The Greendale gang returns!
First airing waaay back in 2009, Community slowly built up a cult following over it’s run, and has in time, thanks to the likes of Netflix and Channel 4, slowly crept into the public consciousness over the last few years, particularly on an international level.
It was a tumultuous run for the folks of Greendale though, the first season takes a little time to find it’s voice for instance, whilst the loss of creator Dan Harmon for the famous “gas leak year” of season four, combined with the departure of Donald Glover early in season five, effect the quality of the output to varying degrees. And though Harmon did return for season five, the show was then subsequently cancelled by NBC and left hanging in the balance.
Seemingly dead and buried at this point, it was thankfully revived once more on Yahoo’s short lived streaming service for a pretty impressive, thirteen episode, sixth and final season.
Sadly, (despite constant rumours), we’re still waiting on that movie.
However, due to pretty unfortunate global circumstances, the Greendale gang have finally reunited this week, (well, everyone except Chevy Chase obviously), for a live table read on Zoom. Even The 88 chimed in for a fabulous rendition of the show’s theme song, “At Least It Was Here”.
And so, I now look back at a show that touched me personally upon first watch and has since gone on to become one of my all time favourites, smart, funny, satirical and heartfelt, Community was a wonderful show about, well, community. A show about outcasts, friendship and family.
Known for its clever nods to genre pieces, special episodes and its unique characters, Community was unafraid to turn the formula on its head, and at its peak, (seasons two and three particularly), it was arguably the best sitcom on television.
You know what that means. It’s time to look back…
It’s time to rank My Top Ten Episodes of Community:
#10 Modern Warfare (S1 E23)
This season one entry was a real sign of things to come.
After the Dean announces the prize for a paintball competition, Greendale quickly becomes a warzone and the episode morphs into a brilliant send up of classic action movies.
Meanwhile, Jeff and Britta’s early sexual tension has reached breaking point, much to the disapproval of the group, resulting in a pretty hilarious bait and switch come the final act, when Britta turns the tables.
This one’s just full of classic moments, the battle with the Glee Club, Troy and Abed reveling in this new world of war, and of course the short lived paintball career of one, Señor Chang.
It’s also memorable purely for being the first episode in the show’s run to wholly go in this direction, it had dabbled in genre pieces and tropes before, it’s a staple of the show, but here it’s all in from minute one. Directed by filmmaker Justin Lin, (who went on to helm Aquaman and Furious 7), the episode even feels broad in scope, cinematic in its staging and set pieces, whilst the cast are all having the time of their lives.
A real early classic.
#9 Critical Film Studies (S2 E19)
“I pooped my pants. I did.”
My dinner with Abed.
On Abed’s birthday, the study group sets up a Pulp Fiction party in his honour, first though he takes Jeff to dinner alone for an “important conversation”. Abed arrives in a big sweater, free of his usual quirks and references, which worries Jeff, Abed is definitely acting weird.
A Pulp Fiction parody, a homage of My Dinner With Andre and an ode to Cougar Town, this one’s hilarious, bonkers, self referential and full of surprises.
One of the best and certainly one I won’t spoil here.
#8 Basic Lupine Urology (S3 E17)
“Greendale Community College is represented by two seperate yet equally important types of people: the goofballs that run around stirring up trouble, and the eggheads that make a big deal out of it. These are there stories.”
Community meets Law & Order.
After the study groups yam is sabotaged, Troy and Abed suit up and investigate, on the hunt for the culprit. Immediately, everything shifts into a detective show, Shirley acts as captain, whilst Annie is the rookie. Britta even gets a brief look in as the useless desk jockey.
Dark, gritty and capturing the tone and stereotypes of a detective thriller/show perfectly, this one plays it’s concept perfectly, building up a strong believable mystery whilst also maintaining it’s core elements of humour and silliness, combining for a perfect parody.
It is only a yam, after all.
#7 Contemporary American Poultry (S1 E21)
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be in a Mafia movie”
Also known as the “chicken finger” episode and Goodfellas homage, this season one entry is a triumph as Community becomes a Mafia movie.
After chicken fingers are introduced to Greendale’s cafeteria menu, they quickly become an exclusive product thanks to the sly work of Star Burns.
Rattled, Jeff demands action and with the help of Abed and the rest of study group, they take over the business, becoming spoiled and mean spirited in the process. With Abed in charge of the fryer, the power is in his hands, resulting in some pretty serious power plays and the introduction of Annie’s Boobs. (The monkey, I mean).
It’s Jeff who takes it the hardest though, recognising his lack of control of the group now that Abed holds the cards.
With the study group riding high, Abed sabotages Annie’s backpack to prove a point. But thanks to a classic Winger speech from Jeff and the foul behaviour of his friends, he makes the right call, shutting it down in favour of his beloved study group. Aw.
Silly, hilarious, sweet and the earliest example of the show diving into complete parody with its Mafia tropes and Goodfellas parody, this one’s absolutely stellar.
#6 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (S2 E14)
“Gather close that you might hearken, the story of Fat Neil.”
After Fat Neil grows tired of the ridicule he faces and his subsequent nickname, Jeff and Annie unite the study group, (though Pierce is swapped out for Chang), for a game of Dungeons and Dragons to save Fat Neil from himself and make him feel like a winner.
Pierce, naturally, disapproves of this and attempts to destroy the game, forcing his way in, aiming to ruin Fat Neil’s character, stealing his rare sword in the process and going rogue.
Full of twists, great jokes, a clever reveal, a couple of important lessons on bullying and mental health and a completely unhinged performance from Chevy Chase, this one’s so good it spawned a sequel two part episode later in the show’s run, that’s somehow even more insane.
