Friday, December 2, 2011

3x09 "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" (Partners in Crime)

"Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism"
Original Airdate: December 1, 2011

One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who is the first episode of the fourth series titled "Partners in Crime." Though Rose Tyler is my favorite companion of the new era of the show, Donna is a close second. For those who don't watch the show, basically the premise of the episode is that the Tenth Doctor is reunited with Donna after they have a series of hilarious near-run-ins throughout the first half of the episode. What I love so much about the Tenth Doctor/Donna dynamic is that they don't have a whole lot in common, and yet they really understand each other. Donna can never really understand the pain that the Doctor feels - she's a human, after all, and he is a Time Lord - but she still empathizes. She represents simultaneously the best and worst of humanity. And whenever the two are together, you can really feel the genuine partnership between them and how deep that friendship and platonic love runs.

The reason I mention this now is because last night's Community seemed to parallel partnerships within the show that don't get a whole lot of screentime - Jeff/Shirley and Troy/Annie/Abed. But the best thing about these pairings is that they truly understand one another. If I had to choose a theme for this episode, it'd be forgiveness and acceptance, and loving in spite of imperfections. I'll get to that momentarily though. Let's talk about the plots for the episode first, shall we?

We open with our study group hanging out in the student lounge - a place that is not their typical hang-out spot, but I actually like seeing them outside of the study room for a change, personally. We learn that this episode Britta will be off-screen, volunteering at an animal hospital where her cat, David, got his surgery. This leads to a discussion between Jeff and Britta regarding her cat, and also her new (can I assume it's new? What happened to her blue and white one?) terribly ghetto cell phone (that sparks and catches on fire). Meanwhile, in the background of the scene, three Europeans are loudly playing foosball, which has begun to irritate Jeff. And let me pause here. I loved this episode immensely. Honestly in my mind, there has yet to be an episode of Community this season that I dislike (or even one that I only sort-of like). So I loved this episode worlds more than I loved "The Art of Discourse." In fact, that episode is the only one in the entire series that I cannot stand (my apologies to Dan Harmon and company). The teenagers in the episode are insanely grating (which I suppose was the point), but Jeff and Britta aren't exactly likeable in the episode either. It's funny when Jeff gets competitive, because he's the type of person (as Abed says in "Debate 109") where things bother him more than he lets on. And this episode is another example of that happening.

The raucous cheers and jeers of the Europeans starts to annoy Jeff, so he leaves the group and approaches the foosball table. Initially, Jeff attempts to Winger his way out of playing foosball with the Europeans, before he obviously gives in (and loses swiftly). Let's remember - Jeff's pride is of utmost importance to him. In our other storyline for the evening, Troy and Abed acquire a special expensive "Dark Knight" DVD (with exclusive bonus features. Oh, and it's signed by Christian Bale). Needless to say, Abed is extremely protective of the DVD, and warns Annie not to try and do anything absurd (like clean it). If Pierce or Britta are your favorite characters in the show, say goodbye to them - they'll be back for the last scene this episode, but that's it.

As it turns out, Annie just can't let the whole "not cleaning" thing go in the apartment. So Ms. Edison, being not the brightest bulb in the shed (see what I did there?), steps on Abed's "Dark Night" DVD accidentally and breaks it into little pieces. Oops. This episode solidified for me that we need more Troy/Annie/Abed stories, as well as more Jeff/Shirley stories. I think what's great about this cast is that they can work together in any combination, and the stories are essentially flawless, as is the chemistry. What's difficult though about having a cast of seven fantastic actors is that there will always be pairings that tend to get more stories and screentime than others (still hoping for another decent Pierce/Shirley story or a Troy/Shirley one). Jeff, being the lead of the show, usually gets the most screentime of course, but I really do enjoy seeing the other characters interact. Each character brings out different qualities in the others and... well, we'll get to that.

Troy walks into the room just as Annie has broken the DVD, and after an initial freak-out, suggests honesty, which is a nice example of how much he's grown (you know, having lied to Pierce in "Mixology Certification" for fun, letting Jeff manipulate him in "Football, Feminism, and You," etc.) and it's Annie this time who chickens out and can't bear to tell Abed what she has done. She's like me - a people pleaser, and probably afraid that either Abed will a) never speak to her again, or b) kick her out (and then she'd literally have no place to go). 

