it. What do you say? Instant classic or not?