Skip to main content

The Top Ten Best Episodes of Community

          One of the best, most surprising, and funniest shows of recent years is Community! Its sharp writing, smart comedy, resonating characters, and unconventional well-executed ideas has set it apart and to some, above most other TV comedies of the past decade. The show about a community college study group brought together by chance who’ve grown as a microcosm unit of necessity and friendship has re-popularized things such as meta humour and parody-homage, sparking a pledge by fans for six-seasons-and-a-movie out of a throwaway joke. While it was never a ratings giant it was the true show for nerds (suck it Big Bang Theory!) and thanks to Yahoo Screen it’s nearly fulfilled that call. But with the sixth and final season coming to an end on Yahoo, it’s a good time to look back on the best of many tremendous episodes. So before we get our finale and (hopefully!) feature film, here are the ten best episodes (subjective of course!) of the mass of greatness that is Community!

          10. “Mixology Certification” –This may not be Community at its funniest, but it is Community at its most endearing. It’s Troy’s birthday and while the study group is celebrating, it’s revealed Troy is 21 not 20 (his mom had apparently told him he was ten for two years after he was held back a grade). As a rite of passage, Jeff and Britta decide to take him to a bar for his first drink. Once they get there, most of the group split off and for each of them the night becomes more depressing than celebratory, and Troy is forced to become a real adult to take care of them. This is one of the first episodes to leave Greendale as its setting and showcase the cast dynamic in another environment. And it does a very interesting thing in reinforcing that, while also offering glimpses into their personalities and insecurities outside of school. Annie too young to drink, has someone else’s I.D. and adopts their Texas accent and personality as a way of objectively looking at her own feelings and worries; Shirley was once a pathetic drunk and works hard to remove the traces (such as drunk driving warning posters) that remind her of her shameful former life; Pierce (who is in a wheelchair at this point) tries desperately to be independent while stuck just outside the bar; Paul F. Tompkins hits on Abed using some knowledge of the sci-fi series Farscape which Abed realizes, but ignores so he can talk about something with someone who he can seemingly talk with; and Jeff and Britta just argue pathetically over whose bar is better. The episode feels very close to real life. I’m no barfly but I’ve been in bars like that and while they’re often hyped up, the atmosphere is pretty depressing. It captures what a lot of real life bars are like and the attitudes of people there. This isn’t a parody show but it is a coming of age story and one done very meaningfully. The episode really demonstrates the show’s heart as Troy is forced to become a real man abandoning his first drink (a 7 and 7 for his dead uncle) to take his friends home. Donald Glover really shines, his observations of the other characters in their misery and especially his (albeit corny) speech to Annie make this a low-key but wonderful episode.

          9. “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” –Now this is Community at its most outrageous with amazing concepts, lots of laughs, and a plot with enough layers to give Christopher Nolan a wet dream. The Dean discovers Jeff’s registered in an apparently fake course called Conspiracy Theories (snooping his profile most likely for a scrapbook) and in his attempt to expose it meets Jeff’s teacher Professor Professorson (Kevin Corrigan). But as it happens Jeff did fake the course and now Annie drags him into an investigation as to who Professorson really is and what’s going on. In a subplot Abed and Troy expand their initial blanket fort into a blanket city. This episode is a whole lot of eccentric fun. The story is very original and well written and provides some really great scenes. I mean where else will you see a “car chase” in a blanket fort (an elaborate one complete with its own Civil Rights Museum and Latvian Independence Day celebrations). If nothing else it gives the Dean more to do than he usually has at this point in the series. The episode presents some satire of stupid conspiracy theories but that’s only a minor part of the hilarity. Without going into spoilers it has the best most insane climax it could possibly have giving Jim Rash perhaps his best comedic showcase and once again making me question why Craig Cackowski’s not a huge star. And we got a look at some of Greendale’s course offerings; who among us wouldn’t take a course called “Learning!”

