In celebration of Community fulfilling its predestined sixth season thanks to its last minute renewal by Yahoo, I’ve decided to look back on some of the greatest episodes this television show has brought us over the years. From chicken fingers to paintballs to dark elves, Community has always excelled at throwing unexpected curveballs at viewers while still being true to itself. Except for that fourth season.
Every episode that creator Dan Harmon and the extremely talented staff of writers, directors, and actors have brought us is chock full of amazing moments and countless reasons to love Community. There are so many fantastic episodes across its five seasons, and there are surely many more to come in the sixth. Ranking these was extremely difficult, but the following 15 are the episodes that show Community at its best and prove why it’s one of the best comedies of all time.
Frankly, this list was originally going to happen in remembrance of a cancelled show, but now it’s a celebration of Community‘s unlikely triumph. So read on fellow Greendalians!
And as always, six seasons and a movie!
15. Physical Education (Season 1, Episode 17)
The Story: Jeff enrolls in the one P.E. class he thinks is cool enough for him, pool, only to hit major turbulence when the coach insists he wear shorts. Meanwhile, the study group tries to get Abed to make a move on a pretty girl, only to encounter a white version of their friend.
While Community is known for its outlandish high concept episodes, it’s just as good at taking on “normal” stories dealing with its characters trying to make it by at a community college. While Greendale Community College is far from normal, it helps to deliver fun, fairly straight forward stories focused squarely on the characters. “Physical Education” is one of the best.
Best Moment: Jeff and the pool coach strip down more and more while playing against one another to prove who is the real man, culminating in a shocking bend over the table to knock in the eightball.
14. G.I. Jeff (Season 5, Episode 11)
The Story: Jeff is caught in a G.I. Joe-style hallucination and must figure out how he got there. An almost completely animated episode with live action ’80s style commercials interspersed throughout.
The strongest Community stories take strange directions while still being grounded in the real and relatable emotions of the characters. The reason for Jeff’s hallucination is that he is in a coma, caused by drinking too much and taking dubious anti-aging pills when faced with his 40th birthday. It’s a dark turn, but it definitely helps give this otherwise wacky episode some emotional heft. Another hallmark of the series is subverting well-loved genres, with “G.I. Jeff” poking at G.I. Joe. Most notably, the idea of killing your enemy being so strange in this cartoon world.
Best Moment: Cobra Commander (voiced by Robb Schrab) stumbles and stutters when trying to give a eulogy for the recently killed Destro. He’s never had to give one of these before!
13. Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking (Season 2, Episode 16)
The Story: Pierce’s drug abuse has landed him in the hospital with a seemingly terminal condition. The episode is shown through Abed’s documentary filming of the visit to the hospital, complete with talking head confessionals and plenty of meta commentary on documentaries.
Of course, Pierce is actually faking his condition. His bequeathing of gifts to the study group is actually a passive-aggressive way of getting back at them for not caring about him. Like much of season 2, Pierce is the villain. But Chevy Chase and the writers still make him likeable.
Best Moment: Troy’s bathroom freakout interspersed with him final meeting LeVar Burton – his idol and the one man he is terrified of meeting. “Set phasers to ‘Love Me!'”
12. Pillows and Blankets (Season 3, Episode 14)
The Story: After their competing pillow and blanket forts come to blows, Troy and Abed’s friendship turns into a rivalry. The entire episode is done in the style of a Ken Burns documentary, only much more shallow.
While actually being a follow-up to the previous episode, “Pillows and Blankets” stands on its own. Like always, Community finds a way to tackle a story like never before. The overly serious nature of it all is in perfect contrast to the idea of a pillow fort and a blanket fort at war with one another. And it’s all narrated by Keith David from The Cape.
Best Moment: “Leonard likes this post!”
11. Geothermal Escapism (Season 5, Episode 6)
The Story: To fulfill Pierce’s requirements for gaining his inheritance, Troy must leave on a year-long trip around the world. To cope, Abed creates a campus-wide game of “The Floor is Lava” that pits various members of the group against each other.
While the school-wide competition has echoes of the paintball episodes, the outlandish fun is really a cover-up for Abed’s deep turmoil. The highly emotional ending is the true payoff for the episode, rather than seeing who wins the competition. “Geothermal Escapism” sends out Donald Glover’s Troy on a high note.
Best Moment: Troy says goodbye to the study group, leaving on a yacht complete with LeVar Burton. So good. So satisfying. So sad.
10. Basic Rocket Science (Season 2, Episode 4)
The Story: Greendale buys a decades-old KFC spaceship simulator to beat rival City College’s space simulation and puts the study group to work. The gang gets trapped inside, only to be hauled off to a garbage dump and forced to complete the trivial tasks inside to get free.
Trapping the group inside the aging, incredibly tacky KFC spaceship is the perfect case of nostalgia thrown in the cold hard light of day. Plus, it solidifies Pierce’s father issues, whose dad just so happens to look like Colonel Sanders.
Best Moment: Chang makes an oxygen machine for the group, only to be called out on its uselessness. He slowly backs away.
9. Paradigms of Human Memory (Season 2, Episode 21)
The Story: Completing their 20th model for Sociology class causes the study group to reminisce about their past year, leading to countless flashbacks in a clip show format. Except none of these moments were ever shown before.
The nonsensical nature of having a clip show filled with clips that were never in the show is both the perfect way to subvert a long-standing sitcom cliche and provide extreme non-sequitors and surprises. Piecing together the various clips also creates types of mini episodes with their own strange narratives! Plus, “six seasons and a movie” finds its origin here.
