TV Recap: Community “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”

“There’s something else above the law…bats…and me.”

There are seven members of the study group on Community, but sometimes it seems like there might as well be six, because Shirley so often gets the short end of the stick. Often she’s given only a few lines an episode and a chance to coo “that’s niiiiice”, or to make a judgemental remark under her breath. But even in the tiny hints we’ve gotten of Shirley’s life we’ve seen we know that she’s hiding a tremendous rage underneath her glittery surface. Last season’s Mixology Certification showed a part of Shirley’s dark side, as she desperately tried to hide her alcoholic past from the rest of the group, only to stomp off when it was revealed. Tonight’s episode revealed another chapter in Shirley’s hidden past: her history as a twelve-year-old foosball hustler.

 

As the group talks in the student lounge they are interrupted by a loud group of European exchange students playing foosball and crowing over their victories (as if beating Garrett was really anything to be proud of). The leader of these “Deutsche-bags” is played by Nick Kroll of the FX show The League, and a frequent guest on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, where he is able to show off his amazing character voices. Kroll kills every line reading with his thick, elevated German accent. He’s a welcome addition to the world of Greendale, and deserves a repeat appearance.

Jeff mocks the Germans for spending their time playing such a stupid game, but later Shirley catches him practicing. She warns him of the evils of foosball, “a vile game for vile people.” Jeff belittles her and Shirley pulls off an incredible trick move, stunning Jeff into silence and reminding him that he doesn’t really know anything about her at all. He begs her to train him to defeat the Germans, and she reluctantly agrees. As Shirley trains Jeff in the Way of the Foosball Warrior, he comes to appreciate her like he never has before. The two become so close that Shirley shares her darkest secret over dinner, that she walked away from the game because of one game where she got out of control and embarrassed a young boy so bad that he peed his pants and ran away, humiliated. The boy – maybe predictably – was Jeff himself, who calls Shirley a “monster” and storms out.

That game turns out to have been a defining moment in both of their lives. After being so humiliated that he had to change schools, Jeff adopted his selfish, arrogant persona and after seeing what her competitive fury was capable of, Shirley tucked her aggression away forever. The two battle it out in an inspired anime sequence, similar to the furious battles of Pokemon, and finally realize that whatever they may have been in the past, they are able to appreciate the good people they’ve become. Played straight the scene would be pretty standard, but delivered through Jeff and Shirley’s dramatically straining cartoon avatars, it’s pretty great.

Meanwhile, over at Casa Troy-bed, Annie is cleaning up when she accidentally breaks a Dark Knight DVD that Abed had just purchased. As Annie stares at the broken disc in horror, Troy emerges from the blanket fort (humming the same upbeat, jazzy tune that Abed was humming in the Halloween episode) and catches her. Annie desperately offers to replace it, but the DVD is a super-deluxe edition featuring a personalized autograph and commentary from Christian Bale. Annie offers to record new commentary, but her Bale impersonation (awesome as it is) doesn’t quite cut it.

Instead of confessing to Abed, Annie stages a break-in to throw him off the trail. But when the thief is found to only have taken the DVD and a necklace that Annie’s Nana gave her at her bat mitzvah (Annie, always prepared, has a vivid backstory prepared for the bored police officer sent to investigate), Abed suspects an inside job and goes into detective mode. “World’s Greatest Detective” mode, that is, donning his Batman costume and whisking away into the night in pursuit of the thief. Or, rather, slowly and clumsily repelling down the fire escape with the help of the grappling hook that Troy gave him for Christmas.

Abed dressing up allows Danny Pudi to show off his physical comedy chops. Being tall and lanky allows Pudi to make some remarkable lines when he moves. He makes Abed a truly elegant klutz, especially in the moment when Abed charges into the apartment of their skeevy landlord and accuses him of the theft. The terrified landlord confesses, and admits his crime – except that his crime is stealing women’s shoes, an entire closet full in fact (“But Rick doesn’t have a wife…or women’s feet”). Annie plants the broken disc in the closet, but eventually confesses to Abed. Because he is still in character he thanks her and warns her not to tell Abed because “that guy’s pretty ruthless, and that’s coming from Batman.” Annies guilt is assuaged, and Abed can let her off the hook without directly engaging in the moment emotionally.

There was a lot of plot in this episode, in both storylines, and good characters moments, especially in the Jeff and Shirley story. Sometimes when Community goes plot heavy it can begin to feel bogged down or preachy, but tonight’s episode was sharp and funny, with some brilliant gags, like Kroll’s two friends holding him up in the air and swinging him like a human foosball man, sending a soccer ball, which they had apparently brought only for that gag alone, flying across the room. Jeff’s wrong – that was totally worth the $25.

Community, Episode 3:19 “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”: A-