Happy October 19th! Season 4 of NBC’s woefully-undersupported-by-anyone-without-a-Tumblr ‘Community’ begins tonight!
To celebrate, this week’s Sports On TV column looks back at the 20 greatest sports moments from the show’s first three seasons. It’s a confusing mass of spaceships and ‘Glee’ slams and paintball epics, and it’s absolutely worth revisiting and celebrating.
Here’s the best way to enjoy tonight’s premiere: read this column. Click the like button. Share it on Reddit or Facebook or Tumblr (especially Tumblr). Drop a comment in the comments section about your favorite episodes, moments, quotes and character pairings. Come up with a fun name for them (suggestion: StarPelt). Flip through the 20 greatest sports moments dozens of times over the next few hours. Then, totally forget that ‘Community’ actually comes on television and decide to watch it on Hulu tomorrow morning. Because guess what? That’s the only way ‘Community’ has ever worked.
Please enjoy ‘Community’s’ 20 Greatest, Streets Ahead Sports Moments.
More Sports On TV: Saved By The Bell | Full House | King Of The Hill | The Wire | The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air | Parks And Recreation | Married… With Children | 30 Rock | The Brady Bunch | The Three Stooges | The Simpsons | Glee | Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers | South Park | Boy Meets World | Buffy The Vampire Slayer | It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia | Arthur
Episode: “Pilot” (season 1, episode 1)
What Happens: Disbarred and stuck at Greendale Community College until he can get his license back, disgraced former lawyer Jeff Winger tries to take the easy way out and get help from his friend at the school, Professor Ian Duncan. Duncan considers the request, sends Jeff a terribly-abbreviated text message to meet him at the football field and tries to appeal to his conscience. While there, Jeff notices the first in an endless string of examples as to why Greendale has the worst athletics programs ever: an elderly man trying out for the track team and beating everyone else.
Key line: “There’s a guy trying out for the track team that is older than the game of poker. And he’s kinda truckin’.”
I went back and watched a lot of older episodes of ‘Community’ to prepare for this column, and I’ve got to say, it’s a weird experience. Initially, I didn’t like the show. I thought it was kinda forced and boring. Eventually the first season found its vibe, and by the time the debate episode ended I was hooked. I followed it all the way through to the end of the third season as one of those “I LIKE all the things you hate about it” guys, the type who justifies a completely, completely unnecessary ‘Law & Order’ episode as a valiant act of creativity. On this latest re-watch, I find myself spacing out during the wacky episodes, and really digging the early stuff.
A lot of the characters seem off — Britta is smart and a reasonable-seeming person, Troy is his own character and not Also Abed — but the ‘Community’ pilot seems more now than ever like the awkward first day at a school full of weird assholes who’ll eventually become your best friends. And that old guy really was truckin’.
Episode: “Advanced Criminal Law” (season 1, episode 5)
What Happens: Britta confesses to cheating in Señor Chang’s Spanish class and stands trial at the state-of-the-art judges table in Greendale’s pool area. Jeff does his best to defend her with his Super Lawyer Skills, but faces distractions from water-splashing divers, wandering pool ladies and the debut of Leonard, an elderly business student who enjoys pissing people off, reviewing frozen pizzas on YouTube and going bottomless in the community pool.
Key line: “Everyone on this campus is nuts.” “Not me!” “Oh come on Leonard, if you’re going to argue with me, put on a bathing suit.” “Busted!”
The show instantly gets better when Leonard shows up. This guy’s done it all … he was one of The Little Rascals, he had a chance to invest in IBM in the 1950s, he’s been banned from a Denny’s, he changed his last name to “Rodriguez” to win the Latino vote in a community college election and has fought in “several wars.”
Episode: “Football, Feminism and You” (season 1, episode 6)
What Happens: Dean Pelton blackmails Jeff with an appearance on a bunch of Greendale promotional materials if he doesn’t convince fellow Study Group member Troy Barnes — a former star high school quarterback who intentionally injured himself to avoid the pressures of college football — to join the GCC team.
Key line: “Bing, bong, sing along. Your team’s Al Gore ’cause your views are wrong.”
Jeff brings Troy out to the field to meet the team (which includes a pregnant woman playing linebacker), and one of the best exchanges in the show’s early history goes down:
“I’m saying you’re a football player! It’s in your blood!”
