- Looking at TV and Film
The Five Episodes of Community that I HATE
- December 16, 2019
Community was an absolutely amazing show. If you haven’t seen it, you should give it a chance. It’s a single-cam sitcom about the adventures of a study group consisting of a number of misfits at the world’s worst community college. It ran for six seasons, and five of those seasons was headed by Dan Harmon. As a show it was funny, clever, innovative, and HIGHLY nerdy… Not nerdy in the “Big Bang Theory” way, where the nerds just make a lot of broad pop culture references and obsess over being “alpha males” while the audience laughs as how NERRRRRRDY they are…. the difference here is really that TBBT is a show ABOUT nerds, while Community is a show FOR nerds.
I am a nerdy gal, so I loved Community. I loved how unpredictable it could be… from the basis of the “wacky study group at a bad community college” you got an unbelievable variety of genres. One episode could be a parody of mafia movies, while another was a straight-up Western, or police procedural. One particularly memorable episode was done entirely in stop-motion puppet animation and was a loving spoof of those old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials.
Yeah… this was a good show. But even good shows have their bad episodes.
(The rest of this post is going to assume that the reader knows the show, so if you still haven’t seen Community, I’m about to mention a whole lor of names and concepts that won’t mean anything to you!)
Most fans will agree that the first three seasons are the best ones, and yeah… the show DID lost something after Dan Harmon left after season 3, and it never QUITE got back into its groove even after he came back for season 5 and 6. Me, I enjoy the last three seasons on the whole anyway… even episodes that other fans hate, I often quite like.
But there are five episodes…. FIVE episodes of Community that I absolutely can’t stand. Granted, out of a total episode number of 110, that’s not actually bad… but these five episodes, to me, represent Community at its absolute lowest. I usually don’t like “worst of” lists, but I’ve been sitting on this for so long I decided I finally was going to vent a little to the ‘net.
I’ll present the five episodes here, in chronological order ’cause I couldn’t really decide on a hierarchy of badness… and of course, obligatory disclaimer here, but if you disagree with me, that’s fine. This is MY opinion, and if you disagree with it, I don’t mind. We’re all mature pseudo-adults here, right?
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S01e22: The Art of Discourse.
CRINGE. That’s what this ep is. Nothing but cringe. Britta and Jeff’s feud with the obnoxious teenagers was a cringe-worthy idea from the start, but the obnoxious teenagers are so horribly off-putting, annoying, and worst of all, so horribly UNFUNNY, that their scenes are a pain to sit through.
Doesn’t help that the side-plots aren’t very engaging. Pierce temporarily being kicked out of the group does not lead anywhere interesting… the tensions between him and the group is much better explored in other eps; here it just feels forced and uncomvincing. You KNOW he’ll be back at the end of the episode. Troy and Abed trying to cram in as many “classic college experiences” as possible COULD have been mildly amusing, but they’re stuck in the C-plot and the shenanigans don’t end up going anywhere. Even the stinger where they talk about their porn names feels phoned in.
I’ll give the episode half a point for the earnest heart-to-heart between Shirley and Pierce, which was at least a nice moment between the two… but that one scene is not enough to save an episode that never raises above painfully dull, and usually just dives headfirst into “WHY AM I EVEN WATCHING THIS?!”
S03e12: Contemporary Impressionists.
I THINK I can see what they were going for with this one. It’s another “Abed VS Reality” ep, but definitely the worst one. Community has never been a stranger to deconstructing its characters, and isn’t afraid to show how the loveable quirks of the main cast can be harmful… Abed has received a fair few of these. He’s a genuinely sweet guy with no guile or malice, and usually his different approach to life just adds some colour to the lives around him… but occasionally he goes much too far, and that’s when you see how his quirkiness and tendency to escape into his own fantasies can have severely negative consequences both for himself and his friends.
