I’ll preface this by saying that compiling a list of the top 25 Community episodes so far has been the most difficult task I have ever encountered as an entertainment journalist. The cult NBC comedy, which premieres its fifth season tonight, has maintained a rabid fan following for a reason; its unique blend of character-driven humor and meta commentary puts it in a totally different class from any other half-hour comedy series currently airing on television.
Community arrived in 2010 to little fanfare, but since then, showrunner Dan Harmon and his talented writing staff have taken risks with their show that have transformed it from a standard sitcom into a heartwarming, hilarious, complex and frequently brilliant comedy that stands tall among the greats of television history. Why? Because Community embraces the opportunity to take tremendous risks in terms of storytelling and character development. What other show has the audacity to construct an entire episode around the search for a purple pen, or the skill to pull it off? What other show trusts its writing staff enough to keep its entire cast off-screen for three half-hour episodes? What other show can balance raucous laughter and staggering emotion with such finesse that it feels entirely organic? No show but Community.
It’s a show that created its own TV subgenre (the meta-comedy), introduced us to the incredible comedic talents of Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Jim Rash and Yvette Nicole Brown, and allowed its writers to toy with storytelling conventions more than any other comedy on TV. It’s contributed many expressions to the cultural zeitgeist, from “Streets ahead” to “Cool cool cool” to “Pop, pop!” For good reason, its fans are arguably the most passionate of any show on TV. (Don’t believe me? Surf on over to Reddit, where work on an epic 8-bit Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne video game, as featured in “Digital Estate Planning,” has been underway for more than a year.)
Whether the show makes it to #sixseasonsandamovie (as the show’s fans and creator have long pushed for) or not, we’re lucky to have had Community. So, in preparation for season 5, and in honor of its continued ability to delight, excite and astound us, I’m counting off the Top 25 Episodes of Community.