With the cast and creator of much-loved sitcom Community reuniting for a virtual table-read and Q&A on 18th May, we thought it might be a good time to put together a list of the show’s top 10 moments. However…
The issue with selecting a ‘best moments’ from Community is that it isn’t really a moments show. It’s too consistently funny. The closest comparison might be The Simpsons back in its heyday, series three or four, where you were almost assaulted by a barrage of blows, from slapstick to highbrow, visual gags and puns. That is the joy of Community. Even in the pilot episode, where everyone is still finding their feet, we were treated to absolute gold: “I thought you had a Bachelors from Columbia?” – “And now I have to get one from America”. A line worthy of Groucho Marx is lost in the abundance of riches we can gorge ourselves on. And yet here is my list. Initially supposed to be five, but I couldn’t do it. After a lot of pleading I was allowed to do ten. I did suggest that maybe I could have more, one for every finger I sliced off Yakuza style, but at that point the editor stopped returning my emails. So, after much lamenting and soul searching, here it is.
#10 Notches – 2×17 ‘Intro to Political Science’
This is a joke that works on so many levels. Brand new to the show? Then you get to enjoy the kicker delivered by Donald Glover, whose facial expressions are as comically on point as ever. Casual watcher? No problem. We’re referencing things we know about characters: Jeff’s narcissism, Troy’s joy in simplicity. Oh, you’re a long-term fan? It’s funny because, although we might expect Abed to keep score of something, that laugh is subverted when we discover that Jeff is also there imbuing the table – pretty much a character in its own right – with a little bit more love. You want to get meta enough for one of Professor Peter Sheffield’s classes? Fine! We’re not just referencing things we know about the characters, we’re also tallying comedic traits used by the writers of the show to elicit a reaction from us the audience, thus inverting the way the joke works. Best not over analyse. Just enjoy.
#9 “I won!” – 2×14 ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’
Like many of us here, I’m a proud geek. And I’ve fought my fair share of orcs in a ten by ten room guarding a chest. So I’m always excited when a show does their ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ episode. Excited, but sadly often let down. From The IT Crowd to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you’re a show with a cult fanbase and you haven’t done a roleplay episode, do you even exist? D&D is consistently played for laughs by nerds the audience can feel superior to. Yet in season two, writer Andrew Guest finally gave me the D&D episode I’ve always wanted. It was a pretty realistic portrait of a game, from the confusion over what you’re supposed to do without a board to the ambivalence of players to the Dungeon Master’s hard work. But it is Pierce Hawthorne’s moment of triumph that tickles me every time. Perfectly delivered, and soon to be followed by a monumental and richly deserved fall, this line always makes me laugh. Hopefully it will appeal to the munchkin in all of us.
#8 Jack Black’s Timing – 1×13 ‘Investigative Journalism’
Something something Hollywood Star something. Blah blah Owen Wilson blah. Yes the surprise cameos in this episode are – well, surprising. We also get another instance of the Spanish Rap and many other glorious moments including a plethora of references to M*A*S*H. Sadly, I can’t find the opening joke on YouTube, but it takes place either side of the opening credits and would make a grown man snort milk out of his nose with laughter. Guys, if you know what I’m talking about, you –
#7 Season 3 Intro – 3×01 ‘Biology 101’
The opening of arguably the strongest season of the series takes not a single prisoner and pulls not one punch. Flashy, in your face, and hilarious, this 60 second musical extravaganza taking place inside Jeff’s head is all about grabbing us and reminding us what the series is all about. A personal favourite moment of mine is Yvette Nicole Brown – undisputedly the finest singer in the cast – having her big singing moment ruined by Jim Rash’s Dean bursting in in a matching costume. Not only is it a wonderful opening to a fantastic season, it also beautifully positions the audience for the answer to Annie’s question.
– know what I’m talking about.
#6 Troy and Abed Rap – 1×01 ‘Spanish 101’
Episode two contains the first end tag, the amazing Spanish Rap. This little slice of perfection was the start of the one, true love story throughout the series. Though it initially felt like Pierce and Troy were going to be the unlikely duo, it was instead Troy and Abed who went on to become one of the greatest double acts since green eggs and ham. This rap, which crops up several times later in the series, (including an inspired rendition featuring the immense Betty White), is where it all started. Interestingly, Dan Harmon has said that he created this after watching Glover and Pudi riffing off one another at a press junket, where they even improvised an impromptu rap. (For some extra fun, check out this clip from SDCC 2010, where the two of them show not only that they had a real friendship off screen, but that they can nail it in one take as well!)
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#5 Community the Board Game – 6×13 ‘Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television’
Having just written about the first end tag, there is a rather pleasing symmetry in including the final end tag. Season six of Community was an entirely different animal to season one. The Study Group are no longer the study group, having graduated and now missing three of the original members. But more than that the series itself had changed. The move to Yahoo! Screen offered the opportunity to play with the traditional structure of the sitcom, and never a show to stick to norms, by this point the episodes have become ridiculously conceptual. Nowhere is this summed up more perfectly than here. I remember my jaw slowly dropping open as this almost painful dénouement unfolded. Fearlessly addressing the show’s critics and shortcomings in a few moments, this kind of multi-layered reality gag showed us where Harmon would head with his next creation – Rick and Morty.