Best Moment: Annie “ships” her memories with Jeff, romantically linking them in lost moments complete with a rampaging Boobatron 6000.
8. Contemporary American Poultry (Season 1, Episode 21)
The Story: When the study group gains control of Greendale’s fried chicken supply, Abed’s control leads to a Goodfellas-style narrative about betrayal and greed.
Abed usurping Jeff’s control of the group flips everything on its head and allows the members to indulge their dark desires. Mostly, that involves fancy backpacks, having an entourage, and pet monkey. Like always, the sheer silliness of the setup leads to emotional truths in the story.
Best Moment: Abed takes revenge on the group in a Goodfellas montage complete with “Layla” coda.
7. Basic Lupine Urology (Season 3, Episode 17)
The Story: The destruction of a yam in the study group’s Biology class leads to a Law & Order investigation. The episode is filmed in a way that apes the crime series, including soundtrack, on screen information, and overall tone.
Characters fit into stereotypes either as a byproduct of who they are (like Jeff and Annie) or in order to indulge in their TV fantasies (like Troy and Abed). Slight tonal shifts while keeping everyone in character deftly balances humor with mystery.
Best Moment: Tory and Abed trip over each other’s line, “Why do they always run?” before chasing down Starburns through Greendale’s hallways.
6. Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design (Season 2, Episode 9)
The Story: Jeff’s lie about taking a conspiracy theories class spirals into a dizzying assortment of lies, conspiracy, and backstabbing. Meanwhile, Troy and Abed create a campus-consuming blanket fort.
The many twists and turns throughout the episode are completely ludicrous, yet they are played deadly serious. A big round of applause to Kevin Corrigan as Sean Garritty, aka Professor Professorson, who throws out some magnificent lines and purposefully terrible acting.
Best Moment: The final fake gun-filled confrontation between Jeff, Annie, and Dean Pelton, where fakeout after fakeout stack up to dizzying effect, eventually leaving the Dean in tears.
5. Digital Estate Planning (Season 3, Episode 20)
The Story: In order to gain his father’s inheritance, Pierce and the study group must compete in a surprisingly complex video game and confront his family’s secrets.
With Community serving up so many unique takes on its characters, a video game episode is almost wish fulfillment. The 16-bit world of Hawkthorne leads to countless parodies and tributes to bygone video games while each character perfectly translates to the digital world. Plus, closure for Pierce’s father issues and Giancarlo Esposito as Gilbert!
Best Moment: Shirley and Annie accidentally kill a villager in the game, leading to more murder and arson to cover up their crime.
4. A Fistful of Paintballs/For a Few Paintballs More (Season 2, Episodes 23 & 24)
The Story: Paintball returns to Greendale’s campus and the stakes are higher than ever in this two-part episode! Parodying westerns in part one and Star Wars in part two, I couldn’t separate this awesome finale.
Since the original paintball episode was such a huge part of season one, Harmon and company had to go huge with the follow up. These are some pretty high stakes episodes. While there are plenty of laughs to be had, these are thrilling adventures, even if it’s just a massive game of paintball!
Best Moment: Part One – Annie has a showdown with Pierce, confronting him over his vengeful actions and revealing herself to be the only one that kept him from being kicked out of the group. Part Two – Pierce snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, winning the game of paintball, saving Greendale, and redeeming his villainous story arc. Then he leaves the study group.
3. Modern Warfare (Season 1, Episode 23)
The Story: A friendly game of paintball leads to campus-wide chaos as friends and enemies alike turn on one another for the prize. As the battle rages on, Community spoofs all manner of action movies.
Having the group thrown into chaos is both thrilling and hilarious, since anyone could be shot at any time. If only epic paintball matches could erupt like this in real life. But in truth, the entire episode is about resolving the relationship between Jeff and Britta as the rest of the study group falls one by one.
Best Moment: Britta sacrifices herself for Jeff’s sake, taking out Chang and leading to an epic paint explosion. Cue heroic slow motion leap from the study room!
2. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (Season 2, Episode 14)
The Story: To save “Fat Neil,” the study group partakes in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, not knowing that Pierce’s insecurities jeopardize far more than they expected.
While “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” is essentially a bottle episode taking place almost completely in the study room, the epic sweep of the game and awesome sound effects make it feel much larger. Add in themes of depression, isolation, and suicide, and the episode is given real stakes for it’s make-believe game.
Best Moment: Chang epically introduces himself – Brutalitops the Magician! Complete with possibly offensive black facepaint. He’s quickly beheaded in the game.
1.Remedial Chaos Theory (Season 3, Episode 3)
The Story: A hangout at Troy and Abed’s new apartment leads to six alternate timelines, each with a slight change that leads to drastically different results.
“Remedial Chaos Theory” is a masterpiece of writing. Not only is the idea of exploring six alternate universes immediately exciting, the show uses the setup to reveal new aspects of each character. The idea that removing a character from the room results in drastically different situations shows the role each plays in the group. The changes are always unexpected and the way the laughs pile up on each other through repeated situations plays great after countless repeat viewings. Plus, the ideas introduced here echo through the rest of the season.
Best Moment: The Darkest Timeline is revealed, leading to a fire in the apartment, Pierce being fatally shot, and the group in shambles. And it was probably all because of the gnome.
Honorable Mentions: Course Listing Unavailable, Curriculum Unavailable, Cooperative Polygraphy, Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism, Epidemiology, Anthropology 101, Beginner Pottery, Intro to Political Science