Now I'll return to our Jeff/Shirley story, which is really the "meat" of the episode. The last time these two had a story together was in the first season's "Social Psychology." And please, don't bother to correct me in the comments section - I know that Jeff and Shirley had a story together in "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy," but I'm choosing to dismiss that. There are few episodes, like I said earlier, that I dislike in the history of Community, and while I don't really hate that episode, I honestly don't feel like it was a strong story for either of the characters. What is perfect, however, about 3x09 is that we get to the heart of both Shirley and Jeff as individuals and - shocker! - as friends. Because the bottom line is that we've never really seen the two of them as friends before. First season, their story together proved they could be gossip buddies (so superficial friends, if you will). The second seasons outlined their dependence on each other (Shirley depending on Jeff to manipulate people and Jeff depending on Shirley to do what's right). This is the first real glimpse of friendship between them and I absolutely love it.

Jeff, we notice, is in the student lounge practicing foosball by himself because those guys really bugged him earlier (because Jeff is really insecure and a little bit crazy at times - just take a look at "Beginner Pottery" or "Biology 101" if you need examples). This episode finds us delving into the dark side of Shirley and the heart of Jeff. We'll get there momentarily, no worries. What's funny about these interactions is that Jeff is super honest with Shirley. Jeff is never honest. I attribute this to his therapy. And then, for a moment, selfish Jeff emerges. And Shirley recognizes it (because Jeff says that Shirley "finally [has] one thing [he] actually need[s]"). And so does Jeff. Then, instead of backpedaling and attempting to guilt Shirley into helping him anyway, I really do think that Jeff feels bad and apologizes while not expecting anything in return.

A lot of people think that Jeff and Shirley are polar opposites. And in their faiths, perhaps they are. But what I love about Community is that it reveals to us that we may not be so fundamentally different from each other as we think. At our cores, we all have things tucked away that enrage us, for instance. We're not perfect. And that is something to cling to (in both storylines, I like how this is a parallel theme: forgiveness and accepting each other because we are imperfect). Also, let's not forget that Shirley has a lot of rage, and so does Jeff (even before he learns that Shirley tormented him years ago).

Back at the Trobed apartment, Abed and Troy return home to find that Annie has (unbeknownst to Abed) staged a robbery in an attempt to cover up the fact that she broke the DVD. There's a nice callback to "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design," because the cop who investigates the robbery is the same one from that episode. Troy and Abed appear confused and intrigued when he mentions that he remembers Annie after he taught her and Jeff a lesson. I guess they didn't tell the group exactly what went down that night. Anyway, Annie elaborately lies about the break-in. But just as her conscience gets the better of her, Abed blames someone else (their landlord). And thus, the comedic tale continues. Abed emerges from the apartment's Dreamatorium dressed in his Batman costume from season 1. Since he is now convinced that their landlord stole and broke his DVD, he sets out the window to confront him. Annie and Troy decide to follow him.

Let's just get something straight, as we return to the Jeff/Shirley story: I saw the twist coming, but that's okay because I still loved it. The twist then, is revealed at a Mexican restaurant. The reason, we learn, that Shirley stopped playing foosball was because she felt guilty after making fun of a kid when she was twelve years old. The kid ended up peeing his pants and we learn that this kid was (...hold for dramatic music) Jeff. And this is a nice twist because Jeff is the one who ends up vulnerable, and Shirley is the one who is portrayed as mean-spirited. Usually we're so focused on Jeff's selfishness and Shirley's piety that we forget (again) that neither character is perfect.

Abed enters through the landlord's window in order to steal back the DVD (that doesn't actually exist because, remember, Annie broke it). The landlord reminded me a lot of that neighbor in the Happy Endings episode "Like Father, Like Gun." Go watch it - you'll see what I mean. Annie is still trying to spin her elaborate lie until the very end of the episode, and Troy keeps expressing his disapproval with her. It's quite amusing and wonderful.

Shirley and Jeff confront one another, and this is one of the few times we see Jeff get irate with anyone in the group besides Pierce, is it not? And with good reason too - Jeff blames people for the way he is now. Shirley is right though in stating that he "doesn't have a trademark on self-pity." But see, here's the thing - neither of them are really upset with one another. They both have pent-up rage inside of them that they just happen to direct at one another during this incident. Jeff blames Shirley for something that was admittedly bad, but ultimately not really her fault because she was a child, after all. And Jeff? Jeff blames his dad for a lot of things, I think, and hasn't yet come to terms with that. And maybe that's why therapy is beneficial to him at this point. Because if he does keep all of that rage pent up and keeps blaming everyone else for issues that he has yet to resolve, he'll never truly progress as a person.

(We then get a really awesome - I mean, really awesome - anime-style foosball match.)

