With the critically acclaimed series finally on Netflix, we look back at the best genre-pushing episodes.
Though beloved by critics and a small but passionate audience, Dan Harmon’s Community was always just a bit too niche and weird for a mainstream network. Nevertheless, the show fulfilled the first part of its joke-turned-rallying cry of “six seasons and a movie,” even after it moved networks–the sixth and last season of the show aired exclusively on the short-lived Yahoo! Screen platform.
Who would have imagined, back in September 2009, that a sitcom about a disgraced lawyer enrolling in a community college and forming a study group as a ploy to win over the heart of a fellow student would evolve into a genre-pushing, meta joke-filled, rule-breaking, A-list-actors-and-blockbuster-directors-making comedy that gave us some of the best episodes of TV ever? In celebration of the show being available on Netflix, here are the 10 best genre-pushing episodes of Community you can stream right now.
10. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
Season 2, Episode 11
Besides its quirky characters and constant meta jokes, Community quickly became known for its ambitious pop culture homages. A lot of these focused on subverting and poking fun at the tropes of various genres, but a few used the change in formula to dive deep into its characters’ psyches. One of the most emotional of these episodes invited viewers inside Abed’s mind, which took the form of a Rankin/Bass-like stop-motion Christmas special. The result is a fantastic Christmas special in its own right, taking us on a mission to find the meaning of Christmas, which Abed finds thanks to a DVD of the first season of Lost. The visuals are impressive and perfectly recreate the magic of those classic Christmas specials, but most importantly, we learn a great deal about Abed as he resorts to the magic of stop-motion and Christmas to cope with reality.
9. App Development and Condiments
Season 5, Episode 8
Before Black Mirror tackled the horrors of social media and how it can create a world of fake elitism through an app that lets you rate other people, Community did an episode about the horrors of social media and how it can create a world of fake elitism through an app that lets you rate other people. This being Community, it blew its initial premise to comically large proportions, turning into a parody of movies about dystopian societies like Logan’s Run. Turning Britta into a crazy socialist revolutionary warlord who commands an army of students may not be the deepest of social commentaries, but it’s fun to watch. The episode’s elaborate set design that turned the entire school into a full-blown dystopia, full of retro-futuristic costumes and instruments, is impressive from a technical standpoint. And watching a weird initiation dance for those who reached the top rating is just pure fun.
8. Contemporary American Poultry
Season 1, Episode 21
The first time Community did a theme episode, Contemporary American Poultry was devoted entirely to paying homage the mafia movie genre. Of course, since the show is still set in a community college, it was a Goodfellas homage about the study group infiltrating the school’s cafeteria and controlling the chicken finger market. As Abed and the group rise to power they start getting power-hungry, with increasingly ridiculous demands like an entourage and a monkey.
Like any good mafia movie, this leads to back-stabbing and murders as messages (a backpack being left ripped to shreds in the open for everyone to see). The concept was not only masterfully executed, paving the way for countless parodies and homages in Dan Harmon’s other TV show, Rick and Morty, but also found the time to be an emotional story about Abed’s desire to fit in and better understand other people.
7. Geothermal Escapism
Season 5, Episode 5
Community Season 5 saw the return of the show’s creator, Dan Harmon, but also the exit of two main characters, Pierce and Troy. The latter felt like the heaviest loss for the show, given Donald Glover’s presence, being one half of the show’s most dynamic duo, and his ability to give serious gravitas to even the most over-the-top concept. It’s no wonder, then, that the show sent him off with a high-concept episode that, as usual, turned the entire school upside-down.
When Abed announced a game of “the floor is lava” as a goodbye for Troy, together with a cash prize, everyone lost their minds and turned the campus into a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic wasteland. There are elaborate Road Warrior punk costumes, strange vehicles built out of school furniture, and even a new religion that worships fire. At the center of it all, though, is an exploration of grief and a heartbreaking goodbye between Troy and Abed that results in one of the best moments of the series as a whole.
6. Basic Intergluteal Numismatics
Season 5, Episode 3
A parody of David Fincher’s movies, particularly Zodiac and Seven, has never looked this good. Much like the criminally underseen and severely missed Netflix mockumentary American Vandal, the episode takes a juvenile joke of a crime (someone slipping a coin down people’s pants when they bend over) and commits so much to it that it becomes a serious matter.