“Football, Feminism and You” also gave birth to this glorious thing:
The Greendale Human Being! He started as an attempt by Dean Pelton and notable wipes-impresario/study grouper Pierce Hawthorne as the most unoffensive, racially-equal thing possible (the Dean wanted to call Greendale’s teams the Grizzlies) and ended up as a Doug Jones-style nightmare.
The Human Being also provided me with one of my better Halloween costumes.
Episode: “Debate 109” (season 1, episode 9)
What Happens: Jeff gets goaded into participating in a debate against rival City College and discovers that his ability to win people over with bullshit speeches doesn’t necessarily earn him debate points. The Greendale team (Jeff and fellow study group member/BRANDON’S TELEVISION GIRLFRIEND Annie Edison) finds themselves behind after round one, but it turns out the gym has been double-booked and the GCC basketball team shows up to practice, delaying round two.
I’ll let Dean Pelton describe the team:
Key line: “Greendale needs a win. The best compliment our sports program gets is that our basketball team is really gay.”
They really are.
‘Community’ always does a good job of never using gay in the pejorative sense unless it’s coming from Pierce, but remains steadfast in its (entirely accurate) believe that everybody in college is sexually unstable, no matter how old they are, because college. Even the people in charge.
Episode: “The Politics Of Human Sexuality” (season 1, episode 11)
What Happens: In an episode that is mostly about an STD awareness fair, Jeff going on a double-date with Pierce and Annie not knowing what a penis looks like, Troy and Abed compete to see who is the better athlete. Abed proves he is a lithe savant at everything by besting Troy at basketball (“it’s impossible to guard you, your eyes are too gentle and mysterious”), an Over The Top-style arm-wrestling showdown and more. Abed lets Troy win a footrace to salvage what’s left of his self-esteem, but ultimately Troy admits that his best friend is the better man. And, uh, lets him run off to warn the students about holes in the condoms at the STD Fair.
Key line: “That’s it, we’re arm wrestling.” “Like Stallone in Over the Top? I’m not sure about the rules, don’t I need a semi truck and a ten year old son?”
“The Politics Of Human Sexuality” is, as far as I can tell, the first great example of Troy and Abed existing to the side in their own little world, where something like arm wrestling or winning a footrace to see which guy has to run and tell people about condoms becomes the MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER, a theme that returns whenever they start building blanket forts or going on dates with Britta and need to call and check in.
And while it’s not sports-related, Annie’s story about losing her virginity being super similar to a story from Alison Brie’s college days is the saddest thing ever. What is WRONG with you, People Who Went To College With Alison Brie?
Episode: “Comparative Religion” (season 1, episode 12)
What Happens: Jeff gets pushed too far by school bully Mike (one of those guys who “used to be nerds and now are meatheads,” because he’s Anthony Michael Hall) and preps for the throwdown with some fight training, courtesy of Pierce and Troy. And, uh, Britta. Eventually he realizes that fighting is stupid, tries to make peace with the bully through his words, and everybody ends up in a bloody Christmas brawl, hitting each other with oversized candy canes.
Key line: “Sup!” “No it’s a question.” “Sup?” “Not a real question, a rhetorical one. You have the answer, he does not.”
‘Community’ Christmas episodes are always the best, even when their season has been pushed back four months and they have to have an episode about Christmas in May, or whatever. While it doesn’t have the emotional resonance of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” “Comparative Religion” DOES have that moment when Annie outs the Baby Jesus as being Jewish and puts him into a Christmas tree, so this one’s still probably my favorite.
It also throws a lot of shade at boxing, amidst Dan Harmon’s ongoing obsession with equating sports to homosexuality.
“Then you look straight through his eyes, and deep into his soul.”
“And then you move to Vermont.”
“I am sick and tired of you saying that fighting is gay.”
“She’s got a point. You know, in boxing you fight for the purse and the belt.”
“I’ve got to write a paper about that.”
Episode: “Investigative Journalism” (season 1, episode 13)
What Happens: The Study Group pretends to be Hollywood in the early 2000s by suddenly noticing that Jack Black. Anyway, Black plays “Buddy,” a character who has been lurking just off-screen for the entirety of the season. When he introduces himself, he places himself in some of the important moments we’ve seen (Britta admitting she cheated in Chang’s class, Jeff and Pierce getting Fs for their ridiculous project) and one we didn’t: a daydream about braless, cheerleader versions of Annie and Britta getting into an argument and fighting in a kiddie pool full of laundry suds.
Key line: “Give me back my bra, Annie!” “But I’m not wearing a bra!”
