Rather than go for a Top 5 or a Top 10, though, we thought we’d take our lead from the [spoiler!] first episode on this list, Remedial Chaos Theory, which presents seven alternative timelines in the space of one episode.
So here are our seven of our favourite episodes with our seven brightest storylines – no darkest timeline for us, thank you – from Season 3 of Community.
Remedial Chaos Theory (S03E04)
Synopsis: At Troy and Abed’s housewarming party we see experience seven alternative timelines, each created by the different outcomes of rolling of a dice.
Why It’s Great: Let’s get the hyperbole out of the way right now. Not only can a solid argument be made for this being the single finest episode in all four seasons of Community, but also for it being one of the most ambitious, intelligent and perfectly formed sitcom episodes of all time. The passion, effort and devotion that must have been poured into making sure every beat of this timeline-hopping episode makes sense boggles the mind, and in fairness there’s evidence that some of the episodes around it suffered as result. But boy was it worth it.
This is Community at its most concept-driven, but the episode still manages to devote time to just about every character relationship and each character’s individual function within the group. A world without Community truly would be the darkest timeline.
Best Line: Evil Troy – “Clearly you don’t understand anything about defeating trolls.”
Studies in Modern Movement (S03E07)
Synopsis: Annie moves in with Troy and Abed, and Jeff bumps into Dean Pelton at the mall while trying to get out of helping with the move.
Why It’s Great: At the opposite end of the spectrum to Remedial Chaos Theory, Studies in Modern Movement is a great example of Community delivering a standard sitcom episode, but remaining very funny in the process. A pitch perfect performance from Alison Brie as an extremely frustrated Annie who’s trying not to be uptight about Troy and Abed’s manchild behaviour would be the highlight, if not for a wonderful montage that includes Jeff and Dean Pelton (who outside of Greendale is “just a Craig-ular guy”) duetting to Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’.
It’s a sweet, funny and wonderfully performed piece of television, and one that proves Community can be great without going meta.
Best Line: Shirley – “I’ve seen enough episodes of Friends to know that cohabitation leads to sex, drugs, and something Parade magazine calls ‘Schwimmer fatigue’.”
Documentary Filmmaking: Redux (S03E08)
Synopsis: Dean Pelton spirals out of control while shooting a new commercial for Greendale, and Abed’s there to capture it all on film in the style of Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.
Why It’s Great: Community already did a documentary episode, and another in which Abed made a film, but this ups the ante on both of those in spectacular fashion. Needless to say, the show nails the format, but it really has to in order for the rest of the episode to work.
The unhinged, Dean Pelton-centric madness goes to some very dark places, but it makes sure that however clever it gets, it’s never smarter than it is funny. There are some wonderful moments with Jeff impersonating the Dean, Garrett in a motion capture suit, and a cameo to delight Community diehards in the form of Luis Guzman. Between Jim Rash’s performance and a lovely third act intervention from Abed, it comes off as a really heartfelt half hour, too.
Best Line: Jeff (as Dean Pelton) – “Why go Greendale? Just because. Just Dean it. Dean Machine! Got Dean? Got much? Much got?”
Regional Holday Music (S03E10)
Synopsis: Jeff sabotages Greendale’s glee club before the Christmas pageant, so the college’s enthusiastic glee club instructor tries to recruit the study group as replacements.
Why It’s Great: This is an example of Community firing on all cylinders. Simultaneously, Regional Holiday music manages to be a charming Christmas episode, a hilarious Glee parody, a brilliant Invasion of the Body Snatchers homage, and throws in five original and highly entertaining songs for good measure. It’s hard to pick a favourite; from Troy going full Childish Gambino, to Annie’s sexy Santa routine, all the way to the very funny Baby Boomer Santa which gives us a rare snippet of Chevy Chase singing (please, never again!).
After Season 2’s bleak stop-motion Christmas episode, it also delivers the lovely payoff of Abed being able to spend the holiday with his new, makeshift family.
Best Line: Abed – “Glee! I’ll understand every scene, because they’ll sing what they mean instead of making a face.”
Pillows and Blankets (S03E14)
Synopsis: After Troy and Abed fall out over their blanket and pillow forts, this PBS-style re-enactment documents the war that erupts across Greendale between their two factions.
Why It’s Great: Community can get super specific in its references – in Season 2 they devoted an entire episode to a My Dinner With Andre parody – and this is about as specific as they get. Presented in the style of Ken Burns’ 1990 PBS documentary, The Civil War, and narrated by Keith David, the genius is that even if you don’t recognise the specific reference, you’ll still recognise the style.
Over half of the episode consists of still photography and voiceover, which is a ridiculously bold choice, and the dry humour in those scenes works well in tandem with some fantastic little grace notes in the moments we are able to spend with the characters. It may sound like a particularly douchey thing to point out about a sitcom, but the editing in this episode is ridiculously good, and that’s what really makes it pop pop.
Best Line: “Troy – It’s not a request, it’s an all-tomato [ultimatum], which means you give me the whole tomato, or else!”
Curriculum Unavailable (S03E19)
Synopsis: Two months after being expelled, the study group take Abed to a therapist and they recall moments from their time spent at Greendale.
Why It’s Great: Throughout Season 3, Community got into a habit of revisiting concepts they’d explored before, but adding a twist and improving on them. This is probably the best example of that occurring. One of the shows funniest ever episodes was Season 2’s fake clip show, Paradigms of Human Memory, but Curriculum Unavailable manages to outdo it by giving the episode a proper plot outside of the clips, and by making the (still very, very funny) clips vital to the progression of the story.
Again we see enough amazing clips to want a full season of those fake episodes, but the best clip sequence is the one in which the (fake) therapist tries to convince them Greendale was actually an asylum, and we revisit past moments from Community – including, wonderfully, the previous clip show – through the prism of their shared delusion. It’s meta on top of meta on top of meta. Cool cool cool!
Best Line: Troy – “Sixty dollars! Hello, rich people, Troy’s joining you. Yes, I’ll hold.”
Introduction to Finality (S03E22)
Synopsis: Jeff goes head-to-head with an old colleague a case over the ownership of Pierce and Shirley’s sandwich shop. Meanwhile, Abed crosses over to the darkest timeline when Tory leaves for Air Conditioning Repair School.
Why It’s Great: Edging this final spot over the 8-bit animated video game episode, Digital Estate Planning, Introduction to Finality makes the list by virtue of a touching denouement, and an episode that perfectly encapsulates what’s so great about the show.
Although we’ve pointed out a couple of perfectly constructed episodes of Community, what’s often so endearing about it is how messy it can get due to its ambition. Not everything works, and in this episode we see a couple of Season 3 plotlines that sometimes missed the mark (the sandwich shop and air conditioning school) wrapped up in the best possible way by virtue of focusing back in on the emotional core of the characters.
After a weird, dark trip into Abed’s mind and a rousing Winger speech, the theme tune swells over a touching montage that highlights the brilliant journey we’ve been on with these characters. What a way for Dan Harmon to sign off… for the first time, at least.
Best Line: #sixseasonsandamovie