Welcome to Looking Streets Behind, a Community retrospective column! Join me as I dive into a Community episode that has reached its 10th-anniversary milestone! This go-round, we’re delving into Season Two’s penultimate outing, “A Fistful of Paintballs.” Wherein we learned that Jeff’s vanity knows no bounds, Chang will literally ally himself with anyone to come out on top and Pierce is the King of Fake Heart Attacks. Directed by the Joe Russo (you know the one), this is easily one of Community‘s finest episodes. Hands down.
So, without further ado, let’s stick it to Pistol Patty and remind the Black Rider that he’s not that good-looking. He’s no Seacrest.
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Now, we open with Neil (Charley Koontz) fleeing from Mike (Anthony Michael Hall). The latter is hot on his heels. I wish we would’ve had more AMH on Community. Anyway, Neil’s cornered by Mike and his henchmen. But before that trigger is pulled, Annie a.k.a. Ace of Hearts (Alison Brie) arrives on the scene. She shoots Mike and co. with paintballs. They’re out! Annie orders Neil to kick their guns over to her. When her back is turned, Neil tries to take her out. But not so fast! Our Ace of Hearts is one of the fastest draws in the western three-quarters of the Greendale area!
Then, we’re blessed with the best Community title sequence out there. Well, one of, anyway. The “Spaghetti Western” tone is evident from the get-go. After the credits, Annie is sitting in her hideout in what appears to be the science lab. She heats up a can of beans. Abed a.k.a. Jack of Clubs (Danny Pudi) stealthily sneaks into her camp and proceeds to consume her beans. It’s okay, she probably has a bean allergy anyway. The stylistic, old-school Western dialogue here will never get old for me.
Prior to Abed’s appearance, we’re whisked away to Flashback Land. Dean Pelton a.k.a. Craig on Saturdays (Jim Rash) speaks to the gathering crowd at the end-of-the-school-year hoedown. There’s going to be a paintball tournament despite the copious amounts of money that went toward campus repairs last year! Pistol Patty, the sponsor for the hoedown and apparent facilitator of the paintball game, reveals that the winner will receive $100,000. So, there’s that.
Meanwhile, Jeff a.k.a. King of Spades (Joel McHale) and Chang a.k.a. The Flip-Flopper (Ken Jeong) are attempting to evade the Math Club’s deadly, paint-filled blows. Abed swoops in and saves their keisters. However, Chang flees, pledging allegiance to the Math Club. Annie appears and Jeff proceeds to chat her up. Rumor has it there’s a massive cache of paintballs sequestered away somewhere on campus. It’s time to join forces and track the said cache down.
Suddenly, a dashingly handsome man a.k.a. the Black Rider (Josh Holloway) makes his grand entrance. He brandishes dual paintball guns and proceeds to lay waste to our protagonists. Thankfully, his slightly inferior good looks (in comparison to Jeff’s) hindered him from decimating them. After a high-octane chase sequence, the trio loses him.
They reunite with Shirley a.k.a. Ace of Clubs (Yvette Nicole Brown), Britta a.k.a. Queen of Spades (Gillian Jacobs) and Troy a.k.a. King of Clubs (Donald Glover). The second part of our study group is now working for Pierce’s encampment. Pierce has constructed quite the empire in just five short hours since the game began.
Next, our study crew makes their way into Fort Hawthorne. It’s rumored that Pierce also has a sizable stash of paintballs. Vicki (Danielle Kaplowitz) is dancing for Twinkies and Garrett (Erik Charles Nielsen) is shimmying and shaking for … praise? I don’t know. Pierce’s little dwelling is reminiscent of an old-timey saloon.
Then, Pierce hosts dinner for his old study group. He noticed them playing cards without him in the study room earlier. He laments about how they always leave him out in the cold. Jeff and the rest remind him that he’s essentially the villain of Season Two. The poor Duquesne family! Pierce vows to make it up to them. He knows where the paintball cache is. He wants to form an alliance with the group so everyone has access to it. He’ll even arm them with his weapons. That’s nice!
Later, Annie finds Chang blindfolded and restrained before the cheerleading squad. They’re sentencing him to paintball death for betraying them. Annie swoops in just in time and deftly shoots each cheerleader with a paintball. Instant annihilation! Once again, Chang narrowly escapes by the skin of his Chang. That sounds dirty. But I’m gonna leave it.
Now, Annie runs into the Black Rider again. There’s heavy flirting and cowboy stoicism. BR blasts Annie in the foot with her gun, but it’s filled with blanks. Pierce framed them! Jeff and Abed come to Annie’s rescue. BR faces off against our heroes in one of the coolest action sequences in Community history. Lots of slo-mo moments that perfectly accentuate the Western vibes. BR flees.
Meanwhile, Britta, Troy and Shirley find the dean hiding in his office. He looks worse for the wear. Jeff, Annie and Abed reunite with them. Apparently, Pelton does have a nice cache of paintball paraphernalia. He lets them have it all for the fight ahead. Annie is hellbent on exacting revenge against Pierce. She waltzes over to Fort Hawthorne to find Vicky dancing by herself. The place was ransacked by the Black Rider. Pierce emerges from the bathroom to a flurry of paintballs from our Ace of Hearts.
