Jun 12, 2015

Posted by in Ramblings

#SixSeasons – Part X

#SixSeasons – Part X
All 110 episodes of Community ranked

In which I continue ranking, according to my own analysis, every single episode of Community.  Top 25.  On a number of social media platforms, yesterday caused some controversy, namely with the ‘low’ rankings of Contemporary American Polutry and Basic Intergluteal Numismatics.  I expect people will be even more furious today but try to remember, you can’t have 40 episodes in the Top 10…

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.

25. Modern Warfare (S1 E23) Written by Emily Cutler, Directed by Justin Lin

S123eRight, get your pitchforks out folks.  It’s not a typo.  I’m not trying to be controversial.  Modern Warfare is #25. Now, give me a chance to explain myself even though I imagine some of you might just stop reading now and proclaim I’ve gone insane.

A paintball episode of a sitcom played out as if it was real war is not a new thing.  Spaced did it way before Community albeit in a completely different way so I’m not insinuating for one second anyone ripped anyone off. Concept episodes, with this level of commitment aren’t new either, not even to Community who did Contemporary American Poultry a fortnight earlier.  So the suggestion that Community was breaking new ground with this episode simply isn’t true no matter how hard fans of this episode push as much.  You can make the argument though that, at this point, it’s the best any episode like this has ever looked or been directed.

Justin Lin is so good a mixing action and comedy in this, and other, episodes it makes you wish he’d done more comedy instead of Fast and the Furious 35: Skidding Just Outside of Milton Keynes.  The action movie homages in this episode, and there are many, are spot on and look gorgeous.  The phantom camera stuff with Chang and Britta especially.  That such a technical level of excellence can be achieved in a 21 minute sitcom budget alone is amazing.

There are two major strengths for me in this episode though.  Firstly, that the paintball game is organic to the environment.  It is an actual thing that’s happening in the school.  It’s not a dream or anything like that.  It’s not a pause on the narrative, this is part of life at Greendale.  And that’s what fuels the other thing I liked a lot.  The Britta and Jeff story moves forward in a massive way that is made possible by paintball, not in spite of it.  That’s the key thing in this episode, them having casual sex, not the game.  That’s the narrative bit that matters for the characters moving forward.  It didn’t have to be paintball, it could’ve been something else that drove it.  And the interesting thing at the end of all of this is how it will effect them both down the line.  Britta comes of age this episode.  She didn’t win paintball but she took charge of Jeff.  And now he’s in unfamiliar territory which will make for interesting episodes coming up especially as roles become reversed again, and they revert to being children. The stuff between those two is really great and it’s a testament to the writing and direction that it feels part of the episode not just a bit tacked in the middle.

So, why so low, given all that.  Well, I found myself, the first time I watched it, and on subsequent viewings too, just not laughing.  I would smirk and go, ‘Oh that’s referencing that, they’ve done that well’.  But all the jokes just came from spotting things and how they had been transplanted to Greendale.  Chang doing Scarface is amusing but it’s not even close to the comedic heights this show can hit when it’s just a character comedy.  I honestly think the whole thing feels a bit flat.  ‘Oh, they’re doing Die Hard now’, just does nothing for me.

So, the question I had to ask myself, in all honesty was, why so high?  I had this episode outside the Top 50 at one point. Well, firstly because the Jeff-Britta stuff is so good.  Secondly because the fact they even managed to pull this off in terms of getting it made is ridiculously impressive.  That they could make it part of the overall narrative more so.  But what really bumps it up is the love it generates for the show.  After this aired there was a buzz.  ‘Have you seen Community?  They did a fucking Die Hard paintball episode!’  It got people talking about the show, there was a bit of a ratings spike the next week.  Suddenly there was a cool new show.  It truly was doing something different, just not this episode, but that was an easy hook for fans and media alike.  And it gave Sony and NBC the confidence to just let them do their thing.  I honestly think without Modern Warfare, so much of the Community we love afterwards would not, or could not, have happened regardless of how much I personally did or did not enjoy this episode.  And that commands respect.

Top line – “Okay, we get it, you’re young!” – Shirley

24. Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality (S5 E7) Written by Dan Guterman, Directed by Tristram Shapeero

S5e7This was one of the episodes of S5 that really announced to doubters once and for all that Community was a long, long way from running out of steam.  It wasn’t a concept episode and it wasn’t dealing with a big essential narrative moment like Pierce dying or Troy leaving.  It was just a regular mid-season episode that was fucking great.  Nothing was overly silly (if you exclude the Chang story of this episode which you totally shouldn’t because it was up there with his best of the season).  If you forced me into a corner and asked me to choose between the A Story and the B Story here, I couldn’t.  I’d flip flop back and forth till the end of time or I got hungry which’d probably come first.  So I’ll just start with the Britta, Jeff and Duncan story.

