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30 Best Community Episodes Ranked

"Community" is a show about a group of lovable misfits getting a second shot at life through a community college. Or, at least, that's how it starts.

The truth is, "Community" does a little bit of everything. It delights in parodies of every genre imaginable, and it makes Greendale College into a place where people teach classes like "Ladders!" Here, paintball games regularly skew apocalyptic, and hijinks turn on a dime to tear our hearts to shreds.

But no matter what any given episode is doing, the core of the show is always the chemistry — loving, hectic, backbiting, and fiercely loyal — among the cast. The combo of Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase, and Jim Rash stands as one of the most charismatic TV ensembles ever, and the bond the characters have with each other is the show's real star. Thanks to their adorable energy, "Community" has produced some truly stand-out installments, and here are 30 episodes that make it one of our favorite shows.

30. Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps (Season 3, Episode 5)

When an anonymous psych test secretly reveals that a member of the study group has "homicidal tendencies," Britta decides to see how they react to a campfire story in the hopes of weeding out the psychopath. The only problem is that her tale is so awkward that everyone else thinks they can do better. This leads to "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps," an anthology of hilarious horror riffs.

What makes the episode great is how the stories shift in style to better fit the characters. For example, we completely buy Abed's boring slasher setup where everyone makes sensible and genre-savvy decisions, Annie's gothic romance power fantasy, and Shirley's tale of how she'll be vindicated when the apocalypse comes. Funny and appropriately spooky, this Halloween episode is a winner.

29. The First Chang Dynasty (Season 3, Episode 21)

The third season of "Community" sees Chang gradually going over the top with his campus security guard power. By the time we get to "The First Chang Dynasty," he's imprisoned the real dean and replaced him with a lookalike. As if that's not enough, Chang's also wearing a Napoleon-style uniform and sitting in a "prescription" throne.

His paranoia and extraordinarily wacky security measures won't make it easy for the study group — now expelled and dubbed the Greendale Seven — to walk into the school and rescue Dean Pelton. Which means we get an episode that compresses an "Ocean's Eleven"-style heist — complete with disguises, split-screen actions, elaborate plots, and plenty of misdirection — into a half-hour of TV. Pop some popcorn, and settle in for one of the series' most purely fun episodes.

28. Basic Rocket Science (Season 2, Episode 4)

Maybe "Community" isn't the only show that would have an "Apollo 13" parody episode. But it's the only show that would set it in a rickety KFC-sponsored space simulator where a key part of the high-tension problem-solving is achieving the perfect balance of herbs and spices.

The study group has to clean out Greendale's space simulator as punishment for having designed the school's new flag — which is basically "a butt flag." But when the simulator gets towed out into the desert, they have to get it home in time for the press conference the dean has called. Otherwise, Greendale will be fatally embarrassed ... or at least more embarrassed than usual.

With spot-on spoof details and some especially high-quality product placement, "Basic Rocket Science" blasts off to a spot in the series' top episodes.

27. Regional Holiday Music (Season 3, Episode 10)

"Community" throws a couple jabs at "Glee," but none are as funny and impressively committed as Season 3's "Regional Holiday Music," where the study group is gradually enlisted to replace the school's glee club. The episode offers a ton of weirdly catchy songs to illustrate how each member is brainwashed into joining up and becoming a smiling shell of their former self. Even better, each tune is a clever take on someone's weak spot, with bonus skewerings of tropes like airheaded, baby talk-style sexiness ("Teach Me How to Understand Christmas") or self-centered Boomer nostalgia ("Baby Boomer Santa").

"Community" does great holiday episodes, and "Regional Holiday Music" is one of its most creative — and certainly its most infectiously singable.

26. App Development and Condiments (Season 5, Episode 8)

When a developer decides to test a social ranking app called MeowMeowBeenz, Greendale quickly descends into a rigidly points-based society where the "Fives" rule the school. While Britta is a guerrilla revolutionary organizing against the system, the rest get sucked in. The escalation into a points-driven sci-fi culture is so wild and rapid that the show has to hang a lampshade on it, with a character commenting that "the futurization of the campus decor is almost complete."