Here is the video. You weren’t going to read this paragraph anyway.
If you’re wondering, the official answer is Annie < Britta, understanding that Britta also < Trudy Campbell.
Episode: “Physical Education” (season 1, episode 17)
What Happens: Jeff takes a billiards class for an easy credit, and because it’ll allow him to hang out in a leather jacket and impress girls. Unfortunately the class is technically a physical education course, which means students playing pool have to wear regulation phys-ed gear, including Larry Bird-style short-shorts. Jeff and his coach get into a heated argument that escalates and escalates until they’re totally naked, playing pool with one leg up on the table like the Ancient Greeks.
So, you know, if you ever wanted to look up Joel McHale’s butthole, this was your chance.
Key line: “You’re going to look like an ass in those.” “Shut up, Leonard. I met your son on Family Day. I know about your gambling problem.” “Touché.”
‘Community’ has a way of objectifying its
white female leads, but it justifies that by objectifying Jeff Winger just as hard. Sure, Warming Glow has a new gallery of Annie Edison bouncing/running/moving GIFs every time a new episode airs, but at Alison Brie never had to cock a leg up on a table and make a crowd of people gasp in horror or make out with Chet Hunter from ‘Boy Meets World.’ Troy gets it sometimes, too, but Jeff’s shirtlessness started to reach Angel-levels of unnecessary by this point in the first season, so good for them.
Oh, and I don’t think you’re officially a sitcom until you’ve done a pool episode. It’s right behind “stealing a rival’s mascot” on the list of green-light qualifiers.
Episode: “The Art Of Discourse” (season 1, episode 22)
What Happens: Abed compiles a Quintessential College Experience List based on what movies have taught him about college, and Troy helps him work his way down the list. Included: smashing a guitar a la Animal House, being pantsed to reveal boxers with hearts on them, creating a robot called the “Boob-A-Tron 4000” that is focused only on boobs (and who might one day come to life) and kidnapping a rival school’s mascot. Troy and Abed steal Billy, the City College goat, and bring him to the study group for goat puns and bonding.
Key line: “And if all we need is an escape goat, I think we should just let this one go.”
When you were in high school, did any of your rival schools have real animals as mascots? If so, were any of them goats? All the schools we played were just dudes in crappy sweatsuits and animal heads, but on TV they’re always throwing logo shawls over goats. See also: Greg Brady.
Billy’s pretty great, though, and cameos in one of the best Awkward Britta moments:
Episode: “Accounting For Lawyers” (season 2, episode 2)
What Happens: Jeff ditches the group and their “Pop and Locktober Fest” dance contest (team name: the “Heather Pop-and-Lock-Lears”) to hang out with his old lawyer friends. Annie and the others decide Jeff’s friend Alan is a bad influence (like what Rob Lowe was to James Spader in the 1990 film Bad Influence) and set out to prove that it was Alan who ratted out Jeff and got him disbarred. Their plan involves chloroform and a whole lot of total brain crying. That leaves poor Chang to carry the load of the Heather Pop-and-Lock-Lears himself.
Key line: “Britta, you’re not a whore. Shirley, Jesus turned the other cheek. He didn’t garnish wages. Pierce, do I even need to say this? It is bad to hunt man for sport.”
We’re an episode into season 2 now, which means ‘Community’ has gone Full Ridiculous, and Chang is stuck in a satin jacket, popping and locking forlornly while Garrett (in lederhosen) threatens to out-dance him at an Oktoberfest-themed Pop-And-Locktoberfest. Long gone are the “I hope this boy likes me” stories, forever replaced by THIS IS WEIRD GO WITH IT.
‘Community’ characters dancing is always fun, especially when it doesn’t make sense. Exhibit B: Krumping.
Episode: “Epidemiology” (season 2, episode 6)
What Happens: In an episode that is mostly about expired military rations turning people into zombies, Jeff wears nice clothes and holds a soccer ball for a David Beckham Halloween costume. It’s a long tradition of lazy Jeff costumes created with the intention of getting him laid, following “sexy cowboy” and preceding “one of the Fast and Furious guys.” It works, too, as we find out 14 episodes later.
Key line: “Have you noticed a weird vibe taking hold of this party? It’s like every fifth person is on something seriously hardcore.” “Yeah I wonder who’s holding … the key to your riddle.”
There are actually two sports-themed Halloween costumes in this one: Chang dresses up like Peggy Fleming/THE RACIST PROVER.