Problem with this particular episode is that it tries to combine this with a weirdly goofy tone that’s far more outlandish than Abed’s fantasies. Celebrity impersonators is one thing, but their boss is this cartoonishly evil parody of a mob boss — and to top it off, this is the episode where Jeff takes anti-anxiety medication, his ego gets out of control and he ends up involuntarily impersonating the Incredible Hulk, while Chang hires kids as security offers and suddenly gets a plan of taking over Greendale, as visualised by showing silly comic book thought bubbles over his head. You can’t have a “character needs to live in reality” story when the “reality” shown is a silly farce!
This could have been forgivable if the characters have been in character; but in this episode they all feel off. Abed does have a problem with escaping into his fantasies, but he at least takes his fantasies SERIOUSLY. Here he doesn’t commit, even when he’s supposed to be playing a role he just goofs off, something he would usually NEVER do when playing a role. Troy is usually the one who can relate to Abed, but here he’s just the much-put-upon sidekick who doesn’t even seem to enjoy the fantasies much. At least with Jeff you can argue that it’s the medication that makes him a caricature of his normal self, and Chang’s full turn into “supervillain” has been in the cards for a while… but neither of these are particularly well-handled.
All in all, it’s not the worst episode ever; it had several potentially-good (and very central to Season Three’s overarching plot) ideas and one pretty funny scene where Jeff hulks out… but mostly it’s an episode where potential is ruined by a sub-par execution.
One possible explanation for this off-centered feel is that this episode wasn’t written by any of the show’s regular writers. It was written by one Alex Cooley, who only ever wrote this one episode… so I think Alex just wasn’t that familiar with the characters and set-up, and missed a couple of important points.
S4e03: Conventions of Space and Time
I know this is a bit of a fan favourite episode, but… I’m sorry, an episode about an Inspector Spacetime convention should not be as dull and uninteresting as this one.
After three seasons of Community, we’re used to big, wacky ideas with absurd satires of pop culture. Even in this fourth, Dan Harmon-less, season we get some great high-concept ideas… and a convention dedicated to a Doctor Who parody just seems like it would be rife with opportunities for absurdist satire. But this doesn’t happen; the convention itself is just a backdrop for some rather unconvincing character drama.
Of the three intertwining plotlines, none of them ever really take off. Super-fan Toby just isn’t funny, and surprisingly he doesn’t bring out anything new in neither Troy nor Abed; you’d have thought that Abed interacting with an approximately like-minded person might have led somewhere interesting, but it doesn’t. Annie play-pretending that she’s Jeff’s wife and getting carried away with it could have been fun… if it had happened in season two. This episode just felt like the character regressing and ignoring a lot of her development to start mooning over Jeff again, with no real explanation. And as for Pierce and Shirley’s C-plot, it’s barely even there… even if the punchline to that plotline (the “so-bad-it’s-good” glimpse we get of the American show that Pierce’s suggestions inspired) is one of the few winners of the episode.
There are two other moments that are at least cool to watch: Jeff hamming it up with “Bow before Thoraxis” (even though his sudden embracing of the entire thing really comes out of nowhere, the scene is at least funny), and Britta’s absurdly acrobatic scene where she sneaks around and gets dressed at the same time. Unfortunately, these moments aren’t enough to save an episode that’s just unengaging.
S4e09: Intro to Felt Surrogacy
This one, however, is NOT a fan favourite, so I don’t feel the need to apologize for including it on this list.
There are four episodes of Community that experiment with/parody a different medium: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, Digital Estate Planning, Intro to Felt Surrogacy, and G.I. Jeff. All four of them use a different medium from the show’s norm (stop-motion, pixel animation, puppetry and cartoon animation, respectively) to both parody other shows within that medium and try to reveal something new about the characters. With the exception of the mostly lighthearted Digital Estate Planning, they all also lead to some rather dark places. But of the four, only Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas really works. Well, I do have a bit of a fondness for Digital Estate Planning too… but the other two on the list are NOT good. G.I. Jeff is easily the worst one (more on that in a minute), but Intro to Felt Surrogacy is the one that utterly fails at using its borrowed medium in any significant way. This REALLY didn’t need to be a puppet episode.