          8. “Virtual Systems Analysis” –This isn’t a popular episode for a list like this as the holodeck inspired dreamatorium is a mixed bag in terms of premise coherence, and features Abed going near Big Bang Theory levels of compulsive annoyance. But it does pull at the heartstrings which though kind of forced and clichéd, really develops a couple characters well. During an exam postponement Annie sets up Troy and Britta on a date to the irritation of Abed. When she tries to spend time with him in his dreamatorium she finds his conformity to the status quo of the group is preventing him from feeling empathy and when she tries to add this to the dreamatorium “program” it seems to knock Abed out of commission. Through the imagined reality she must find him and uncover the root of his behaviour. The theme of Abed adjusting to change is an important one in a series destined to undergo a number of changes, and it’s played out to varying degrees of success (the foray at the start of the fourth season we shall not speak of). This was one of the earlier examples and it’s handled in a very creative way that allows for lots of great humour and commentary. But in an episode that’s essentially an elaborate character study it’s very refreshing to actually have it focus on Annie’s character as much as Abed’s, showcasing and developing some important sides of her feelings and outlooks. The chemistry between Danny Pudi and Alison Brie is amazing and as I said the resolution is touching even if the metaphor is unsubtle. And it gets across a great lesson in accepting and coping with inevitable change. Plus as a big fan of Doctor Who, I love the Inspector Spacetime stuff and gags such as Abed’s “virtual reality” mimicking Troy and Britta kissing, and some really great one-liners from Troy, Leonard, and Pierce (not to mention the comfort that though Troy’s no longer on the show, somewhere he’s creating Dance Pants) make this episode brilliant and imaginative enough to itself be one of Abed’s dreamatorium concoctions.

          7. “Cooperative Calligraphy” –Season two really was Community’s best. In fact four of the very best of the series aired one after the other in a block of greatness just before Christmas hiatus 2010. And this was one of them. In the midst of a campus puppy parade, Annie’s pen goes missing and irritated that this has been happening a lot lately keeps the group in the study room for a bottle episode to find the pen, during which accusations are tossed around, animosity and embarrassment grows, and secrets are discovered. The meta is pretty prominent in the episode as they refer to it as a bottle show more than once but I think that name is too much of a generalization. The writers take this concept of a missing pen and escalate the stakes exponentially. While this provides for a lot of jokes it also provides a lot of character building moments. Most of the cast particularly Shirley and Abed, have big secrets revealed and it becomes apparent that the relationship of the group could change forever whether or not they find the pen. The focus from director Joe Russo (both he and his brother Anthony directed many episodes of Community before becoming Marvel’s golden boys!) remains consistent and sharp. This is certainly one of the show’s craziest episodes, surprising for one that’s not a big parody, but it’s so well-written and executed, and builds characters to the extent that it really sticks. In fact these personal revelations and conflicts are approached with the same intensity and importance as the bigger concept episodes. And the resolution is just perfect Community, and a great reminder as to why this show and its ensemble are so superb.

          6. “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” –Here’s another episode that goes nuts with a concept. Pierce winds up in the hospital after a prescription drug overdose and pretends to be dying. As revenge for the way he feels the study group’s been neglecting him, he bequeaths them each a gift with the purpose of psychologically messing with them, such as giving Shirley a disc supposedly containing all the nasty things the group’s said about her, giving Britta a blank check, and surprising Troy with an unexpected visit from his idol LeVar Burton. Most significantly though, he claims to have found Jeff’s dad who is coming to the hospital to see him. And this is all done in the style of a documentary because as Abed notes “it’s easier to tell a complex story when you can just cut to people explaining things to the camera.” Yeah as you can guess this episode takes a few shots at mockumentary-style sitcoms such as The Office, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation. But this presentation can be seen as also merely a means to relate this story. A few plot threads from the season come to a head here and we also get our first real examination of Jeff’s troubled relationship with his dad, which would become an arc later on. The performances are pretty stellar too from Joel McHale showing some really good acting chops to Donald Glover giving maybe the funniest performance of his career. LeVar Burton makes for an awesome guest star and Britta’s conclusion to her bequeathal is also hilarious. The documentary format may be in part a roast of sitcoms that use its style (“you can always wrap it up with a series of shots that when cut together over a generic voiceover, suggest a profound thematic connection”) but at the same time it shows how in the right context and story, it can work wonders. Abed’s certainly not knocking it.

