Jun 15, 2015

Posted by in Ramblings

#SixSeasons – Part XIII

#SixSeasons – Part XIII
All 110 episodes of Community ranked

In which I continue ranking, according to my own analysis alone, every single episode of Community.  And so today we begin the Top 10.  A huge thanks to all of you who’ve been reading these and commenting and agreeing and disagreeing in the comments, on Reddit, or Twitter (I’m @TrunkmanUK btw), or Facebook or wherever.  Much appreciated.  Also, the reviews are getting a lot longer as the episodes get into the Top 20, so it’s only five episodes a day for the run home, so sorry/you’re welcome for that. Delete as appropriate.  I’ve added more pictures to break it up though.

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.

10. Introduction to Statistics (S1 E7) Written by Jon Pollack & Tim Hobert, Directed by Justin Lin

s1e7Not really Community’s first concept episode because it’s not really a concept episode.  And not really the first episode where they’ve taken a step outside of the usual sitcom realm because they’ve sort of been doing that all along.  But this feels like the first real watershed moment for the show.  The episode where a whole lot of people sat up and took notice of what was happening on a Thursday night on NBC.

The first batch of season one episodes focused on placing Jeff with all the different cast members, highlighting each one and their relationship, back story and so on.  In some ways this is the Annie episode of that chunk but it also manages to be the first episode that really utilises the ensemble.  Previous episodes have shown bits and pieces of what sort of show Community might be with it’s comedy, heart, referential and meta stuff all getting a look in.  But this, to me, feels like the first episode that all of that comes together, and comes together in a near flawless way.  We’ve seen their bag of tricks and now, with this episode, it announces, in no uncertain terms, that this is Community.  This is our show.

I think that is the result of a lot of things.  I think the writers are more into the flow now having got a few under their belt.  The cast and crew are starting to understand how to work together better, knowing how to get the best out of each other and knowing when the script really needs to be stuck to and when it’s ok to let a little bit of improv in.

We also get glimpses of the fact that this is a show that is still going to use some standard sitcom fare by the very nature of it being a network sitcom, but it’s going to do it different. For example, ‘Old man goes on a bad drug trip’ is a long way from an original idea but the way it’s dealt with really is.  From chair forts and Batman to Jeff’s return. Halloween episodes are a bit of a US sitcom staple and they’re often the highlights of the season, take the US version of The Office as one example, but they’re also usually formulaic.  This one ain’t.

It also offers us a broad range of comedy.  Not necessarily broad comedy, but a lot to choose from.  By which I mean there’s some pop culture stuff with Abed, some weird stuff with Pierce’s visions, some broad stuff with Chang, some very nerdy stuff with Beastmaster and then just some solid character stuff and gags.

s1e7aAnd it’s also, narratively, really quite a bold and brave choice.  Moving Jeff on romantically from Britta already is not what you might expect.  Having the attractive, charismatic lead flame out so spectacularly, not having women fall all over him, ok, I’m paying attention. Having this cad decide that he’s going to leave the hot professor to go talk his friend in a chair fort also.  I mean, obviously your lead is always going to do that, but you’d expect it to take a bit longer.  ‘Jeff learns that friends are important’ is a season arc.  You would not normally see that in episode 7.  That is literally unheard of.  But when Harmon and co realise what they’re sitting on with this cast, they realise there’s bigger, more personal, stories that can be told.  By this point you’re thinking things like, ‘Wow, so Joel McHale really can act and he’s really good at it’ and ‘Shit a brick Alison Brie is talented’ and ‘Donald Glover is going to be the next big thing’ and ‘Why have I never heard of Danny Pudi before’ and ‘Yep, Chevy Chase has still got it’ and ‘Gillian Jacobs is doing something really, really interesting here I’ve not really seen before’ and ‘Yvette Nicole Brown is somehow not turning this into a caricature’ and so on and so on. Everything comes together in this episode and it makes you, as a viewer, realise you’re watching something special.  It’s one of those episodes that I think you can watch, and say, “This show isn’t for me, but I can see that it’s of an extremely high quality”.  A show like Louie or a film like Koyaanisqatsi.  You don’t have to like it to recognise its greatness.