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#4 Glee Scene Sting – 3×10 ‘Regional Holiday Music’
In the current world in which we all live, it can be hard to cast our minds back as far as 2011. Because of that, it’s difficult to remember just how all-powerful Glee was. This was a show where a bunch of adults pretending to be children doing an autotuned cover of an artist’s song pretty much guaranteed that artist the number one spot on iTunes that week. Sent up perfectly in the episode ‘Regional Holiday Music’, my choice here isn’t actually one of the amazing songs, it’s the musical stings that herald the end of many of the scenes. Taking the peppy, acapella chords that would often close a scene in Glee, but often throwing in a discordant minor note, it’s this level of attention to detail that allows Community to stand up to repeated re-watches. Ironically, unlike Community, Glee did manage to get #6SeasonsAndAMovie.
#3 Annie’s Boobs Hand – 2×08 ‘Cooperative Calligraphy’
Community is stuffed with more Easter eggs than me after shopping for discount chocolate on the Wednesday after the bunny has been. There are so many to choose from, from the three year set up of “Beetlejuice”, to Abed’s solo adventure culminating in him delivering a baby. But the one I’ve chosen is the near unseen set up of an entire episode. Troy’s pet monkey – named Annie’s Boobs – which we haven’t seen since season one’s ‘Contemporary American Poultry’ steals a pen unseen by the study group (and almost everyone in the audience on their first viewing). What follows is a glorious descent into insanity. Okay, MORE insanity. The reason I love this moment is because there was literally no reason to film it. We get the explanation at the end of the episode, that was all we needed. But no, this is here for the obsessives, the ones who will watch, and rewatch, and freeze frame, and go on internet sites and look up top ten lists. God bless you Dan Harmon!
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#2 Dean’s Rap – 5×09 ‘VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing’
The Dean’s penchant for pageantry is often used as a moment of sweet absurdity, to remind us that Greendale really isn’t in the same universe that the rest of us inhabit. But in ‘VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing’ it’s stepped up to a whole new level. Entering in one of his more ridiculous costumes – peanut brittle – which is linked as tenuously as ever to his rapped apology for the lateness of the gang’s paychecks. At least that’s how it starts. What happens next completely blindsided me the first time and continues to be one of the funniest fifteen seconds of television I can think of. It helps if you know that in America there is a popular peanut bar called a ‘PayDay’. Also, check out Gillian Jacobs’ face at the end – acting or real reaction? For those of you who want to join in, these are the lyrics:
“Well I’m a peanut bar and I’m here to say
Your checks will arrive on another day
Another day, another dime, another rhyme, another dollar
Another stuffed shirt with another white collar
Criminals, Wall Street takin’ the pie
And all the black man gets is a plate o’ white lies
Prisons recruitin’ em and police be shootin’ em
And rap artists lootin’ em and labels are dilutin’ em
And Barack Obama be scared o’ me
Cuz I don’ swallow knowledge and I spit it fo’ free
Lemme clear my throat, ha-ha-haaa!”
#1 Pillows and Blankets – 3×14 ‘Pillows and Blankets’
Community continually smashes the ball out of the park with their homage episodes, (maybe not so much with ‘Basic Intergluteal Numismatics’) but ‘Pillows and Blankets’ is utterly inspired. From gorgeous set design that makes me want to stop writing this list and go and build a pillow fort right now, to a story that threatens to tear apart Troy and Abed, every aspect of this episode works. And then some crazy genius suggested that most of it be presented through stills photography and narration! Community had already proven its ability to adopt other genres, but the tenacity and sheer chutzpah to attempt a history documentary boggles my mind. But it’s perfect. All of it. Every. Single. Moment. More importantly, each one of those perfect moments only works because of all the others. There is no way you can take one and applaud it because it just doesn’t work. It would be like stripping a thread from a beautiful tapestry.
In fact, that’s how this whole list feels. Community is so good because it is so beautifully woven. What was I even thinking attempting this list, and why have you read it? If you’ve watched Community, you know trying to choose the best bits is futile, and if you’ve never watched it, stop reading spoilers you monster! Why did I write this? You should go and read some Big Bang Theory top five or something! Remember when Howard used the Mars Rover to throw out the first pitch, but it was really slow? Classic Wolowitz! Community is available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and probably a bunch of other places, too. Go watch ‘Pillows and Blankets’, get five minutes in, realise you really should watch ‘Digital Exploration of Interior Design’ first as it’s a two parter. Get two minutes into THAT then realise no, really, you should start from the beginning again because this series really is that good.
What do you think? We know your top ten will be different, and the thing is, we probably wouldn’t disagree with it either! Tell us your favourite moments in the comments.