Episode: “Aerodynamics Of Gender” (season 2, episode 7)
What Happens: The girls take a Women’s Studies class and use Abed’s social awkwardness and powers of observation to shame and insult everyone around them. Eventually it backfires, turning him into a monster. Meanwhile, because Jeff and Troy need something to do, they play a little basketball, discover a Secret Garden-style trampoline that gives them inner peace, and ultimately watch their newfound enlightenment crumble because Pierce can’t keep up with trends. Brandon quickly realizes that season 2 ‘Community’ episodes are hard as shit to explain in a paragraph. THEY’RE ON A SPACESHIP THAT IS ALSO KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN. Man, why couldn’t there be any sports stuff in THAT episode?
Key line: “Ready for The Bus Driver, Winger? You know why they call me The Bus Driver, right?” “Because you’ve been traveling all day?” “Cause I’m taking your butt to school.”
I’m sad we once again didn’t get to see Abed’s mad basketball skills. Regardless, the Troy vs. Jeff one-on-one game is pretty enjoyable, inasmuch as it makes Jeff look like basically the worst player ever and ends with him
1. trying to knock an RC helicopter out of the sky with a baseketball, and
2. punting the ball away in anger when he loses.
Of course, the most memorable moment of the episode has to be the punchline to the trampoline story, which is the best way to end a trampoline story:
Episode: “Celebrity Pharmacology 212” (season 2, episode 13)
What Happens: Annie organizes an anti-drug play for children starring the study group, which Pierce usurps by bribing Annie and ad-libbing whatever he wants. A thing about concerned bumblebees and cool cats becomes an ego-maniacal showcase for Chevy Chase, dressed as a pot leaf, holding sparklers while a bunch of kids cheer and laugh and tell him how much they love drugs. Before the play, Dean Pelton hands out baseballs, because he is a black belt in not thinking things through.
Key line: “Next time you think about drugs, think about baseball instead.”
Because a Dean Pelton giveaway can only end one way, Pierce’s character gets removed from the stage and the children revolt by hurling their baseballs at the other characters’ faces. Troy catches one in the nose, which gives him a complex and causes him to go home and write 5 self-released rap albums about how kids used to hit him in the face with objects, and also call him gay and not black enough. I’m assuming.
Say what you will about Chevy Chase’s commitment to the show or whatever, but “Celebrity Pharmacology 212” is one of the very funniest episodes of ‘Community.’ Pierce dressed as drugs yelling POKEEEEEEEEMON may never be topped.
Episode: “Contemporary Impressionists” (season 3, episode 12)
What Happens: Abed finds himself in debt after hiring celebrity impersonators to help him reenact movies, and the study group agrees to help him out by impersonating celebrities themselves at a kid’s Bar Mitzvah. One of the impersonators at the party is Geena Davis/Dottie Hinson from A League Of Their Own, and f**k you, that counts as sports.
Key line: “I was thinking, you know that person that you study for your psych class? Maybe that should be me.” “No way. You are way out of my league, diagnostically speaking. I’m gonna go with someone a little less complicated. Like Abed.”
I’d like to take a minute from talking about ‘Community’ to say that A League Of Their Own is an awesome movie and you should love it.
Episode: “Early 21st Century Romanticism” (season 2, episode 15)
What Happens: Jeff needs space when he realizes his opinion of The Barenaked Ladies differs from the group’s and ends up blowing off a Valentine’s Day dance to hang out at his apartment watching a Manchester United/Liverpool soccer game. Unfortunately Chang overhears the plans, gets himself invited, breaks Jeff’s lamp with a pair of nunchucks and inviting over Starburns, Leonard and everyone else who couldn’t get a date.
Key line: “I’m a stylish American, Professor. I’ve been forcing myself to be into soccer since 2004.”
The continuity of Jeff owning a soccer ball (because of his David Beckham impression) is great.
Also great: the debut of MAGNITUDE, shot for “magnetic attitude,” king of the television catchphrase. POP POP~!
Episode: “Paradigms of Human Memory” (season 2, episode 21)
What Happens: ‘Community’s’ clip show episode involves a bunch of clips of stuff that never happened, helping it top the Clerks cartoon in the Meta Clip Show competition I just made up. Anyway, one of the memories is the “stolen moments” between Jeff and Annie, referenced via a mostly slow-motion and zoomed-in video package of gentle looks and touches set to ‘Gravity’ by Sarah Bareilles. One of the scenes features a double dutch competition, with Pierce competing fiercely as Jeff and Annie make probably-assumed googly eyes at each other from opposite ends of the rope.
