For the past five seasons, NBC’s Community has been one of the most smart, funny and inventive sitcoms on television. The show has developed a true cult following during that time, eager to spend time at Greendale Community College with disbarred lawyer Jeff Winger and the rest of his study group.
One of the things fans have taken too so well is the show’s elaborate pop culture references and tributes to various entertainment tropes. These ideas come from series creator Dan Harmon, a true pop culture nerd who seems to push the boundary for what a sitcom can be with each new concept episode he concocts.
In honor of the fifth season winding down, TheCelebrityCafe.com is counting down the top ten Community theme episodes. Did your favorite episode make the cut? Join in the conversation and comment below!
10. Paradigms of Human Memory
Remember that time the study group went to that old Wild West town? Or the time when Abed paraded around the school in costume in anticipation of NBC’s next great thriller The Cape? It’s okay if you don’t, because this episode from season 2 took a fairly typical TV show idea, the clip show, and spun it on its head by making the clips never before seen moments. While the clips were a great way to delve into the relationships of the study group, maybe the biggest lasting impact of the episode is the first utterance of the “six seasons and a movie” mantra that’s become a rallying cry for all Community fans.
9. Digital Estate Planning
This episode from season 3 is a throwback to the classic 8-bit style of early video games. Here, the study group must navigate through a game called “Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne,” an idea thought up by Pierce’s deceased father. The episode has lots of little nods to adventure and RPG games, like the “Legend of Zelda” like over world and upgradeable weapons for the study group to obtain. It all leads up to an ending boss fight that gets at some emotional undertones for Pierce and his family, striking the perfect balance of zaniness and sentimentality that allows the great Community episodes to shine.
8. Documentary Filmmaking: Redux
While the first documentary episode, season 2’s “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” was a fun take on the talking head genre, this one from season 3 ratchets up the drama with a homage to Hearts of Darkness, the famous documentary about the difficulties of making Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Dean Pelton plays the role of Coppola here, who slowly becomes more obsessed with filming the perfect commercial to promote Greendale that things spiral out of control very quickly, and Abed caught it all on tape. This episode also features Jeff doing an excellent Dean Pelton impression, bald cap included.
7. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
Season 2 featured a Christmas episode that was done almost entirely in stop-motion animation, in the style of classic Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Watching the study group transformed into playthings that look straight from the Island of Misfit Toys was a lot of fun by itself, but the episode also gets inside the head of Abed, who uses the stop-motion winter wonderland as a means to cope with his own personal Christmas struggles. It’s an episode that helps explain who Abed is, and the show was wholly better for it.
Another holiday themed episode from season 2, this Halloween outing also doubled as a great zombie movie tribute. After some bad food sends Greendale’s spooky shindig into hysteria, and more people start to turn, Troy is quickly thrust into a leadership role, and the episode explores the cool maturity he feels he has started to lose because of his newfound, geeky relationship with Abed. Okay, so nobody really turns into zombies, but the horror and suspense is played exactly like the best of the zombie genre, as the audience gasps in shock as one member of the study group after the other turns to the side of the “undead.”
5. Pillows and Blankets
This episode from season 3 stands out as one of the ones being truly out there. Done in the style of famous documentarian Ken Burns, specifically his series on The Civil War, the episode focuses on the epic conflict between Pillowtown and Blanketsburg, two factions that split apart after an innocent attempt at building the world’s largest blanket fort by Troy and Abed. While the episode does an excellent and hilarious job of crafting a narrative out of a battle over pillows and blankets, it does just as great a job of exploring the question of what happens when two best friends have a huge disagreement. The Troy/Abed relationship is one of the most stable ones on the show, so watching the two go to war added some real weight to the episode.
4. Advanced Dungeon and Dragons
As mentioned before, the best Community episodes mixes some crazy concept while simultaneously exploring the emotional core of the characters, and this episode from season 2 may be the best example of that. When Jeff notices that fellow Greendale student Fat Neil is showing signs of depression and loneliness, he enlists the study group to play a game of Dungeon and Dragons to cheer him up. What starts out as an innocent game quickly turns much more ruthless when Pierce discovers he’s been left out of the game and retaliates. All of the typical D&D tropes are here in typical fun Community fashion, but the real strength of the episode is exploring the depths of these character’s relationships, and how a simple game of D&D can bring out both the worst and the best in these guys.
3. Contemporary American Poultry
This episode from season 1 was the first attempt by Community to venture into the high concept territory, and it still ranks as one of the best. After Abed lands a job as a fry cook in the school cafeteria, he is able to hook up his study group with the most delectable of all community college cafe commodities: chicken fingers. What starts out as an innocent side deal turns into a full-blown mafia movie homage, where Abed rises to power through his chicken finger connections. Like with any great mafia empire, it eventually comes crashing down, but it results in a better understanding of Abed and Jeff in the process.
2. Remedial Chaos Theory
Alternate timelines. That’s all that needs to be said for this episode from season 3 to earn a place on this list. The reason it ranks so high is how expertly the episode executes on this premise. During a housewarming party hosted by Troy and Abed at their new apartment, a roll of a die determines who makes the trek downstairs to intercept the pizza delivery man. While all six timelines intertwine, watching how each one was different just by the absence of one character demonstrated how important each of the study group was to each other, and also showed just how goofy and lovable this unlikely group of friends is.
1. Modern Warfare
While “Contemporary American Poultry” came first, “Modern Warfare” was the season 1 episode that really established Community as a show willing to break sitcom convention and go extremely high concept. This one sees an epic, campus-wide game of paintball break out, with everybody fighting for the top prize of priority registration. The episode is full of nods to various action movies like Die Hard, Rambo, Terminator and The Matrix, and the suspense over who will come out on top in this game of paintball assassin seems straight out of any one of those movies. The combination high-stakes action, action movie caliber production values, and a decent exploration of the Jeff/Britta relationship that was a big focus of the first season, is what lands this episode at the top of this list.