          5. “Modern Warfare” –Many would agree this was Community’s real game-changer episode; the one that put it on the map as a show to be reckoned with, and in many ways while there were episodes before it I consider to be fantastic, I would have to agree. Coming towards the end of the first season, Jeff awakens after a nap in his car to find Greendale is in a state of chaos. The Dean announced an end of year game of campus-wide paintball but when he revealed the prize would be priority registration, everyone turned on each other and split into factions to survive. The game has been going on for hours and Jeff and the study group are determined to win. All the while Jeff and Britta are contending with sexual tension the group agrees has been damaging them as a whole. The show had done concept-parody episodes before sending up Dead Poet’s Society and mafia movies to name a couple, but they hadn’t done one on quite so epic a scale. But what elevates it is how it uses the concept to illustrate a greater character arc.  Jeff and Britta’s will they-won’t they relationship had been a part of the show since the pilot unsurprisingly as the show’s initial premise centred on Jeff faking a study group to get to know Britta.  But the will they-won’t they trope popularized by shows like Cheers and Friends and used in every 90’s sitcom that wasn’t Seinfeld and The Simpsons, was not something the writers wanted to get trapped in. And this episode does a great job of acknowledging and evolving it by focusing on the characters forced into a situation to react to it. But it was incredibly smart to present this theme in the context of an extremely exciting narrative. The most significant memorable thrust of the episode is how the show takes on the action genre. Everything from the camera angles and shots from director Justin Lin, to character behaviour and attitude, to awesome one-liners (“tell the drama club their tears will be real today”) is spot-on! Ken Jeong who often seems to be playing just a little beneath his strengths really delivers in a climax better than a number of the action films being parodied! Even without the story and character advancement, this is certainly one of the most fun half-hours of television you’ll ever see!

          4. “Critical Film Studies” –NBC promoted this episode as a Pulp Fiction homage which may be why some wouldn’t have liked it. That was still the subplot, but the show’s main plot focussed more on a smaller film much less people would have seen. It’s Abed’s birthday and he’s invited Jeff to meet him at a fancy restaurant, but Jeff has his own surprise, a planned Pulp Fiction themed party for him at the burger joint where Britta works.  But he’s shocked to find Abed behaving differently, more engaging and attentive than he usually is. And avoiding making any pop culture references. He tells Jeff about an experience on the set of Cougar Town and how it changed his life and ultimately they have a conversation in which Jeff manages to open up about his insecurities and his view of life. Meanwhile at the party, Troy jealous that Jeff bought Abed a supposedly extravagant gift in a briefcase, struggles with whether or not to open it. This episode is great on a number of levels. Firstly it’s paying homage to a film that doesn’t get enough attention, My Dinner with Andre. And it uses that film’s premise to really develop characters reaffirming our investment in and emotional attachment to them. The character pairing is fantastic and plays an important part, reminding us we haven’t seen a whole lot of the relationship between Jeff and Abed since the early first season and how they have grown in that. It’s great to see the development of Jeff trying to distract from the conversation in order to create a segue to the party, to being wholeheartedly into this kind of serious thoughtful engagement. And while we don’t officially know if Abed made it on to the set of Cougar Town (but certainly his appearance in an episode of that show around this time attests to that), Jeff’s admissions are telling and interesting. By the end they acknowledge My Dinner with Andre and the purpose behind Abed staging his dinner around that film providing a good look at how he sees himself in relation to the group. In fact this is probably the best episode to deal with the theme of Abed’s fear of change and it’s done very subtly as well. Both homages are done really well. Guest director Richard Ayoade (check out his films and his hilarious role on The IT Crowd!) mimics the shots and style from both films very well in addition to things like Jeff’s voiceover and the awesome cosplaying. And we get a nice glance at Britta’s work life outside Greendale. This is probably not the funniest episode and may be remembered more for the Pulp Fiction stuff, but it’s one of Community’s all round best crafted shows displaying so fully its heart which at times is more important than a few laughs.

