Last night’s episode of Community had two plots but one of the main things connecting them was their reliance on old sitcom stories. This isn’t Abed going into a Christmas wonderland in his mind here, instead this is standard stuff. In fact, the show goes out of its way to tell you that, when Troy mentions the way Abed has seen his plotline played out 100 times previously on television and can’t be fooled. You’re supposed to recognize that these are pretty ordinary events, to the point that I doubt they work nearly as well if you’re unaware.
That doesn’t mean that these stories were lazy, though, in fact I’m guessing that they were in some ways harder to break than when Community goes all-out on a theme episode. In order for such simple storylines to work well without seeming trite or simplistic they needed to really get pretty much everything right and, fortunately for us, they did.
Abed receives a super special edition-y special edition of The Dark Knight that’s one-of-a-kind. The moment he explains how special he is, and that Annie is to particularly try not to break it, we know for a fact that she will soon break it. It’s the standard storyline here in which she needs to come up with a series of lies to cover up for her crime. Because her lie points, in some vague sort of way, to their landlord having been the culprit, Abed gets out his Batman costume in order to exact justice himself.
This storyline could have easily been tedious, but it worked well because of who Annie and Abed are. His refusal to see the truth, even when she admits to it, is something we’ve seen Abed do before. Likewise Annie’s lies are always terrible and tend to spiral out of control regardless of what she tries to do. Plus, we got an entertaining reprise of Danny Pudi’s Batman impersonation, this time somewhat less competent than when it last appeared on Halloween. I wouldn’t call this storyline a hit out of the ballpark, but it was effective despite hinging on such a hoary old cliche.
The rest of the episode is devoted to Jeff’s frustration with a group of European foosball hustlers at Greendale. He learns that Shirley is actually amazing at foosball and enlists her to help him raise his game and beat them. This leads to the further revelation that she humiliated him at foosball when they were very young, making him pee his pants. They’re soon at each other’s throats, but with some assistance from the magic of anime, they resolve their issues and are able to beat the hustlers… or at least annoyingly stalemate them.
Here, too, we have an old storyline about how two characters in fact met up many years ago. It’s just as played out as the first one, but if anything it’s more effective and has an emotional core that feels real. Jeff does have wounds in his past that make him act the way he does today and Shirley certainly has a lot we don’t know about her. While anime section felt pretty extraneous to me, it didn’t detract from what felt like a genuine conflict and realistic resolution.
Dan Harmon’s always been a proponent of Joseph Campbell, but aside from that I think he has a certain respect for why certain stories are always being told. These are sit-com plots not so much because writers can’t come up with anything else but because they work well in the format. They set up conflicts that, if a show is working correctly, require characters to confront how they really feel about each other. It’s not fighting an enemy outside the group, it’s about playing off each other and growing together—and it’s just as difficult to be Abed forgiving as it is to be Annie lying. “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” wasn’t a landmark episode, but it was still a good piece of extremely well-crafted entertainment.
•A cat monocle is adorable, not pretentious!
•What song was Troy singing? It’s been on the tip of my tongue since watching the episode but it still eludes me.
•”They’re good at foosball because they’re evil.”
•As usual, I find myself wondering what’s going on with Shirley’s still VERY young baby during all of this. Umm… shouldn’t she be with her family, not screwing around with Jeff?
•I’m quite happy that it’s the same cop from the gun safety episode.
•”Let’s not leap to thing doing.”
•”You are so on that things have become very much lie Donkey Kong.” – A nice reference to the Nintendo-generated controversy around that saying.
•”You moving in here was supposed to tone us down.”
•”Once you make a boy pee his pants, you start thinking about where your life is headed.”
•Big Cheddar and Tinkletown are both perfect nicknames. I wonder how long that took the show’s staff to come up with.
•”These things wouldn’t happen if you’d just invest in a simple shoe safe.”
•Little Jeff’s rat tail is spot-on, yet still awful.
•I would’ve preffered seeing Leonard’s outfit of the day. Here’s hoping the season three DVD has many of Leonard’s videos included as extras.