Ever since it first premiered in 2009, Community has been a show unafraid of challenging the conventions of comedy television. Its bold writing and characterization, along with its uncompromising showrunner, Dan Harmon, quickly made it a show that had no equal in terms of generating laughs while making its viewers think. Walking that thin line between sincerity and comedy, Harmon has never swayed too far to either side. This unfortunately wasn’t enough to endear it to NBC, despite being its highest-rated comedy in its last season on network TV before it was cancelled (again) after April 2014.
Fortunately, Yahoo Streaming has swooped in to save us and brought the students of Greendale back for a sixth season to fulfill their promise of “six seasons and a movie.” With the sixth season having recently wrapped up, we thought this would be the perfect time to look back and reflect on just what’s made this show so special in its six-season run.
1. The paintball trilogy
There probably aren’t many shows out there that can boast not one, but three episodes devoted to a campus-wide paintball war. In Season 1’s “Modern Warfare,” we get a post-apocalyptic feel, as our lead Jeff Winger wakes up from a nap to see the Greendale campus torn apart by a vicious paintball battle.
With references to movies like Die Hard, The Matrix, Rambo, and more, it’s a beautifully depicted action parallel. For Parts II and III in the following season, we get parodies of old spaghetti Westerns and of course Star Wars in each respective episode, as a two-part season finale. It’s a format that you likely never have and never will see again in comedy, possessing both intelligent theming and clever dialogue.
2. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
Look back on some of your favorite comedies and ask: When was the last time they featured an episode entirely done in claymation stop-motion? Unless Community is your favorite show, your answer is probably a resounding “never.” In “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” in Season 2, the socially awkward yet pop culture-savvy Abed Nadir begins to see his entire world in stop-motion, similar to that of classic Christmas specials.
On a whimsical adventure through a snowy wonderland, Abed uses his fantasy world as a way of coping with his inability to spend the holidays with his family, bringing a decidedly heavy theme to an otherwise light concept. It’s a fascinating glimpse into how we deal with grief and change in a medium never before used in this way.
3. “Remedial Chaos Theory” and the Darkest Timeline
“Remedial Chaos Theory” may very well have a place as one of the most brilliant half-hours of comedy television ever made. On a simple level, it shows us how the dynamic of a group of a friends changes when one person is taken out of the equation. Deeper than that, it observes a world where we see what would happen when each individual leaves the room in six separate timelines and iterations.
In one timeline, a friend leaving the room ends in fiery chaos (known to fans of the show affectionately as the “Darkest Timeline”). In another, we see a steaming verbal war that ends with nobody talking to each other. In the final timeline, Jeff Winger leaves the room, coming back to a group of friends that was better off without him there in the first place. It’s a satisfying ending that’s equal parts entertaining and harrowing, and shows off the massive storytelling ability of Harmon.
4. “Pillows and Blankets”
Community thrives on its intelligent concept episodes, and “Pillows and Blankets” in Season 3 is a shining example of this. It takes place on the campus of Greendale Community College, where two former best friends, Troy and Abed, are at odds with each other about the dynamics of their friendship. It manifests in a massive pillow-versus-blanket fort war spread across Greendale, masterfully shot in the style of a Ken Burns documentary.
The sheer ridiculousness of adults building warring forts on a college campus juxtaposes beautifully against the deeper theme of a friendship thrown into turmoil. We observe firsthand how fragile relationships can be, and how fighting with the people we love most oftentimes reverts us back to the way we were as kids.
5. “Virtual Systems Analysis”: An exploration into the Dreamatorium
Abed Nadir is perhaps the show’s most complex and troubled character. He struggles to understand people, and knows all he does about the world from TV and movies. This struggle came to a head in Season 3’s “Virtual System Analysis,” an episode taking place entirely inside Abed’s Star Trek holodeck-esque Dreamatorium. Alongside the show’s moral compass that is Annie Edison, Abed is forced to look inward and face the fear that his failure to empathize with his friends is what drives them away from him. It gives us a dark look at a character who often is used as a device for hilarious whimsy, showing us that every person has his or her insecurities.
6. “Geothermal Escapism”
Part of the tragedy of a show vaulting its actors to fame is dealing with them moving on to other projects in the middle of a run. Donald Glover opted to do just that in Season 5, with “Geothermal Escapism” acting as his sendoff. His character Troy’s deep friendship with Abed is forced to separate, leading them to play an episode-long, campus-wide game of the “the floor is lava.”
Once again we see two best friends combatting their grief by harkening back to a carefree childhood game as they battle with the idea that all things must come to an end. Ending with a tearful goodbye set to Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” it’s a nuanced and hilarious farewell to one of Community‘s core characters.
7. “Paradigms of Human Memory”: The dreaded clip-show
Typically, when a sitcom needs to burn an episode that it’s had no time to make, it runs with a clip-show, where characters flash back to their favorite moments from earlier seasons. It’s usually a quick and dirty way to fill a week and takes almost no effort, since it’s merely a question of editing together footage producers already have.
In Season 2, “Paradigms of Human Memory” takes the idea of the clip-show and turns it on its head. Instead of the group remembering its fondest times from episodes we’ve already seen, the show flashbacks to adventures characters never had on screen (some of which were unused ideas for full episodes). We see a uniquely depicted take on an overused device, showing us once again how Community refuses to play by the rules of typical television.