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The Ten Best and Worst Episodes of Community

Once again, its my Best and Worst Episodes series, where I choose a TV show to rewatch, rank all the episodes, and then give you the ten best and worst episodes.

I have done this previously with the following shows:

The X-Files

Game of Thrones

The Simpsons

The West Wing

Lost

This time I’m taking a look at one of my favourite comedies of the past decade: Community.  Community is a show with a notoriously tumultuous broadcast history, even being relegated to Yahoo of all places for the last season.  But its early years were top notch, the humour was fresh, and the characters were great.  It has certainly been a show of ups and downs though, and today I will look at both sides.

Cool cool cool. Here we go.

Top Ten Episodes

10. A Fistful of Paintballs

Season 2

The “paintball episode” became a thing for community, something they’d keep returning to.  There first return to the “genre” was the penultimate episode of season 2, which saw a new paintball challenge with a western theme.  The episode explored a lot of the tropes of the western in some hilarious ways, but as with the best Community episodes, also had an emotional core.  This time we learn that the group is on the verge of kicking one of their members out, leading to a dramatic ending.

They would go on to make a second part to this episode which acted as the season finale, but this first part remains the better of the two halves.

9. Critical Film Studies

Season 2

Pop culture references are a staple of Community (usually due in part to the character of Abed), and in this episode they even deconstruct the idea of pop culture references themselves.  The gang gets together for a Pulp Fiction-themed party for Abed, but he has other ideas in mind.  He invites Jeff to dinner to discuss his maturation out of his obsession with movies.  Or…. perhaps he is just referencing something else??

8. Beginner Pottery

Season 1

The first season of Community was quite a bit different than the rest.  It was a lot more subdued in its story lines and seemed more of a standard television sitcom.  But even as such, it was still of much higher quality than almost every other show on at the time. As far as the “normal” episodes go, this is one of the best.  One half of the episode sees Jeff, Annie and Abed join a pottery class where Jeff confronts good guy Rich, as well as his own ego.  Meanwhile, Shirley and the others take a boating class, which takes place on a boat on wheels in the school parking lot.  Both halves are hilarious.

“No Ghosting!”

7. Cooperative Calligraphy

Season 2

The bottle episode.  Its just the group alone in the room the entire run of the episode.  And since we love these characters and their interactions, its good stuff.  We learn something about each of them, and they come out of it closer.  All because of a pen.

And of course there is the puppy parade.

6. Pillows and Blankets

Season 3

This wasn’t the first blanket fort episode.  The first one came in season 2 (and will be discussed shortly), and the episode previous to this had lead up to it.  But Dan Harmon, Cummunity’s creator, was never shy about taking an idea that worked before and trying to make it better.  He succeeded here, turning a pillow fight into a full-scale war documentary.  With the voice-over of Keith David, the doc was complete with battle maps, secret weapons, personal stories, and even Annie as a wartime nurse.  And at the root of it all, it was a metaphor for conflict in a friendship.  Community is so good at this kind of stuff.

5. Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design

Season 2

This great episode has two parts: Troy and Abed’s blanket fort that extends to the whole school, and Jeff trying to get away with a fake class but instead getting involved in an intricate web of lies.  I don’t really know what to say about this, except that its just a lot of fun.

4. Remedial Chaos Theory

Season 3

Considered by many to be Community’s greatest episode, Remedial Chaos Theory uses something as simple as friends hanging out and ordering pizza to explore the concept of multiple universes.  Its a lot of fun to see how the dynamics of the group changes depending on which of the seven goes to the door to pay for the pizza.  It works on both the grand scale and in the subtler moments.  Its pretty great.

Roooxanne!

3.Basic Lupine Urology

Season 3

Season three was Community at its most creative.  Including the two from that year I’ve previously listed, it also gave us a spoof of the Apocalypse Now doc Heart of Darkness, a musical Christmas episode (that actually works), and even an episode in 8-bit computer game animation.  But my favourite of these big concept eps was their Law and Order parody.  Revolving around the investigation of a biology lab gone wrong, they hit all the notes of the infamous police drama perfectly.  The style is spot on.  Great stuff.

2. Contemporary American Poultry

Season 1

The “chicken finger” episode was perhaps Community’s first foray into the larger and more gimmicky episodes, seeing a Goodfellas-style mafia story develop out of the group’s desire for cafeteria chicken.   What develops is a power struggle for group leadership between Jeff and Abed while everyone else lets popularity run to their heads.  This is Community firing on all cylinders.  Also, Troy gets a monkey.

1. Modern Warfare

Season 1

For my favourite episode of Community, I’m always brought back to the episode that really won me over on the show: the paintball episode.  This was certainly Community at its wackiest at the time, and was so much fun to watch.  Through this ridiculous game of paintball assassin, the cast and crew were able to explore the tropes of action movies and play them up in their own way.

Modern Warfare also reaches a climax in the Jeff-Brita sexual tension (personally, I’ve always liked Jeff and Brita more than Jeff and Annie, though the show disagreed with me).  The show also uses this game as a way to deal with Jeff’s selfishness by stressing the importance of cooperation.  I love the opening where Jeff wakes up in his car to find the school a disaster zone, when he shoots up the deans office, and of course the showdown with Chang.