The mechanics that get them to the situation where Jeff and Duncan are effectively fighting for Britta are largely irrelevant when compared to what this story actually does.  It’s a little bit, I don’t know if bittersweet is the right word but it’s the one I’ll use, in that for each character to arrive at the point they need to arrive at as people they need to fail at their original quest, which is also the wrong word but you know what I mean. Britta is not that anarchist anymore, and that’s a good thing.  Duncan isn’t really the sleaze he weirdly seems to want to be, and that’s a good thing.  And Jeff doesn’t always have to one up everyone, and that’s a good thing.  That Harmon had access to John Oliver for almost a whole season is a miracle and it’s only right that there be a Duncan focused episode and more so that it calls back on the fact that Duncan and Jeff are old friends.  It’s just nice to see Jeff actually hanging out with someone.  As nice as it is to see Britta happy just being alone.  That this story ends with Shirley meta bitching about not having any focus this season is pretty much the perfect cap.

And to the B Story.  There’s something sad about seeing Abed come round that corner, solo, dressed as Kickpuncher, without Troy by his side.  The episode has already played up to these themes and then locking him (essentially) in a room with Hickey is a Beckett-esque masterstroke.  Hickey doesn’t really know Abed, nor give a shit about protecting his quirks so just calls him out, straight up, on his selfish bullshit.  It was needed after Geothermal Escapism and Jonathon Banks nails it.  As does Danny Pudi when he finally returns to the office to discuss his film, thus missing watching his other one.  That admission that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing is such a major moment for Abed and feeds right into his S6 development. Especially following his destruction of Hickey’s duck comic.  There’s a hint that he’s realised, for the first time, that it doesn’t matter if it’s a terrible comic, it’s important to Hickey.  And that’s what matters.  This is an episode that does that in spades.  It shifts focus back to these people and reminds them, and us, what really is important.

Top line – “Publishers are interested!” – Hickey

23. Pilot (S1 E1) Written by Dan Harmon, Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

S1e1That the pilot can be considered to be one of the best episodes of a show is ridiculous.  Pilots are full of groundwork, never as funny, the characters aren’t quite formed, there’s too much exposition.  They’re basically half hour films full of ambiguity that’s not necessarily welcome. The Community pilot is, without doubt, one of the best pilots ever made.

I’m someone that has had experience writing a few pilots over the years and (thankfully) have even got some of the them made and/or to series and I can tell you that writing a pilot is a horrible experience akin to running into a wall, at pace, over and over and over again.  Then, when you regain consciousness, you do it again before even wiping up the blood.  Getting them right is just so hard.  There is so much you have to get done in 20 odd minutes, especially in the US pilot system which is hugely different to Australia and the UK where I work.  That the pilot of Community sets up nine characters, gives you a solid idea of who they are, has a storyline that works for this episode alone as well as for an ongoing season arc, looks as good as it does and has a cast where you can already tell that each person is perfectly cast is a modern miracle.  That it also has time to set up some big themes that the show will go on to tackle over six seasons (#andamovie) is just unheard of. And that it is funnier than most sitcoms already in their second season stride is proof of witchcraft being involved.

A personal favourite little trick Harmon’s used is here is when the Dean reads out character types of people who might go to community college as it cuts around.  It’s a perfect, organic, TV pilot cheat and I fucking love it.

When people ask what episode of Community should you show people who’ve never seen it before to get them hooked, just start at the start.  You can’t say that of many sitcoms.  And, looking back now, you can appreciate it even more.  Little things that carry forward.  Character beats, phrases, Winger speeches.  Harmon has said time and time again that he doesn’t plan a long way in advance with the show because that’s not how life works.  You adapt and change as you go.  And you look back.  And looking back at the Community pilot, it’s not a different show with different characters as some reviewers have claimed.  It is the same people, six years younger.  It’s a towering achievement, this show, and specifically, this pilot.

Top line – “If it’s so serious why don’t they call it meningitis? Assburgers…” – Pierce

22. Spanish 101 (S1 E2) Written by Dan Harmon, Directed by Joe Russo

s1e2And this episode you might well call the first of the TV show after the short film that is the pilot.  And it’s a belter of a first, or second if you like, episode.  It really is.  It builds on the pilot, adds another new character, and gives some direction for the first season.  It gets you acclimatised to the world a bit and then, as I said in a previous review, it kicks you in the guts with Ep 3.  It’s probably the best first three episodes of any show ever actually, certainly of a sitcom.

But, to this episode specifically.  Shirley and Annie setting up the protest is pretty funny and gives us a quick early sneak peak into both of those characters as well as Britta.  A go-getter, a desperate to fit inner and a hipster if you want to put crude kind of accurate labels on it.   Troy and Abed’s friendship begins as they team up to do the Spanish homework which finishes with the first of the soon to be staple Troy and Abed tags with one of the most well loved of all time.  Yeah boy.