          3. “Paradigms of Human Memory” –Few half hours of comedy in the past decade have delivered as thoroughly and as well as this one. The study group are finishing their final diorama of the semester (being yet another meta joke of themselves building a diorama) but when Chang chases Annie’s Boobs (the monkey) into the vent he comes out with a number of tokens (including Annie’s pen from “Cooperative Calligraphy”) leading the group to look back at their memories over the past year: a pretty standard clip show. Except for the fact that we’ve seen none of these clips during the run of the show and the sheer randomness of them and how out of context they are makes for a smattering of fantastic jokes. This episode may have more laughs per minute than any other in the show. And the way they’re structured is great too with a couple scenes tying into each other by the implied setting and plot. Season two is already the best season of Community, but this episode shows us some of the most fun and most batshit hilarious stories took place off screen. We see the study group in a haunted house, filling in for the glee club (in another of their many deserving shots at Glee), obsessing over The Cape, remodelling a house, going on a St. Patrick’s Day lake adventure, and being held hostage by Mexican drug lords. Also we see many of the Dean’s ridiculous outfits, bits of many great Winger speeches, and best of all a couple spot-on parodies of those relentlessly stupid online shipping videos. Generally the thinking behind clip shows is to save money as a cheap anniversary episode or something, so it’s wonderfully ironic that this may have been the most expensive episode produced for the season. Not only does it originate the “six-seasons-and-a-movie” rallying cry, but also includes one of my favourite out-of-context one-liners ever: “It’s a locomotive that runs on US!” (though frankly “Harrison Ford is irradiating your testicles with microwave satellite transmissions!” is also really great). There is nothing not to love about this episode, but what would you expect from these Travelling Wilburys of comedy!

          2. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” –This episode is not Community’s best Christmas show; it’s one of the best Christmas shows in all of television (it would shortchange it simply to call it Community’s best) exemplifying the show at the height of its creative brilliance, ingenuity, and emotional resonance. This was the last episode in that block of greatness I mentioned at the end of 2010 and while each of those was one of the series’ best, this last knocked them out of the park. Presented entirely in stop-motion animation akin to Rankin/Bass specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, school wraps up for “non-denominational holiday” break, and Abed tells the group how he feels this will be a special Christmas and in expectation of that, everyone’s become stop-motion animated. Concerned by this they take him to psych Professor Duncan who organizes a therapy session with the group. Abed with the interference of Duncan’s Christmas Wizard, takes them on a journey through his mind to find the meaning of Christmas, manifesting all sorts of holiday themed places and conflicts for them to come across while Duncan and some of the group try to get out of him the reason behind it all. First off, the stop-motion animation is fantastic, replicating perfectly the style and tone of those famous specials. Dino Stamatopoulos who co-wrote the episode has experience in the style, and apparently animators from The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline even worked on the episode. That’s phenomenal! The writing is incredible particularly on the songs which are purposely composed to sound ad-libbed, but also on the imaginative world full of humbugs, public domain carols, and Christmas pterodactyls. And the characters get some very good moments to shine. I love John Oliver’s reluctant committing to the direction of Abed’s journey pulling off pointed exasperation extremely well. But of course Abed’s the star of the show, and his natural tendency to endear combined with reflections on the unique personal Christmas traditions we all have, and the warmth of the holiday related through exceptional visuals and tone make this Community’s most touching show. The revealed meaning of Christmas and the revealed personal cause of Abed’s state aren’t new by any means but they offer a few new perspectives that work really well with this cast and this environment. It’s just a show that makes you feel good, paying homage to classics of Christmas television while being one on its own through a clever creative story with meaningful characters and themes, wonderful animation and an ending that personally still brings a tear to my eye and reaffirms the spirit of the season!