The paintball episode became so popular that Community would eventually have 4 other paintball episodes throughout its run.  But nothing beats the original.

Bottom Ten Episodes

But of course, Community wasn’t always full of great ideas and perfect comedy.  It had its missteps like any show; some story-lines that simply didn’t work and some weak later seasons, probably resulting from all the turmoil behind the scenes.  I also know that there will be one pick on this list that a lot of people will disagree with.  Anyway, here are my picks for the bottom Community episodes.

10. Psychology of Letting Go

Season 2

Okay, so this episode isn’t really that bad.  Its half bad.  The b-plot with Annie and Brita competing over oil spill donations was fine.  But I really didn’t care for the story about Pierce dealing with his mom’s death.  Sometimes the Pierce stuff gets a little too weird and out there.

9. Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing

Season 6

So here’s the thing: I am not a season 6 fan.  Most people harp on the fourth season as being the weak link, but I feel the show was at its lowest in the final year.  I’ve also never really been drawn to the dean as a character either, but here we get an episode exploring the dean and it just doesn’t work for me.  There’s some comedy in Chang being an actor, but overall its just kind of a summary on the whole sixth season: meh.

8. Basic RV Repair and Palmistry

Season 6

This particular season sixer sees the gang suddenly transporting a giant stone hand in an RV for an unknown reason.  This is a failed attempt at one of those high concept episodes they became famous for.  In this case Abed tries to make some sort of commentary on flashback structure and non-linear storytelling, but it just doesn’t jive very well.

7. Alternative History of the German Invasion

Season 4

Yeah, not a big fan of this one.  Community often delves into the idea that the main characters are jerks, but there was just something about the way it was done here that didn’t sit right.  Also, why bring back the “German guys” from the Foosball episode, when you can’t even get all the German guys back?  This one was pretty lame, despite the fact that they finally dealt with the fact that the study group always got that room.

6. Advanced Safety Features

Season 6

Talking about one shot characters from previous that no one would care if they returned, we have Brita’s boyfriend who changed his name to Subway.  I liked that episode, but this one seemed really unnecessary, and not really that funny.  There were some laughs to be had with the way the dean went all in on Honda, but that stupid ear-bands game was dumb, and this one was just another example of the sixth season spinning its wheels.

5. Lawnmower Maintenance and Post-Natal Care

Season 6

So here’s a really big reason why I didn’t like season six very much: new characters.  Well, that and the fact that three of the main characters were no longer on the cast.  Losing Troy, Shirley and Pierce was bad enough, but don’t try to replace them with a) Hickey in season 5, and more importantly b) these two new characters in the last season.  In fact, i don’t even remember their names… Leroy? Elroy?  Hold on, I’ll google.

Frankie and Elroy.  Anyway, they are not interesting characters, and they feel like they are trying to sneak their way into belonging, but just don’t.  Elroy was introduced this episode.  Frankie the one before, but this is when I realized she’s sticking around.  Oh well.

4. Basic Sandwich

Season 5

This was the season 5 finale, which saw the group trying to save the school from being sold to Subway by trying to find the original owner.  The original owner of the school, as it turns out, is a mad scientist hermit who has locked himself away somewhere in the school.  He’s also annoying and painful to watch.  And really brings this episode to levels of low humour that I really disliked.  This was almost the last episode of the whole series.  Luckily, they pulled that off in much better style at the end of season 6.

3. Intro to Felt Surrogacy

Season 4

The puppet one.  I realize that this one is on the bottom of most Community Fan’s list, and it makes sense.  While Community has delved into various animation types to tell their stories, it is a tricky balance to maintain.  Some that work are the 8bit video game style from Digital Estate Planning and the anime sequences from Foosball.  But the puppets feel like this is season 4 community being desperate at trying to capture the wacky creativity of the previous years.  And failing, especially during the drug trip sequence in the woods.  It also makes their characters look really ugly during their confessions period.  Again, this is something that they have done previously (and since) in much better fashion.

2. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas

Season 2

A lot of Community fans are going to disagree with me on this.  A lot of people love it.  I really, really don’t.  It might come from the fact that ever since I was a kid, I hated the claymation Christmas “classics”, Rudolph especially.  And so, Community’s tribute to it really doesn’t work for me.  Its a bold idea, and I like that Community takes risks.  But I still don’t like it.  It feels like I’m indulging someone else’s fantasy without ever buying in myself in some sort of patronizing way.  Its really not enjoyable to me.

1. Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples

Season 2

Shirley wants Abed to make a Christian movie.  Instead he pretends that he himself is a prophet filmmaker and wraps everyone else up in it.  He’s really disrespectful to his friend and the Christian faith.  There’s also some sort of commentary on… pretentious film-making? Art?  Either way, its kind of dumb and I really disliked Abed in this episode.  Community’s strength is its characters, and while I’m okay with these characters having flaws and not necessarily being good people, I don’t like when they are flat out ugly, especially to each other.

So while Community has had its dips in quality, especially in the latter half, it is also a hilarious comedy with some of the best sitcom writing in television this decade.    For those who like comedy, lets try not to forget about it.

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