Weekly Geeky Question #4 – The Best of Community

Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #4, and Rod’s question is a simple one, related to a TV series that he introduced me to.

What are my ten favorite episodes of Community?

So, Community, if you don’t know, was a comedy series that ran from 2009 – 2015, that told the story of a disparate group of characters who were originally all students at Greendale Community College, and who formed a study group together.  It originally centered around Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), the cynical but slick-talking defense attorney who was attending college after it was discovered that he didn’t actually have a law degree.  His goal was to get through his degree as quickly and easily as possible, hence his attending an unimpressive and underperforming school like Greendale.  Jeff was part of the show for the entire run, but the series quickly became more of an ensemble show, with Jeff as the ostensible leader of the group, but not really a main character above the others.

The humor came not only from the characters’ dealings with the odd Greendale and its   inept administration, but from a strong meta-quality that the series had.  This was particularly seen with the character Abed (Danny Pudi), a sci-fi geek and film student who had Aspergers Syndrome and interpreted everything like it was a TV show, referring to his friend’s life like incidents were happening in episodes that were part of seasons, and so on, that of course paralleled the way the show was actually structured.  Beyond that, there were other things that the show would do, with certain episodes deliberately parodying the styles of other shows, and a lot of frankly weird things going on all the time.

Anyway, I really liked the show, and there are certainly episodes and moments that stuck out to me, but I don’t actually remember the whole series very well.  After I got this question I skimmed over an episode list and found that while most stories sounded familiar, I didn’t remember the details of most of them.  So for this list, I’m not systematically going through everything to see if they are really my favorites; instead I’m just going to pick out the ones that I remember enjoying the best.

Incidentally, I actually started going through Community and blogging about every episode, starting here, but that project fizzled out after only eight episodes.  Who knows, maybe this will inspire me to pick it up again.

Anyway, here we go, my “ten” (or so) favorite Community episodes, in the order they aired…

Introductions to Statistics (Season 1, Episode 7)

This is the only episode on this list that I actually got to in my episode-by-episode coverage.  I actually don’t recall all of it very clearly, but I’ve selected it because of two particular things:  first, Abed spends most of the Halloween-themed episode dressed up as Batman, and has an awesome faux-Batman internal monologue at the end:

If I stay, there can be no party.  I must be out there in the night, staying vigilant.  Wherever a party needs to be saved, I’m there.  Wherever there are masks, wherever there’s tomfoolery and joy, I’m there.  But sometimes I’m not, ’cause I’m out in the night, staying vigilant, watching, lurking, running, jumping, hurtling, sleeping…No, I can’t sleep.  You sleep.  I’m awake.  I don’t sleep.  I don’t blink.  Am I a bird?  No.  I’m a bat.  I am Batman.  Or am I?  Yes, I am Batman.  Happy Halloween.

Second, there is an amazing epilogue scene with Abed and Troy (something the show did a lot in the early days), where the two of them talk, in growly Batman voices, about how if Troy woke up as a donut, he’d eat himself.  At the end of the conversation, Troy says “It’s cool to know other people think of this stuff too.”  Their friendship had already been established, but it’s clear that this is the moment it’s solidified forever.

Troy was played by Donald Glover and I find there’s a lot of Troy being referenced in this list.

Remedial Chaos Theory (Season 3, Episode 3)

A brilliant speculative fiction concept hidden inside of a sit-com, Remedial Chaos Theory tells the story of the study group hanging out Troy & Abed’s home for their housewarming party, and how the group and their destinies change based on which one of them goes downstairs to pick up the pizza they ordered.  Depending on who goes (something decided by Jeff rolling a die), their relationships and interactions wind up completely differently.  In the most extreme cases, Jeff’s absence (considered to be the “Prime” timeline) results in everyone being happy, while Troy’s absence ends up leading to disaster, chaos, and death.