Sure, the puppets look nice, but other than a somewhat awkward way for the writers to work around the fact that Chevy Chase was leaving the show, the puppet gimmick isn’t taken advantage of at all. The other three “different media” episodes were written specifically to embrace the different convensions… like Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas and Digital Estate Planning plain wouldn’t have worked as live-action. Even G.I. Jeff, much as I hate it, was specifically written to be a cartoon and poked fun at the trappings and limitations of an ’80s action cartoon. Why are the characters puppets in this episode? No reason, except perhaps the really bad musical numbers (easily the least inspired musical numbers in the entire series!) and the fact that the entire story is so STUPID that maybe it’s less embarrassing for the actors this way.
The tone is horribly uneven; I’m not even sure what the writers were going for here. There’s no real THEME; the puppets just sort of drift from plot point to plot point, acting like idiots throughout. Everyone’s lost about half their IQ points here — don’t know if they’re pushing the “stupid” angle hard because it’s a puppet episode or what, but it doesn’t work. And despite the scene with the characters revealing their deepest, darkest secrets, we don’t actually learn anything new about any of them. And the secrets are either too stupid to take seriously, or too major to just be summed up in a bad musical number and never be mentioned again.
This episode is too silly and shallow to take seriously, but not funny enough to laugh at. The puppet gimmick is not taken advantage of at all; it hinders rather than enhances the story. If there’s any one episode of Community you can safely skip and not miss anything, it’s this one.
S5e11 G.I. Jeff
Ugh. Ugh. UGH. You know how I said at the beginning that I couldn’t really rank these eps in terms of badness? Well, this is the exception. This is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the SINGLE. WORST. EPISODE. OF THE SERIES.
At first, it looks like it’s going to be at least watchable. I mean, they’ve obviously tried to create a somewhat decent parody of the original G. I. Joe show — and for the first two minutes or so it ALMOST works, with its limited animation, painted backgrounds, and somewhat half-hearted recreation of the original theme song. The original cartoon was slightly before my time, but I’ve seen the odd episode, and yeah… this looks decent.
But then the plot starts, and everything goes out the window. This is the shallowest, laziest, most uninspired parody of G.I. Joe imaginable. Even I can tell that they’re just going for the most obvious jokes here. Ha ha, there are a lot of weird code names. Ha ha, it’s just a toy commercial. Ha ha, G.I. Joe and Cobra never kill each other and never have sex cause it’s a cartoon. Ha ha, Cobra Commander is in love with Destro. What am I watching here, an extended CollegeHumor skit? Well, if the characters start cursing up a storm I’ll know for certain. The jokes don’t work as a standalone either; the timing and pacing is unusually sluggish and dull compared to just about any other Community episode. Even Intro to Felt Surrogacy had better jokes, and that episode was dull as all get-out. And the “dark reveal” that Jeff was in a coma after taking some questionable pills? Yeeeeeeeeeeeah, that just fell flat.
The only part of the episode that MARGINALLY works? The short segments that parody the G. I. Joe toy commercials. Unlike the cartoon parts, these actually manage to capture the tone and feel of the originals, taken to an absurd extreme and even being used efficiently in the plot of the episode. But these very brief moments are nowhere near enough to even begin the save what’s easily, and I repeat, the SINGLE. WORST. EPISODE. OF THE SERIES.
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So there you have it. The only five episodes of Community that I will say are bad. Not all the remaining 105 episodes are classics, but most of them at least have some moments, or a B-plot, or some development, that makes them worth watching again. These five eps? Nope.
And that’s all I had to say about that! Next journal post will hopefully be more positive. Any of you want to disagree with me, or have your own worst episodes, let me know! Just… go easy on the hate messages and death threats. I’d hate it if the reason for my death was that I disagreed with someone which episodes of Community were the worst. ^_~