Top line – “Please sleep with me. Please. Pretty please. I’m so lonely. I haven’t slept with anyone in a very long time, and you are so good looking. Please do me the favour of having sex with me”. – Jeff

9. Comparative Religion (S1 E12) Written by Liz Cackowski, Directed by Adam Davidson

S1e12Comedy about religion is something that interests me a great deal.  Not just taking cheap pot shots at a specific religion in a Book of Mormon kind of way, that’s pointless and fish in a barrel stuff, but actually comedically dissecting the concept of religion itself.  It’s something that crops up in a lot of my own writing including a whole play back in 2010 about that very thing.  But it’s very rare to see such a thing crop up on network TV and discussed so openly.  It was touched on again in Psychology of Letting Go but this is more or less an entire episode devoted to that topic. Except that it’s also not.  And that’s its genius.

This is an episode not about shouting that all religions are as batshit crazy as one another.  It gets that out the way early with some quickfire rapid gags about each of the group’s individual beliefs or lack of beliefs.  That Jeff’s announcement that he is agnostic is pelted with boos is a nice illustration of how we, as a society, refuse to accept doubt I think. You’re one thing or you’re the other.  I like that that’s how they react to that.  Jeff is obviously just fence sitting because he, like the Dean and Greendale, doesn’t want to upset anyone.  He’s playing it safe (and trying to be cool) and part of the booing is for that dickish behaviour and part of it too is for his lack of conviction to an idea I think because there’s such a breadth at that table from hardcore Christian to sometime Jew.  Sorry, Jewie.  

And that resonates to the Dean.  He’s already tried to create an entirely neutral mascot and now he’s wandering round as Mr Winter, trying to celebrate Christmas without offending anyone.  It’s a lovely, over the top statement about everyone’s desire to not upset anyone.  It’s nonsense, and it’s shown as much.  December 25th is Christmas.  I’m an atheist and I still say Merry Christmas to people.  I’ve wished people a good Ramadan as well.  For fuck’s sake can we all just calm down?

Everyone in this episode is pushing their own agenda for either acceptance of everyone, or just suggesting everyone should accept their thing as the most important.  But what get’s lost in all of this is the true, let’s call it Dickens, spirit of Xmas.  Why wife has always said if they were going to rename Xmas (And no-one is, there’s no fucking war on Xmas, ok Fox?) it should be ‘International Don’t Be A Cunt Day’.  For one day of the year can we all just refrain from being a cunt?  Is that so hard?  And that’s very much what this episode does, which in some sense might be considered normal sitcom Xmas stuff except that this one doesn’t just look at it so black and white.  As good and bad.  It looks at through the lens of all belief and how that shouldn’t stop a group of people enjoying spending time with each other, at that time of year, or any.

s1e11aThat all of this plays against Jeff getting into his first fight only serves to sell it even more.  It ups the absurdity (especially with Troy’s Whittaker face.  If there’s anyone at this point that hasn’t clicked on to the fact that Donald Glover is far too talented for his own good then I pity them) to highlight the overall silliness. The fight at the end is a very funny madness.  That Shirley sings to them all, battered and bruised at the end doubly so.  They are together.  At Christmas.  There’s a Christmas tree and a Hannukkah and a man with a black eye.  Jeff is learning the true meaning of friendship, not of Christmas, it just happens to be at Christmas.  It doesn’t mock our different beliefs, it doesn’t let one win, it embraces the difference.  It embraces that we’re all different, thrust together, and we make it work because above whatever we choose to believe, we’re all just people.  And idiots.  Let us never forget the greatest sentence in science.  ‘I don’t know’.  That’s not necessarily the standpoint Jeff’s coming from here, but my point still stands.  The only thing they can all agree on is that things are better when they’re together, whatever age they deem the Earth to be.

It’s an episode that’s full of heart, comedy and satire.  It’s a deconstruction of religion, Christmas and the Christmas sitcom episode.  It’s bloody magnificent.

Oh, side note, it also contains one of my favourite little throw away jokes of the entire series.  Annie’s huge cheer when she finds out Jeff as passed transitioning to her weird little ‘meh’ that Chang will be teaching them again next year absolutely killed me and still does. Every time. Damn you Brie.

Top line – “Why’d she have to be black!” – Troy

8. Paradigms of Human Memory (S2 E21) Written by Chris McKenna, Directed by Tristram Shapeero & Duke Johnson

s2e21Community, at this point, has spent just under fifty episodes riffing on, and mocking, all sorts of pop culture from Batman to poor Jim Belushi.  But here’s an episode that basically spends its entire runtime taking the absolute piss out of itself.  By using the format of a clip show, but fabricating all new ‘clips’, it’s a 21 minute takedown of itself, its form, its beats, its own cliches.  Also it is regarded my many as the flat out funniest episode of the entire series and it’s hard to disagree (although I do, because it’s the second funniest in my book which is hardly any sort of slight).

