Dan Harmon’s Community is easily one of the best ensemble sitcoms of all time, despite a forgotten season where he was replaced as showrunner and a final season on a streaming service that doesn’t even exist anymore. It somehow endured, despite being perpetually on the verge of cancellation. But its characters (and school) were indefatigable, and I love them more with each rewatch. In honor of its 10th anniversary, here are my 10 favorite episodes, which was exceedingly difficult, especially since Season 2 is one of the greatest seasons of television ever produced.
10. “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” (Season 6, Episode 13)
In its fifth season finale, Abed (Danny Pudi) basically taunted NBC to cancel it right to the camera. And then they did, and no one stepped in until Yahoo! emerged at the 11th hour to prop its nascent streaming service Yahoo! Screen. This made the sixth season a little bit scrappier, having lost to Chevy Chase, Donald Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown. To replace them, the extremely game Paget Brewster and Keith David more than rose to the challenge and fit right into Greendale’s collection of lovable weirdos. The finale indulges in some meta fantasies, as the main cast imagines the perfect ending for the show. But just the study group hanging out and cracking jokes was perfect enough.
9. “Herstory of Dance” (Season 4, Episode 8)
Easily the best episode from the misbegotten fourth season (which I was a lot more forgiving of at the time), Abed gets a love interest in the form of Rachel (a pre-Oscar winning, pre-MCU Brie Larson) in one of the show’s sweetest subplots. But its the big overarching pop culture gag that I’ll always remember: Britta thinking the Sadie Hawkins dance is a Sophie B. Hawkins dance, then over-committing to the bit. Hawkins herself shows up to sing “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover,” even as multiple characters comment that they prefer “As I Lay Me Down.” The show always found a way to take a joke, take it further than reality would allow, and make it all tie into how much the group supports each other.
8. “Paradigms of Human Memory” (Season 2, Episode 21)
I could pick any number of episodes from Season 2 here. Other than a still-baffling Apollo 13 homage/KFC tie-in, there was a period of about 10 weeks where Community was the best thing on TV (bookended by Abed-centric episodes”Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”). But this brilliant deconstruction of the clip show – in which all the clips are wholly invented – is the show at its most daring. It’s an episode strictly for hardcore fans. I’m sure anyone who tuned in at the time would have been alienated, but for me it’s one of the best, because it’s doing something only it could pull off.
7. “Modern Warfare” (Season 1, Episode 23)
This is the episode where the show went from a scrappy pop culture-heavy hangout show to something that would eventually run for more than 100 episodes. An action-packed half-hour directed by Fast & Furious franchise veteran Justin Lin, this is the show fully embracing parody. It might have gone to that well a few too many times in the future, but if you pulled it off so successfully your first go-round, you’d probably want to see if you could do it again and again.
6. “Cooperative Polygraphy” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Easily the best post-peak episode the show ever did. Incorporating the notoriously difficult Chevy Chase’s departure into a moving exploration of what his death does to the group was tricky to pull off (and still ends on a big joke that lands a dig at Chase), let alone weave into Donald Glover’s own impending departure. But they made it work in this gut-busting episode, featuring guest star Walton Goggins as the administer of Pierce’s estate, who requires the study group to undergo a polygraph test as part of Pierce’s last wishes. It’s the most rapid-fire the show’s ever been, yet still keeping its heart intact.
5. “Cooperative Calligraphy” (Season 2, Episode 8)
“We’re doing a bottle episode!” Jeff yells early on in this episode. It might be the show’s most self-aware moment. But devoting an entire 22 minutes to such a silly thing (who stole Annie’s purple pens?) is just a springboard for revealing more of what this group knows about and feels for each other.
4. “Comparative Religion” (Season 1, Episode 12)
To me, this was the show’s first truly great episode. A Christmas episode that acknowledges it’s not Christmas, an episode about the importance of family that’s not your actual family. Featuring an unhinged guest appearance from an unrecognizable Anthony Michael Hall, the show ends in a giant holiday-themed melee that resulted in one of my favorite GIFs and favorite memed holiday.
3. “Regional Holiday Music” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Community was unstoppable when it came to holiday episodes (at least in its first three seasons). It produced three classic Christmas episodes, and three nearly-as-good Halloween episodes. But this episode – the last before a lengthy hiatus – is such an astonishing feat that I’m in awe every time I watch it. A 22-minute dig at Glee (which killed it in the ratings despite not being very good), it manages to cram in a half-dozen brilliantly awful songs and features Taran Killam in what for my money is one of the greatest guest spots of the decade as the murderous glee club director.
2. “Mixology Certification” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Of the many, many amazing episodes in Season 2, this one has stuck with me the longest. The most melancholy episode the show ever did, it ends with a bittersweet taste instead of a gag. The group heads out to a bar to celebrate Troy’s 21st birthday, leading everyone to indulge in their absolute worst tendencies. It’s certainly not the funniest (though Britta and Jeff’s argument about which bar to go to is among the show’s comic highlights), but it features some of the best performances these actors ever gave on this show.
1. “Remedial Chaos Theory” (Season 3, Episode 3)
If you’re a fan, you already know the greatness of this astonishing episode, and have probably seen it multiple times. It must have been hell to complete, but the finished product is heavenly. The script, credited to Jeff McKenna, brought the show its only major Emmy nomination (it lost to 22-minute fart joke), and it’s an extremely smart, extremely detailed subversion of the idea that Jeff is the glue that holds the group together.