Community made it to super senior status before getting expelled from the TV schedule, and after six seasons, it’s time to reflect on the best Community episodes.
By now, the tale of Community, the cult comedy from Dan Harmon, is a familiar one. What started off as your regular old sitcom—with the basic character archetypes filled by Jeff Winger, Britta Perry, Annie Edison, Troy Barnes, Abed Nadir, Shirley Bennett, and Pierce Hawthorne—turned into something a lot funnier and more heartfelt than people ever expected, earning the praise of both fans and critics and the rallying cry of “six seasons and a movie.”
Yet for all of its parodies, character depth, and humor, it never really did catch on with your average audience, and after barely floating through tough ratings competition for years, Harmon’s firing and rehire, and the fourth season “gas leak,” NBC finally canceled it after five seasons.
It had entered the darkest timeline, at least until Yahoo, Community’s new overlords, saved it from cancellation, though the movie is still up in the air.
All 110 episodes are available to stream on Hulu, but with queues building up quickly, time is precious. Instead of reading through the textbook, just take a cue from the study group and read the SparkNotes version instead.
Missed it the first time around? Your other shows disappointing you this season? We’ve picked out some of the best Community episodes, so get comfy because class is in session.
The best Community episodes
1) ‘Contemporary American Poultry’ (season 1, episode 21)
No matter the situation, Abed needs to use pop culture to make real life more relatable to him. So when the study group placed him inside the cafeteria kitchens to get them more chicken fingers, he quickly turned it into a Mafia-esque operation not unlike that seen in The Godfather and Goodfellas. Instead of drugs, it was fried poultry, and the study group was at the top of the food chain. And when Abed felt everyone taking him for granted, he taught them a lesson about respect with a montage—complete with “Layla (Piano Exit)” playing in the background.
2) ‘Modern Warfare’ (season 1, episode 23)
A friendly game of Paintball Assassin quickly turns nasty when priority registration is on the line in a parody of action films. It has everything: slow-motion explosions, sexual tension, friends turning against friends, teamwork, and plenty of kill shots and death scenes as Jeff accepts the utter silliness of the situation. We have no idea how Dean Craig Pelton thought this wouldn’t turn into a disaster, but we’re all the better for it. There’s a reason it’s the highest-rated episode on IMDb. It’s just plain fun.
3) ‘Cooperative Calligraphy’ (season 2, episode 8)
While “Modern Warfare” expanded its story to the entire campus, “Cooperative Calligraphy” does the complete opposite. As one of TV’s “bottle episodes,” made for as little money as possible during a season, it locks the characters in a room as they argue and hash things out; Abed even acknowledges that it’s a bottle episode early on. As the study group is literally locked in the study room they frequent until they find Annie’s missing pen, it easily brings out the best and worst in them.
4) ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ (season 2, episode 14)
Their mission was just: After Jeff became worried that Neil, a fellow classmate, was contemplating suicide when he gave Jeff his Dungeons & Dragons books, he rallied the study group to play a game of D&D with him. It’s an episode that NBC famously didn’t want to make (and wouldn’t be the last of Harmon’s struggles with the network), but with most of the characters being unfamiliar with the game, it allowed even the non-D&D fans to jump right in and get just as creative.
Bonus: Season 5’s “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” in which the study group tries to bring an estranged father and son back together through the game, is a fitting sequel.
5) ‘Critical Film Studies’ (season 2, episode 19)
The study group rented out a restaurant for Abed’s birthday and dressed up as characters from Pulp Fiction, so on the surface it looks just like another episode with plenty of pop-culture references. But it’s the heart of the episode, in the form of a private dinner between Abed and Jeff, that takes precedence and ends up homaging something else entirely. They’re two characters who often butt heads, but they’ve never been more real, even if they are reenacting My Dinner With Andre.
6) and 7) ‘A Fistful of Paintballs’ and ‘For a Few Paintballs More’ (season 2, episodes 23 and 24)
Another paintball episode? Really? Yes. The two-parter at the end of Community’s second season risked treading on familiar ground, but with the prize set at $100,000, the stakes are even higher. It also lets Annie, Britta, and Shirley, who lost early in last year’s match, call the shots over some of the usual heroes. But something about it doesn’t feel right, even after the school gets trashed again, and what starts as a take on spaghetti Westerns turns into a full-on Star Wars homage as Greendale unites to fight City College. It’s their hellhole, and only they get to trash it.
8) ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’ (season 3, episode 3)
An episode with a simple concept—playing parcheesi and debating who gets the pizza at Troy and Abed’s apartment—turns into one of Community’s most complex episodes as soon as Abed utters the words, “Just so you know, Jeff, you are now creating six different timelines.” We’re essentially watching the same scene play out over and over, but with someone different going to grab pizza each time; it shakes up the dynamic and tells a new story each time. It also brings the “darkest timeline” into our vernacular and earned writer Chris McKenna a writing Emmy nomination.
9) ‘Documentary Filmmaking: Redux’ (season 3, episode 8)
Is it art or madness? In reality, it’s probably both as Dean Pelton is charged with filming a new Greendale commercial. He manages to get proud alumnus Luis Guzman to do a part, but what should be a two-day shoot turns into a disaster zone rife with problems while amateur documentarian Abed films the whole thing and struggles to stay objective while pretty much everyone around him loses it.
10) ‘Pillows and Blankets’ (season 3, episode 14)
The previous episode, “Digital Exploration of Interior Design,” is good to watch beforehand, but it’s not required viewing. Presented in the style of the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War, this episode chronicles the impending war between Troy and Abed over whether they should build a blanket fort or a pillow fort. Like any war, nobody really comes out of this unscathed, whether they’re on the sidelines, right in the middle, or in charge of controlling the fluffy version of a doomsday device.
11) ‘Digital Estate Planning’ (season 3, episode 20)
One of Community’s most ambitious episodes to date turns the study group into 16-bit video game characters as they team up and fight Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito for Pierce’s inheritance. It brings out the best and worst of videos games as well as some growth in 2D form. Fans have made Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne a reality by building an open-source game that you can download and play and even made a scene Harmon wanted to film (but Chevy Chase refused to do) possible.
12) ‘Basic Human Anatomy’ (season 4, episode 11)
Many fans don’t like Community’s fourth season because it only feels like a shell of Harmon’s vision, but this episode, penned by the show’s own Jim Rash, comes close to what the show used to be. The impersonations of Troy and Abed (and Jeff via Dean Pelton) run rampant as they attempt to “switch bodies.” Even on Community’s turf, that’s fairly impossible to believe, but they stick to their act until it boils down in an emotional revelation.
13) ‘Cooperative Polygraphy’ (season 5, episode 4)
After Chevy Chase left the show during Community’s fourth season (and was banned from the Sony lot), a newly reinstated Harmon did practically the only thing he could with Pierce’s story: he killed him. Yet Pierce’s presence is palpable as the executor of his will surprises them with a polygraph test to prove that none of them killed him. Quickly put at odds with one another, they’re forced to reveal secrets they’ve kept for years—and one of the show’s main antagonists gets into their heads one last time.
14) ‘G.I. Jeff’ (season 5, episode 11)
Like “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” a classic children’s animation style is used both as a coping mechanism and as a means of escape, but things get dark quickly in this tribute to G.I. Joe. With cartoon character deaths, depictions of violence, the cheesy commercials, and the study group (as various soldiers) questioning the entire logistics of the ’80s children’s show, the audience is left to ponder some of same things Jeff is forced to deal with now that he’s turning 40. A comedy Community may be, but it just as easily steps into more melancholy territory.
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