This week I’m running down a list of 21 defining Community moments, leading up to the Season 5 premiere. Tonight I’m ringing in 2014 with some of my all-time-favorite, most-rewatched, most-ranted-about-to-everyone-I-know episodes. Moments 6 through 4 after the jump.
6. Climax of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
On rewatch I’m often amazed that when I first watched Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, it didn’t occur to me what a technically and conceptually impressive episode it was. 90% of the action takes place around the study table, only unlike Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas the episode didn’t stray towards other visuals to fill in the action. Instead of making up for the fact that the episode revolves around a game that takes place in imaginary characters’ collective imagination, the episode really embraces the concept of a D&D game. The camera stays in the room with the study group, and excitement is built instead by the use of soundtrack and kinetic camera movement. In interviews, Dan Harmon has talked about the genesis of this episode and how he thought of it as a response to other shows painting the game in a mocking light. Instead of playing into the “nerds play D&D and it’s lame” trope he wanted to show the fun of the game. There’s a sincerity and kindness in that that permeates the rest of the episode. There’s no moment where the group has to be convinced to go along with the game – they just won’t allow their acquaintance to kill himself because of low self esteem. It makes me ecstatic when people talk about this as their favorite episode because the entire episode comes from a place of such pure goodness, and that’s the trait I’ve come to associate with Community the most. That’s why this finale is not just incredible storytelling. It’s a defining moment for the tone of the show. While Pierce has spent the entire episode mocking and assaulting Neil in the worst way, Neil finally comes to realize that he isn’t the most pathetic person in the room. He pities Pierce, and the rest of the group follows suit, framing his sentiment in language of concern:
-Worry about your fat little friend here.
-No, we’re done doing that, aren’t we Neil? You Pierce? I really worry about.
And so it was that Pierce Hawthorne saved the life of fat Neil while learning very very little. Thanks, Community.
5. Paradigms of Human Memory
Oh, just this whole fucking episode. I originally planned just to talk about the fragmented Winger speech at the end, wherein Community foregrounds it’s own formula, having its cake and eating it too by writing a Winger speech to end all Winger speeches because it’s made of all Winger speeches. But then my brother asked if I was including mega Dean on this list, and of course I had too. That animated tag was mostly an accident to make up for the episode being too short, but it perfectly recontextualizes the theme of the episode into the Dean’s POV. And that playfulness with perceptions made me think of the brilliant Annie/Jeff Gravity montage, which Jeff points out could make anything seem romantic as evidenced by the following Abed/Pierce montage. And while I’m throwing stuff in there, I don’t think there’s any better argument for Dean Pelton becoming a regular than the montage of costumes. Perfect episode.
4. Somewhere Out There
I don’t know how anyone could ever dislike this moment. I love Community’s first handful of episodes more than a lot of people do, but I think this finale in Environmental Science (the show’s 10th episode) is the first true great Community moment. Even after three years, I can come back to this montage and it still feels perfectly in tune with the show Community has turned in to. It’s bizarre and erratic and funny, but most of all it’s a sincerely sweet moment. Troy and Abed solidify their friendship by tracking down Fivel, and Troy especially starts to grow as a selfless friend. Shirley’s speech is successful thanks to Pierce’s mentorship. Chang and his wife reunite via a salsa dance arranged by Jeff to the tune of bagpipes played by a non-Green Day Green Day band. And Jeff, for his part, voluntarily puts the needs of his friends before his own. But my favorite thing about this moment (outside of how surprisingly great and unsurprisingly hilarious “Somewhere Out There” sounds over bagpipes) is that the group naturally comes together at the end to share their successes with one another. The best moments of Community (and the entirety of my top 3, coming tomorrow) are the times when the characters connect with each other without fear or pretense, outright admitting they love each other. It’s easy to see why Chang and even Buddy would want to be in this group: they clearly love their time together even if they fight through half of it.