But it’s the Pierce and Jeff storyline I love.  It makes sense that the first episode would highlight the lead and the most famous of the supporting cast and, future troubles aside, it’s just great watching Chase in this role at this early stage.  He’s so good.  We get a look at Pierce just desperate for some sort of family, preferably one he’s in the lead of, and Jeff, his brain still wired like a lawyer.  Looking for an in, an advantage at every possible point.  How can he exploit everyone for his benefit?  I was really starting to enjoy the show.  I was loving that the lead wasn’t the good guy.  In fact, I wasn’t sure who the good guy was or if there even was one.  I was watching it, by myself at this point, testing it out and going, ‘This might be a pretty good show I think, I’ll stick with it’.

Then came the Aimee Mann Magnolia needle drop.  And the Israel-Palestine flag waving.

And when I’d just about recovered, Abed claps.  And then, ‘Did you say S?’

It normally takes me five or six episodes to really get into a show while it finds its feet.

Having now seen the first two episodes, that night, I said to my wife something along the lines of, ‘There’s this new show called Community and it’s pretty much like nothing I’ve ever seen before and I’m pretty certain we’re going to fall in love with it’.  At episode two, that was what I was thinking.  And then came episode 3 and I had a warm glow and I wondered if they’d painted themselves into a corner setting the bar so high, this early.  I was wrong about that one.

Top line – “I’m not sterile. In fact, it’s a rare condition called hyper-virility. Apparently my sperm shoot through the egg like bullets” – Pierce

21. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas (S2 E11) Written by Dan Harmon & Dino Stamatopolous, Directed by Duke Johnson

s2e11This has always been a bit of a polarising episode I think.  There’s a group of people who fucking love it (It’s my wife’s favourite episode of the entire series for example) and there’s a whole group of people who hate it and find it awfully cheesy.  I’d say I really, really like it…

I think the animation is fantastic.  I think the final revelation, that this is all a result of a letter from Abed’s mum is really quite devastating, in a good way.  The characters Abed has created for everyone is top tier.  They use the format to its full advantage and  I think it’s damn funny too.  Christmas Pterodactyl is one of the best jokes of the season.  And unlike the puppet episode the sound isn’t fucked.  And I do love the tag with Troy liking the look of fake food.

And, as is the case with many an episode of this show, I have nothing but a Shard size tower of respect for the fact that they managed to pull this off.

My only criticism is, and it’s one that goes over the whole episode, is that it’s all a bit much.  Nothing is very subtle. Would a Mum ever really write a letter that harsh to her son?  The literal cave of frozen memories?  And the end is really just too syrupy for my liking.  Of course you can counter this argument perfectly by saying it’s so obvious and heart on sleeve because it’s coming direct from Abed’s subconscious or something so of course it’s raw and unfiltered, these are just his naked emotions.  And you might be right.  Or you could say that all of the sorts of Xmas shows it’s imitating, like, say, The Snow Queen for example, take this approach so it’s true to the form. Again, you’re possibly right.  But I can’t stand those Xmas shows.  And I’m no major fan of Xmas to be honest but that’s by the by as we’ll see later…

And yet, for all of that, watching the episode again, it still feels like nitpicking.  For an episode of a sitcom, it really is something else.  It’s not a one off short film someone spent four years on.  It’s just episode 11 of season 2 of a network situation comedy.  A low rated one at that.  So maybe there’s not really a lot to fault with it and my gripes are minor ones that only seem bigger than they are because at this stage, you have to start getting really, painfully harsh when you’re ranking these episodes.

For example, go back to the episode I ranked number 64.  That was the last one that I hadn’t toyed with putting into the Top 20 at some point.  Mental.

Top line – “Somewhere out there Tim Burton just got a boner”. – Jeff

I look forward to your comments and disgust with today’s five!  Until tomorrow…

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

  1. Mark Brom says:

    Whilst unsurprisingly I can’t agree with your ranking of Modern Warfare as #25, you did raise a very valid point on the love for the show it generates. Whenever I show episodes of Community to newbies (in an attempt to explain why I love the show so much) Modern Warfare along with Remedial Chaos Theory always generates the most positive reactions.

    Fantastic article so far and I look forward to reading your final 20.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. #SixSeasons – Part IX | Trunk Talk - […] 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…
  2. #SixSeasons – Part VII | Trunk Talk - […] 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…
  3. #SixSeasons – Part V | Trunk Talk - […] 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…
  4. #SixSeasons – Part XI | Trunk Talk - […] to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to 30-26 *…
  5. #SixSeasons – Part VI | Trunk Talk - […] to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to 30-26 *…
  6. #SixSeasons – Part XIII | Trunk Talk - […] to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to 30-26 *…
  7. #SixSeasons – Part XII | Trunk Talk - […] to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to 30-26 *…
  8. #SixSeasons – Part XV | Trunk Talk - […] to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to 30-26 *…
  9. #SixSeasons – Part III | Trunk Talk - […] to 80-71 * Jump to 70-61 * Jump to 60-51 * Jump to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to 30-26 *…

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