Watching Jeff and Annie obsess over the investigation while the dean denies the existence of the Ass Crack Bandit, Troy’s horrific scream after being attacked before becoming an overly dramatic victim for the rest of the episode is hilarious. What really sells the episode, though, is how closely it resembles a Fincher movie, from the color grading and constant rain to the moody lighting and unresolved ending.
5. Pillows and Blankets
Season 3, Episode 14
You don’t need extensive knowledge of documentarian Ken Burns or his award-winning documentary The Civil War to appreciate Pillows and Blankets. From the slow-motion shots to the stirring narration and the use of still images, this is the greatest mockumentary in a sitcom ever made. But it was also meaningful because it was the first time Troy and Abed’s friendship was really jeopardized.
When the prospect of breaking a world record creates conflict between the two best friends, battle lines are drawn, sides are taken, and a pillow fight erupts throughout the entire campus. The brilliance comes in how the episode manages to make its gimmick work consistently throughout its runtime, finding new ways to make the documentary feel like something that would air on PBS (elaborate maps, diagrams, and extensive interviews) while keeping it funny.
4. Modern Warfare
Season 1, Episode 23
When Community aired Modern Warfare, it finally became its great, genre-pushing self, proving it could successfully commit to a high concept. Directed by Justin Lin, the man who elevated Fast and Furious into blockbuster territory (and was going to give us justice for Han in F9 before the movie was pushed), Modern Warfare is the first time we saw the entire school fall into chaos for a game.
A game of paintball becomes an all-out war, all while Jeff sleeps in his car, awakening in a 28 Days Later-inspired wasteland. The episode is as action-packed as the genre classics it pays homage to, with sequences that look straight out of Die Hard or Rambo, despite its TV budget. And when the episode becomes a John Woo spoof as Chang goes on a rampage? Instant classic. It’s no wonder that Community couldn’t escape paintball, returning to it in almost every season, but there’s no beating how ground-breaking this episode was. It was simple, it was bold, and it set the bar for genre parodies on TV.
3. Remedial Chaos Theory
Season 3, Episode 4
Multiple timelines are nothing new to TV, but we usually don’t see this many timelines explored in a half-hour episode of a comedy series. This being Community, it’s no surprise that they went all-out, introducing seven different timelines that are created when a delivery man arrives at Troy and Abed’s housewarming party and the group decides to use a dice to see who should get the pizza.
Again, the beauty is in its simplicity. We get basically the same story played out seven different times, only with ever-so-slight differences. The visual gags have more layers than a Christopher Nolan movie, and we’re introduced to the idea of the darkest timeline, which would become an endless source of real world references throughout the past decade. Most importantly, it showed exactly what the characters meant to each other, and how the absence of each of them would drastically change the dynamic of the entire group in subtle or catastrophic ways. It’s no surprise that this episode always ranks high in “best of” lists.
Season 2, Episode 6
Though not often found in the “best of” lists, watching a sitcom successfully pull off a zombie episode (that doubles as a Mamma Mia spin-off, as the episode plays to the sounds of ABBA) is worthy of praise.
After experimental government powder gets mistaken as taco meat during Greendale’s Halloween party, the student body gets infected with a virus that turns them into zombies. Zombie tropes are referenced and subverted left and right, from the cat scare to a character being wrestled out a window by a horde. The episode not only condenses an entire zombie film into a 22-minute episode that’s effective both as a parody and as a straightforward story, but it also provides a touching story of Troy embracing the nerd he’s become and growing out of the cool jerk he used to be.
1. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
Season 2, Episode 14
Watching this episode in 2020 feels different. Post Game of Thrones and Stranger Things, is it really necessary to spend an entire episode explaining what elves, dragons, and magic are to people? Is it really that easy to assume they would laugh at the idea of Dungeons & Dragons? That this episode came out mere months before Game of Thrones debuted makes this a fascinating time capsule to a time before nerd culture became truly mainstream.
When the study group decides to pick up the game to cheer up a depressed classmate, things go south, as Pierce realizes he was left behind and becomes the villain of the story, turning a friendly campaign of D&D into an epic quest of revenge, magic, and how fantasy helps us in times of loneliness. Before Critical Role and The Adventure Zone made playing D&D into a hugely successful multimedia endeavors, we had Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to thank for making the game seem and look so cool.
Source: Game Spot Mashup