Really, this episode is about a conflict between Jeff and Shirley, between his attempt at detached cool and her sometimes passive-aggressive niceness. Jeff's been excluding her, and when Shirley's sugary sweetness translates into a cascade of MeowMeowBeenz, she finally has the upper hand. It's a great way of providing real emotional intensity to go along with a high-quality sci-fi parody.

25. Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking (Season 2, Episode 16)

Pierce's simmering feelings of resentment and exclusion finally come to a head in the great "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking." He's in the hospital after an accidental drug overdose, and the study group is camped out in the waiting room. They're worried about him, but they're quickly destracted: Pierce has manufactured an elaborate psychological game out of his "bequeathals," leaving members of the group "presents" that are designed to mess with their heads. (Our personal favorite? Arranging for Troy to meet LeVar Burton when he knows that Troy will clam up out of fear of embarrassing himself.) But he may have gone too far when he promises he's found Jeff's estranged father for him.

Pierce's head games are agonizing for the characters, but let's face it — they're entertaining for us. And the character insights that emerge are genuine.

24. Comparative Religion (Season 1, Episode 12)

When Jeff defends Abed against a campus bully (Anthony Michael Hall), the bully's attention zeroes in on him instead. He challenges Jeff to a fight, one that Shirley — who wants a Christmas full of peace and goodwill ("It's December 10," Jeff points out) — says he shouldn't participate in. Meanwhile, Shirley's insistence on a very Christian Christmas party starts frustrating the rest of the group. When do we fight for what we believe in, and when do we make peace?

Ultimately, "Comparative Religion" is a sweet, funny ode to both acceptance and massive brawls, and everyone in the group sitting around, nursing their wounds, and listening to Shirley's improvised, inclusive carol makes for a lovely end to the show's first semester.

23. Mixology Certification (Season 2, Episode 10)

"Mixology Certification" goes in a surprisingly serious — and seriously bittersweet — direction. The group celebrates Troy's 21st birthday with a trip to a bar, but he soon finds out maturity and responsibility mean a lot more than a single transitional moment.

"Mixology Certification" is an important episode for Troy, as he finally realizes just how flawed the "cool" and "sophisticated" members of the group are and starts crafting his own way of being an adult. His calm shepherding of his drunken, troubled, and lonely friends is sweet, and it makes for a great showcase for Donald Glover's considerable talent. The episode is quieter than most, but it's still as smart and powerful as all the top-tier episodes of "Community."

22. Curriculum Unavailable (Season 3, Episode 19)

In "Curriculum Unavailable," the study group — expelled and tarred as the criminal Greendale Seven — are forced to attend group therapy, where they try to explain what makes Greendale so weird and unforgettable.

A big strength of the episode is John Hodgman, who plays the therapist. He's especially great once he starts channeling "big twist revelation" movies to convince the group that Greendale is actually a psychiatric hospital they've all spent time in. As Jeff tells Troy, "Stop letting him make you realize stuff!"

This is the second fake clip show "Community" aired, but it never feels like a retread. Instead, it seems revelatory, and it's a remarkable tribute to the show's wacky universe.

21. Debate 109 (Season 1, Episode 9)

"Debate 109" introduced the long-running will-they-won't-they sexual and romantic tension between Jeff and Annie, which could be enough to make it a fan-favorite. But it's also just a great episode for the two of them in general, matching Annie's type-A personality and can-do spirit against Jeff's reluctance to exert even a molecule of unnecessary effort. Watching the two of them form a debate team to take on City College is just a delight, especially when their default personalities get them into trouble. This is an extremely funny episode that proves "Community" only needs its characters (and their considerable foibles) in order to be great.

20. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)

This is where it all began. And while not all of the show's heights of spot-on spoofery were obvious right from the beginning (and while the characterization would get a few tweaks as the actors settled into their roles), the pilot still holds up incredibly well.