Also in this episode: Troy has seen enough movies to know that popping the back of a raft makes it go faster.
Key line: “Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity.”
The best part of ‘Gravity’ is that the scene is based on a very real fan video:
According to the Community wiki, Dan Harmon tweeted the person who made it right before “Paradigms of Human Memory” aired to let them know it was a loving tribute, but the fan community super into making slow-motion googly eyes videos felt insulted anyway, and it was a big thing. I don’t know how hard it is to communicate “no, I think it’s really really dumb, which is why it’s funny, but I also appreciate you watching the show and like how passionate you are about it, so I’m going to make fun of you, but you should keep doing it” in a tweet, but I guess Dan Harmon does.
Episode: “Modern Warfare” (season 1, episode 23)
What Happens: The first undeniably classic ‘Community’ episode. If you clicked this list, chances are the first sport you were expecting to read about was paintball. They’ve done two more (we’ll get to that in a second), but the first still stands up, and ranks right behind ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’ and ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ on the list of the show’s very best. You know, in my opinion and all.
Dean Pelton offers priority registration to the winner of a campus-wide paintball game and loses control almost instantly, watching helplessly as his school becomes a hellish warzone of paint splatter, tree-bound glee club snipers, garbage can campers and Die Hard references.
Key line: “Come with me if you don’t want paint on your clothes”
This fan-made trailer pretty much says it all:
The sweatshirts Abed had printed up to commemorate the game says the rest:
Episodes: “A Fistful of Paintballs” & “For A Few Paintballs More” (season 2, episodes 23-24)
What Happens: The sequel to ‘Modern Warfare’ ups the ante by adding a second episode and including the following: an invasion from City College, an evil ice cream lady mascot, Abed as Han Solo, Alison Brie running, ‘LOST’s’ Josh Holloway as The Black Rider, the dramatic death of Magnitude, references to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Platoon, Star Wars, The Warriors, Blazing Saddles, Leeroy Jenkins and so, so much more.
Key line: “Denny’s is for winners.”
Also key is this conversation between Troy and Abed, which helps us ease from one episode to the other:
“City College is trying to destroy Greendale and they are an unstoppable juggleknob- juggernaut. Which means if we’re going to fight them, we have to form a school wide alliance of rebels.”
“In other words, we seem to have left the western motif and are entering a Star Wars scenario.”
These are the kinds of episodes that make ‘Community’ fans fans for life, and ensure that nobody NEW can start watching the show, because holy shit what is going on. I’m happy to consider myself one of those “fans for life,” if only to fully appreciate the ‘Cougar Town’ crossover.
Episode: “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” (season 3, episode 9)
What Happens: In an episode that is also about Annie stepping on a copy of The Dark Knight and causing Abed to run around acting like Batman, Jeff and Shirley must overcome a shared history of foosball-related anger and tragedy to win back the rights to a community foosball table from condescending German students. They rage at each other first, though, so hard that the world turns them into anime characters and depicts them playing foosball in a big volcano while lightning strikes and dragons fly around. Because ‘Community.’
Key line: “Oh, you are so on that things have become very much like Donkey Kong!”
I still want to know where that cat came from.
Episode: “Introduction to Finality” (season 3, episode 22)
What Happens: In a season-long story arc that requires way more than one paragraph to describe, Troy’s Super Repair Powers get him courted by Greendale’s Air Conditioning Repair Annex. He ends up competing in THE SUN CHAMBER, a “shameful relic from a savage chapter in A/C repair history” wherein two repairmen must repair an air conditioner quickly before they are overtaken by the rapidly-increasing heat. Troy not only fixes his unit but the unit of his opponent (the man responsible for orchestrating the death of the annex’s Vice Dean), becoming the annex’s chosen lord and master. Or, something. Ghost John Goodman is there.
Key line: “I made a new rule that the air conditioning school has to act like a real school. I can do that because I’m their Messiah.”
The Sun Chamber’s announcer is amazing:
This ends season 3 of ‘Community,’ and Dan Harmon’s run. It was a great one, full of gay sports, unnecessary competitions with confusing rules and imaginary titty fights, but it was one we won’t forget, and we’ll move into season 4 with high hopes. They’ve got two more seasons after that and a movie to go, right?