With Matrix bullet time shots, garishly saturated settings, and no-nonsense humor, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is basically what I’m assuming Quentin Tarantino’s new spaghetti western will be like.
Community loves its theme/genre episodes. They’re such entertaining features that the trend was even meta-joked about in a prior episode of Community. “A Fistful of Paintballs” took the action movie exaggerration of paintball from last year’s “Modern Warfare” and turned it into, well, you really have to see it to believe it.
The episode starts with a slow shot of a dark, trashed Greendale hallway (the one hallway we usually see, possibly the one hallway actually built on set). In a tense, action-packed scene, the audience is introduced to Annie (Alison Brie), now the tough, battle-ready “Ace of Hearts,” complete with a character card interstitle.
Quickly, our heroes band together, under the auspices of a pseudo-saloon run by Pierce (Chevy Chase). We see flashbacks to the beginning of the paintball fight, with an ice cream company offering $100,000 to the last student standing. I love that this show has created a universe in which it’s totally natural that all the main characters would be dressed in Western gear and then be outfitted with realistic guns and holsters.
Community wouldn’t be Community without a bit of sentimentality, and we get it here, with the discussion of Pierce as a character. In a bit of meta talk, the other group members complain that Pierce has been a “villain” all
season year. Constant flashbacks to a scene of the group seemingly playing cards without Pierce eventually reveal that the cards were used to vote for Pierce’s future inclusion in the group.
Of course this revelation only comes after Pierce is found out to be intentionally holding back Jeff (Joel McHale), and after Pierce gives another sob story about how he has nothing to look forward to in life but his times with this study group. It’s a little poignant that Annie, Pierce’s “favorite” is the one to finally almost deliver the quasi-fatal blow.
This episode is really Annie’s episode. She drives most of the action, from the initial scenes to the showdown and confrontation with pierce. She even has a romantic subplot with the Black Rider. As Abed (Danny Pudi) notes, Annie is “pretty awesome today.”
Lost‘s Josh Holloway has a great turn as The Black Rider, a character straight out of Clint Eastwood era spaghetti westerns. There’s a great running joke with Jeff’s insecurity regarding the attractiveness of another man. The Black Rider is “network TV good looking.”
I appreciated that Community has been downplaying whatever romantic tension there was between the two characters. Again, I am not a fan of Will They or Won’t They. Community can do better than that. A bit of romantic intrigue is fun, but too much kills a sitcom.
What I am really tired of is Jeff and Annie’s “milady, milord” gambit. It only ever seemed natural the first time; every callback since then has just seemed like an unnecessary bone thrown out to the fanfiction writers and youtube “ship” video makers. However, in an episode where Annie’s costume is basically fanservice (especially during a slow-motion run), I suppose Dan Harmon and co. can’t be blamed for tossing a few bones to the rabid female fanbase that yearns for the cross-generational pairing.
The next episode in this two-parter looks to be some sort of Star Wars parody. The ice cream company, having lost The Black Rider, sends out its troops to invade and destroy the school. Fun’s to be had!