There’s all sorts of things the show has tried so far.  From relationships between Jeff and Britta and Jeff and Annie.  Concept episodes.  Dark episodes, light episodes, heart felt episodes.  But all of them have felt unique.  Felt like Community.  So here they throw it all together, let us know as much and make an episode out of all the bits and bobs that usually make up an episode anyway.  There is always a formula there, they just hide it well.  The Harmon Circle is always in effect.

One of the key themes the show keeps coming back to, and one I’ve mentioned a lot in the reviews, are that these people are, quite often, pretty damned awful people.  But at least they’ve got each other to stop one another from being constantly awful.  That’s the springboard for this episode too.  We know, as an audience, they’ll always find their way back to one another, the point of a TV show is that the writers find new and interesting ways to tell those stories and let the characters grow a bit as a result.  By manufacturing a clip show, we’re getting to see all those beats, all those options.  We get comments on all the ‘shipping, or lack there of.  Of Chang’s weirdness.  Of the Dean’s outfits.  Of all the ways they’ve been truly horrible to each other.  Of all the reasons that it makes no sense that they’d still be friends.  But then, up their sleeve, each time it’s needed, they’ve got a Winger speech.  It doesn’t matter what it is, or where it is, you can piece them all together and you end up with the same sort of thing.

S2e21aBut here’s the thing…  

By doing that, by highlighting the tricks, Community‘s just sold their’s out.  They’ve said, we’ve got the confidence in this show to keep reinventing it.  To keep it fresh.  And here’s the proof.  And don’t you ever forget just how fucking funny we are either.  I mean, to list all the hilarious bits in this episode you’d just end up posting the entire screenplay.

There’s honestly not a lot more to say about this episode.  It’s very clever and it’s incredibly funny.  I mean, seriously, you can count on one hand the number of 21 minutes episodes of TV made in the last decade that can hold a candle to this in terms of comedy value.   And for all the heart this show has it never forgets it’s a comedy first.

Top line – “Six seasons and a movie!” – Abed

7. Cooperative Polygraphy (S5 E4) Written by Alex Rubens, Directed by Tristram Shapeero

s5e4Another example of me loving the set up show more than the payoff.  This is a show of two major moments, Pierce’s ‘funeral’ and Troy announcing he’s leaving and it does it in a very similar way to Basic Intergluteal Numismatics the episode before.  Build up one thing and then drop the bombshell at the end.  It works, it really does.  But so does the whole episode. It’s an episode built around the core of what Community is.  It’s these people, thrust together by chance, growing and learning about who they are as friends, and individuals.  And it does it with huge dollops of non cliched heart and very, very funny jokes.  It feels like the sort of episode they were trying to pull off in S4, an almost tribute episode to the show itself, (Alex Rubens was one of the writers from S4 that hung around) but were unable to do without a Harmon or McKenna guiding hand.  Hell, maybe an episode like this couldn’t even exist without S4 on some level which is as good a time as ever to reitterate I’m not ragging on S4 having put a few of that season’s episodes higher than you might expect.

For the first time in what feels like forever we get the whole group around the table, Pierce even there by surrogate.  It’s a bottle episode without ever saying it’s one.  It’s built around a typically nuts idea that, following his death, Pierce needs to confirm, for who I don’t know, that none of his ‘friends’ murdered him.  If they didn’t they can be bequeathed gifts.  How they got an old man donating vials of semen to people past the censors I have no idea but more power to them.

But, in season 5, this is an episode that for me reaffirms that Community is indeed that which it is often accused of not being.  It is a character show.  It’s not just mouthpieces for whatever’s got Dan Harmon’s goat up this week.  They’re aren’t just tools the writers are using to do spoofs of mafia movies.  They’re real people, who, like all of us, are riddled with faults and probably wish they’d just been a bit better at being better.  And it takes Pierce, arguably the most cartoonish of the lot of them, to bring that back into sharp focus.  At which point props must be given to the brilliant performance, especially in the tag, by Walton Goggins.

s5e4aIn some ways it is a meta episode as it’s the creators subtly reminding us of this.  And reminding us that not everything gets wrapped up in a bow and sometimes to move forward, people have to move on.  Just because Pierce and Troy have gone, doesn’t mean their lives stop, (well, for the first few episodes of this season in Pierce’s case), nor do those of the people they leave behind.  But also that this isn’t just a sitcom exit.  This has repercussions.  Look ahead to VCR Maintenance or G.I. Jeff.

