Community is definitely “the little show that could,” managing to secure six seasons (and maybe more?) despite being under-watched and under-appreciated. The show is famous for its layered and meta humor (except for the gas leak season), and that spirit was always most evident in Community‘s theme episodes. Some worked better than others; for example, let us never speak of season four’s sci-fi convention spoof ,”Conventions of Space and Time.” But despite some missteps, most of the genre episodes were hilarious and brilliant send-ups that also showed a great deal of affection for the material being satirized, so lets show some affection to the greatest theme episodes from Community in ranked order.
20. “Digital Estate Planning” (Season 3, Episode 20)
In order for Pierce to win his inheritance, the gang must beat a personalized video game, with each character getting their own 8-bit equivalent. While the episode reveals a lot about Pierce and his relationship with his late father, it is also a treat for gamers and 80s enthusiasts alike.
19. “G.I. Jeff” (Season 5, Episode 11)
As Jeff deals with the realities of aging, his coping mechanism is to imagine the group as a G.I. Joe-esque squad in the classic 80s cartoon style. With the toy product placement and recycled animation frames, “G.I. Jeff” is a perfect bit of nostalgia.
18. “Regional Holiday Music” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Community‘s writers made their feelings about Glee known early on in the show’s run, but the show choir satire reached a fever pitch in this Christmas episode. While it wasn’t a perfect episode, at least we have Britta’s awkward ode to the holiday spirit.
17. “Modern Espionage” (Season 6, Episode 11)
The high point of this great episode is the clever recreation of the famous elevator fight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While the Internet kind of forgot about Community after it moved to Yahoo, any fan would be negligent if they didn’t check out this great season.
16. “Geothermal Escapism” (Season 5, Episode 5)
This episode was truly bittersweet because it was Troy Barnes’ send off. The show lost something special when the Troy and Abed twosome dissolved, but at least they went out with a totally epic, post-apocalyptic take on the “the floor is lava” game.
15. “Basic Rocket Science” (Season 2, Episode 4)
While stuck in a space simulator with a Colonel Sanders from hell, the study group has to work together as a team in order to make it back to campus. While paying homage to space films like Armageddon and Apollo 13, it is evident why the show is one of the most ambitious comedies to ever come along.
14. “Pillows and Blankets” (Season 3, Episode 14)
“Pillows and Blankets” is Community‘s take on the classic war film, pitting best friends Abed and Troy against each other. Even as the beloved friendship starts to splinter, the show is still as hilarious as ever. The highlight of the episode is Britta’s utter failure as a photojournalist.
13. “Paradigms of Human Memory” (Season 2, Episode 21)/”Curriculum Unavailable” (Season 3, Episode 19)
Clip episodes are often a lazy sitcom device, but Community utilized them in a clever and revealing way while showing bits of the study group’s off-screen adventures.
12. “Basic Lupine Urology” (Season 3, Episode 17)
Between the good cop/bad cop dynamics, camera style, and characterization, Community nails it’s parody of the classic Law & Order crime show. Seeing Troy and Abed compete over who gets the best quippy one-liners shouldn’t be missed.
11. “Critical Film Studies” (Season 2, Episode 19)
“Critical Film Studies” is Dan Harmon’s love letter to film fans. While it may start with a Pulp Fiction themed party, it eventually becomes an intimate homage to My Dinner with Andre. It also builds on Abed’s hilarious love of Cougar Town, and Pierce wears a gimp suit to haunt your future nightmares.
10. “Cooperative Calligraphy” (Season 2, Episode 8)
Most sitcoms have a bottle episode at some point, and “Cooperative Calligraphy” is Community‘s contribution to the genre. It starts with Annie’s insistence on finding her pen, but, as with many of Harmon’s greatest episodes, it becomes an in-depth dissection of the relationships at play.
9. “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” (Season 2, Episode 9)
What starts as Jeff merely trying to fake some credits evolves into Greendale’s version of a spy thriller, complete with a chase scene through a busy “city street”, a shoot-out, and a whodunnit mystery. Harmon also introduced Community‘s epic pillow forts, which would return in later episodes.
8. “Intermediate Documentary Film Studies” (Season 2, Episode 16)/“Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” (Season 3, Episode 8)
Harmon nails the documentary genre with these episodes, the first being about Pierce faking terminal illness and his weird bequeathing of cruel gifts to the study group. In the second, Greendale breaks down into chaos, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse style, as the Dean tries to film a new commercial for the school.
7. “A Fistful of Paintballs” (Season 2, Episode 23)/”A Few Paintballs More” (Season 2, Episode 24)
In Community‘s season 2 two-part finale, Pierce seeks revenge and the study group goes full spaghetti western. As Greendale devolves into a classic Old West town during the annual paintball competition, Harmon vividly satirizes the genre while also digging deeper into the cracks forming in the group and in their school.
6. “Contemporary American Poultry” (Season 1, Episode 21)
“Contemporary American Poultry” is Community‘s brilliant gangster episode. By pulling themes from films like Goodfellas and The Godfather, viewers witness Abed’s rise and fall in a world where chicken fingers are the ultimate currency.
5. “Epidemiology” (Season 2, Episode 6)
This Halloween episode is Community‘s take on the horror genre, specifically zombie films. By playing on classic tropes like government intervention, killing off minority characters first, and the reveal of someone that is secretly infected, Dan Harmon skewered the themes, while also creating a thrilling episode that was inexplicably set to an ABBA soundtrack.
4. “Remedial Chaos Theory” (Season 3, Episode 4)
By exploring parallel timelines, viewers got an incredibly full view of the group’s many intricate dynamics. For being such a funny show, character development was never sacrificed for jokes. “Remedial Chaos Theory” is a prime example of Dan Harmon’s knack for showing instead of just telling.
3. “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” (Season 2, Episode 14)
In this fantasy themed masterpiece, Pierce goes full villain, terrorizing the group and Fat Neil while they battle it out over the famous role playing game. While the episode is comedic gold from start to finish, Annie’s seduction of Abed’s elf maiden is perfect in its uncomfortable hilarity.
2. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (Season 2, Episode 11)
Equal parts creative and heartbreaking, Community‘s take on the classic claymation Christmas film dives deeply into the psyche of Abed. By learning more about his family history, Abed’s quirks are explained and study group strengthens as a unit. Also, John Oliver is a Christmas wizard. What more could you want?
1. “Modern Warfare” (Season 1, Episode 23)
This episode remains the gold standard for Community‘s genre episodes. By introducing the world to high stakes paintball and adroitly spoofing action films, this is Harmon and crew at their very best. Jeff as John McClane is truly the gift that keeps on giving.