Jun 13, 2015

Posted by in Ramblings

#SixSeasons – Part XI

#SixSeasons – Part XI
All 110 episodes of Community ranked

In which I continue ranking, according to my own analysis alone, every single episode of Community.  Into the home stretch and the Top 20 now.  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 bit longer as the episodes get ‘better’, so it’s only five episodes a day for the run home, 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.

20. Critical Film Studies (S2 E19) Written by Sona Panos, Directed by Richard Ayoade

s219There are some people who love Pulp Fiction.  There are some people who love My Dinner With Andre.  There are some people who love both.  And then some of them like Cougar Town as well. You’d struggle to think of three more different pieces of filmed entertainment to lump together in one episode and not make it seemed forced.  That’s magic of the character of Abed.

By this time Community knew what show it was and it knew it’s audience.  But even so, devoting essentially an entire episode to being a tribute to the film My Dinner With Andre, a film I’d hedge my bets that most of even Community’s niche audience hadn’t seen, was a bold move. But not only is it a bold move, it’s one that worked. It’s maybe the best Jeff-Abed episode of the whole series. Using shared cultural experiences is how we get to know each other.  It’s always been that way but now more so than ever with the interwebs and such.  There’s that line in High Fidelity that it’s not what you’re like but what you like.  Abed’s best way to connect with people is through pop culture (or not pop in the case of My Dinner with Andre) and it’s a crutch he uses even when people don’t realise he’s doing it.  Jeff, like much of the audience on first viewing I suspect, had no idea there was even a homage taking place right in front of him/them.  The spoof of the episode was Pulp Fiction, we all know that one, right?  But that’s just the surface isn’t it?

Because beneath it there’s an actual desire for real conversation.  And that can be confronting, and difficult. And maybe even pointless.  Because it doesn’t matter that we’re all friends, because someone has to be a better friend than someone else.  And that person might not be the one that has awesomely wrapped a remote control helicopter.  But none of that works, this is all just another reference, unless by this point in the show you have bought into the fact that Harmon is trying to inject real heart into these people and this show. He himself has said over and over he is a rather emotional person.  He’s not trying to fuck with the audience or manufacture emotion, he’s trying to give us real humans.  And here’s something else about that.  Real people, in real life, are funny.  They make each other laugh and dance and smile and cry.  Because they’re all fucked up but they’re fucked up together.  This episode is probably the most elaborate and involved concept episode Community ever did and yet, right in the guts of it, it’s also one of its smallest and most personal.

And that Richard Ayoade only directed one episode of the entire series, it seems obvious, and appropriate, that it was this one.  Also, if you haven’t seen My Dinner With Andre, you should Netflix it right now as it’s really very good.  I’m assuming it’s on Netflix, I haven’t checked.  Pause S3 of Orange is the New Black for a second and go look.

Top line – “And honestly, once the shame and the fear wore off, I was just glad they thought I was pretty” – Jeff.

19. Mixology Certification (S2 E10) Written by Andy Bobrow, Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

S2e10An episode that tackles head on the fact that this group of friends are one of the most age diverse on television, or indeed, in life really.  At this point the age range of these people is 19 to Chevy Chase.  And it does it by having itself a pretty basic episode by Community standards.  It’s low key, there’s only really one story and, save for a bit of chat about Farscape, there’s not really many references to be found.  And that is the strength of the show overall.  That a show that can do paintball and the like, can also do an episode like this.  A 21 minute dramedy essentially.  And not just as a bolt out of nowhere either. It fits in perfectly and has the added bonus of being, to my mind, one of the 20 best episodes the show’s done.

Because what it does is show us how these people are actually friends despite themselves.  They’re all just as lost as each other in some way.  And they need each other.  Pierce is a man too proud to ask for help of anyone but these people.  Life for Abed, without the group, is clearly a very lonely existence.  Annie is trying to grow up so fast you wonder what might’ve happened to her without these friends.  Jeff and Britta need each other. They might not know for a what, but they do.  They’re probably the best, most honest friends either have ever had. They’re train wrecks but they know it.  These people give the confidence to Troy that he seems to need to be his own man, and to be true to himself at the same time, to not be ashamed.  And for Shirley these people are a way to escape her past.  That is all pretty deep and dark stuff for a sitcom episode set up around the premise of ‘Friends go to bar for a 21st birthday’.  But Community pulls it off and, unlike some of the high concept episodes, it never forgets to be funny at the same time.

Pierce stuck in the door.  Annie’s accent.  Drunk Jeff and Britta.  Britta not being hot enough for not getting an ID check. Troy covered in shirts.  And it’s great to see two exceptional comedians pop up in cameos as well in Tig Notaro and Paul F Tompkins.

