Throughout Community’s history, the paintball episodes are where some of its most magical moments take place. From the gang pretending to be in the Wild West to Chang wielding two paintball berettas, it always seemed that these installments are some of the show’s best offerings. With “Modern Espionage,” the show takes a swing at spy movies. The stage is set as Starburns, who makes a welcome return here, is assaulted by side character, Todd, with a paintball gun. A secret, underground paintball tournament has begun, and the gang is being pulled down into it once again. Frankie makes a decree that anyone who is discovered to be participating will be kicked out of Greendale, so the crew must be extra careful with their hijinks this time around.
Among the students of Greendale, a viper lies in wait in the form of the “Silver Ghost,” a.k.a. “Silver Balls.” Silver Balls is taking down other students playing the game with silver paintballs and cutting a swath of terror. Jeff, in his usual leader fashion, tries to calm down the situation with the rest of the group, only to realize that they are all already playing as they dispatch a traitorous Chang with ease. This allows for a fairly meta discussion as the gang wonders if, perhaps, they’ve gone “to the well of paintball a little too long.” This also leads into one of the best one-liners of the night as Jeff tries to play it off by informing Frankie that a “well is a place where you drink water.” Appropriately absurd and true to Frankie’s character in that she’s seemingly in her own world apart from the rest of the cast when it comes to decisions focused on Greendale.
This episode, if nothing else, has some fantastic action. Taking a page from movies like the Bourne Identity and any of the James Bond flicks, no paintballs are held back in this one. Before we delve further into that though, espionage is the name of the game as the gang discovers the origins of the latest paintball endeavor: an email sent to students promoting a cash prize for whoever wins the latest game. Tracing the email back to a user named “Fun Dad” at “Club Club,” the gang enters a surreal part of the school which is in fact a makeshift nightclub. Greeted by the perpetrator, Abed tries his best to uncover the identity of Silver Balls, only for Fun Dad to make a run for it until he himself is shot by the silver assassin. (Man, it is really weird writing “Silver Balls” and “Fun Dad at the Club Club” but it works in elevating the show in terms of comedy).
Meanwhile, Greendale is having a charity event for their deputy custodian, “Le Pierre” who has been most affected by years of paintball escapades, being responsible for cleaning up the mess that everyone makes. As the charity event begins, the Dean is brought into an elevator with several of the school’s custodians, while Elroy and Britta investigate the kitchen. This leads to the best action set pieces of the night, with the Dean taking out — almost mistakenly — the custodians, and the dynamic duo dispatching the kitchen staff. The action is fast-paced and well choreographed, and I have to think that the Dean elevator scene was an homage to past Community directors, the Russo Brothers, who went onto film a scene very similar in Captain America: Winter Soldier. It’s a nice touch when a show can transcend its genre and be a fantastic example of another entirely, as was the case here.
The jig is up once Abed stumbles across the truth and let’s Jeff know that the deputy custodian, played by comedian Kumail Nunjiani, was attempting to create an environment of fear and security within Greendale by starting the latest paintball game. As the custodian attempts to make his escape, he’s followed by Jeff and the Dean into the school’s “Museum of Custodial Arts,” where traps are aplenty and danger lurks around every corner. The two manage to defeat the La Pierre, only to be discovered by Frankie who insist that, as punishment, the gang pretend to be babies while wearing appropriate attire. It’s a surreal end to a surreal, yet hilarious, and well done episode.
“Modern Espionage” ends with a standup performance by Garrett. Community’s side characters have always been amazing, in so much as you could almost see many of them joining the gang and the show not missing a beat. Garrett is no exception, and you can’t help but laugh whenever he does anything on the show. As Garrett delivers a standup routine aimed at one of his fellow classmates, Vicki, said classmate gets on stage and begins tearing into Garrett, only to reveal that it was all part of the show, causing the audience to boo them both.
Another strong installment of Community here, though I didn’t think it was the strongest episode of the “Paintball Trilogy” we’ve seen, and not even the strongest episode of Season 6, it was still able to hold its own.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good
– So many homages, it’s almost hard to keep track here, but I had to mention the masterful scene parodying Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire where balloons are being popped at the ceremony.
– Starburns: “I’m gonna go get a shovel, because theater is dead!”
– Starburns: “You’re weird at picnics!”
– Dean: “Desperate Deans call for desperate measures!”
– Deputy Custodian: “You got a real nice M. Night Shyamalan here!”
– Jeff: “We can be Robert Downey Jr! He was so high he was crawling into peoples’ windows, now he’s Iron Man!”