Community: “Modern Espionage” Season 6 Episode 11 Review

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When all else fails: paintball!

Community doing a third paintball episode is a risky move. “Modern Warfare” and the two-parter of “Fistful of Paintballs” and “For a Few Paintballs More” are some of the series’ most hallowed episodes. For a show that’s had a rocky sixth season, messing up the gold standard would’ve been a disaster. Luckily, “Modern Espionage” proves to be the season’s best entry yet, as if every episode prior to this was just a placeholder for this moment. And what a moment it was.

Community‘s third paintball outing immediately calls to mind spy franchises such as Mission ImpossibleJames Bond, and the Jason Bourne series, and the homage to these slick action thrillers is more than apparent. A slightly less obvious comparison can be made to last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, particularly in moments like Dean Pelton’s epic elevator sequence (more on that in a minute). The similarities can’t be just a coincidence, especially since brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed Winter Soldier, are two of Community‘s longtime executive producers.

The episode certainly made the most out of its espionage theme, giving an exciting sense of urgency to every scene. Tropes are gleefully played up, such as the ridiculously obvious headset comm pieces, Abed and Annie’s overly dramatic floor dancing, and the return of Britta’s terrible tech expert from “Basic Lupine Urology.”

Then, there was The Dean’s brawl with custodial thugs in the elevator, which was its own sort of magic. The entire thing is masterfully shot, and I don’t know which was more enjoyable: the unabashed mimicking of over-the-top action set pieces, or the fact that Dean Pelton goes from zero to badass in a number of seconds. This is the kind of humor that Community‘s been missing all season, and it was comforting to witness this return to form.

Though pinpointing the exact references for episodes like this one can be fun, the real treat was getting immersed in a plot that finally made good use of Frankie. Paget Brewster’s lovable school fixer gets wind of an underground paintball game, and tries to put a stop to it before her Cleaner Greendale Gala to honor the school’s custodial service.

The fact that the mysterious paintball assassin—hilariously nicknamed “Silver Balls” for his use of silver paint pellets—turns out to be Kumail Nanjiani’s long-suffering janitor character is a twist that can be seen coming from a mile away. Still, with episodes like this it’s the execution that matters. The stakes for this game feel important because they not only reinvigorate Greendale’s rivalry with City College, but they question The Dean’s place at the school now that Frankie’s basically running things.

What I liked most about this narrative is the easy admittance of the group that Frankie is one of them. Sure, she’s technically a suit who bosses them around, but the fact that the gang tries hard to hide their paintball shenanigans from her in an attempt to keep her happy says a lot about how her role on the show has progressed since the season premiere. Jeff says several times that he “likes” Frankie, and though romantic subtext of his delivery is unclear, it’s nice to see her finally have a place amongst the team.

I think it’s also worth noting that this episode is really, really, really funny. Not just impressive in its parody funny, but the actual laugh-out-loud stuff of comedic excellence. Abed infiltrating the “Club Club” allows for some brilliant rapport between him and recurring guest star Mitch Hurwitz, but the pièce de résistance has to go to the gang using the names of actors from various Batman movies as codenames for each other (my personal favorite is “Voice of Diedrich Bader” who, FYI, voiced Batman in the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold).

The moral of this episode—as evidenced by the hysterical baby-talk ending—seems to be that Frankie is always right and the gang needs to grow up. I, for one, hope it takes a long time for this lesson to sink in. Community could use more episodes like this one. Grade: A

 

Some Other Notes:

– I didn’t hate the ending tag this time! Maybe because it actually made sense within the context of the rest of the episode.

– Another Gem from the Batman codenames is Elroy’s line, “Dammit. Clooney slopped the bogey.”

– I really like that, despite her failings elsewhere, Britta is still a damn good shot when it comes to paintball.

– “These explode on contact and cover and mark the target with paint.” “You’re describing all paintballs.”

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

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