“Modern Warfare” begins like most Community episodes: The gang convenes in the study room. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Jeff (Joel McHale) argue through their sexual tension. Pierce (Chevy Chase) makes a culturally inappropriate comment. And Abed (Danny Pudi) compares the situation to a popular television show.
The main plot begins when Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) pops in to enthusiastically promote a school event, a paintball contest, prize “TBD.” Jeff, of course, reacts with irony and detachment, choosing to take an afternoon nap in his car rather than participate.
But then, “1 Hour Later,” Jeff wakes to find the campus has become a post-apocalyptic, paintball wasteland. The quad is empty, and multicolored splotches dot every surface. A geek in a daze keeps repeating, “The prize! The prize!” Everyone had formed alliances – temporary and fleeting – and only the most cunning will survive.
Since it first aired in May 2010, “Modern Warfare,” has become a classic in the Community canon. It gives us what we love most about the show: absurdity, clever pop culture references, and a scenario taken to its logical extreme.
Some of the most satisfying elements for media-savvy viewers are the action-movie tropes and references. At one point, a hostile group of roller-skating disco-lovers encircles the study group, and everyone opens fire. Jeff moves to take out one of the wheeled assassins, but finds his gun out of paint. Just in the nick of time, Britta slides in under his legs, her guns blazing, saving Jeff. It could be a moment out of Goldeneye or Tomb Raider.
Another scene features a J.J. Abrams-esque lens flare, and the battle’s finale involves an epic appropriation of John Woo’s Hard Boiled, with our favorite Asian, Spanish teacher – Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) – taking on the persona of Tony Leung.
Another excellent element of the episode is the costume design during the warfare sequences, as much of the cast is decked out in DIY battle gear. Troy (Donald Glover) sports a set of football shoulder pads and wears a jock strap over his jeans. Abed has on a cammo shirt, steam-punk goggles, and a paintball cartridge belt across his chest. Perhaps the funniest, though, is the armor worn by the anonymous chess club nerds. They’ve fashioned helmets out of serving bowls, gluing chess pieces to the top like spikes, and turned chess boards into breast plates. Not exactly the ultimate in paintball gear.
Even with all the satisfying details in “Modern Warfare,” however, some of the scenes between Jeff and Britta come across as clunky. Their incessant arguing is not just annoying to the study group, but starts to get tiring for the audience as the writers force this plot point along. The chemistry between Gillian Jacobs and Joel McHale is weak, and Jacobs gives a wooden performance during the Indiana Jones inspired moment when Britta dresses Jeff’s wounds. Romantic plotlines, it turns out, are not something the show does well throughout its initial 5-season run on NBC.
The unsuccessful sexual tension tropes aside, this stands as one of the funnest episodes in the Community catalogue, and was one of the highest rated. Fans adored it so much, the creators brought the paintball theme back in Season 2, this time parodying spaghetti westerns with “A Fistful of Paintballs” and “For a Few Paintballs More.”