Friday, May 13, 2011

Community: "For A Few Paintballs More"

Season 2, Episode 24
The Trouble with Star Wars

 Too risky. Sequels are almost always disappointing”

Often when a show does a two part episode and the second part ends up being a bit of a dud, people tend to excuse it by saying that “well, it never could have lived up to whatever the audience built up in its mind.” And a lot of times, such statements are true, and we shouldn’t ding an episode because it didn’t live up to our expectations. And I wish that I could say the same thing for tonight’s episode, but I can’t. Community is so good at upending our expectations in the first place that it seems weird that the show wasn’t able to do it tonight.

Or, to paraphrase Annie, pretending at Star Wars is kind of lame.

“We’ve moved from a western to more of a Star Wars type situation. I know; I wished it had happened sooner.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Star Wars. But it’s so ubiquitous, and its references are so specific, that just about everything a comedy could do with the movie, humor-wise, has already been done before, and then undergone a decade of dead horse beating. Making these references is a risky move to take, even for a show that somehow that has historically mined good material from its other reference episodes. Yet most of those episodes – “Modern Warfare,” “Epidemiology,” “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” – were making fun of a larger body of work, and thus could make references that were more general than pointed, and thus don’t feel so forced. I don’t mean to imply that this episode was lazy or unoriginal like say the Family Guy parody of the movies, and I recognize that there weren’t too many direct references to the movies themselves, but it certainly wasn’t the best fit for this show.

The other, larger drawback to the switch to a Star Wars theme is that the effect was so jarring. Last week’s episode dropped us into a western themed world, and that makes sense. Dropping us into a science-fiction world also works. Both have guns, violence and one-liners. Yet to switch between the two doesn’t work; to put it another way, how would you have felt if these two parts had aired back to back? It would have been weird, right?

As fantastic as some of its stories might be, Community is usually so good at creating a believable universe in which zombie attacks and runaway space flight simulators seems like real possibilities, but it always kept those things separate. Tonight, by placing two different themes back-to-back within the same story, if not the same episode, Community shattered that universe. For the first time in the show’s run, the meta-textual nature of the storytelling became separate from the story itself, and I finally found that, like so many of the shows detractors, I was aware of all of the behind the scenes work at play here.

Yet despite how distracting all of this might have been, I can’t say that I hated the episode, or was displeased with it. For the most part – that is, the story part of it – I really liked. I was still funny– perhaps funnier than last week – and even when it wasn’t, it was still quite entertaining. But perhaps the most impressive thing here was how the show used Star Wars in more creatively than any other piece of pop-culture in the past ten years. I said above that the humor mined from the trilogy isn’t that good in this day and age, and I maintain that is so. But so few works use the stories or the characters from George Lucas’ universe without outright ripping them off, that it was a bit refreshing to see those characters’ traits used to tell stories is Dan Harmon’s universe.

Take for instance the obvious use of Han Solo tonight. Abed wants to be him just because he’s cool, and just because Abed like to pretend to be other people. Yet Jeff and Troy both want to be Han because they want to be the leader of the group. Jeff is often the leader of the group, not only because he’s the oldest, but also because his personality practically demands it. Yet he’s so used to being the leader – even when he doesn’t want to – that he feels entitled in many ways to the position. For all intensive purposes, Jeff is Han. Troy meanwhile, may not be Han, but he certainly wants to be seen as the group’s Solo, if only to get some respect. At 21, Troy is still trying to figure out who he is, and though he used to rule the halls of high school, his time at Greendale has since proven that maybe he’s not fit to be an alpha dog. But until he legitimately tries to take some control in the real world, he’ll never know.

Yet Han Solo also seems to hold act as some sort of romantic notion for Annie, who perhaps doesn’t quite know what she wants in a man. We have long seen her pine after Jeff, so it makes a bit of sense that she would lust after Abed acting as Han, assuming the Jeff = Han. (Remember she almost kissed him last season when he was channeling Don Draper. There must be something there about her pining away after emotionally unavailable men, with the exception of Vaughn.) So what does this mean? It certainly doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a future Annie-Abed relationship, though I’m sure the ‘shippers have already started. Instead, I maintain that this story is meant to represent that Annie doesn’t quite know what she wants in a man, though she might still be harboring feelings for Jeff.

“I guess I assume that eventually I be rejected so I test people until they prove me right.”

Once again, we need to talk about Pierce. (You had to know it was coming). Last week seemed to end on a thread, mostly because I didn’t full catch all the parts of the Annie part of the story, and it didn’t seem quite finished to me. (I get it now. She voted to keep Pierce in, everybody else voted to keep him out, and that’s why she was separated from the rest of the group at the top of last week’s episode.) Yet Annie’s section of the story was finished, but Pierce’s wasn’t. So, while not quite as jarring as the shift from spaghetti western to sci-fi, it was a bit weird for the point of view of this story to switch between Annie and Pierce, and it took this story a little while to recover from the change.

But I would like to commend this episode for finally giving Pierce something of a win in the morality category. Even if him turning on the City College gunmen seems like something that we’ve seen before in other shows/movies, and even if he spent the first act attempting to sell out the rest of Greendale, I was finally relieved to see the show have him do something, anything, that can be considered wholly good.

But that win came at the end of the second act, which left time for perhaps the best twist in the whole of the Pierce saga, and one which I think we service his character far better than his win tonight did. The “character who leaves the group at the end of the season” plot isn’t the most original, but it takes on a whole new weight here, as a truly horrible character makes the choice the leave the group for reasons that are totally selfish, yet in a weird way his choice feels morally right. I’m not sure if I can say that I’ll miss Pierce – I still think he’s been too mean for me to feel any sort of connection with him – but I am interested to see where this ends up for him as a character, and I am curious as to what this is going to mean for the study group at the beginning of next season. “The Art of Discourse” already proved that the group needs a Pierce, or else they will fall to infighting. But then again, “Paradigms of Human Memory” also proved that the group fights when Pierces is around, so I guess we’ll see what – if anything – in Pierce’s role changes next season.

See you again for the Fall 2011 Semester.

Quotes, Etc.:

Apparently Ellie and Travis from Cougar Town dropped by Greendale to play some paintball. Given that each show has talked about the other (marking said show as an actual show within the other show’s universe), this just makes my brain hurt even more than “Critical Film Studies” did.

“That doesn’t make sense. Why would somebody who gets paid to do things be at Greendale?”

“You haven’t seen how mean this dean can be…en.”

“First off, pop-pop.”

“I’m calling dibs on the Han Solo role before Jeff Slouches into it.”

“Dammit Shirley, forget about your newborn child and support the people who need you.”

“What is he trying to say? 'Pop' what?”

“Those guys are ballers, yo! I hope you like getting balled.”

“Our sperm counts are higher – even in our women.”

That was totally Dan Harmon in that Greendale Poster.

“Paint in sprinklers? What are we, in the Little Rascals?” “I was.”

“Everybody look alive. Leonard, good enough.”

“I may be stuck in this vent. It is too early to tell.”

“See you at Denny’s?” “Denny’s is for winners.”

“Eat it, you storm-trooping, City College knob gobblers.”

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