This one sneaks in for the originality, though.
#5 Pillows and Blankets (S3 E14)
“Citizens of Blanketsburg, I ask you now to prepare for war–“
Framed through the lens of a Ken Burns documentary, particularly that of 1990’s The Civil War, this episode features an all out war at Greendale as Abed and Troy disagree over the use of pillows and/or blankets to built a fort.
Everyone gets their moment to shine here, Annie becomes a nurse to injured players, Britta a terrible photographer, Jeff uses the situation to skip tests, whilst Shirley embraces her wild side. Even Pierce has a hilarious moment involving a personal Doomsday device. A special shout-out to all of the smaller side characters too, like Pop-Pop, Leonard, Garrett, Fat Neil, Star Burns and of course Dean Pelton, who all get equally hilarious moments.
It also features a classic Winger speech that reconciles their differences after a delightful use of imaginary friendship hats. Aw.
Funny, absurd, full of heart as always and a big development for the show’s key friendship, this one’s an epic twenty minutes of TV.
#4 Cooperative Calligraphy (S2 E8)
“I hate bottle episodes. They’re wall to wall facial expressions and emotional nuance; I might as well sit in the corner with a bucket on my head”
The bottle episode.
Abed doesn’t want to do a bottle episode, but he’s well aware one’s coming when Annie’s pen is misplaced in the study room, and what starts as a small confrontation descends into madness as the gang are forced to talk about some home truths.
What makes this one so good, is the character dynamics, everyone is established by this point and so are their motivations to leave the study room, or in Annie’s case, to make them stay. But it’s Abed who’s the highlight, self aware of his own involvement in a bottle episode and deeply unhappy about it.
Of course, as ever, things go way too far and everyone ends up hating each other and nothing gets resolved. After Britta is accused of stealing the pen, she naturally takes the high road and suddenly everyone is pointing fingers and for the next twenty minutes we’re stuck in the study room trying to work this one out.
Full of twists, shocking reveals and some real character growth, this one’s just brilliant.
#3 Paradigms of Human Memory (S2 E21)
“Shows gonna last three weeks!”
“Six seasons and a movie!”
Community does a clip show.
When I think of this one, I always think of Dan Harmon’s other well known show, Rick & Morty and the brilliant Interdimensional Cable episodes.
Framed in a similar fashion, this one is a clip show containing a bunch of unseen scrapes for the study group, a bunch of unhappy memories that suggests the idea that they’re likely to continue in this vein forever. Which is in itself a dig at the need to keep churning out content for TV.
At this point, the show was comfortable with embracing it’s more absurd elements and in some ways, this one actually jumps the gun a little, and could easily be the show’s final ever episode. Acting as both a hilarious and heartfelt reflection of the show’s own mythology.
We get the first appearance of the Glee Club, A Wild West homage, a haunted house and a hilarious new perspective on Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas from earlier in the season.
It also contains a rare and genius reappearance of Annie’s Boobs, (again, the monkey).
Not forgetting of course, the first utterance of the series’ mantra, as Abed hopes his new favourite show, The Cape will run for six seasons and a movie.
Man, I love this show.
#2 Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking (S2 E16)
“I TOLD PIERCE A THOUSAND TIMES! I NEVER WANTED TO MEET LEVAR IN PERSON! I ONLY WANTED A PICTURE! YOU CAN’T DISAPPOINT A PICTURE!”
After Pierce claims he’s about to die, he summons the study group to the hospital to bequeath his belongings to them, recruiting Abed to set up cameras to document the process.
Framed through the lens of a documentary, with stock footage, interviews and a hand held style throughout, this one offers a new perspective on the usual formula, grounding the story in reality.
Pierce’s gifts, of course, turn out to be more like curses, with each reveal more absurd then the last. My favourite though, is when Troy finally meets his hero LeVar Burton. If you know, you know.
#1 Remedial Chaos Theory (S3 E4)
“Just so you know Jeff, you are now creating six different timelines.”
I’m not gonna spoil this one, but it’s undoubtedly the finest Community episode of them all, and one of the finest twenty minutes of television of the last two decades.
When Troy and Abed invite the group to their apartment for the first time, there’s a disagreement over who has to let the pizza delivery guy in. Jeff decides for the sake of argument, it’s best to leave it to chance and rolls a six sided die assigning a number to everyone.
What follows is a glorious set of possible outcomes all dependent on who has to get up and leave the room, defining the responsibility of each individual character and their importance as part of the dynamic.
The best moment though, is easily the darkest timeline, a horrific potential reality that reveals itself when Troy is tasked with getting the pizzas. A gag that continues throughout the series run.
Clever, hilarious and containing an emotional and sweet resolution, this is the best Community episode of them all.
Sigh, when’s that movie coming out?
Honourable Mentions: Physical Education (S1 E17), Beginner Pottery (S1 E19), Basic Rocket Science (S2 E4), Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples (S2 E5), Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design (S2 E9), Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas (S2 E11), Celebrity Pharmacology (S2 E13), A Fist Full of Paintballs/For A Few Paintballs More (S2 E23&24), Regional Holiday Music (S3 E10), Digital Exploration of Interior Design (S3 E13), Curriculum Unavailable (S3 E19), Digital Estate Planning (S3 E20), Intro to Felt Surrogacy (S4 E9), Repilot (S5 E1), Basic Intergluteal Numismatics (S5 E3), Geothermal Escapism (S5 E5), G.I. Jeff (S5 E11), Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care (S6 E2), Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television (S6 E13) AND SO MANY MORE!!