          1. “Remedial Chaos Theory” –When I think of Community at its best, I think of a barrage of excellent jokes, a wild and creative premise and style, and an insightful exploration of character and themes; and there’s only one episode that delivers on all of those so perfectly! The study group come to Troy and Abed’s housewarming party and during a game of Yahtzee the pizza comes, and Jeff roles a die to determine who goes to get it. Abed warns him doing so would create six different timelines and from there we witness each timeline’s interpretation of the subsequent few minutes examining each character’s absence as leading to a slightly different reality and shift in action of the others. The details are great with each timeline depicting a slightly different variation of events but with a few of the same beats: Shirley’s mini-pies, Jeff hitting his head, or Abed’s Indiana Jones toy boulder rolling down the ramp. But the point of the episode is to show how each character’s absence would affect the group and result in different outcomes, some less serious than others. The concept is not the first of its kind, but is executed so well as a study of each character’s role in the group. And it really shows. Like Pierce’s absence allows characters to open up and grow closer, Abed alleviates tension causing everyone to resent or get awkward around each other, etc. The creativity and ingenuity of the episode plotting, pacing, and development is only matched by the terrific jokes, being one of the show’s funniest half hours. As I said there’s a barrage of funny moments, lines and everything. Each character gets a hysteric moment and shines in the beautiful writing and directing! And of course there’s the fact that a running joke involving Britta gives us a terrific payoff that may be the most interesting while obvious revelation in the episode. Though it would lead to the series’ possible worst episode over a year later, it’s a brilliant piece of television! It’s not only my favourite episode of Community, it’s one of my favourite episodes of TV comedy! It perfectly embodies everything there is to love about Community, why it works so well, and the kind of show it is. On top of all the concept episodes, genre parodies, quick sharp humour, and endearing atmosphere, this is a show about characters, their relationships and the intrinsic nature of those relationships. This is a community after all and more than any other episode this establishes that status and what it really means for these seven heroes/antiheroes. It’s Community as Community can only be and with the series coming to an upcoming foretold conclusion, it’s thinking back to episodes like this in particular, re-watching and laughing along with it all over again, that’s going to make me miss it most, and ensures that there will never be another series like Community!

(Runner-ups are “Contemporary American Poultry”, “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”, “Introduction to Film”, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”, and “Epidemiology”)

Popular posts from this blog

Mary Tyler Moore's Best Moments

A couple days ago, we lost the icon Mary Tyler Moore. On the Mount Rushmore of groundbreaking comediennes, Moore has an undeniable place (with Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Cloris Leachman). She was often the best part of the Dick Van Dyke Show, making for half of one of the greatest TV couples. Through her own series, she was a key part of one of the most important and timeless shows of all time. Her kindness, perseverance, and good humour made her a role model for all, but especially women and girls whose greater representation in media she pioneered. She was such an endearingly sweet woman, a champion of diabetes research and a great philanthropist. When watching either of her classic shows, she always felt like a good friend. And now the world has lost that friend.
          In honour of her passing, I want to highlight just some of my favourite Mary Tyler Moore moments both as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, that attest to what a great comedic and inspirational talen…

Disney Sundays: Moana (2016)

When I heard that the next Disney movie, Moana was going to be based around Hawaii, I was tempted to say, “haven’t we been here before?’ It doesn’t feel like too long ago that we had Lilo & Stitch. I was more curious though when I heard it would revolve around Hawaiian mythological figures like Maui and fantastical monsters. But then I remembered Ron Clements and John Musker were the directors behind Hercules and I worried. However I needn’t have, as Moana is easily the pair’s best film since Aladdin.
          A teenage girl called Moana, resident of a small isolated tribe on one of the Polynesian islands, is chosen by the ocean to be an emissary to the banished demigod Maui and convince him to return the Heart of the Sea (a small pounamu stone) to Te Fiti -the goddess he stole it from who’s cursed their world with famine as retribution.
          Though this is a standard and fittingly mythic hero's journey, the story is nonetheless an exciting one to follow due in…

Overlooked Specials 12th Day of Christmas

12th Day of Christmas:
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol This Christmas Day how about we dispense with the feels in favour of a mean but comedically genius one-off of Britain’s best series. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Blackadder, the series about a witty schemer reincarnated through various periods in British history, this special should still make you laugh. An inversion of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder played of course to perfection by Rowan Atkinson is the kindest man in England which everyone uses to take advantage of him. But an encounter with a Spirit of Christmas causes him to change his ways. Most of the Blackadder cast: Atkinson, Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Miranda Richardson appear here and are excellent, as are guests Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent, and Robbie Coltrane in a role I’m sure inspired J.K. Rowling to request him for Hagrid. And the writing from Richard Curtis and Ben Elton is as sharp as ever. It’s relentlessly enjoyable, funny…