Jun 10, 2015

Posted by in Ramblings

#SixSeasons – Part VIII

#SixSeasons – Part VIII
All 110 episodes of Community ranked

In which I continue ranking, according to my own analysis, every single episode of Community.  Into the Top 40 and this where things got really tricky.  I think the best evidence for that is based on the various comments I’ve been getting on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit etc some people’s Top 10 episodes have about 40 episodes in them…  

Thanks to all of you who’ve been reading these and commenting and agreeing and disagreeing in the comments, on Reddit, or Twitter or wherever.  Much appreciated.  Also, the reviews are getting a bit longer as the episodes get ‘better’, so sorry/you’re welcome for that.  Delete as appropriate.

Standard disclaimer

Obviously this list is fairly SPOILER HEAVY but then if you’re reading this I’m gonna assume it’s because you’re also a fan who’s seen every episode.  And also, please note UK readers, since it’s a US show I’m going to be using seasons to define series and series to define the whole show.  Deal with it.  Finally, obviously, all pictures or screengrabs are owned by Sony or NBC or Yahoo or all of them or one of them.  Oh, and also for numbering purposes I’m using the broadcast order even though some were broadcast out of order. Also as I said in the first post this ranking is basically ranking from good to perfect, not worst to best as the worst episode of Community is likely better than the best episode of most other comedies.  And it goes without saying it’s all subjective so please feel free to disagree in the comments etc.

40. Aerodynamics of Gender (S2 E7) Written by Adam Countee, Directed by Tristram Shapeero

S2e7Why, hello there Mike Walsh, intensely racist groundskeeper and keeper of the trampoline. Imagine any other show that could pitch the idea that two of the main characters find a secret trampoline that bouncing on makes you feel all serene and calm?  Now imagine that’s not a cartoon.  Now imagine it actually makes sense within the world of the show.  You can’t, because it’s impossible.  Troy and Jeff, spied on by Pierce, get one of the best B stories of the season in this episode and, through Pierce’s subsequent injuries, it helps to set up a lot of what is to come.  I just love the trampoline story, I really do, everything about it down to the filters used for the edit of those scenes.  In the main story we get a pretty solid Mean Girls kind of riff in which Abed becomes the Robocop of crushing people’s self esteem.  Hilary Duff might seem an odd person to pop up in Community but she’s a great choice for this role.  It is however, around about now I found myself thinking, as I sometimes did with Parks and Rec as well, ‘Man I wish they could have had an extra two or three minutes an episode to let stuff breath a bit more’.  That’s really apparent in the A story this episode. But still this is a damn funny episode that let’s some different cast pairings than we’ve seen recently work off each other which showcases one of the show’s greatest strengths.  They really do have the best cast on TV in terms of chemistry.  That’s something you just hopes pays off and develops over time when you initially cast.  It’s one of the hardest things to get right, casting, but when you do it makes everything three thousand times easier.  And boy oh boy did they get it right.  Exhibit A.

Top line – “Guess it goes to prove what I already knew: non-whites ruin everything”. – Joshua

39. Basic Human Anatomy (S4 E11) Written by Jim Rash, Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller

s4e11Jim Rash made his Community writing debut in season 4 and produced, to my mind, its best episode.  And not just because there’s no mention of Changnesia.  It was clear that the writers didn’t really know what to do with the Troy and Britta relationship at this point so it was best to end it.  Ending it via a body switching episode, on paper, without Harmon about, sounds like a terrible idea and when I’d heard it announced I imagined the worst.  Confidence returned when it was also announced that Rash was writing it. And it largely works.  Danny Pudi and Donald Glover’s performances are great, Glover especially, and it makes sense that Troy would have no idea how to end it in an adult way.  Not because he’s an idiot, but because he’s scared.  So relying on a bit makes sense to him.  It’s pretty disrespectful of Britta and you’d think she’d be a bit more pissed off that she is, but still.  A Winger speech directed at Troy does turn it around though.  It’s sometimes difficult to remember that Troy is only supposed to be 22.  It’s a well executed concept episode that handles a bit of narrative disaster really, really well.  That Rash extends the body switching stuff to the Dean as well is a nice touch, especially considering Annie’s confusion about the whole thing.  Much like Troy and Abed, the show commits to a bit, something it’s struggled with all season, and it brings back some confidence to the show overall. Oh, and best tag of the season by a mile.

