Certainly one of the smarter sitcoms ever made, we commemorate the genius of Community with a countdown of its very best episodes.
Starring Joel McHale, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), Gillian Jacobs, Allison Brie, Danny Pudi, Chevy Chase, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Ken Jeong, the comedy-series told the story of seven students living through Greendale’s blundering community college. All of their characters were deeply-flawed and uniquely hilarious, but also capable of exercising redeemable qualities, giving the show a rare slice of depth – at least for a sitcom.
Somewhere amidst the chaos, fourth-wall breaker, Abed, proclaimed “six seasons and a movie!” The line became gospel for fans, but unfortunately, the beloved show came to a close in 2014. There were six seasons complete, but no movie in sight. Whilst Harmon did treat his cult-followers to a virtual table read from the cast earlier this year, any hopes for a Community film remain slim.
So, how do we keep this innovative show from cascading into the depths of obscurity? Well, we keep watching. We analyse its subtleties, its genius writing; its subtext and its characters. We admire its spew of pop-culture references and all those ironic tropes (which eventually culminated in a dedicated Tumblr page list). We do all this so we can appreciate Community at its best, when it is gloriously entertaining and insightful, exploring the most human of truths.
From extensive rewatches and hopeless contemplation, this is our definitive list of the five greatest episodes of Community.
5. Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television (Season 6, Episode 13)
The journey up to the Community finale wasn’t smooth by any means, just ask Harmon or the cast. Due to dwindling viewers and the unanimously agreed upon flunk known as season 4 (not created under Harmon), season 6 was only made possible through Yahoo! Stream. And yes, I hadn’t heard of it either. Most of the viewership had disappeared, alongside many original cast members. However, from season six emerged a delicate finale. In signature meta-fashion, the motley crew sit ’round a bar, all pitching their own ideas for a season 7. The catch is, they know it isn’t coming.
we live in a world where the big bang theory was allowed to go for 12 seasons, but dan harmon was kicked off of season four of community. #AndAMovie
— Finanthony 64tano (@ItsPossiblyFinn) August 19, 2020
Goodbyes prove impossible, and protagonist Jeff, unable to grasp closure, reminisces on the past with a crushed spirit. The comedy still shines bright though. There are some excellent digs at the Marvel Franchise that have aged like fine wine, and some tasty, improvised f-bombs for the first (and last) time in the show’s history.
Fascinatingly, the episode’s emotional crux is not when Jeff kisses Annie, but when he says goodbye to Abed, Community’s most enduring character. At the airport, Jeff hugs him, pauses, then hugs him again without saying anything. It’s a subtle, yet fathomless interaction that hits home, serving as one of those moments where words simply cannot suffice under the weight of a goodbye. Aptly titled, this episode truly reveals the Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television.
4. Modern Warfare (Season 1, Episode 23)
Now onto the fun shit. Modern Warfare marks the start of Community finding its niche of metamorphosis. It’s one of the first of many standalone episodes that is a pastiche of movies and genre appreciation, through its agile ensemble of actors. Modern Warfare parodies action movies like The Matrix and Die Hard, to gleeful and exhilarating effect. The whole paintball schtick was such an instant success for fans and critics alike that Harmon spawned three amusing sequels. You can’t beat the OG though.
The episode hinges on a simple plot, allowing breathing room for strong character moments and unabashed comedy. The ever-incompetent Dean Pelton proposes a paintball game for the school, where the grand prize is…priority registration. Naturally perking the ears of literally everyone on campus, the game becomes feverishly competitive as the students shoot to win, splattering the college walls with paint to no remorse. Highlights include Abed commenting that Jeff and Britta’s relationship lacks the heart of Ross and Rachel’s from Friends, and Chang’s self-destructive approach to combat.
3. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Season 2, Episode 14)
The intelligence of Community allowed for flexibility, even to the point where an episode predicated on a game of Dungeons & Dragons could become lavishly compelling, self-aware, and emotionally poignant. Mirroring reality, the study group mock the ridiculousness of the nerd-fantasy game, whilst slowly falling into its charm.
The use of narration gives the episode a mockingly-cinematic feel, and the casting of Pierce the boomer as a villain is just pure comedy gold. Pierce: “I can’t hear you over the sound of me rubbing his sword on my balls.” Abed: “You have successfully rubbed your balls on the sword.”
Amongst the Lord of The Rings parodying and sharp dialogue, there’s even room for some character arcs. Jeff learns to be more accepting of people, fat Neil becomes Neil, and Troy learns that not every game needs “a board, pieces or something to Jenga”. Okay fine, I won’t count that last one.
2. Remedial Chaos Theory (Season 3, Episode 3)
Remedial Chaos Theory tells six different stories in 21 minutes, each as Jeff rolls a dice, aptly captured by Abed: “You know Jeff, you are now creating six different timelines.” The whole episode is a masterpiece of efficient writing. From an audacious concept to seamless execution, it’s crowned as the Community fan favourite.
Based on the butterfly effect, each story starts with a roll of the dice, leaving one character to go downstairs and grab the pizzas. In their absence, the audience is treated to all of the different possible outcomes that follow – varying from sweet interactions to complete peril. For example, when Pierce leaves, Troy and Britta become closer, but when Troy leaves, Pierce gets shot and Jeff loses his arm in a house fire, creating the instantly iconic “darkest timeline”. Brilliantly, when Jeff leaves, the group becomes harmonious, singing and dancing to Roxanne.
The running gags are also fantastic, such as Pierce always finding a way to mention that he had sex with “Eartha Kitt in an aeroplane bathroom”. Whatever you say, old man.
In each timeline, we get a glimpse of the best and worst of everyone, gleaning insightful discoveries about these increasingly nuanced characters. The rapid-fire of contrasts and varying character interactions teaches viewers that working through the unpredictability of life is best done with friends, even if it means remaining “accepting of each other’s flaws and virtues”. What a takeaway.
1. Mixology Certification (Season 2, Episode 10)
Perhaps a surprising first pick, but there’s a well-founded reason. Mixology Certification is a stripped-back episode with deep character studies, which also shines a light on our own realities. It hits that perfect mix of comedy and emotion that most sitcoms take years to master.
The premise? It’s Troy’s 21st, which leads the study group to take him to a bar to celebrate. It’s hardly simple though. Troy arrives at the bar, eager to learn the ways of adulthood from his older friends, but ends up with a hard dose of reality.
The epiphany is, his friends also have no idea what the fuck they’re doing. Jeff and Britta are in a pointless feud over who’s cooler, Abed socially distances himself from others, Shirley uses Christianity to hide her flaws, Pierce is needlessly stubborn, and Annie tries too hard. These realisations subvert expectations, as the episode deconstructs stereotypes and shines a light on who the characters really are underneath it all. Try getting that sort of character depth from a show like Friends. Troy ends up abandoning his drink, opting to drive his friends home.
This is what Harmon had to say about this episode: “There’s not a single person in that car who’s a hero or a villain. There’s nobody in that car that’s a sidekick. There’s just a bunch of people in that car getting closer and closer and more and more tangled and realising there are all these different hats that you have to wear all the time.”
Universal truths like these keep Community complex and dynamic. Sounds like good television to me.