It’s a very dramatic episode but, unlike some of the other dramatic episodes, say Mixology, it’s also the funniest of the season, I’d argue one of the funniest of the series.  The jokes never let up, even in the most heartfelt moments.  From vials of semen to the fact that there’s an online channel devoted to handshakes.  Abed’s geotracking stuff is incredible.  As is Britta finally getting that iPod Nano.  Or Chang.  He masturbated everywhere you know?

But, as I keep saying, these jokes come out of who these people are.  When that music rises at the end.  When Annie tells Jeff to stop Troy leaving.  But he can’t.  He won’t.  When ‘Cool. Cool, cool, cool’ is a lie. They are character, not homage or plot driven. And those are the episodes that sing loudest to me.  I was jumping between crying and killing myself laughing so much I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t having a stroke.

Top line – “Also sperm”. – Mr Stone

6. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (S2 E14) Written by Andrew Guest, Directed by Joe Russo

s2e14aBefore you go insane and tell me this is the best episode ever and I should be killed by Hector the Well Endowed, just consider that 6th out of 110 is hardly a slight.

I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons but I know enough about it to get all the references in this episode and it’s written so well it doesn’t alienate newcomers one iota.  It’s a bold episode to basically put all the characters round a table and have them, more or less, play a game for the entire runtime.  How exactly they managed to pull this off and make it an entertaining half hour I have no idea.  It’s a towering achievement, it really is.

What elevates it further into greatness is that, although kind of unsaid, this is an episode about suicide.  It’s a network sitcom episode about suicide and Dungeons and Dragons and it does not, for one second, belittle either or go for the cheap gags.  That’s impressive.  That’s super impressive.  Especially when it’s also as funny, and fun, as it is.  I mean, Chang right off the bat is so fantastically weird, creepy and funny you’ve got no idea where they’re going to take it.

Community usually works best when it’s working at being a true ensemble show, letting all the characters and actors work off each other and there’s few better examples of that than this episode.  Everyone is playing to their strengths, highlighting little character nuances throughout.  Jeff’s need to fix everything, Britta’s desire for equality and so on.

s2e14‘Fat’ Neil is a character we’ve not really heard much about until this episode so even though he is the focus, the character they are trying to save, at the beginning this really plays out more as an episode focused on Jeff’s redemption, and a battle with Pierce, than one about saving Neil.  And yet it brings it back to him, wonderfully, so that we know him by the end. In 21 minutes we get a near full picture of this guy.  We don’t pity him.  We’re not meant to laugh at the big fat nerd, or feel sorry for him in the way that he would be set up to in almost every other sitcom including that other fucking one that’s supposed to be for nerds even though it makes it’s bread and butter mocking the hell out of them the arseholes.  Seriously why are so many people watching that show?  I digress.  That this episode pulls that off has a lot to do with the writing, a lot to do with Joe Russo’s restrained direction and a truckload to do with Charley Koontz’s great performance.  Selling the line towards the end where, for his turn, he pities Pierce, is no easy feat.  That’s a line a lot of really great actors would butcher.  And it’s the crux of the episode.  That the picture of pity, the one society would have us pity perhaps, is the one of compassion and power. It’s not a new trick but by jeebus it’s executed here as good as you’ll ever see it done.

But, as good as this episode is there’s one tiny little thing that just sticks for me.  Pierce.  At this point in S2 it was clear they didn’t really know what to do with him.  Sure, for this episode, he works as a villian character.  But he was almost too much of dick to be belieavable, even for Pierce.  And I found myself starting to wonder if that was all they had left for him, to be the constantly awful villain.  Had they painted themselves into that corner, or had Chase done so by being Chase.  Or Harmon vs Chase?  Whatever the reason, he used to have more shades of light.  He wasn’t just a foil.  Or if he was, he had reason to be. This was something they addressed later in the season but it was grating on me a bit by this stage.  When Jeff unloads on him in the hall and he still doesn’t care, not even a bit, my suspension of belief took a few seconds off.

And as such, I’m sorry, I can only give this episode a 9.95 out of 10, which on a Community ranking knocks you out of the Top 5.  Because the next 5 episodes are 9.99s and 10s.

Top line – “You’re the AT&T of people” – Troy

Ok, tomorrow is the Top 5.  You can work out what they are now I’m guessing.  Some might come as a surprise I’m thinking.  But I’ll justify that, and their rankings, on the morrow.

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 VI | 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 II | Trunk Talk - […] to 50 -41 * Jump to 40-31 * Jump to 30-26 * Jump to 25-21 * Jump to 20-16 * Jump to 15-11 *…

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