The premise is simple. Jeff's been a successful lawyer for years, but the bar just discovered he never really graduated from college. ("I thought you had a bachelor's from Columbia," Professor Duncan says, baffled. Without missing a beat, Jeff replies, "And now I have to get one from America.") The episode nails Jeff's early mix of self-interest, moral flexibility, and reluctant — but increasingly serious — emotional involvement, and it starts assembling one of our all-time favorite comedic ensembles. Right out of the gate, the show is funny, quotable, and heartfelt.

19. Documentary Filmmaking: Redux (Season 3, Episode 8)

"Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" takes a simple and already promising comedic conceit — updating Greendale's TV ad — and then gives it exactly what it needs to come unglued: Luis Guzman, the school's one notable alumnus, agrees to make an appearance. Suddenly, everything has to be perfect.

And pretty soon, Abed has all the unhinged material he needs for his making-of documentary. "Hearts of Darkness" has nothing on Dean Pelton's spiral into artistic madness, especially when it's accompanied by Jeff (who's playing the dean) losing himself in his bald-capped character or a frazzled, manic Annie devoting herself heart and soul to the dean's dubious artistic vision. It's one of the show's funniest episodes, and we have to say, Luis Guzman's impassioned speech does make Greendale seem pretty awesome.

18. Physical Education (Season 1, Episode 17)

"Community" knows that Jeff is often at his best when his ego leads him to some ultra-strange places. In "Physical Education," we get one of the crowning examples of that, as he viscerally can't stand to shoot pool in the required (and ridiculous) gym shorts. But in the end, he seizes the day, embraces the silliness, and has a "Color of Money"-inspired billiards game with the shorts-obsessed coach.

Jeff sees the light because of Abed, who blithely goes with the flow when the study group tries to change him to help him get a date. Having a core sense of self and genuine self-esteem, Abed explains, can make you pretty relaxed about the little things.

Ultimately, "Physical Education" is "Community" at its most weirdly inspirational.

17. Cooperative Polygraphy (Season 5, Episode 4)

Season 5's "Cooperative Polygraphy" starts in the aftermath of Pierce's funeral. Yes, Pierce is gone, but in classic Pierce fashion, he's left behind one last attempt to mess with his friends' heads — a mandatory group polygraph that makes them confront all their petty and not-so-petty sins against each other.

In the end, though, Pierce has (mostly) nice things to say about his friends. But then — via his proxy, the enigmatic Mr. Stone (a hilarious Walton Goggins) — he drops a huge revelation: Troy will inherit his millions ... if he agrees to go on an around-the-world sailing trip to discover himself.

That swerve is a big part of the episode's brilliance. While episodes where the characters turn on each other and release accumulated tensions are always fun, by the fifth season, the setup is familiar. But using all this to lead into Donald Glover's impending departure and forcing the group to reckon with Troy's coming absence makes it unusually wrenching and surprising.

16. Critical Film Studies (Season 2, Episode 19)

"Critical Film Studies" sees the most inventive parody mash-up on "Community." Jeff tries to throw a "Pulp Fiction" birthday party for Abed, but Abed just wants a solo dinner with him, one full of meandering, intimate conversation about the big questions in life. Yep, this episode is "Pulp Fiction" meets "My Dinner with Andre," and it's brilliant.

The rapport between Jeff and Abed — two characters who seem superficially so different and secretly have so much in common — is one of the show's biggest strengths, and episodes focused on their connection are always great. "Critical Film Studies" tackles that head-on, as the two of them try to reach out to each other and make meaningful gestures ... and it all goes horribly wrong.

This is one of the show's most emotional episodes, and its psychological complexity — and the way it peels off another layer of Jeff's cool to reveal the brokenness underneath — makes it especially powerful.