Next, our Greendale Seven is standing outside the main section of Fort Hawthorne. Annie reveals that they weren’t playing cards that day. They were voting to determine whether Pierce will be allowed in the study group for next year. The vote had to be unanimous. There was one holdout — Annie. She demands him to pick up a gun and face her. Let’s get into some old Western standoff sh*t!
Suddenly, the Black Rider wedges himself in the Annie/Pierce standoff. Pierce seizes the moment to feign a heart attack. BR doesn’t know it’s a ruse. This leads to his downfall as Pierce quickly shoots him. The Black Rider is out of the game! Now Annie will never see Coldplay with him!
Then, Chang is seen roaming through the desolate school parking lot. He’s still blindfolded and bound by the wrists. A shrouded shooter from inside Pistol Pattys van unleashes a bevy of paintball bullets on Chang, effectively ending his participation in the game. We see Pistol Patty and her Storm Trooper-esque soldiers preparing to storm Greendale. Their objective? Take out every last Greendalian. Make sure none of them wins the prize.
We don’t get an end credit scene, but we do get a preview for the following episode since this is a rare Community two-parter.
The one-liners, facts and gags!
“A Fistful of Paintballs” is a treasure trove of quintessential Community quotes. As per usual, Troy, the love of my life, has some great lines in this episode. “Look, I don’t name people, Annie. I’m a deputy. I deputize.” Or whenever Shirley talks about pumping (breast milk) and Troy assumes she’s referring to peeing. When Jeff peers at Pierce’s poster and the comically large rendering of his forehead. Jeff: “My forehead’s not that big, right?” Troy: “It’s not small.” Glover’s delivery here is golden.
Normally, I don’t highlight Pierce’s quotes, but I like this one: ” It began with a dream, Annie. A dream and an impulse to hide in the men’s room. I found that people were willing to roll bullets under the door just for the right to take a dump. By the way, for you guys, taking a dump’s on the house.”
Jeff’s ego took a hit in this episode when he encountered the Black Rider. His handsomeness was called into question. But, as you can read here, Jeff definitely got over it. “You think you’re good-looking, but you’re not. You’re average. You’re just an average-looking guy with a big chin.”
I love Abed and Annie’s initial exchange in “A Fistful of Paintballs.” To me, it’s a precursor to the season finale, which is most certainly heavy on the Anbed. Abennie? Does the universe have a proper ship name for Annie and Abed? Anyway, I’ve always liked Abed’s line about eating Annie’s beans. “Then, I guess it’s lucky for me I’m not unarmed. Seeing as I’m … eating your beans.” Pudi’s performance is pitch-perfect.
Facts and gags
Fun fact: When Troy is introduced in “A Fistful of Paintballs,” he’s concealed in a trash bin. This hearkens back to Annie hiding in a trash can in “Modern Warfare.” The episode title and title sequence are inspired by 1964’s Clint Eastwood-led A Fistful of Dollars. In fact, Abed’s costume pays homage to Eastwood’s character in the film. Did you hear “Red 5, standing by” at the end? It alludes to the following episode, which is obviously Star Wars-themed.
According to Joe Russo, the flaming cans outside Fort Hawthorne actually emitted noxious gases. They had to stop filming periodically to open the studio roof and air out the set. Greendale lives life on the edge!
The crew utilized playing cards to vote on Pierce’s study group fate. Those same cards are attributed to each core cast member in the episode. Presumably, these are also the cards they used to vote i.e. Annie was the Ace of Hearts because she voted with that card. She was also the only “red” card and the one person who voted to keep Pierce in the group.
Annie says, “Hey, Christina Ricci! I said, ‘kick!'” to Neil at the beginning of the episode. This is a running gag on Community wherein our Greendale Seven incorporates celebrity names into wordplay and puns.
The Bean Allergy of it all!
“A Fistful of Paintballs” is the episode you show to those questioning whether they should watch Community. I think you’ll readily convert them. It’s a solid installment in the Communiverse (I think I just made that up?). Dan Harmon, the crew and the cast pay homage to Spaghetti Westerns in a way that doesn’t feel disingenuous or rings false. Packed with truthful performances, damn near-perfect cinematography and a boisterous score, this episode makes me want to don a cowboy hat and shoot some paintballs. What other sitcom delivers a themed outing of this caliber? I’ll wait.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go hog wild on a can of beans and question whether I’ll ever look as chiseled as the Black Rider. Later, gators.
RELATED: Stay streets ahead by catching up on previous Looking Streets Behind installments!
What do you love most about Community‘s “A Fistful of Paintballs”? Sound off in the comments below! Be sure to join me next time for another installment of Looking Streets Behind, where we’ll be buzzing about “For a Few Paintballs More.” Pistol Patty will be there!
Until then, stay streets ahead.
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