Cool cool cool
Community just wrapped up its sixth season. And, as is now traditional with that show, we don't know if it's going to return. From where we're standing, though, Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television looked like a last hurrah. It encapsulated everything that was great about this sometimes baffling, more often wonderful show and the characters we have come to love.
It's the ideal time then to look back over the show's history and pluck out the 10 best episodes. That's no mean feat. In its season two/season three prime, Community unleashed hit-after-hit. It's from here that most of our favourites are plucked. But even after its famously messy fourth season (produced without creator and key driving force, Dan Harmon) the show was never less than funny and we've plucked a couple of episodes from the excellent seasons five and six too. Now, how do we make the and a movie part of that hashtag come true?
Virtual System's Analysis (3.16)
The one where: Almost everything takes place in Abed's Dreamatorium.
Why it's great: Depending on who you talk to, Virtual Systems Analysis is either Community at its most heartfelt and most character-led, or the moment the show fully disappeared up its own arse. We favour the former. It delves deep into what makes Abed tick, while also admitting that he can be a difficult sometimes even manipulative person. Plus the Inspector Spacetime stuff was still funny at this point.
Cooperative Calligraphy (2.8)
The one where: Annie loses her pen and her mind.
Why it's great: Community has always been fond of its bottle episodes. Put this cast in the same room together and sparks are bound to fly. There's no paintball or high concept here just an insanely charismatic cast bouncing off each other over a lost Biro. It's sweet, it's funny and ends on a note of warmth and sincerity that reminds you that while these people occasionally drive each other nuts, they genuinely like and care about each other. Even Pierce. Probably.
Geothermal Escapism (5.5)
The one where: Abed announces a school-wide game of Hot Lava...
Why it's great: It's the last hurrah for the old Community gang. Pierce is gone, and now it's time for Troy to depart on a round-the-world trip with LeVar Burton (hey, it could happen). Abed is not handling this well and concocts a typically shabby Mad Max style setting for one last adventure. It's poignant and silly, but along with "Cooperative Polygraphy" the previous week, showed that season five had set Community back on the right track. Plus Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks) is wonderful.
Conspiracy Theories And Interior Design (2.9)
The one where: Jeff invents a fake class in conspiracy theories and becomes entangled in a web of deceit. Meanwhile Troy and Abed make the world's biggest blanket fort.
Why it's great: It's a tangle of twists and turns that starts with a simple hook (Jeff's fake class turns out to be real) before ramping it up to an absurd degree. Professor Garrity is an inspired addition to the show's cast of secondary characters and what other show would feature a chase sequence in a blanket fort? A classic from the show's best season.
The one where: The Dean orders a consignment of food from the military and inadvertently turns everyone on campus into zombies.
Why it's great: Community does zombie movies. That's a genre that nobody needs to spoof ever again, frankly, and yet the show makes it work beautifully.
This is an episode full of wonderful moments, from George Takei's voicemail message for the Kevins of the world to Chang and Shirley unexpectedly hooking up, Jeff hating Richard less as a zombie and Troy's failed Power Loader attack. The Abba-heavy soundtrack only adds to the sense of lunacy. And yes, it is better than Spaced's zombie episode (though perhaps not Shaun Of The Dead). In your face!
Modern Warfare (1.23)
The one where: Paintball carnage erupts around Greendale and Britta and Jeff finally hook up.
Why it's great: Season one had a slowish start. Around the mid-point it got good, but by the home stretch it was unmissable. This is the episode that's traditionally used to woo new viewers and it's easy to see why. There's a palpable sense of the show growing in confidence, of the production team realising that with Community they can do anything. And as a stew of action-movie homages (not parodies, remember) go, it's pretty hard to beat, with Rambo, Predator and many more thrown into the mix and some fantastic direction from Justin Lin.
Critical Film Studies (3.19)
The one where: Jeff tries to convince Abed to come to a Pulp Fiction-themed party, but he claims to have given up on pop culture forever...
Why it's great: Lots of shows contain movie references. Most include them just to raise a few second-hand chuckles. Community is smarter than that, more often using them to develop the characters. Here, we see Jeff open up to Abed in a way he rarely has, but the mood is soured when it turns out that Abed is simply enacting an elaborate homage to semi-obscure '80s flick My Dinner With Andre. It's an episode that hones in precisely on the show's two lynchpin characters and it's both painful and funny. Plus it was directed by Richard Ayoade and features a wonderful extended monologue about Cougar Town.
Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television
The one where: School's out, bitches! The gang part ways but only for summer, right? Maybe. Probably. Maybe.
Why it's great: Last episodes can be tough to get right, but Community's had more practice than most. Unlike other season finales which have carried the hope of renewal, this really does feel like the end. And you know what? That's fine. Season six was mostly very good, and this is its best episode. As the characters pitch their futures as a hypothetical seventh season, Community reaches new levels of meta. Hell, Abed literally breaks down the formula for writing scenes at one point. But more importantly, it restores the sense of these guys as, well, a community. They may be moving into different parts of their lives, but Greendale has made them better people. It also has one of the darkest, weirdest jokes in the show's history in its very final scene.
Introduction To Finality (3.22)
The one where: Troy is becoming an air-conditioning repairman, Evil Abed is back and things are looking bleak but triumph is just around the corner.
Why it's great: The first of the show's many goodbye episodes, it was produced with the suspicion that Dan Harmon would not be returning for season four and a lingering doubt that there would be a season four at all. Despite all that, it's a gloriously funny, energised episode that moves all the characters on in their lives, lets Abed grow up (at least a bit) and undoes the death of Star Burns. The show may have been in trouble at the time, but all involved made sure that if it was going to end here, it would go out on a major high. That it returned for a further three seasons was the cherry on top.
Remedial Chaos Theory (3.3)
The one where: The study group gather for a party which, in any other sitcom would be the set up for lots of comical misunderstanding and possibly character hook-ups. In Community it becomes a tangle of parallel timelines caused by an argument over who should get the pizza.
Why it's great: It's the show at its most dazzlingly inventive and ambitious. The character work is nuanced, and its darkest timeline with a bearded evil Abed is a brilliant spoof of Star Trek's mirror universe. But above all, it's properly funny. Community would go high-concept again, many times, but arguably never as perfectly as this.