Community is now halfway through an ambitious two-part finale that has brought paintball back to Greendale and is delivering one of the most conceptual episodes of the show's short life. "Fistful of Paintballs" isn't a true sequel to Season 1's seminal "Modern Warfare," a fan favorite and essential Community episode. But it's impossible not to compare the two; while they may not be identical twins, they're at least distant cousins.
As fun as last night's episode was (and on its own, it was very enjoyable), I simply couldn't ignore the feeling that Community had done this before. And that's not really a feeling I expect from Community. The show has become one of TV's best comedies thanks to its ability to distinguish itself and not fall back sitcom tropes. It's not just "different," it's intelligently different. Much of the fun of watching the show comes from being completely blindsided by each new episode, and the element of surprise that drenched us in "Modern Warfare" evaporated quickly in "A Fistful of Paintballs." There's a debate raging over which episode was better, but I don't think it's even close: It has to be "Modern Warfare." But that's because "Modern Warfare" was so good and so fresh.
Of course, it's one-million percent pointless to debate which was better, because "Fistful of Paintballs" is only halfway over (next week we'll close out the season with "For a Few Paintballs More"). And aside from lacking an element of surprise, the episode was ridiculously entertaining. Who didn't love those animated character cards and the stylized show introduction? Community is great at sticking to its guns and seeing a concept all the way through, and "Fistful of Paintballs" lassoed the Spaghetti Western format and rode it into the sunset.
Annie (in Western wear, *drool*) was the centerpiece, and rightfully so. "She's pretty awesome today," said Abed. True, but she's also awesome every other day, and every night in my dreams. The episode further explored Pierce as a villain, and Annie as the only member of the group who doesn't have the heart to cast him out of the study group. The fact that we saw this whole showdown through her eyes leads me to believe that the next episode could be the one we've all been waiting for: the episode where Pierce finds his redemption and stops being a jerk every week. Pierce has been a dividing force in Community's excellent second season, and believe me, the producers are very aware of this. If something like Shirley's pregnancy or an entire episode devoted to reminiscing about the past season aren't good enough subjects for a finale, then addressing Pierce's behavior has to be, right?
Guest-star Josh Holloway (Lost's Sawyer) was perfect for the role of The Black Rider, fitting seamlessly into the great cast (who I promise I voted for when we compiled our Best Ensembles list yesterday). I just hope he scrubs that paint off and returns next week. But the episode really belonged to Alison Brie, who showed off the seldom-seen-but-always-enjoyable adventurous side of Annie. Plus, let's not beat around the bush here, she was firecracker-hot from start to finish. Hottest woman on TV!
Aside from rehashing some familiar territory, "Fistful of Paintballs" was more a visual treat than an all-out laugh riot. But the best part of it? It's only halfway done!
... Though its silliness and themed episodes grab the headlines, Community thrives on the strength of its characters and their relationship to each other as the best study group ever to never study at an institution of higher learning. There's something warm and fuzzy that occurs whenever Jeff gives one of his near-the-end speeches and we realize this misfit crew of strangers simply belongs together.
... That's what has made this final stretch of Community so strong. Two weeks ago, we got a genius clip show that employed a fantastic concept—never-before-seen clips of the gang on wacky misadventures—to emphasize the togetherness of the group. Last week, high concepts were shelved in favor of resolving one of the season's biggest storylines: Shirley's pregnancy. Both episodes could have easily served as finales—they were that good. I'm hoping "For a Few Paintballs More" continues to explore the group and its dynamics instead of simply concentrating on the pizazz of paintball.
... It was entertaining, enjoyable, easy on the eyes, but was there something missing in this episode? Could it have been funnier?
... Dean Pelton continues to be hilarious, especially of late.
... Part 2 needs some Magnitude! POP POP!
How would you compare "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "Modern Warfare"? Is it even fair to compare the two?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom