Community S03E09 Recap: "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism"

We all know what’s going on with “Community” at the moment. It goes without saying that if you’re reading this recap, then you probably know about NBC’s plan to put the show on the shelf at the start of the mid-season, in favour of the return of 30 Rock (and, indirectly, to keep Whitney on the air).

We’re all upset, we’ve all busted out our felt goatees, but the truth is, at this point, there’s nothing we can do other than show our support for TV’s best sitcom by watching on TV and on NBC.com, by tweeting and discussing Community online and by generally being supportive until the show goes on hiatus following next week’s holiday episode.

So it’s with a heavy heart that we review ”Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantiism”, and with a little difficulty. On the one hand, we want to support our favourite show. On the other hand, we’re not quite sure whether the latest episode of Community was up to the show’s regular standards.

In a season where we’ve seen multiple parallel universes and 90s power ballad montages Foosball just seemed a little uninspired. Naturally, the episode was still good, as they always are. And truth be told, in a 20+ episode season, not every episode can be a perfect 10. But it what it is, and it still needs to be reviewed, for science.

My main concern was that at many times during its 21 minute runtime, the episode seemed to rely fairly heavily upon the sitcom tropes and pitfalls that it usually navigates itself around (or openly makes fun of) so very well. You could just argue that they were mocking them yet again, but it felt different this time. It really felt as if the script was just kinda phoned in (for what it’s worth, it was written by former MadTV writer Chris Kula), although we did really like the main plot this week, which of course featured Jeff and Shirley facing off against a bunch of Germans as well as themselves over a game of foosball.

No, the main problems that we had with the episode were, first, the complete lack of Britta and Pierce in the episode – they only appeared in the cold open and before the credits – but also with the show’s second story arc, which featured Annie repeatedly lying to Abed about breaking his special edition Dark Knight DVD. The whole thing just felt overly sitcommy, as if they were just pulling the plot from all the old shows that they openly mock through Abed.

At one point, as Annie plots to replace the DVD shortly after she broke it, Troy even goes as far as to say that Abed already knows that trick, and frankly every other trick that she could think of to ruse him. I’m going to say something shocking here, but I think Community might have accidently tried to insult our intelligence tonight. Despite the fact that Troy openly points out that Abed can outsmart Annie when it comes to sitcom schemes, Annie goes on to pull the oldest trick in the book: fake a robbery. Now, I’m not entirely sure whether this was done on purpose, as the conflict’s resolution could suggest that Abed may have known all along, but considering how Community usually structures these things, it felt a little weird.

Abed further descents into madness by donning his Batman costume in order to exact revenge on the assumed culprit, Rick the landlord. Abed then literally descends, into Rick’s apartment, only to find a closet full of women’s shoes. A call to the police later, Annie finally decides to confess for some reason, Abed accepts and everything is back to normal.

Character A destroys something dear to Character B. Character C doesn’t like it, and likes it even less when A decides to scheme in order to cover up his or her mistake, but nevertheless goes along with it because screw you that’s why. Character B has a 20 minute lapse in judgement, and acts like a complete moron and does something wacky as a defense mechanism to hide his sadness for losing what he loved dearly. The three get themselves into a ludicrous situation, which inexplicably forces Character A to confess, and Character B to accept the apology, whilst returning things to normal. We’ve seen it a thousand times. All you have to do is fill in the blanks. It’s lazy writing and it’s below the standard of the show it’s presented on, especially when that show makes a point to tell us how ridiculous the scenario is in the first place.

The whole thing just felt like an excuse to get Abed into a Batman costume, which, in and of itself, was great, but all three of the characters did things that just seemed kind of weird.

That said, the other half of the episode was bordering on fantastic, and actually seemed to have a much deeper impact onto a lot of the over-arching storytelling on the show. In short, Jeff takes offense to an annoying group of Germans who are making a lot of noise playing foosball. After a brief confrontation, we quickly learn that both Jeff and Shirley have a dark past with the game, and that Shirley is a master at the “sport”. Jeff convinced her to teach him to master it, to embrace her dark side and dominate at foosball once again.

They bond and head over to the mall for some Mexican food, but Jeff quickly finds out that Shirley and Jeff actually have an intertwined past. The sport used to be a big part of the lives of both, with Shirley dominating all passersby, to the point where she would make them cry. One kid she even made wet himself. As it turns out, that kid was a young Jeff Winger, who was so scarred by the mishap that he had to change the entire way he lived his life, to become the cynical man we see before us today. Similarly, the mean bully that was young Shirley turned to Christ after the incident to become a devout woman and mother.

Naturally, the two are a little upset after finding out about the shared past, and vent their frustrations over an intense game of foosball that turns into a scene out of Dragonball Z for some reason. Eventually, they realize that neither of them is the person the game has made them, so they decide to put their difference – and foosball – aside and rediscover each other as friends.

It’s a great little story that gives us a lot of back info on both the show’s main character and the show’s most underutilized character. Not only is the fact that Shirley and Jeff knew each other as children huge for their characters, but we also got a fair dose of Jeff’s daddy issues, which leads me to believe that the show is moving ever closer to finally revealing who Jeff’s father is (that is, after the hiatus...). It was wonderfully crafted. Our only complaint is that it couldn’t go on a little longer, so that the sub-plot wouldn’t seem so ludicrous.

It may seem like I’m being overly hard on the Troy/Abed/Annie portion of the episode, but I truly hold the show to a higher standard, and the other storyline is proof of what they’re capable of. Especially while the show is hanging by a thread like it is in the ratings department. From a television sitcom perspective, that plot was filler, and there’s really no way around it.

Still, both storylines offered good humour, and in Jeff and Shirley’s case, good character development. And in the end, an episode of Community is an episode of Community these days. Maybe we’re just a little muffed over NBC’s stupid decision making?

”Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” gets a 7.5 out of 10.

Bits & Pieces:

  • Literally no Pierce and no Britta this week. Britta’s been the best character this season and Pierce has been ridiculously underused. We get that the characters get episodes “off” sometimes, but what gives?
  • The Dragonball scene... I don’t even... Full anime sequence in Community? What is it with Dan Harmon this season that he has to give us at least 2 minutes an episode of utter ridiculousness? I love it!
  • Leonard reviewing frozen pizza at the end was amazing. I especially liked the “vanity card” at the end that was a clear jab at Chuck Lorre and The Big Bang Theory.
  • Joke that’s probably too smart for you of the night: "I wish there was a word to describe the pleasure I get from others' misfortune!" This is funny because the Germans actually do have a word for that, it’s Schadenfreude. #TheMoreYouKnow.
  • This is the song Troy was humming. The song also appeared in the Halloween Episode. Almost made me raise the score.
  • Was that a mini-Abed watching young Shirley and young Jeff playing foosball? Holy meta alert.
  • “Animal hospital??” “The animals are the patients.” “That makes sense.”
  • “I can’t exactly buy him a cat monocle, can I? It’s pretentious.”
  • Christian Bale signs Abed’s copy of The Dark Knight: “Abed is Batman now.”
  • “My name is Clarence Thaddeus Foos.”
  • “You are so on that things have now become very much like Donkey Kong.”
  • Big Cheddar and Tinkletown
  • “I had a lot of Mountain Dew that day.”
  • “I wouldn’t mention it to Abed. That guy’s pretty ruthless. And that’s coming from Batman.”

Next week is the yearly holiday episode of Community and the last one before the hiatus, “Regional Holiday Music”, so everyone make sure to tune in! ”When the Greendale glee club is unable to make the holiday pageant, the choir director (Taran Killam) asks the study group to fill in.”