Tonight’s Community really touched upon what I find to be the most endearing quality of the show. Beneath all the witty references and layered jokes, the show has heart. As cliché’ and overused as that expression is, I can honestly say Community gives me those warm fuzzy feelings more often than any other show has before it. I’m not ashamed to admit that emotionally, I am deeply invested in these characters. And while the beginning of the season started off a bit slow into hitting these kind of moments, tonight’s episode really delivered on one of the show’s most endearing stories to date.
Shirley is easily the most misunderstood member of the group. Being older, religious, and a mother of three, the rest of the group hasn’t exactly always been able to relate to her. Something the show did early in season one was touch on the fact that Shirley has a bit of a darker side to her. And when she brings that out, she’s much more relatable. But this is also conflicting for her. The person she has to become to be relatable often butts heads with her personal values. It’s because of this that I’ve always found Shirley to be a bit of a complex personality. It’s also no secret that Shirley isn’t the biggest fan favorite. Tonight’s episode was very self aware of the fact that within the group, she’s often the odd one out. “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” brilliantly opened up Shirley’s story, and gave us a new perspective on her, while also strengthening the shows own mythology.
I was somewhat worried that the episode was going to have a too similar of a plot to past episodes. You know, the ones where Jeff gets into a fight with an obnoxious group of students, with it all just being a facade for a much deeper rooted problem with him. But thankfully, the real story here was between Jeff and Shirley. It would have been easy enough for the writers to just have a plot where Shirley has a surprising talent, and through this, Jeff and Shirley learn to bond over it. But they took it even further, and had the story be about Jeff and Shirley in their childhoods, and how their pasts had a profound impact on who they are today. The writers showing Jeff as a lonely child with no friends as a result of the absence of his dad, was really sad. It’s also been something that they have been building towards for some time now. So this was actually a really pivotal moment for his character arc and understanding why he is so closed off. Jeff’s determination to beat the foreign students at foosball, is fueled by his deep seeded emotional baggage of when he was picked on by a bully playing foosball as a child. It’s weighed heavily on him for a long time, as foosball was the only friend/escape he had as a kid – and that bully took that away from him. The episode gets turned upside down when Shirley tells Jeff the reason she stopped playing. For her, the competition tapped into her aggressive nature (that we often see flashes of, but she contains) – and this all came to a head when she made a young boy cry. Well turns out, Jeff’s big bully was in fact Shirley.
The scene where Shirley humiliates Jeff in front of all the kids by making him pee his pants, was emotionally impacting. Up until this point, we haven’t really seen what Jeff was like as a kid. We’ve heard glimpses of it when he talks about his absent father, or his mother. So to actually get to see Jeff as this lonely child that is getting picked on, it was such a deep contrast to Jeff we have known for the past two seasons. Suddenly all the arrogance, confidence, and the I don’t care attitude start to make sense. Jeff was a lawyer for a reason, and it extended beyond the shallow lifestyle. I just loved the fact that we were able to see both these characters as kids, and then later get to see them kick up those same emotions as adults. And I mean, how awesome was that anime scene? The way they interwove both Jeff and Shirley’s plot was magnificent. We got to see why Jeff and Shirley were scarred as kids (it was just as damaging for Shirley), and it also brought the two characters close together. In a larger sense, it’s allowed Jeff to step back and realize he under appreciates Shirley and sometimes is a jerk to her. The fact that she experienced one of Jeff’s lowest moments as a human being, means they can now both relate to one another as their life experiences had a crossroads, and both truly know what it means to not fit in. Even Shirley’s bullying was an act of self defense, as she was picked on prior to meeting Jeff.
With the other story packing such an emotional punch, it’s any wonder how they were able to balance another story in this episode. But the Dark Knight burglary plot was fantastic. It picked up the comedy aspect of the episode, and further gave us a glimpse at what life is like with Annie, Abed and Troy now living together. The best part about this story was the fact that Annie tried to use her brain to fix a problem she caused, and that really doesn’t work with Abed. You see, while Abed is on the surface a weird person, he’s also a very simple person in some ways. He would much more understand the truth and her being sorry, than the convoluted story she gave of a burglar breaking in and stealing the Dark Knight DVD as well as her Hebrew necklace. Trying to avoid making Abed upset, her lies only made Abed look deeper into the issue. Wearing the Batman outfit again, Abed goes to visit his landlord who he thinks steals stuff from their apartment. Holy crap, was it funny watching Abed try to propel down the side of the building. The conclusion was – well, the land lord was in fact stealing stuff from their apartment. But it was mostly Annie’s shoes, along with other peoples shoes, because the guy has a foot fetish. The Police officer (from “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”) asks Annie: “But you are okay with this guy sleeping outside your room?” While I found the Jeff/Shirley plot to be the central focus of tonight’s episode, this was a fun little plot that played on all the strengths of these characters.
The episode’s closing scene was incredible with Jeff and Shirley walking arm in arm as their adult selves fade away to both them as kids. It was such a fitting way to end an episode that was about forgiveness and finding a common connection with someone that is much different than yourself. This was in my opinion, one of the best thematic episode’s of the entire series. It was warm, rich and well executed.