What elevates this already great episode even further is the coda, where we see what comes to be known as “The Darkest Timeline”, where Troy’s going to get the pizza has led to utter chaos, with Pierce dead, Annie institutionalized, Jeff having lost an arm, Shirley an alcoholic, and Troy speaking only with the help of an artificial voice-box (since he lost his voice trying to eat a flaming plastic troll!)  Troy and Abed don evil looking fake goatees, announcing themselves as Evil Troy and Evil Abed, with the goal of entering the prime timeline and taking over the study group there.  It was a hilarious idea that was followed up upon a number of times later.

Pillows and Blankets (Season 3, Episode 14)

This was actually the second part of a two-parter about Troy and Abed both building forts, one made of pillows and one made of blankets, and their disagreements lead to a massive civil war on the Greendale campus.  However, the whole episode is done in the style of the Ken Burns documentary on the American Civil War, with a narrator, archive photographs, readings of text messages and emails, and so on.  The strange approach to storytelling layered over a reasonably serious story about a breakdown in Troy and Abed’s friendship was quite engaging.  Plus I enjoyed the gimmick with Britta constantly taking bad photographs, but ultimately getting a good one by mistake while trying to capture the way light was reflecting off of a stack of waffles.

Basic Lupine Urology (Season 3, Episode 17)

Similar to the one listed above, the thing that makes this episode stand out for me is fact that is filmed and edited in the style of a completely different TV show, in this case Law & Order.  The story is about how the study group’s science experiment, a yam, is found “murdered”, and the investigation that ensues to find out who is responsible.  Everyone takes on Law & Order character types (Abed and Troy are the cops, Shirley is their boss, Jeff and Annie are the lawyers, etc).  It includes lots of Law & Order stylistic choices, such as the “cold open” discovery of the body, a mid-episode transition to another set of main characters, and an abrupt ending following the news of a shock (in this case, the apparent death of Star-Burns when the meth lab in his truck explodes).

Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Season 5, Episode 10)

This episode is a sequel to an earlier one, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  According to the internet, the earlier episode is way better, but I don’t remember it as well.  I found this one to be a lot of fun.  I’m not a fan of Dungeons & Dragons in real life, but there are some great character moments and inventive storytelling as the group play the game together in order to try to bring Professor Hickey together with his son.  I’m also a fan of Jonathan Banks as Buzz Hickey, and with this story he gets lots to do.  I was disappointed that he didn’t return at all for Season Six.

Basic Email Security (Season 6, Episode 6)

As Abed points out, this episode is the third in a trilogy of sorts about the group’s secrets being revealed.  The first, Cooperative Calligraphy, is considered one of the series’ best episodes from what I’ve hard, but I don’t remember it very well.  In this one, the group bands together to allow a comic censored for his apparently racist remarks to perform at Greendale.  Pressure mounts when someone hacks all of their emails, threatening to release them unless the show is cancelled.  Britta urges them all to not cave in and they don’t, which results in the hacker following through his threats and releasing all their secrets.  When the group all turn up to set up for the show, we get a gloriously funny breakdown of civility within the group as their bitterness toward each other over the revealed secrets all comes out.  Of course, they eventually come together again, in time to put on the show!

Of course, they soon regret it when the comedian turns out to be genuinely racist and massively offensive, as well as completely unfunny, with jokes like, “You know, it’s hard to be fat when you’re black or Jewish because when you’re black, your community steals all your food, so you can’t eat as much.” etc.

However, one of my favorite bits is a very funny meta-textual comment that comes in the middle of the story, when newer characters Frankie and Elroy find out about the group’s history:  Jeff and Britta dating, the group being a study group and Chang being their teacher.  “That’s right,” Chang adds indignantly, “and frankly, haven’t been well-utilized since.”

And that’s the list!

Top Ten?  That’s only six!

Yeah, that’s true, but that’s really all the episodes that I both remember liking and remember with some clarity what happened in them.  Strange, since supposedly I like  Community a lot. This whole exercise does make me want to watch the show again.

