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Battle Royale: An Advance Review of Thursday's "Modern Warfare" Episode of Community

"Come with me if you don't want paint on your clothes."

I've been a fan of NBC's absurdist comedy Community since its inception. Over the course of its first season, the series--created by Dan Harmon--has grown into one of the network's creatively strongest players on Thursday evenings.

Aided by a winning cast, a deft balance between the sweet and sour, and a willingness to embrace the quirky, the odd, and the just plain out there, the series has grown into one of the most inventive and original comedies on television today and, paired with fellow Peacock comedy Parks and Recreation, offers an hour that ranks among one of my chief delights of the week.

This week's episode of Community ("Modern Warfare"), written by Emily Cutler (who also scripted another one of my favorite episodes this season, "Contemporary American Poultry"), offers what isn't merely another gleefully absurd installment but just might just be the most ambitious and hilarious comedy outing this year, one that redefines what broadcast network comedies are capable of achieving.

I don't want to give too much away about this incredible episode but I will say that it challenges our preconceptions about what is possible within the confines of an American broadcast network comedy. While other series--such as BBC Three's The Mighty Boosh--have taken absurdist humor to another world altogether, American broadcast comedies typically attempt to retain some semblance of reality, even when absurdity or parody are locked within their creative DNA (such as 30 Rock).

Community has always been a series that has played fast and loose with the rules, creating a universe that is at once filled with heart as it is with head-scratching humor. But never before has this series--or any other, come to think of it--offered an episode that is so absurd, so ambitious, and so absolutely unique that you find yourself roaring with laughter just as often as you pick up your jaw from the floor.

"Modern Warfare" finds Greendale College a campus divided as Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) offers a paintball tournament with a unique prize for the victor (priority enrollment). Awakening from a nap in his car, Jeff (Joel McHale) discovers a world very different from the one he left, one that's ripped apart by violence and destruction, where everyone he encounters is a potential enemy. And unless he arms himself, he might just be the next victim. Fortunately, lone wolf Jeff quickly falls into an alliance with BFFs Abed (Danny Pudi) and Troy (Donald Glover).

What follows is inspired pastiche of action films such as Die Hard and The Matrix, zombie moves like 28 Days Later, and one of the most hysterical and attention-grabbing comedic episodes this year.

Alliances are formed, friendships fractured, Glee battered about, and heroes and villains born. Abed gets one of the best entrances I've seen in a long time (just... wow) while Ken Jeong's Senor Chang turns out to be a vicious killer who would be right at home with Hans Gruber. (His full-on assault of the study room, complete with el tigre-colored paint gun and tan suit, is absolutely priceless.)

Look for Alison Brie's Annie, Yvette Nicole Brown's Shirley, and Gillian Jacob's Britta to comprise the world's toughest female hit squad, death scenes galore (I love Shirley's in particular), and an exploration of what is personally important to the individual members of the study group, through the prism of that promise of early enrollment.

It's that latter point that resonates most deeply. The episode itself, in keeping with Community's modus operandi, also has a kernel of heart buried within its war-torn exterior, one that examines the sexual tension between Jeff Winger and Britta Perry in some very unexpected ways... and the way that comrades--or indeed study group members--can make sacrifices to benefit others. (Both in times of war and peace.)

All in all, it's a must-see episode of Community and likely to be held up as a paragon for network comedy in years to come. Trust me when I say that you do not want to miss this installment, under any circumstances. So lock and load and let the war begin...



Community airs Thursday at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.

Comments

AskRachel said…
I remember Dan Harmon talking about this episode at the Paley Festival panel and I've been dying to see it. Glad to hear it's as fantastic (and crazy!) as he made it sound!
Anonymous said…
sounds cool how do you see early?
Annie said…
CANNOT wait!!!!
MandyJane said…
I love this show, I'm so glad there are others out there who love it too! Can't wait for this episode, but it sucks the season is over already. I wish the show lasted an hour :)

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