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Community - Modern Espionage - Review: "It's ok to grow up"

The riskiest thing Community could have done is a paintball episode: “Modern Warfare” and the season 2 one hour finale are staples of the show’s quality, showing how inventive, flashy and fun it can be. They have been examples of everything that Community does right, so having a 3rd instalment of paintball wars on the show’s 6th season is a gamble: it will surely draw attention and gather people around to see it, but the expectations are up to the roof. People expect this very episode to be excellent.

Last week’s episode I enjoyed to the fullest because I expected nothing of it whatsoever and it ended up surprising me by being the best half hour the show has done this season (give or take episode 3). So I did my best to lower my expectations once again as the show decided to roll out a paintball episode. The result? Pretty damn good.

This is probably going to be considered the weakest paintball episode of Community, but even then, it’s one of the strongest of the season and in par with many other great episodes on the show. It’s not going to on a top 5 (or even 10) episodes of the show, but it’s also not going to be remembered as a shaky one either. It’s a pretty fun way to relive the fun the show can have with parodies.

I think what plays against it is the fact that there are no surprises here: during the season 2 finale, the paintball episode worked because it pitted Greendale against City Community college allowing for new dynamics of alliance as opposed the first paintball episode which was a free for all. This time, the only new dynamic is to have Frankie forbidding paintball which is kind of a bummer, since I bet she would have been awesome at it.

That being said, it is pretty funny to see how Jeff struggles with the fact that he loves paintball (and as he puts is, how awesome he is at it) and how much he tries to repress it because of Frankie. He can't help but to indulge, and we get some great action bits mixed perfectly with the comedy the situation brings. I like to see how everyone seems to have learned from past experiences and how they seem to have become even better at paintball over time.

But the best thing about the episode is what underlines; it recognizes that Greendale has become a different place this season, since Frankie’s arrival. The Dean feels he is no longer of any use, and Greendale is becoming “A Cleaner Greendale”, which doesn’t reflect what it has been for the past 6 years.

It’s interesting to tackle on this because this season has been widely different from any other; it has been a solid season, funny and endearing, but also much lighter and less exciting. The show had to deal with the fact that these characters have evolved and Greendale has evolved with them, and while there are still quirks that makes for entertaining comedy, the craziness has quieted down and as such it feels like there is less energy around.

That is what makes this episode standout aside the fun of seeing the characters getting all serious about paintball and making their alliances; this is Greendale hanging to its identity, afraid of losing itself while evolving. As we grow up we wonder if the changes we are going through are all positive, and things we love about our past selves we start missing and we try to hold a grip on them as hard as we can.

Near the end the janitor talks about how Frankie has changed Greendale and the Dean points out how “A Cleaner Greendale” would be the equivalent of a “Healthier Cigarette” (which I admit, was the moment I burst into laugh). This season we had seen that cleaner Greendale and for a moment I agreed with them, but then Jeff recognized that there is nothing wrong with improving and I realized something: I have been so fixated over what Community used to be that I haven’t fully embraced what this season has to offer.

That’s not to say I’ll start adoring this season as I do miss that frenetic, crazy, energy the show used to have, but there are more than enough endearing moments, with the great funny ingredients to appreciate this season for what it has done, and how it has portrayed its characters with more care and appreciation than it has done before. While they still have some growing to do, they seem more comfortable with each other this season, and the conflicts never escalate as they used to in previous seasons, which shows how much they come to accept each other.

That’s some great character development that crashes with the fun of the previous seasons of the show. I think the show has struggled coming to terms with its new voice: it still doesn’t hit the right notes, but that’s not an issue of the voice itself, but on the way it uses it. Are you still with me? What I mean is that Community is evolving, but it has taken its time to adapt, and this episode acts as a commentary about that.

One of the things I like the most, character wise, is how Jeff defends Frankie all episode long: she is loved by the characters and the show’s fans alike, and it’s really joyful to see how much everyone cares about her. She is there to improve Greendale and everyone else around her, while everyone else has allowed her to become less tense and more comfortable on her own skin. The evolution she has undergone from the season premiere to this very episode is baffling and show how much the writers have cared about her and how awesome Paget Brewster is.

I feel that almost everything in this episode works, from the themes underlying the paintball game, to the characters interactions to the amazingly choreographed stunts while imitating action movies (with the especial nod to the Dean accidentally taking everyone out in the elevator). Sadly, the pacing is very uneven and the rushes of energy crashes with a follow up scene that is not nearly as exciting to then build up some energy once again and undergo the same process.

There’s also less excitement since we have seen this before, but as a whole I feel that it works just fine, pretty great even. I laughed plenty in this episode, even though is not even close the funniest the show has gotten, I smiled, even though it isn’t an episode that made me extremely happy as other have done, but I do feel inspired by the way the show recognized the unavoidable process of evolution and adjustment it requires; intentionally or not, the show addresses its own missteps during the seasons and as such it feels relevant.

I think this is the most important episode of the season, even while it isn’t the best (a title I hold for last week’s). There’s still the nostalgia towards the storylines of the past, but I feel that this episode had enabled me to recognize this as a new era of the show and appreciate it for what has to offer: that doesn’t mean I’ll start giving As all around for the following episodes (though I’d love to), I’ll still look at it recognizing its limitations and what work and doesn’t work, but I’ll surely be more grateful for what the show has to offer than I was before.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations:

-I love how Abed and Annie always pair up during paintball; they make such an amazing action couple while also bringing funny bits.

-Elroy questions why he is paired up with Britta; I think this has been a winning combination all season long as the Elroy is allowed to be more grounded when he’s around Britta, which is a fun dynamic to watch unfold.

-This episode featured some pretty recognizable secondary characters: Vicky, Star Burns, Todd and Garret all came back and shone as they usually do when they have screen time. Star Burns vs Todd was pretty great to introduce the episode (all while Vicky was singing), and to end the episode with Garret mocking Vicky, to reveal it was an act they both made together was an amazing way to close the episode, which made me like it even more.

-One of the biggest bummers of the episode for me was the next to non existance use for Chang: paintball is the best time to use his double crossing expertise to maximize comedy.

-How crazy would have Frankie go if she was handed a paintball gun? My guess is very.

-No one goes around Greendale without their paintball gun ready for action.

-A club about clubs? Well, that's pretty much Greendale. I giggled when I saw it, and I loved how Jeff told Abed not to do references or callbacks once he said he saw someone from the meow, meow beans episode. I'm a sucker for fourth wall breaks.

-Talking of callbacks, how awesome is that the gang is playing the ears game when Frankie tried to bust them playing paintball?

-The end scene with everyone dressing up as babies for Frankie is outright hilarious and brilliant.

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