This causes both Jeff and Shirley to realize that they can't measure their worth on something like a game of foosball. They're more than that - both to the world and to each other. And then... Jeff apologizes. And thus, the theme of imperfection comes full-circle when Annie apologizes to Abed-as-Batman for breaking his DVD. And she apologizes on behalf of all of those who are imperfect. It's lovely.

The ending of the episode is perfection. Jeff and Shirley team up to "defeat" the Europeans (they cause the ball to get stuck in the middle of the table). And yes, for the second week in a row, I teared up at the end of the episode. "Greendale is Where I Belong" plays as Jeff and Shirley stroll off arm-in-arm, and as we watch them, they become little Jeff and little Shirley.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- Alison Brie's dress was adorable. Also, Joel McHale continues to look good. And in blue. Wardrobe, are you trying to give all of the female viewers heart attacks?
- "I can't exactly buy him a cat monocle, can I? It's pretentious."
- "Foosball is like the soccer of ping-pong."
- Troy hums the song from "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps," I believe.
- "STOP IT. THAT'S NOT A REAL OPTION." Any time Donald-as-Troy uses his "my whole brain is crying" voice, I die laughing.
- Alison Brie's Christian Bale impression is golden.
- ""
- Jeff's European puns are pretty awesome ("Deutsch-bags," "power krauts," etc.)
- "That was so disturbing, I almost proposed on the spot."
- I spied four different Inspector Spacetime posters in Abed's apartment. Did I miss any?
- "Troy, what are we gonna do?" "NOW YOU'RE OPEN TO INPUT?!"
- Jeff refers to Vaughn, not as Annie's boyfriend or by his actual name, but as "Britta's boyfriend."
- The tag was golden. GOLDEN.

Next week is the final episode before a very dark hiatus. However, the episode (entitled "Regional Holiday Music") guest stars SNL's Taran Killam (does anyone else remember him from "Stuck in the Suburbs"?) as the glee choir director who recruits all of the study group for the holiday pageant. 

Note: Next week, I'll have family in town so I will most likely not be posting the review at my regularly scheduled time. Look for it Friday afternoon or evening instead! (And be sure to tweet me - @notajenny - with suggestions for episode reviews you'd like to read in the future. I'll cover anything from seasons 1 and 2, because all of you suggested that I keep the blog going). Thanks, as always, for reading! :)


  1. As always, thank you, Jennifer. I also note that the Shirley/Jeff story kind of mirrored a classic supervillian trope. That of the hero creating their own arch enemy through an act that took place long in the past. The twist here, of course, is that the evil cycle is broken.

    Enjoy the time with your family!


  2. I went back and read all of your reviews from this season. They are so good...insightful and well written! Maybe you should go all the way back to the pilot during the hiatus?

    Also, I refuse to accept that the hiatus of doom starts after next week. Clearly, I am in denial.

  3. Great review, as usual! They always get me through my Friday funk after I come down from Thursday's Today-I-Get-To-Watch-Community high. I loved this episode so much. I knew that pairing Jeff and Shirley up would get emotional and crazy. This is the third episode in a row where Jeff has cried. I wish we didn't have to wait until "vaguely March or April" to really dig into all of his therapy and Daddy issues. My favorite line of the night was Troy's "Abed! Where have you been?" I like that he remains innocent and naive even though he's clearly growing up. Did you notice that he "locked" the "door" to the blanket fort?

    I'm really looking forward to your reviews over the hiatus. They'll probably be the only thing that gets me through! I'd like to suggest a review of my favorite episode, "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design," especially after tonight's callback :)

  4. What do you mean, Annie would have nowhere to go? She could move in with Jeff, and then they could married and have babies.

    Shipper goggles: I HAZ THEM.

  5. @Clinton - Thanks for always reading and commenting. :) I hadn't actually thought about the supervillain trope, but you're onto something there!

    @Kim - Thank you for reading and commenting!

    @musicandhistory - Aww, I'm glad I can get everyone through the mid-morning Friday funk with these. I can't wait to continue them during the rest of the hiatus (clearly I'm also backlogged when it comes to commenting back on everyone, lol). I really do love how Jeff has developed this season - and perhaps the issues he's struggling with make him all the more endearing. (Also, no worries: once we get to season 2, "Conspiracy Theories" is at the top of my to-write list!)

    @John - Hahahahahaha. Okay, true. She wouldn't have *nowhere* to live. ;)

  6. Just started reading these and loving the reviews. One of my favorite things in this episode was really subtle - right before Annie shows Troy she broke the dvd, he comes out of the room humming the radio song that Abed was humming in the Halloween episode. And then after Annie tries the Batman voice, he goes back into his room crying and humming the same song. Few things better than Troy crying :)