Community arrived on Netflix recently, after years of being available to stream only on Hulu. The series is begging to be discovered by a new audience, and with so many stuck at home, there has never been a better time. The show, created by future Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon, went above and beyond just being another sitcom set at a college.
The series began with Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) enrolling at Greendale Community College in the fictional Greendale, Colorado because his law firm discovered he never earned a real bachelor's degree. Once there, he befriended a study group of other misfits in his Spanish class. There's Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), an activist whose life is such a mess that her name becomes a verb for making mistakes later on; Annie Eddison (Alison Brie), the former high school overachiever who dropped out of high school due to an Adderall addiction; Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), a film student obsessed pop culture; Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), a former high school quarterback who lost his scholarship because of a keg flip-gone-bad; Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown), a divorced mother and devout Christian; and Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase), a millionaire who has spent decades at Greendale.
The group was one of the strangest casts of characters thrown together in a single show, but it worked somehow. For the first three seasons, Community earned critical acclaim, built a devout fanbase and made everyone want to play paintball. Unfortunately, the show never did well in the ratings for NBC and always lived on the bubble. Still, we did at least get the first half of "six seasons and a movie."
Since it has been five years since the show ended and the cast has gone on to do much bigger things (Ken Jeong is on The Masked Singer!), it seems unlikely we'll ever get that movie. We did get five great seasons, one iffy season without Harmon and an endlessly rewatchable bunch of 110 episodes. In honor of the series finally being available on Netflix, here's a look at 15 great episodes. Hopefully we didn't Brita it.
"Debate 109" (Season 1)
One of the first great Community episodes is the side-splitting "Debate 109," which confirms just how far creator Dan Harmon will go during the rest of the show's run to break down expectations for school-set sitcoms. The episode also helps establish Jeff and Annie's relationship, as it provides him the first opportunity to help her out. Here, he realizes his skills as a fake lawyer can really help Greendale win a debate challenge against City College. It's a riot, and the end of the debate will have you standing applauding.
"Contemporary American Poultry"
"Contemporary American Poultry" established the format for Community's episode-length tributes to specific films or shows. The episode, masterfully directed by Justin Lin, replaces the drugs, guns and crime of Goodfellas and The Godfather with chicken fingers. Jeff has a plan to get the group access to the chicken fingers, and it develops into a mafia plot.
"Modern Warfare" is not only a great Community episode, but also one of the funniest half-hours of television produced in the 21st Century. Lin and writer Emily Cutler deliver a searing send-up to action movies in the first paintball episode. While the show hilariously would go on to make fun of how popular the paintball episodes became, they continued doing them. Season 2 ended with "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For a Few Paintballs More" and there was one last paintball episode in the last season, "Modern Espionage."
"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"
Following the success of Season 1, Harmon and his team went in totally unexpected directions in Season 2. That season's Christmas episode was "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," an episode almost completely created with stop motion animation. The episode was written by Harmon with Dino Stamatopoulos, who played Starburns and was a member of the writing team for most of the show's run. It is a classic Christmas episode, taking inspiration from the best Rankin/Bass stop motion specials and The Polar Express, mixing in Harmon's wit, wonderful songs and great voice acting. Incredibly, the episode won Community's only Primetime Emmy. Drew Hodges won the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation.
"Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"
"Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" is a hilarious send-up to the role-playing game first published in 1974. It starts with the gang trying their best to help someone, and only turning into the villains themselves. Jeff organizes a D&D game to lift Fat Neil's (Charley Koontz) spirits. Pierce gets angry about being left out, putting his character on track to becoming progressively more annoying as the show goes on. The episode forces Jeff to come to terms with his habits for becoming a bully without even realizing it.
"Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" (Season 2)
This episode parodied the documentary style that became popular for sitcoms thanks to The Office. But instead of using that style for an episode about how Greendale works, writer Megan Ganz and Harmon use it to for a Pierce-centric story. It begins with him faking an illness and "bequeathing" different gifts to the other members of the group to psychologically torture them. The best torture is easily Pierce bring LeVar Burton to the hospital, much to Troy's complete shock.
"Critical Film Studies" (Season 2)
On its face, "Critical Film Studies" might make you roll your eyes. Parodying Pulp Fiction seems like low-hanging fruit. However, this episode also tosses in references to My Dinner With Andre to clash with the gang's planned Pulp Fiction-themed birthday party for Abed. The episode, directed by Richard Ayoade (who played his The IT Crowd character Moss in the ill-fated American version with McHale), really focuses on the relationship between Jeff and Abed.