Anyway, to flesh out this list, here are four more that I have a strong sense that I really enjoyed at the time, but that my memory is cloudy enough about that I couldn’t really testify in court about them:

Epidemiology (Season 2, Episode 6)

A disease breaks out which infects the whole school and turns them into a fluish sort of zombies.  In the end, it’s Troy, I think, who activates a sprinkler system (or something) that saves everyone.

A Fist Full of Paintballs (Season 2, Episode 23)

and

For a Few Paintballs More (Season 2, Episode 24)

The second of the series’ three paintball stories, where paintball wars would break out all over campus, resulting in high extremes of combat and lots of spoofs to gangster movies, Star Wars, and so on.  This was the most elaborate of them all, and the only one that was told as a two-parter.

Introduction to Finality (Season 3, Episode 24)

The conclusion of Season 3 of the series, and in a way, the last episode of the “classic era” of the show.  I sort of remember it really (and enjoy it) in the context of all the episodes that led up to it, involving Chang’s takeover of the school and Troy’s bizarre rite of passage with the Air Conditioner Repair class.  Re-reading a plot summary now, I see that it’s Community at it’s most self-consciously positive, with Jeff coming to final terms with not being a hot-shot lawyer, Abed overcoming the darkest timeline version of herself, Pierce apparently growing a bit, and so on.  And then there’s the part I remember a bit better, which is a fun montage at the end in which we see what’s going on with everyone, including the fact that Star-Burns faked his death.  And that it all concludes with the uplifting hashtag #sixseasonsandamovie, giving me all sorts of hope for the future.

 

So that’s ten!

But wait…

Rod actually said I could do my favorite moments from Community, rather than episodes, if I preferred.  Well, clearly I didn’t, but there are a couple of moments that I wanted to reference while I had the opportunity:

The Introduction of Chang, from Spanish 101 (Season 1, Episode 2)

Like many shows, Community took a bit of time to find its feet, but I loved the introduction to Señor Chang, the group’s literally insane Spanish teacher who in later episodes became a classmate, a colleague, enemy, friend, and all sorts of other roles.  He’s played by Ken Jeong, and his speech, he goes on thusly:

Every once in a while, a student will ask, ‘Señor Chang, why do you teach Spanish?’…Why not math? Why not photography? Why not martial arts? I mean, surely it must be in my nature to instruct you in something that’s ancient and secret like, oh, building a wall that you can see from outer space. Well, I’ll tell you why I teach Spanish:  it’s none of your business, okay? Now, I don’t want to have any conversations about what a mysterious, inscrutable man I am. I am a Spanish genius! In Español my nickname is El Tigre Chino, because my knowledge will bit her face off.  So don’t question Señor Chang, or you’ll get bit.

It’s completely baffling to watch, but definitely led me to want more.

People are dying in China, from Course Listing Unavailable (Season 3, Episode 18)

I was reminded of this particular bit while I was researching the one above, and as I was figuring what episode it was from, I was reminded that this is probably one of my favorite episodes.  But whatever, I’m not going back and changing things now.  Who knows how many more great episodes there are that I’ve forgotten?  When I have a chance to really refresh myself of the whole series, I’ll have to do a proper “Top Ten.”  Sorry, Rod.

Anyway, in this one the group is still processing the news of Star-Burns’ death.  Jeff is typically cynical  about it and says, “I know it’s sad, but death is a natural part of life, and by the time I finish this sentence a hundred people would’ve died in China,” prompting Troy to freak out and shout Why would you stop talking??! and then to try to contact his pen-pal in a state of panic.

and finally

Jumping the shark, from Pascal’s Triangle Revisited (Season 1, Episode 25)

In the first season finale of the show, there’s a bit where Abed resists Troy’s idea of sharing an apartment.  With his typical way of processing the world as if it was a TV show, he says, “If you and I move in, we jump the shark.”  This makes Troy upset, and as they part he shoots back, “Oh, and for the record, there was an episode of Happy Days where a guy literally jumped over a shark, and it was the best one!”

Clever stuff.

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