by Josie Kafka
“The Art of Discourse” sucked. But it’s a freakish aberration, and Community is back with its A-game in “Modern Warfare,” aka “The First Paintball Episode That Is Totally Awesome and Sets the Standard for a Four-Shirley Episode.”
The Glee club lures people with song. The debate team fell to infighting. The chess club uses pawns to draw people out. “Checkmate, bitches!” The drama club’s tears really will be real, and the Mexican standoffs will be colorful. In other words, “Modern Warfare” is Community’s post-apocalypse episode, and the end of the (Greendale) world is no laughing matter. The desire for priority registration—and the possible six-day weekend superpower one could acquire—has turned men into animals, and women into…wanimals.
(I brittaed that, didn’t I?)
Anyway, Community works every action-movie cliché into just 23-minutes, from the craziness of Chang’s suicidal paint-plosion to Jeff suddenly losing the gs on all of his frakkin’ gerunds. There are innumerable specific references to various movies, but in general the structure of the paintball fight follows the hallowed tradition of How to Build a Blockbuster, and includes such important scenes as the Plucky Heroes Huddle Around Fire and Lead Characters Have Sex At Odd Moment.
The frame narrative that begins and ends the episode consists of the study group, around the study table, in the study room, which is remarkably (in the final segment) free of paint. The group reminds us of the waxing and waning sexual tension between Jeff and Britta, as well as Shirley’s love for her kids and desire to spend more time with them. Who knew the answer to those conflicts would be paintball?
That Jeff and Britta finally had sex doesn’t resolve the tension, just tweaks it. Now, we’re left wondering if they’ll keep having sex, if Abed will figure out what’s different, and whether their friends-with-benefits relationship will turn into something else. (Probably not.) More importantly, Britta sacrificed herself to help Jeff win, and Jeff sacrificed his win to help Shirley get a class schedule appropriate to a mother with young kids. For two characters who don’t think they’re good people, those are awfully good actions.
What can I say about 'Modern Warfare' that hasn't been said before? Well, I can think of something quite specific to say. Something I'm fairly certain none of you were ever expecting me to say, but I am going to say it anyway; one of the highlights of this episode, for me at least, is Chang.
Yes, you read that right, Chang. This guy:
While 'Contemporary American Poultry' was a parody of a single movie, 'Modern Warfare' is a lovingly crafted homage to the entire action genre. It is easy to imagine the writers getting together one night, watched every action movie ever made and making lots of notes. As such we get references to Terminator, Die Hard, 28 Days Later, The Warriors, and John Woo films like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Hard Boiled. Chang's brief appearance is a tribute to reference to Woo's Hong Kong work, with the study group's insane Spanish teacher cast in the role of Chow Yun-Fat. This is how Chang's unique brand of OTT craziness should be used, in short, controlled bursts. For once the episode actually benefits from his appearance rather than suffers as a result of it.
That said, I still wouldn't say no to someone dropping a cargo container on his head, like Riggs did to that evil South African in Lethal Weapon 2. New discussion topic; what action movie death would you most like to see inflicted on Chang?
Cool Cool Cool:
• That Guy: “The prize! The prize! We—we turned on each other like…animals!”
• Shirley: “Troy made God mad!”
• Jeff: “Oh, no! Oh, wait. It’s just blood. I thought it was paint, but it was just blood. Thank god.”
• I loved Jeff waking up from his car nap to the end of the world. And I love it not just because it’s a great reference to apocalypse movies and shows that start with the hero in a coma, but also because I, too, sometimes took naps in my car at school.
Four out of four Shirleys