Top line – “Sorry, routine light switch check”. – Jeff

38. The First Chang Dynasty (S3 E21) Written by Matt Fusfeld & Alex Cuthbertson, Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

S3E20a1Chang taking over the school like some sort of evil dictator was such an insane idea that Community, for the first time really, ran the risk of collapsing in on itself.  If It attempted to right the ship, dispose of Chang and get the Greendale Seven back on track with some sort of rational, simple plot device I dare say it would’ve invoked a calvary of groans.  Instead they matched ridiculous for ridiculous with an Ocean’s 11 style heist that somehow feels entirely appropriate.  I’m a sucker for these sorts of capers (which is partly why Grifting 101 disappointed me so much) so executed well I was always going to like this episode.  And the heist, for lack of a better word, itself was so well executed from a writing and directing stand point I just found myself watching most of this episode with a big stupid grin on my face.  And just when you think the utter absurdity of the whole thing means they’ve jumped the shark into just making this an ep of hijinks, enter the school board at the end to sum the whole thing up in a neat little meta bow.  One of them has a drinking problem and now they’re all going to get fired.  And just as we think everything’s fine, Troy has to go.  It sets up a season finale that no longer has the school as the thing at stake, but rather their very friendships. It’s an episode that could’ve easily been a belter of a season finale if only they’d known there’d be another season at this point.  Shout out here too to Community’s props and costume department who don’t get enough love for the stuff they do that makes everything feel so authentic.  The work in this episode, fuck it, the whole series, is just brilliant.

Top line – “Oh!  Mr Brand Loyalty over here!” – Troy

37. Geothermal Escapism (S5 E5) Written by Tim Saccardo, Directed by Joe Russo

s5e5This episode is kind of like As Good As It Gets.  Or To Die For.  They are films that I know I should like more than I do.  I’ve watched them both a number of times, sitting there going, ‘This is doing all the things you normally like.  Why aren’t you liking this more? What’s wrong with you?’  Geothermal Escapism ticks all the right boxes.  It gives Troy an appropriate big send off, tick.  It’s a bonkers mix of Mad Max and Waterworld and a bunch of other stuff, tick.  It all comes back to down Earth in a really nice way with Troy, Abed and Britta in the basement, tick.  It’s funny, looks great, has some really nice callbacks with the Styx song and so on, tick.  The boat was called Childish Tycoon.  But I still don’t love it.

And here’s, I think, why.  Two reasons.  One, Troy’s actual goodbye.  I’ve always disliked those sitcom goodbyes where everyone lines up to have their turn at the emotional goodbye.  I get why it’s often needed but it always feels a bit like cheating and, again a victim of their own brilliance, I kind of expected more from Community.  Also, having read the uncut version of Troy and Abed’s departure I can’t help but think it would’ve been better to include the extra 30 seconds of that exchange and lose some of the chair walking stuff.  It’s a nice little interchange with a comic payoff that just works nicer for me.

The second reason is that it’s not a Troy episode.  It’s an Abed episode.  Everyone needs to pander to Abed to get him through it.  I know Abed is often in his own little world but it’s a hugely selfish move that denies the rest of the group a real chance to say goodbye.  I get that that’s part of the story and also part of the point of the episode but it annoyed me.  It felt like a step too far for that character.  That someone, after five years, wouldn’t have just gone, ‘Abed, don’t be a dick’ when things got out of hand.  Yes, things get out of hand and everyone takes these games far too seriously at Greendale anyway, but when the thing at stake here is forgoing saying a proper goodbye to one of your closest friends, wouldn’t someone like Shirley have gone, ‘Fuck this?’ Britta half mentions it but then it’s dropped.  And then when they realise it’s gone too far in the basement, once again, it’s all about Abed.  It’s all on his terms.  That is something about Abed that is addressed in a later episode, but at the time, I’ll admit it gave me the shits a bit.  It didn’t actually feel true to the characters.  But then, there’s are all inherently selfish people anyway so maybe that doesn’t matter.

