Perhaps it's too much to ask that Community be especially brilliant all the time. Given the resplendence of the previous episode two weeks ago, when Dean Pelton had a nervous breakdown over the college's late-night commercial, we were due a ho-hum episode that doesn't deliver much. Hence, last night's Foosball and Noctural Vigilantism.
In this episode Abed and Troy are ecstatic over the arrival of a special Dark Knight DVD with special commentary from Christian Bale. This gives us a window into how their living arrangement with Annie is going: as to be expected, she's doing the mom thing and cleaning bowls left sitting on the counter, ready for round two of cereal. We see her cleaning up one afternoon, resisting the temptation to clean a plate with a half-eaten sandwich on it and settling for a quick dust of the TV instead. As she's dusting, she steps on and cracks the DVD. Troy comes out of his room - humming the same song Abed hummed during the Halloween episode - and catches her. He warns her not to try to worm her way out of it and 'fess up instead: "I know you think you can think your way out of this with your thinkingness, but don't think too much." Annie, unable to admit that she's wrong, stages a break-in. Abed dresses as batman - he's had this costume for awhile; consistency is one of the things I like most about this show - and confronts his landlord because he's determined it's an inside job. Luckily for Annie, the landlord has stolen a bunch of women's shoes. Annie plants a broken bit of DVD. Troy asks "Who are you?" The question lingering is whether Abed really believes the landlord stole it. Annie confessed to him, twice, and both times he brushed it off.
But the main storyline is one in which Jeff and Shirley bond over foosball. Unfortunately, they're confronting three Euro bullies who offer up a too stereotypical picture of some hyper-efficient polity on the continent, though they do afford us a particularly hilarious moment when they pantomime a foosball action with a real soccer ball. "Were you guys walking around with a soccer ball just so you could do that?" Jeff asks. Jeff and Shirley unite forces to beat them: Jeff admits he used to play foosball because his dad wasn't around, and Shirley hints at some dark foosball past and is at first reluctant to play because she counts it an evil game that brings out the worst in people.
It turns out, the worst moments of their respective pasts were the same moment: Little Shirley taunted and once beat Little Jeff at a foosball so badly that he peed his pants. It's those moments, Shirley says, that "make you wonder where your life is going."
This affords Jeff and Shirley a bonding opportunity, but it's not clear that they needed one, though it did end sweetly. (It also afforded a weird anime interlude that didn't really fit.) The show hints at Shirley's wild side occasionally, consistently pressed under by her forced smiles and baked-goods hobby. But this doesn't really work. Foosball isn't really a high-level of cultural touchstone, so using it as a vehicle for our worst natures incongruent enough to be funny.
Even at its low points, though, Community has really bright moments: Annie trying to do a Christian Bale impression, Troy losing it so easily, and Britta's funny interlude in the beginning about her cat. It's also remarkably consistent, which is a big reward to those of us who watch all the time. Not only is Troy humming the same song, but the childhood conflict between Jeff and Shirley is something that makes sense: Over and over, Jeff has tried to act younger than Shirley and, for two-and-a-half years now, Shirley has pointed out that they're the same age. It hadn't before occurred to me that they probably grew up together. It ties up a meta-joke, and also is deftly realistic: spending a lot of time in the same city means that you float in and out of the same people's lives, and how you meet each other says a lot about who and where you are in your life at the time that you meet.
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