This week I’m running down a list of 21 defining Community moments, leading up to the Season 5 premiere. With only three days left until it returns (with some promising reviews already) I’m now up to a few of my all time favorite episodes and scenes. Moments 9 through 7 after the jump.
9. The Great “Pulp Fiction” Mislead
I once got asked why I refer to Critical Film Studies as “the Pulp Fiction episode” when it’s really the My Dinner with Andre episode. It’s mostly because I’m really pretentious about being a fan. By the second half of season 2 I had already realized that Community was my soulmate in TV form. A few weeks away from this episode, I started to see preview images and could not wait to see my show tackle one of my favorite directors (again). A Pulp Fiction episode seemed like such a no-brainer thing for Community to do.
And then it didn’t fucking do it.
Critical Film Studies was the most heavily anticipated, much publicized example of Community’s meta MO. Pop culture references are much more organic here than they are in other shows because they reflect how a TV savvy audiences think in the first place. They aren’t there to capitalize on recognizable franchises and jokes; they’re always motivated by the characters themselves as they struggle to communicate in their own words. Abed, terrified that he’s unable to change along with his loved ones, attempts to grow the only way he can by throwing himself headfirst into the most mature reference he can possibly make. Meanwhile, his friends embrace his less mature (in some view) interests by throwing him a truly fantastic Pulp Fiction surprise party. I had already been attuned to what Community was doing at this point and yet this episode still managed to completely subvert my expectations. If you think the show will do straight, unmotivated parody, you can be sure it’ll swerve away from what you expect no matter what.
8. Mixology Certification
This is the third night in a row where I’ve mentioned it, so I think you’ll agree when I say that Troy’s coming of age is one of the most consistent threads in the show’s narrative. Because Community could very easily do 6 or 7 birthday episode a season, it’s significant that this is the only real birthday story in 4 seasons. Troy has to age a year in two seconds when the group realizes he’s turning 21 instead of 20, and then has to grow a bit more overnight as he starts to understand that the adults he’s looking up to are just as clueless as he is. And whats more unsettling, he realizes this makes him an adult too. The final scenes at the Ballroom capture so perfectly that overwhelming sadness you get when you stay at the bar about an hour too long. Everyone leaves disappointed with their experience – Annie’s terrified of her future, Shirley’s devastated that the group knows about her past, Abed’s dejected, Jeff and Britta are obnoxious – but I love Troy’s face when he gets back in the car, takes a calming breath, and starts to take control.
It should also go without saying that I connected way too much to Abed’s willingness to lead on Paul F. Tompkins in the clip above just because he really, really loves to talk TV. Like I said, for better or worse this show fucking gets me.
7. The Final Shot of Regional Holiday Music
Regional Holiday Music would be a great episode even if it had aired under normal circumstances. As it happened, this was the last episode to air before the black hole of the season 3 hiatus. Community fans have always had a more emotional connection to the show – constant renewal struggles will do that to a fanbase. So when the shoe had finally dropped and we had no idea when or even if Community would truly return, I very much needed the warmth of the group coming together to celebrate Christmas with Abed again. The episode has a great domino structure, where whenever one character turns we know immediately who they’re close enough to manipulate into joining in to the glee club, until eventually the entire study group is up on that stage. There’s an inherent comedy there that’s built on three seasons of knowing these characters so well that we almost see them as our own friends, anticipating their next moves exactly. The anxiety of not knowing when we’d see them again makes this final shot so emotional for me. But more than anything it was beautifully calming, after weeks of angry Internet posting and hand wringing, to see the study group gathered together, promising to see us again after regionals.