"Basic Lupine Urology" (Season 3)
Life-long Law & Order fans must watch "Basic Lupine Urology." It is a loving tribute to the series, complete with an opening title sequence replicating L&O's and the side-splitting appearance of Leslie Hendrix, who played a medical examiner in the franchise. Instead of the murder of a person, the central mystery is the murder of a science class project. It culminates in a scene where Annie becomes Jack McCoy, vowing to prosecute the offender, even though no one is going to jail.
"Remedial Chaos Theory" (Season 3)
"Remedial Chaos Theory" is the ultimate Community episode. Written by Chris McKenna, who earned an Emmy nomination, the episode begins with everyone arriving at Troy and Abed's apartment to play Yahtzee. Just before they sit down to start, the pizza delivery guy finally arrives. Rather than choosing someone to pick up the pizza, Jeff decides to roll a die to determine who will go downstairs to get it. Abed warned him against it, because it creates different timelines, and then we get to see how each of them play out. The episode introduced the "darkest timeline," probably Community's longest-lasting contribution to pop culture.
"Basic Human Anatomy" (Season 4)
Season 4 is infamous for being the one year Harmon was not involved. Harmon was fired at the end of Season 3, reportedly due to his erratic behavior and leadership style. He was replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port, who had their hands full with issues for the year. Chevy Chase ended up leaving over frustrations with Pierce's direction. They also couldn't rely on Joe and Anthony Russo to direct a chunk of the season, since they were just hired to direct some little movie called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There are some highlights sprinkled throughout Season 4, but the best episode is "Basic Human Anatomy," which was written by the Dean himself, Jim Rash, and directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller. The episode centers on Annie and Shirley's competition to become valedictorian. Abed also helped Troy run from celebrating his one-year anniversary with Britta by pulling a Freaky Friday.
"Introduction to Teaching" (Season 5)
Harmon came back for Season 5 with a vengeance. While "Repilot" was necessary just to reset where the show could go after everyone graduated, "Introduction to Teaching" got Community back into high gear. This episode features one of Danny Pudi's best performances, when he completely breaks down because he watched every single Nicolas Cage film. After all, the immortal quandary we all must face is finding the answer to "Is Nicolas Cage good or bad?"
"App Development and Condiments" (Season 5)
The year is 2014, and the dangers of social media are already so obvious that Community warned us. In "App Development and Condiments," the Greendale campus becomes a dystopian nightmare when everyone starts ranking each other on the MeowMeowBeanz app. This is a bizarre episode, featuring cameos from Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz and Tim & Eric (Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim). Hurwitz plated Koogler, a party animal who somehow rates a 5, even though we've never seen him before. Amazingly, the episode's tag is a trailer for Koogler starring in his own Animal House-esque movie, which almost overshadows the previous 20 minutes.
"Cooperative Polygraphy"/"Geothermal Escapism" (Season 5)
In the middle of Season 5, the show had to say goodbye to Donald Glover and Harmon made sure he got an epic send-off. This two-parter begins with the team learning what Pierce really bequeathed them (spoiler: it was his sperm), but Troy got something super special. Before sending Troy off, Abed organized an epic "Floor is Lava" game. "Geothermal Escapism" is a perfect, hilarious episode that proves Community is as much a tribute to the power of imagination than anything else.
"Grifting 101" (Season 6)
If you forget about Season 6, you can be forgiven because the episodes were originally released on Yahoo! Screen. Thankfully, they are all included on Netflix. Although the episodes all run much longer than the previous ones, they are still really well done. Keith David and Paget Brewster came in to help fill out the cast after Yvette Nicole Brown and Jonathan Banks (who joined in Season 5) did not return. One of the underrated episodes of the season is "Grifting 101," a hilarious and overly complicated send-up to the classic 1973 film The Sting. It also includes another connection to The IT Crowd as Matt Berry is perfectly cast as the grifting professor.
"Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television" (Season 6)
The Community series finale is simply one of the best episodes of its entire run. Jeff's fear of change takes center stage and the cast makes pitches for potential seventh seasons if Community received one. What really made Community great was how it tracked the evolution of characters and their relationships to one another. Jeff comes to the realization that while some people may come in and out of his life physically, the lessons he learned from his friends are always with him... just as the lessons they learned from him are with them. It's a universal lesson for everyone. Even if we never get the movie, "Emotional Consequences" provides us with the best ending we could ever hope for.