And then comes that bit at the door with Troy and Annie.  As the two immature grown ups are in the car with Abed, the two youngest of group show they’re maybe the two most mature.  The two really destined for something.  It’s also a nice parallel in some sense that the two actors who have exploded beyond Community are Glover and Brie.  It’s one of the strongest scenes in a season full of them.

Top line – “Why would you do it in front of me? I’m not a coat rack”. – Abed

18. Wedding Videography (S6 E12) Written by Briggs Hatton, Directed by Adam Davidson


I see this episode as a direct sequel to Mixology Certification, and not just because both involve drinking but because it’s the same episode as that, in so many ways, just many years later.  I also think it’s marginally the better of the two episodes.

Community has an incredible track record in penultimate season episodes and S6 is no different.  The inherent oblivious selfishness of the group, members both new and old, has been a long running, and fruitful, theme for the show and one last time it’s on full display here.  What starts out as looking like an episode that really focuses on some of the fringe players, particularly Garrett since the show is to be about his wedding, proves to not be, but of course, that’s very much the point.  One way or another Greendale, and the show, will always be about this study group.  It’s the nature of TV so it’s been transplanted, in a meta way of course, to the school.  But it’s always nice to see them called out for it.

The group see themselves as so much more than they are.  They’re the best group of friends.  They know each other better than other friends.  Of course they don’t, it’s just a further product of their own self importance.  These are, as I keep coming back to, largely selfish people.  The difference between them, and say, the selfish people of a show like Girls, is that they are also, for all their faults, likeable.  Even after six years of growth, Jeff is still a messed up guy with a truckload of faults.  He’s a self involved narcissist, but he knows it.  He doesn’t want to be that way.  And he’s, as a man, a funny one.  I can laugh with Jeff.  I can imagine spending an afternoon in the pub with him would be infinitely more enjoyable than one with Hannah because I’d just want to laugh at her but I’d probably feel bad about it.  Footnote, I’m not ragging on Girls, I actually quite like Girls most of the time.

But the question, I think, this episode asks as we push towards the end, is, has this group been actually been a positive influence on each other or not?  Was staying together really the best thing?  Have these people he adores actually made the Dean worse?  Would Jeff have actually been happier if he’d just got his degree and gone back to being a sleazy lawyer?  He might not’ve been a better person, but would he have been happier? Wouldn’t Annie have been better off having never met Jeff?  You could argue the same questions could be asked of Community itself but then when you’re making episodes this good in S6, reinventing the show almost, the answer is more complicated.  Has Community been good for the man that made it or not?

That Abed is absent is another stroke of genius.  In many ways throughout this show, and particularly this season, Abed has acted as the viewer.  The observer.  And here he is, presenting these flawed people to us in an amusing way.  He is there to film the story of Garret’s proposal but he stays around because the actual events are less important than the people that inhabit them.  That Garret is marrying his cousin is almost an irrelevance.

It’s a very smart episode as far as I’m concerned that I feel a lot of people and reviewers glossed over in favour of saying, ‘Ugh, why are they being arseholes again?’  Well, because, they’re arseholes, that’s why. We’re all arseholes.  You’re an arsehole.  I’m an arsehole.  The solution is just finding other arseholes to hang about with that makes us all slightly lesser arseholes.

Oh, and just by the by, I thought this the funniest episode of S6 by a long way and that’s some feat given how consistently funny I found S6.  Annie’s lost lover footage.  Britta, Annie and Frankie.  Frankie’s definition of codependence.  Garrett.  Garrett impersonations.  Aubrey Plaza impersonations. A lovely cameo for Harmontown fans from Eric McGathy.  Elroy and white people.  I mean good Christ almighty, Elroy and white people.  Chang’s Winger speech.  And a tag about incest with someone playing a drunk Harmon.

And what it sets up this episode for the finale cannot be overlooked either.  It’s a remarkable half hour.

Top line – “Britta, we’re all the worst right now, so why don’t you just take the day off”. – Dean

17. Debate 109 (S1 E9) Written by Tim Hobert, Directed by Joe Russo

s1e9Did a dude in his, presumably, late 30s just get snogged by an 18 year old girl on a primetime network sitcom to win a debate after they’ve spent the last half hour flirting?  Is that what just happened Community?  Righto then. We’ll get to that.

