This week’s episode starts off with an unusually normal situation: it’s Friday and the group is discussing their weekend plans. While Britta’s going to be working off her cat’s laser eye surgery by volunteering at the animal hospital, Troy and Abed can’t wait to watch the many hours of special features in Abed’s new ultra-exclusive Dark Knight DVD.
One thing you have to give Community some credit for is that they keep track of their own references and jokes even better than the fans. (You really can’t out-Community Community). So, when we find ourselves with a “Jeff and Shirley” episode, Jeff and Shirley themselves reminisce about earlier episodes in which they teamed up (Remember when they bonded over making fun of Vaughn?). This time the duo connect over a shared competitive passion for foosball ““ and for beating the bullying German exchange students who wish they had a word for enjoying the suffering of others.
Just like Jeff, I like when we get to see Shirley’s edgier side, so I laugh every time her voice drops an octave from her usual Muppet register to her “don’t eff with me” tone. So despite Shirley’s warnings that foosball takes her to a dark place, Jeff convinces her to spend part of the weekend teaching him her superior skills.
As I’d hoped, the show is effectively mining the new dynamic involved with Annie moving in with Troy and Abed. While Shirley and Jeff work on their game, Annie’s learning how to balance her need to clean with respecting the guys’ stuff, and their right to be messy. Her well-meaning meddling results in her stepping on his DVD. Troy just wants to know why. Why did she break the DVD? And why was she dusting the TV?! (Does it show that I’m getting old that I wanted to know why the precious, newly-purchased DVD was on the floor in the first place?)
Mirroring the foosball plot, this one quickly escalates from a simple starting point (Annie’s lie: “We were robbed!”) to Abed rappelling down the fire escape to confront their landlord, the presumed culprit. Complete with full Batman costume and gravelly Christian Bale voice. The best line of the episode was Troy scolding Annie as they clamored down the fire escape behind Abed: “You moving in was supposed to tone us down!”
While you spend much of the time taking Abed’s obsession over the theft at face value, you realize by the end, when Annie apologizes on behalf of all imperfect people, that Abed was a few steps ahead of them all along. It’s fitting that he would use an elaborate homage to his favorite movie to act out his anger. It’s yet another example of his hiding his feelings behind his pop culture references; this way he gets to work out his issues with Annie without hurting her.
Over their post-foosball lunch (anyone notice this is the same place the Dean took Jeff a few weeks ago?), Shirley and Jeff realize that their shared zeal for foosball is rooted in the same childhood incident: Shirley, who was a bully in late childhood, beat Jeff at a game at the local community center, then taunted and prodded him so much that he wet his pants.
In this case, the common thread between the Shirley and Jeff isn’t just their amazing ability to gang up on other people, but rather their outsider status growing up as children. Jeff was the awkward, lonely kid without a dad, and Shirley as the girl the boys suddenly didn’t like because she was bigger than them.
It’s refreshing to have an episode that doesn’t feel the need to include every member of the study group. This week clearly showed that allowing a few characters to take an almost complete backseat once (in this case, Pierce and Britta) leaves time for more meaningful development for the rest.