Community Top Ten Percent*
Hey, everyone! Kyle from Blue Turnip, here (the Fat One). Since we are all cooped up and watching tons of TV and movies and listening to our favorite music, I decided to do something I have always wanted to do and start a ranking blog called “Top Ten Percent.” In this blog, I will rank the Top Ten Percent of my favorite TV shows, filmmakers, and music artists. I’ll provide an introduction, describe my selection method, then hit you with the list as well as clips, songs, and other goodies. If you would like me to do a post on a particular show, filmmaker, or music artist, let me know in the comments or email me. Also, if you have any questions about our band Blue Turnip, feel free to ask (spoiler alert, we rule).
Community has slowly solidified itself as one of the best sitcoms of the past 20 years. The final brick in the show’s pedestal being its current resurgence on Netflix, Community has fought and clawed its way to the top—running the gamut from popular prime time network sitcom to cult classic to “saved by Yahoo” to, now, beloved found-family heartfelt comedy gold enjoyed by multiple generations.
Jeff Winger—once successful lawyer in his 30s who was outed as having a less-than-legitimate law degree—finds himself in need of a college degree from Greendale Community College. He somewhat unwittingly ends up the “leader” of a hodgepodge Spanish 101 study group that consists of a super caring if not super intelligent bleeding heart activist (Britta Perry), a most likely on-the-spectrum human library of pop culture knowledge (Abed Nadir), a lovable dummy whose football dreams were dashed by a high school injury (Troy Barnes), a selfish and racist baby boomer in dire need of human connection (Pierce Hawthorne), a divorced Christian mother of two earning a business degree to reclaim her life (Shirley Bennett), and a classic “good kid” whose obsession with grades and success led her down a less-than-ideal path (Annie Edison). Together they experience misadventure after misadventure, sometimes due to their own dysfunction and sometimes due to the off-the-wall students, teachers, and dean that make up Greendale Community College.
Community is hilarious, yes, but so are The Office, Parks and Recreation, and several other perennial sitcoms that aired by its side. Community stands out from its contemporaries because of the meaningful relationships between each of the characters as well as the group dynamic. Each character not only has well-established characterization, but they each have unique relationships with every other character in the study group. The show capitalizes on this strength by often grouping the characters into 2s or 3s so the audience can experience these different relationships. This practice is effective and sometimes very moving. No other ensemble-cast sitcom has ever put tears into my eyes multiple times just from interactions between characters.
You may have noticed the asterisk by the title of this post. I guess it’s time to explain myself. While Community is brilliant and would easily be included on any list of my favorite TV shows, some behind-the-scenes executive decisions really affect the quality of the back half of the show. Showrunner Dan Harmon was removed from his position after the conclusion of Season 3. At that point, several other important writers and producers subsequently left the show as well. He was later reinstated for Seasons 5 and 6 and many of those who left with him returned, but by that point the damage had been done and the quality of the show took a hit it would never recover from. Not to say that Seasons 4-6 of Community have no merit. There are many hilarious episodes, new characters, and some really nice character moments, but it was almost like the show’s heart was removed after season 3 and replaced with the best copy they could find (wow, kind of a disgusting metaphor). Dan Harmon summed it up well himself in a meta quote at the end of the last episode of the show:
Lines between perception, desire, and reality may become blurred, redundant, or interchangeable. Characters may hook up with no regard for your emotional investment. Some episodes too conceptual to be funny, some too funny to be immersive, and some so immersive they still aren’t funny. Consistency between seasons may vary.
All of that to say, my Top 10 Percent for Community comes ONLY from seasons 1-3: the original Dan Harmon years. There are 71 episodes in seasons 1-3 of Community which means ten percent is 7 episodes. I added an additional 3 honorable mentions to round out to a nice Top Ten. Without further ado, the Top Ten Percent of Community (seasons 1-3).