Look, I think what I’m trying to say is that most of the time when Community has an episode in which living up to the expectations for it is nigh on impossible, they have always pulled it off for me.  This time, it just fell a bit short.  Still a damn good episode of TV, I’ve still put it Top 40 but, yeah, I dunno, I want to like it more, I feel like I should… Maybe I’ll go watch As Good As It Gets again…

Top line – “Why don’t they call it Planet Trek? You never go to a star. You – Not one episode” – Troy

36. Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps (S3 E5) Written by Dan Harmon, Directed by Tristram Shapeero

S3E5What we have here is like a tasting menu of the seven main characters.  How can you bring new viewers up to speed maybe?  How can you just reestablish for the audience some of the main traits and ideals of them? Well, you can have them all tell seven different versions of basically the same horror story.  It doesn’t advance much, but it’s a perfect reminder of where these people are at this point and how far they’ve come.  What it also is is one very, very funny 21 minutes that introduces us to what will become some of Community’s most beloved long running jokes.  Abed humming Daybreak for the first time.  The arrival of the phrase ‘Britta-ing’.  And then the conclusion to Beetlejuice.  I mean, come on, planned or not, that is one the best long running gags I think any TV show has ever done, ever, or probably ever will do.  Jesus Christ that’s good.  I remember watching the episode the second time, and I hadn’t read about the Beetlejuice thing online at this point.  And I noticed it and my brain just sort of went, ‘Oh, dude dressed as Beetlejuice looked at the camera, how did they not have another take of that?’  Then somehow I remembered Slater saying, ‘Bitter, Butter, Beetlejuice’ and I’ve gone, ‘Someone else says Beetlejuice in Season 2.  They do.  They totally fucking do.  They must’.  And then I Googled it and lo and behold.  Which ever writer come up with that, give them a medal this instant.

Anyway, this is a terrific, inventive, very funny 21 minutes of sitcom even without driving the overall story forward and sometimes that’s totally fine when it’s this funny.  I did think the astons of whose test was whose at the end though was a bit, I dunno, out of place.

Top line – “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. I’m getting stabbed with his hook hand thing!” – Jeff

35. Basic Crisis Room Decorum (S6 E3) Written by Monica Patrick, Directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite

S6e3The 100th episode of Community and the first of season 6 in some sense after the new characters have been established in the first two.  It was an episode that drew some criticism for dredging up ‘old stories’. Stuff like, ‘Annie threatens to leave again.  Over a dog getting a degree?  Really, that’s what pushes her over the edge, wouldn’t she have already left by now?’  But I think that’s too simplistic a view of it.  People doubt themselves all the time, about the same things, over and over. Of course they do.  Two years after she’s graduated, she’s still at Greendale.  She arrived as an 18 year old girl recovering from a pill addiction and now, six years later, she’s still there, fighting for a school that has just given a degree to a dog.  If that wouldn’t tip someone over the edge, I dunno what would.  The episode also does a great job of putting Annie with Frankie but not overplaying the ‘vision of the future’ thing it could’ve gone with.  And with the group back together it is a lovely showcase of how these relationships have changed so much and yet, at their heart, people can and do remain the same. Abed, Annie and Jeff all have different relationships now but pushed into a corner, they blow up in the same way, over the same things.  It’s a really well constructed episode making a really nice and subtle comment on growth in an episode that a lot of people complained showed none.  And now, intros out of the way, Elroy and Frankie are fitting in nicely and I’m watching it and starting to think that season 6 is definitely a different kind of season but one I’m going to really like.  That point was rammed home by the dark as hell tag, something that was to become a S6 staple.  Oh, also it contains my favourite delivery of a joke all season when Annie is appalled (‘Are you serious? Jesus’.) at the price of a candy bar.  If you could bottle Alison Brie’s comic timing…

Top line – “Oh God no, I never hope. Hope is pouting in advance. Hope is faith’s richer, bitchier sister. Hope is the deformed attic bound incest monster of entitlement and fear”. – Frankie 

34. Geography of Global Conflict (S3 E2) Written by Andy Bobrow, Directed by Joe Russo

s3e2This episode was always going to impress me purely because I’m a big fan on Martin Starr.  Silicon Valley, Freaks and Geeks, NTSF:SD:SUV, Save the Date, Veronica Mars etc.  I like the man’s work. But beyond that, it’s also a really great episode.  Whilst I am in no way a ‘shipper of Jeff and Annie (largely because I think the notion of this is odd and weird and part of the joy of any TV show is letting it’s creators tell the story they want to tell not the one that fans or networks try to force on them but that’s a story for another time), I do find their relationship the most interesting and enjoyable in the whole show.  I think that’s in part because we’re seeing them at polar ends of things.  Here’s a man who just wishes he was a teenager again and a girl, becoming a woman, who just wants to be a grown up. In many ways that interplay forms the basis of the whole series.  College, community or otherwise, is where people go to grow up, whatever their age.  It’s where they work shit out and make friends and do stupid shit and, hopefully, come out the other end better, smarter, nicer people.

