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October 13, 2015

Advanced 'Community' Studies: Recommend Your Favorite Episodes of the NBC Comedy

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 18th 2011 11:45AM
A week or two ago, I answered your question in an "Ask Mo" column, an occasional feature around here. But I'd like to reverse that formula and ask you a question, if I may be so bold.

Last week, I watched 'Community' for the first time in a long time. And even though I was only partly caught up on the show's mythology -- I'd stopped checking in on the show about midway through season 2, but I'd read various stories about it since then -- I greatly enjoyed 'Remedial Chaos Theory.'

But my schedule in this timeline and every other one won't allow me to go back and watch all the episodes that I haven't already seen. So, dear readers, can you recommend a couple of your all-time favorite 'Community' outings?

I should add a few notes to help you refine your recommendations, if you'll indulge me. As AV Club critic Todd VanDerWerff has noted, there tend to be two kinds of 'Community' episodes: the high-concept gambits/homages and the "normal" episodes, for lack of a better adjective.

I may be the one 'Community' viewer who doesn't have a particular preference when it comes to those broadly defined categories. When an episode's meta-commentary aspects are intrusive and/or the show continually points out its homage elements, I tend to lose interest, whether it's a high-concept episode or not. For me, there has to be something at stake for the characters, and I have to be on board with at least a few characters' goals for me to get fully invested in an episode of the show. When 'Community' is clinically dissecting something in pop culture and the characters don't seem at least a little bit three-dimensional, well, that's when the show tends to lose me.

But 'Remedial Chaos Theory' was brilliant because there was a huge gimmick at the heart of it, but it was a wonderfully executed, structurally ambitious half-hour that made me care about these people and ponder about what each one of them brought to the study group. The giddy ambitions of 'Crisis on Infinite Earthas' (a hilarious fan-created name for the episode) were tied to rather sweet emotional themes about friendship, insecurity and fitting in. Though it all took place in a very heightened reality (there was a self-consciousness to the episode that made me think of the the sitcom spoof in the 'Supernatural' episode 'Changing Channels'), seeing what transpired in all those different versions of reality was both deliriously entertaining and emotionally grounded.

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed enjoying 'Community.' So many people I know love the show and it's obviously been a critical favorite forever. But everybody has his or her preferences, and though there are exceptions, of course, the shows I tend to favor aren't usually obsessed with meta-commentary and often aim for emotional immediacy and aesthetic realism. Obviously, 'Community' doesn't do all those things all the time, but, in its first season and a half, it drew attention to the artificiality of the sitcom genre often enough to make me put the show in the "Has its merits but just not for me" category.

I was delighted to find that, even though I hadn't watched the show in a while and even though the episode featured a big, risky gambit, I was very much entertained by 'Chaos' (and I highly recommend Todd's writeup of the episode; he does a great job of breaking down what made it so fun). Kudos to the cast and crew for pulling off such an ambitious story, and a tip o' the hat to writer Chris McKenna for making the timelines easy to follow and yet very cleverly interconnected.

All right, let's get back to the part where I ask for your help. If you feel inclined to do so, please list in the comment area a few 'Community' episodes that you highly recommend (and keep in mind that I've seen about half of the first season and part of the second; also, I don't mind if an episode has a gimmick, but that I tend to respond most enthusiastically to character-focused, emotionally infused outings). By the way, feel free to also recommend another show that I don't write about much. If you have a favorite program you think I should be watching, let me know below (and let's keep those recommendations to shows that are on the air now).

In your recommendations, you don't have to mention the following episodes -- they've already been recommended (and thanks to Todd, Scott Tobias and Ghoti00 on Twitter for listing their favorite episodes):

* 'Cooperative Calligraphy'

* 'Mixology Certification'

* 'Advanced Dungeons and Dragons'

* 'Remedial Chaos Theory' (which I've seen, obviously)

* 'Critical Film Studies'

* 'Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design'

* 'Paradigms of Human Memory' (I've already seen this, actually)

* 'Modern Warfare' (I've seen it)

* 'Social Psychology'

* 'Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking'

And, just for grins, here are some details on Troy and Abed's apartment and here's the whole 'Chaos' episode.


Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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NBC should keep Community and get rid of the stupid one about a baby up all night and the rest of the SNL cast who were great on SNL but only so so in a sitcom. That SNL crew has the Cousin Oliver Syndrome backwards,
History shows the demise of a sitcom when they plant a baby in it i.e. Married With Children and a couple more. The only success is the Raising Hope which is a funny show.

November 15 2011 at 10:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Absolutely one of my family's very favorite shows!
They kill this show and they kill wonderful moments for us.
This makes me angry.
EVERY kid in the house needs this show!
Don't do this to us!!!!!

November 15 2011 at 9:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

- Contemporary American Poultry (I Especially recommend this episode in particular, the GoodFellas spoof was absolutely hilarious)
- The Science of Illusion
- Basic Rocket Science
- Messianic Myths and Ancient people
- Aerodynamics of Gender
- Intro to Political Science
- Horror in Seven Spooky Steps
- All of the paintball episodes

November 15 2011 at 5:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree with some other posters that you really would get the full effect if you watched more, and in order. One of the reasons I think Community has rabid followers is that there really is a good amount of character work snuck in between all the homages, so there's a lot of payoff when you get to something ultimately as character-driven as RCT. I'd say from mid-first season on is a great place to start, although I thought the series already started putting things together by episode six. (You wouldn't miss much skipping the first three eps of season three, though.)

October 27 2011 at 2:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

From season one:

Football, Feminism, and You: See the origins of the incredibly creepy school mascot, how Annie used to fall all over Troy, and the beginnings of the awkward Jeff/Annie love/how old are you? relationship.

Debate 109: More Jeff and Annie, and the debate itself is hilarious.

Comparative Religion: Fun focus on Shirley and her evangelism.

Physical Education: Jeff's ego at its finest. Plus, male stripping and White Abed.

The Science of Illusion: Britta's lameness gets her in trouble, and Annie and Shirley try to be badass (and fail miserably).

From season two:

Accounting for Lawyers: Uneven ep overall, but outside of the obvious scene in Remedial Chaos Theory, this ep has what I consider the funniest sequence ever done on the show. I had trouble breathing after that scene, I was laughing so hard.

Epidemiology: Pretty great zombie riff.

Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas: The claymation ep.

A Fistful of Paintballs: Gunplay, part two.

Everything else I'd recommend is on your list.

October 27 2011 at 2:26 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Robert Schley

The Art of Discourse, Romantic Expressionism, Investigative Journalism, Contemporary American Poultry, Epidemiology, The Politics of Human Sexuality, Environmental Science, and Asian Population Studies. Would be the ones that I'd add to that list, but you already have my top 5 episodes up there so you're doing good. I know that I probably suggested too many episodes, but I love them all so much!

October 22 2011 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love the 2nd season ender with the paintball competition along with the "Remedial Chaos Theory" episode from last week, even if it was a little confusing at first. Then again, a show like "Community" is like Lay's potato chips: you choose just one.

October 19 2011 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First sentence should read: *2nd half of the season of the 1st season of the show

October 19 2011 at 7:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's hard to go wrong with anything from the 2nd half of the show. Besides Modern Warfare, I'd also highly recommend Contemporary American Poultry, Investigative Journalism, Communicative Studies, and Physical Education (particularly if you enjoy how good looking Joel McHale is! lol.

Season 2: Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples, Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Intro to Political Science, and of course, both the paintball episodes.

Season 3: Remedial Chaos Theory is head and shoulders above the previous 3 episodes (not to say they were bad, just how amazing "Chaos" was.

I really enjoy the homage/big concept episodes. I love the pop culture references and the meta humor. And picking between all 51 episodes felt similar to picking a favorite child. I guess if I was going to narrow it down to one, I'd go with Contemporary American Poultry.


October 19 2011 at 7:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I'd add season 1's "Debate 109" to the list. That was the episode that ultimately hooked me.

October 19 2011 at 2:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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