Over the first chunk of season 1 the main theme Community has explored is the notion of whether people are good or bad.  If Jeff bad because he’s a cheating, sleazy lawyer?  Is Britta good because she’s a crusader for, well, good?  Is Annie good because she’s a go-getter or bad because she was a pill addict?  So the fact that are after nine episodes Harmon stuck in an episode that includes an actual debate about whether people are inherently good or bad smacks of the sort of confidence, or arrogance if you like, he has about his creation.  Many other writers and writing teams before have tried similar things and have wound up with a little egg on their face. Here we get the best episode of the series so far and one of the best there ever was.

The stuff with Pierce and Britta and hypnotherapy gives Chase a chance to really show off his physical comedy skills and it all ties back neatly into the main story as well, but the crux of this episode is Jeff and Annie, in a few different ways.  By this point in season 1 Community has no desire to be another normal sitcom.  It’s shown that time and time again.  So when Abed is making his own sitcom, the first huge meta moment of the series arguably, he identifies them all as characters and how they fit within the show.  What Shirley then perceives as him being some sort of psychic is simply a man who’s watched so much network TV, predicting what’s coming next requires very little skill.  You mean Pam and Jim finally got together and lived happily ever after after some bumps in the road!?  Well, I never.  The journey is the enjoyment and the entertainment, not necessarily the destination, because we kind of already know what that’s going to be.  I think that’s part of why people got so pitchforking waving mad about the finale of The Sopranos.  A lot of people have already decided what ending that they want for a thing and somehow think the writers owe that them.  Fuck those people I say.  Anyway, I digress.  When Abed’s scenes involve Shirley being chased by a werewolf as Jeff an dAnnie make out, we’re basically being told what will happen later in the episode.  Except we aren’t, because that’s ridiculous right?

But it does happen.  Well, not the werewolf bit.  And we can see it building.  But it’s still a shock when it does because we think that the moment has passed.  And sure, Annie kissing a man twenty years her senior after having spent the day flirting with him seems like a pretty wrong thing to do, but she won the debate with it, so isn’t that good, because the good guys won.  By being bad.  And it plays up on that to the viewer as well. Alison Brie has been kept, rather literally, under wraps until this episode but then we get her sexuality thrust right in front of us.  She’s meant to be 18 so what does that make us?  It’s summed up perfectly as Jeff pats her on the head and scurries off in what might be the funniest non-verbal bit of the season.

A lot of this episode does not work if there isn’t that chemistry between the cast.  It’s not believable otherwise. Jeff becomes creepy without that.  You have to believe that there’s something there beyond the fact that Alison Brie and Jeff McHale are, by anyone’s measure, objectively very attractive examples of the specie homo sapiens. And if this episode doesn’t work, because it’s taking some huge risks with content, themes and style, you’re not going to buy into exactly what Harmon’s trying to do with this show overall.  But you do. Because it’s pretty much faultless.  Because it’s doing all that and it’s not a dramatic episode.  At all. It’s funny, go to whoa.  I mean, episode nine.  It’s not even fair.

Top line – “Imma die by werewolf”. – Shirley

16. Epidemiology (S2 E6) Written by Karey Dornetto, Directed by Anthony Hemingway

s2e6This episode is going to get a rather short review.  Not because it’s not good, obviously, I’ve put it at 16, but because there isn’t a huge amount to say, which is the point.

Another concept episode, yes, but it sets up some big stories for the season, not least Shirley and Chang, including dropping that bomb on Troy in the tag.   It does a lot of character beats wonderfully, in particular Jeff and Troy.  It nails its genre references, not necessarily specific unless it was well pointed out like Alien. The set and costumes are excellent and the direction bang on.

But what we’ve got here is quite possibly the most fun episode the show has ever done.  It’s a mile a minute, horror, thriller, zombie comedy.  In many ways, that’s all it is.  It is an absurdly well executed, incredibly funny, tightly observed 21 minutes of television.  It’s a little bit of everything that is Community, regardless of what you like most about the show, in one episode without it feeling like over stuffed fan service.  Fun is the right word. It is just impossibly fun.  And it’s difficult to express just how difficult that is to pull off properly never mind that you’re only a handful of episodes into your second season.

And it was especially powerful given the previous episode, Messianic Myths, was a low point for me that made me start to worry the show was going to swallow itself.  That it would spend too much time saying ‘Look at what we’re doing’ rather than just doing it and doing it well.  That they followed that with this showed again the range the show was capable of, even within concept episodes.  That it was never going to stop trying new things.  That it was still the best show on television.

Top line – “I didn’t eat any. My name’s Alex” – Starburns

Tomorrow, it’s top 20.  Although that should’ve been pretty obvious at this point

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  1. #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…
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