This episode, perfectly set against the backdrop of a model UN, an organisation established to defend those sorts of ideals, shows that off beautifully for these characters. Whether that’s Jeff and Annie facing realities, or Britta facing hers.  Or Abed embracing his childlike wonder, or Chang never growing up.  Take your pick.  And it’s also an episode that brings Alison Brie front and centre with her entire bag of tricks.  Her range in this episode is just ridiculous.  I’ve said in other articles that, Julia Louis-Dreyfus aside, Brie is the best comic actress working right now and this episode could pretty much be Exhibit A.  And I haven’t even mentioned the other standout moments of this episode like ‘Crisis Alert’…

Top Line – Top line – “Well tough Annie.  You have to grow up because the world needs more women like you”. – Jeff

33. The Psychology of Letting Go (S2 E3) Written by Hilary Winston, Directed by Anthony Russo

S2e3Community is a show that has a lot more to say about religion than you might presume if you’ve just seen the promos.  It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on in my own writing so I’m always extremely interested when other comedies approach the subject in whatever way they choose to.  The approach here is not one of satire, but of understanding of the need for it, or something like it, regardless of what particular brand of bullshit it’s peddling.  It’s not something you usually see in a comedy, let alone a sitcom, but Community has always played things more on the side of the melancholy and the realism than many critics of the show have ever gave it credit for.  Pierce’s beliefs are absurd at best, but no more absurd than other religious belief held around the table.  But there comes a point where just yelling at a friend that they are wrong is pointless.  The evidence doesn’t matter, they’re going to believe whatever they want, whatever gives them comfort, regardless of anything contrary.  That’s why it’s called faith.  And there comes a point where either you take a step back and accept that so long as it’s not hurting anyone else.  You can be a friend in a time when someone needs comfort.  Or continue to be an arsehole.  And the kicker is that all of this, this desire to make Pierce give up his faith is driven by Jeff, an atheist who’d just been confronted by his own eventual death.  Death is a difficult thing for a comedy to deal with in terms of the actual reality of it, rather than a comical falling off a building.  That doesn’t have consequences.  That humans know that they die is a fucking nightmare.  To tackle that in 21 minutes via a lava lamp, egg whites and ice cream is a stunning achievement in writing.  The stuff with Annie and Britta and the oil slick is fine, as is Duncan’s appalling teaching methods, but that main story is a true joy, even if it’s not half as funny as the standard episode of Community.

Top line – “So, what is anthropology? Seriously, does anyone know?  You, with the boobs”. – Duncan

32. Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking (S2 E16) Written by Megan Ganz, Directed by Joe Russo

s2e16This episode is kind of set up at the end of the previous, an episode I wasn’t a massive fan of, by Pierce passed out on a park bench gives the impetice for this one.  Now, one of the many things I love about Community overall is that it’s very much a traditional (stick with me) kind of show.  It’s something that Dan Harmon himself has mentioned plenty of times as well.  There is no narrator or talking heads or anything like that to give you shortcuts to the narrative or feelings.  It’s an enclosed world, the characters need to tell the story by their actions.  The comedy has to come from the characters, not one liners to camera.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love The Office and Parks and Rec, they’re great shows.  I love Christopher Guest movies.  But I love that Community isn’t that even more.  Respect might not be the right word but it is a damn sight harder to create a comic world and show like Community or, say, Togetherness.  In both of those you just have a purely fictitious world.  Even in a show like Veep or Silicon Valley you have a small stepping stone to help you out as people are familiar with the types of people who are political campaign managers or IT developers.  Community is starting from scratch.  Now, again, it’s not to diss those other shows at all.  Veep is probably my favourite show on TV right now as a matter of fact.  But I like that in this episode, Harmon and Co went, ‘Fuck it, let’s do an episode of The Office’.  It was a well they went back to a few times but this first time worked best as it felt the most organic.  This is something Abed would be making a real doc about for a project.  And in amongst that, we get one of the best character studies the show’s done in a while.  It brings Pierce, and everyone’s really, insecurities right to the surface and has them talk about them, directly.  It’s cheap, and it works. And it’s a natural bed fellow to an episode that’s coming up in my countdown.  Each character gets a chance to shine.  Shirley doing her bit to camera in the cupboard is great.  And it really brings Jeff’s father stuff to a head even if it takes a season and a bit to be dealt with.  Plus the Levar Burton stuff is fantastic.

31. VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing (S5 E9) Written by Donald Diego, Directed by Tristram Shapeero

S5e9This might seem an odd episode to be ranked this high but there’s two main reasons for that which I’ll get to in a tick.  First up, the B story with the chemistry books in the basement is very good and not just because Hickey always has rope and it’s one of only two solid Shirley stories this season. Paul Williams popping up was also utterly bizarre and equally wonderful. And no other show could pull of Abed’s romcom apology to Rachel and make it, not only completely uncontrived, but sweet and funny as well. But, to the two reasons I mentioned.

The first, is almost two reasons.  There were two scenes in this episode that made me laugh as hard, if not harder, than I have ever laughed in an episode of Community.  Firstly, there is Annie and Abed playing the VCR game.  The absurdity of that mixed with Brie and Pudi’s absolute commitment was just beyond brilliant.  That, mixed with Brie Larson and Spencer Crittenden’s apathy, is just so good.  It was the spinning around tornado that got me.

Then there was one other scene in which I laughed so much so that I had to pause it for a minute until I had regained composure. I don’t know if it’s because part of my day job is also writing comedy, but it’s rare that something scripted absolutely murders me.   I can count on one hand the times this has happened for me watching anything, ever.  Those that immediately spring to mind are the red carpet walk on the ice rink from Parks and Rec, Tom Hollander’s character reading the riot act to Chris Addison’s in In the Loop and little interchange between Michael and Gob in Arrested Development about bees and beads.  And now added to that list is the Dean’s payday rap. Jim Rash.  Oh, Jim Rash you genius.  It’s the end that kills me.  When he doesn’t know what happened and just runs off.  And that you can see Gillian Jacobs right on the verge of breaking. Jesus Christ Almighty.

The other reason I love this episode is not necessarily a funny one but something that Community has done, seriously for the first time in this episode, that most other shows don’t do.  They meaningfully mention a departed character who hasn’t died.  Normally, especially in a sitcom, if a character leaves for a reason other than death, they are barely ever mentioned again. Brandonawicz anyone?  How about Mandy Hampton?  And, if they are mentioned rarely it’s rarely in terms of their effect on the remaining characters, it’s just for a joke here or there. But Troy leaving is obviously going to have a major impact on Annie and Abed especially.  Why wouldn’t Troy still be mentioned?  It makes no sense that he wouldn’t be.  And that this is addressed, in such a meaningful way by Annie’s brother, is almost unheard of in TV comedy.  It’s real.  It matters.  It’s beautiful.  Added to the fact that this episode, deep into season 5, is the first time we’ve ever met any of Annie’s family and it’s even more powerful.  Especially his exit.  It’s an episode that does such a huge about face in the final minutes that it just left me a bit in awe actually.

Top line – “I don’t really know how girlfriends work, but I don’t think you have one anymore”. – Anthony

Ok, only 30 left now.  Which means that everything is basically brilliant.  Actually 60 onwards are all basically brilliant. 

Jump to 110-101 * Jump to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31Jump to 30-26 * Jump to 25-21 * Jump to 20-16 * Jump to 15-11 * Jump to 10-6 * Jump to 5-1 * Wrap Up

 

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. #SixSeasons – Part V | Trunk Talk - […] Jump to 110-101 * Jump to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50-41 * Jump to 40-31 […]
  2. #SixSeasons – Part I | Trunk Talk - […] 110-101 * Jump to 90-81 *  Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50-41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to…
  3. #SixSeasons – Part III | Trunk Talk - […] to 100-91 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50-41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to […]
  4. #Six Seasons – Part IV | Trunk Talk - […] to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50-41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to […]
  5. #SixSeasons – Part VI | Trunk Talk - […] 110-101 * Jump to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 50-41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to…
  6. #SixSeasons – Part VII | Trunk Talk - […] 110-101 * Jump to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to…
  7. #SixSeasons – Part II | Trunk Talk - […] to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 *…
  8. #SixSeasons – Part XI | Trunk Talk - […] to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 *…
  9. #SixSeasons – Part XIII | Trunk Talk - […] to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 *…
  10. #SixSeasons – Part XIV | Trunk Talk - […] to 100-91 * Jump to 90-81 * Jump to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 *…

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