This week I’m running down a list of 21 defining Community moments, leading up to the Season 5 premiere. We’re finally at the top 3, and I feel a little bit like a cheater as each of tonight’s “moments” is essentially a full episode. But that’s the thing about Community sometimes: episodes can be executed so perfectly it’s impossible to isolate specific moments. Well, I suppose it is possible, but it’s my blog and I don’t want to. Thanks for reading!
3. Documentary Filmmaking Redux
Though it’s #3 on this list, Documentary Filmmaking Redux is actually my all-time favorite episode of Community. I love nearly every episode, but this might be the only time I physically needed one in my life. Like Regional Holiday Music, the emotion I get from watching this episode is inextricably tied to the circumstances under which I watched it. On the evening on Monday November 14th, 2011, I was lying in my dorm room, bitching to my best friend about the fact that my project for my film production class had been completely fucked up by a few group members and I would have to spend my entire weekend refilming 2 movies. Then, while I was lying there upset, I saw a scary bit of news on twitter. NBC had released a midseason schedule that ignored Community completely, putting my show on an indeterminate hiatus. God bless my friend for sitting there sweetly and not openly judging me as I cried for over an hour about a TV show. No Community for who knows how long, AND my film class was going terribly? I was a mess.
That Thursday the 17th, Documentary Filmmaking Redux aired.
I needed that episode at that exact time, and so did a lot of Community fans. It was, and is, a love letter to everything that Community had become. Using a filmmaking plotline that scarily mirrored a lot of my own experience as a film student, Doc Redux checked in with nearly every small character, stressed the study group to their limits, brought Greendale alum Luis Guzmán in as the voice of reason, and focused the central plotline on Dean Pelton for the first time. It was hilarious and poignant, especially in light of the desperation the fanbase was feeling at the time. Dean Pelton’s tearful speech – “Greendale is good enough, because it accepts me when I’m not” – was the perfect rallying point for fans to continue a massive campaign to get the show back on the air. It reminded me exactly why I love this show so much in the first place, and thanked me for doing so.
2. Remedial Chaos Theory (especially the final dance)
(Apologies for the quality of the video)
Yeah, yeah. Remedial Chaos Theory is fucking brilliant in every way. Structurally it’s the most impressive Community has ever been. Breaking down different timelines based on who goes to grab pizza is experimental enough, but using it as an opportunity to explore what each member brings to the dynamic of the group – and what their absence takes away – is signature Community. Everyone came to Troy and Abed’s housewarming with a bit of emotional baggage, and every iteration of the timeline pulls it out of them in bits until La Case del Trobed is dripping with both spoken and unspoken conflict. It’s a fun yet extremely shrewed examination of the group’s dynamic, and it’s obvious why it replaced Modern Warfare as the go-to “you HAVE to watch Community!” episode for fans.
The ending dance is pure joyous id for both the characters and the audience, and because of that I was somewhat disappointed with the analysis that followed this episode. Because Remedial Chaos Theory had done such a fantastic job delving into what each character took away with them, a lot assumed that the ending meant that the group was happiest when Jeff wasn’t around. This lead to a lot of discussion about the sad implication that Jeff was holding the group back. But I never quite saw the ending in that way. Instead, for me the ending is the key to the unrestrained, undetached sincerity that defines Community for me. In the previous 6 timelines, Jeff stops Britta from singing along to Roxanne, completely nipping an unrestrained moment of fun from her in effort to remain cool. When he’s gone, there’s no one stopping Britta from being corny and embarrassing and singing along, and the entire group joins in and dances past all that aforementioned aggression. It’s not Jeff himself that holds the group back – it’s his still-stubborn commitment to remaining detached. Community has been a hundred different shows in its 4 seasons, but it’s never ever been ironic. And I love it for that.
1. Contemporary American Poultry
After 4 seasons, this season 1 episode is still the one I personally recommend to people who aren’t sure they want to watch Community, and aren’t willing to sit through the entire first season as the show figures itself out. Contemporary American Poultry just is Community for me. It combines my favorite aspects of all three seasons: the sweetness of season 1, the playfulness and experimentation of season 2, and the melancholy hopefulness of season 3.* If someone doesn’t like this episode, I just assume they won’t enjoy the series as a whole, because it completely encapsulates all that Community tries to be while also being very, very funny.
The first season had already had some parody elements to a few episodes up to that point, especially a brilliant Color of Money-inspired A plot in Physical Education. But Contemporary American Poultry, known affectionately in my life as the Goodfellas/chicken fingers episode, was the very first time Community focused an entire episode around a conceptual parody. There are no B or C plots. For 22 minutes, every single moment on the screen revolves around Abed turning the group into a chicken fingers mafia. That alone would merit Contemporary American Poultry’s place as the most defining episode in Community’s run: it literally outlines the methodology the show continues to use for conceptual episodes.
But, as with nearly every moment on this list, it’s the emotional aspect of the story that makes it the preeminent Community episode. Abed – the episode’s Henry Hill inspired narrator – starts the episode off explaining that he’s always wanted to be in a mafia movie. It’s such a great parody line in-and-of itself that it’s easy to miss that this bit of dialogue, and Abed’s subsequent actions, are the key to the episode. The Goodfellas parody only starts in with that freezeframe, when Abed has decided to control his chaotic environment the only way he’s confident in doing: through pop culture. And the parody only ends when Jeff confronts him with his own shattered ego and understands that Abed sees creating a pop-culture parody world as the only way he can comfortably connect with other people. It’s what almost every signature Community episode – hell, every single Community episode – is about, to an extent: playing with conventions to create a community.
Thanks for reading, even if you’re my boyfriend and you have to. Enjoy season 5!
*I know there’s a 4th season. Just leave it be.