- Season 3, Episode 20: Digital Estate Planning
Pierce’s late father has created an 8-player video game that Pierce must win in order to receive his inheritance. The study group fills 7 of the slots, but the 8th slot is filled by Gilbert Lawson—an apparent rival heir to the Hawthorne fortune. Community is a show that breaks format so well. This episode is a great example of format-breaking as most of this episode is animated in classic 8-bit video game style.
- Season 2, Episode 21: Paradigms of Human Memory
Community’s “clip show” episode. This episode is created in clip show format, but with mostly original clips of the group’s “adventures” that we, the audience, have never seen before. However, there are just enough real clips and memories to make us, the audience, feel like we are going insane and that we accidentally skipped like 8 episodes of the show.
- Season 2, Episode 8: Cooperative Calligraphy
In the show’s “bottle episode,” the study group is forced to stay in the study room until Annie’s lost pen is found despite the adorable puppy parade happening outside on the quad.
Top Ten Percent
- Season 1, Episode 23: Modern Warfare
The entire campus of Greendale Community College is engulfed in a paintball battle. The winner takes home priority registration for the fall semester.
- Season 3, Episode 4: Remedial Chaos Theory
Troy and Abed throw a house party to show off their new apartment to the study group. When the pizza arrives, the group can’t decide who should go downstairs and get the pizza, so Jeff rolls a dice to decide and inadvertently creates 6 different timelines. This episode also includes this lovely Abed quote: “Chaos already dominates enough of our lives. The universe is an endless raging sea of randomness. Our job isn’t to fight it, but to weather it together on the raft of life. A raft held together by those few rare, beautiful things that we know to be predictable: us.”
- Season 1, Episode 17: Physical Education
Jeff enrolls in a billiards class but is discouraged to find that he is required to wear a P.E. uniform that includes very short shorts. Meanwhile, the rest of the study group attempts to set up Abed with a girl who drew a picture of him in a textbook.
- Season 3, Episode 10: Regional Holiday Music
Greendale’s Glee Club suffers from a collective nervous breakdown and Abed helps Cory Radison (“Mr. Rad” played by Taran Killam) recruit the study group to act as the replacement Glee Club for the Christmas pageant. This spot-on Glee spoof might be THE best parody of ANYTHING I have ever seen, not to mention all the original songs written for and performed throughout the episode. And Taran Killam is an absolute delight. His facial acting in this role is unbelievable.
- Season 2, Episode 5: Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples
Shirley asks Abed to help her make a viral “Jesus rap” video, but Abed ends up taking the film in a more meta direction. Meanwhile, Pierce gets in with a rowdy group of seniors. Two personal notes: 1. As a Christian, this episode might be the funniest and most accurate comedic portrayal of Jesus that I have ever seen and 2. The end of this episode makes me cry. Every. Single. Time.
- Season 2, Episode 9: Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design
In what is possibly the most “classic” episode of Community, Jeff’s Conspiracy Theories independent study (taught by my personal favorite occasionally recurring character, Theater Professor Sean Garrity) turns out to be more than he bargained for as he and Annie uncover some of Greendale’s secrets. Troy and Abed build a blanket fort in their room that quickly spreads throughout the dorm and turns into a bustling blanket city called Fluffytown with its own laws, districts, and cultural events.
- Season 2, Episode 11: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
For some reason, Abed is seeing the world as a Rankin/Bass style claymation Christmas special. When Abed damages parked cars during his opening Christmas song, the study group brings him to a group therapy session with Professor Duncan where they use “Christmasnosis” to come with Abed and walk with Abed and see what they can find. They accompany Abed on a journey with Abed through the wonderland of his mind on Planet Abed: the most Christmasy planet in the universe with an atmosphere of 7% cinnamon. I cry AT LEAST twice every time I watch this episode. It is a beautiful representation of friendship, Christmas, and helping someone work trough their problems, even if you don’t fully understand what is going on with them.
Thank you for reading! You can also check out my other Top Ten Percent rankings here!