Last year's seminal episode "Modern Warfare" (commonly referred to as "the paintball episode") cemented Community's reputation as television's most creative, geek-friendly and imaginative comedy. A pastiche of the action genre (directed by Fast & Furious' Justin Lin) is turned the corridors of Greendale Community College into the setting for a Battle Royale-meet-28 Days Later scenario with the characters all competing for the inscrutable "prize" the last man standing will win. It was a dizzying concoction of in-jokes, hilarity, pop-culture references and surprisingly exciting action sequences, and one that a lesser show wouldn't even contemplate trying to top. Only, this season, they topped it...
The two-part season 2 finale "A Fistful Of Paintballs" and "For A Few Paintballs More" was twice as fun, twice as clever, twice as rich, and twice as exciting. It may have repeated the basic concept of last year's revered episode (everyone on campus turns feral with paintguns, in order to win a $100,000 prize), but improved on practically everything. This time the paintball knockout tournament had a sponsor in Pistol Patty's Cowboy Creamery, allowing the first part in particular to develop a Western theme and riff on Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy", as the core characters split and once again had their friendship and loyalty tested. Of particular interest was Annie (Alison Brie) becoming a sultry cowgirl with a quickdraw more impressive than her cleavage; Jeff's (Joel McHale) Alpha Male status was tested by the arrival of mysterious bounty hunter "The Black Rider" (Lost's Josh Holloway); and Pierce (Chevy Chase) becoming the leader of a makeshift "town" with a strict no-gun policy.
The second part refused to rest on its laurels, instead lessening the Western motifs and taking the story to the next level -- a mix of Star Wars and war movies in general, with Abed (Danny Pudi) managing to woo Annie by channeling his inner Han Solo, and the Pistol Patty mascot playing the Darth Vader role as Greendale's residents became "rebels" to eradicate. In a neat twist, Patty was revealed to be the Dean or rival City College (a black man inside the creamy-white suit, subverting Vader's race-bending reveal in Jedi), and this turned the whole situation into that of a hostile takeover bid.
There are too many highlights to choose from, truth be told: the awesome gatling-paintgun in the Saving Private Ryan-like climax, the surprisingly hot kiss between Abed and Annie as the sprinkler system doused everyone in orange paint; The Black Rider in general (were his twin rifles a nod to Hot Fuzz?), Troy's Blazing Saddles-inspired yellow Sheriff costume; Pierce's faking of heart attacks to get himself out of tough spots; Chang (Ken Jeong) being obliterated by a volley of paint ("am I out?"); Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) nearing orgasm as Dean Steven whispered in his ear; the Stormtrooper-esque paintballers; Magnitude's (Luke Youngblood) death scene in Troy's hands ("Pop? Pop-what?"); Shirley's (Yvette Nicole Brown) inability to buy into the fantasy ("Can we move this along? I'm missing CSI"); Jeff's "hero moment" coming to a comically abrupt end; the Inception-like music throughout; the brilliant way Pierce's underhandedness saved the day; and the epilogue with Abed and the janitor who has to spend his summer mopping up the paint-splattered school.
Community's essentially a playground and make-believe episodes such as this are the moments when the show can embrace its considerably skill at Michel Gondry-ian creativity. There's no other TV show around that has the skill and budget to pull off these kind of episodes and somehow make it all look effortless and endlessly re-watchable. The way it also keep an eye on the characters is also rather wonderful – especially here, where Pierce's divisive treatment all season ended with a redemption that also earned out respect and sympathy. The final scene, with Pierce admitting he's attended Greendale for 12 years, and how the study group were the first people to befriend him, was rather moving. The fact the season ends with Pierce's self-imposed exile from the group was also a nice cliffhanger, although it surely can't be too long before he's back in the fold for season 3. Or will creator Dan Harmon take this opportunity to somehow refresh the show? Season 2, while far from terrible, definitely wasn't as sharp with the characters, and seemed to occasionally have fun with the format (an animated episode!) while allowing the characters to drift somewhat (Chang was used very inconsistently, Shirley's pregnancy wasn't very engaging.)
Overall, this was a tremendous two-part finale to what's been a great second term with the Community troupe. It just pains me this show's practically unknown in the UK, having only aired season 1 on obscure music channel Viva. It would be a fantastic purchase for Sky1 or E4, and I just can't see why there's not more British network interest in procuring it. It's proven to be the funniest and most innovative comedy around right now, with almost every episode taking an opportunity to deconstruct pop-culture or stretch the limits of what you perceive can be done on a US TV comedy budget. Added to that, it's so immensely likable because of the talented cast and the sharp material they're working with.
written by Andrew Guest (2.23) & Hilary Winston (2.24) / directed by Joe Russo / 5 & 12 May 2011 / NBC