15. Paradigms of Human Memory (Season 2, Episode 21)

"Paradigms of Human Memory" takes on the stale concept of a clip show and does it with a hilarious twist: All the flashbacks to past adventures are actually new material.

The episode also proves that as much as we love the study group's rapport, the show is sometimes funniest when they're at each other's throats. (No need to worry. It's all healed by patching together a lot of Jeff's signature inspirational speeches into a disconnected but somehow heartwarming whole.) This is also the episode that gave "Community" fans their rallying cry of, "Six seasons and a movie!"

Really, the only problem with "Paradigms of Human Memory" is that some of these flashback-only snippets are things we wish we could've seen for real.

14. Cooperative Calligraphy (Season 2, Episode 8)

"Cooperative Calligraphy" is one of the key episodes for the early ensemble's dynamic. Annie hits a wall about the sheer number of her pens that have gone missing over the semester and insists that everyone stay in the library until someone fesses up to stealing them.

Abed may hate bottle episodes, but we don't, and "Community" gives us one of the best. It also gives us a basic thesis for the show's existence. These people may be total train wrecks who fight an awful lot, but they love each other. And if they love each other so much that they'd rather start believing in a pen-stealing ghost than accept that one of them "doesn't belong," then they really are a community.

13. Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas (Season 2, Episode 11)

"Community" plunges into claymation with "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." While the show's parodies are always fun, they're at their best when they're grounded in the characters' own reality. The Season 2 holiday special captures that perfectly. Abed has peeled off from the real world and started seeing things in the claymation of an old TV Christmas special — and that means something is seriously wrong.

Duncan selfishly sees the perfect opportunity to write a groundbreaking paper in walking all of them through an imaginary Christmas wonderland to unravel the mystery. But with a perfect blend of holiday songs, incredible imagination, loving friendship, and, of course, the obligatory Christmas pterodactyl, the episode manages to be sweet while still dealing with some real darkness and bitterness.

12. Geothermal Escapism (Season 5, Episode 5)

"Community" found an unexpected goldmine in the increasingly close friendship between Troy and Abed. It changed the course of Troy's characterization, turning him from "one-time jock" to "sweet oddball," and it became one of the show's most touching core relationships.

And in "Geothermal Escapism," it comes to an end — at least for a while. Donald Glover was leaving the show, so "Community" sent Troy off on the around-the-world sailing trip necessary to claim his inheritance from Pierce. But the goodbye isn't simple. Abed ropes the whole campus into a high-stakes game of "The Floor is Lava" ... and he knows that when they all stop pretending, things are going to change for good. Like "Pillows and Blankets," the episode ends with Troy and Abed adopting an unorthodox solution, one that hinges on their key traits of imagination and sincerity.

11. Pillows and Blankets (Season 3, Episode 14)

"Pillows and Blankets" takes a fight between Troy and Abed — go for a record-breaking pillow fort or a record-breaking blanket fort? — and escalates it into a Ken Burns-style war documentary. The inherent gravity of its format highlights the sheer ridiculousness of the battle between "Pillowtown" and "Blanketsburg," but it also reminds viewers that the emotional stakes here are very, very real. The pillows vs. blankets conflict is just an excuse to vent some deeper, unspoken conflicts Troy and Abed have been handling, and now, their friendship itself is on the line.

Troy and Abed have differed before, but this is the first episode that actually brings them into direct, bitter conflict with each other, and it winds up being pretty wrenching to watch ... like a real war that does in fact deserve its own documentary.

10. Basic Lupine Urology (Season 3, Episode 17)

When the study group has to prove that someone sabotaged their biology project, "Community" goes "Law & Order." (The title of the episode is a pun on "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf.) This episode doesn't aim at anything too deep, but it doesn't need to in order to deliver some of the series' best laughs-per-minute ratio. Watching the universe of "Community" rotate by just a couple of degrees to become a spot-on "Law & Order" episode is some of the most fun you can have, period. Even the costuming is perfect.

"Community" always excels at its parody episodes, but this one is just so precise that everything about it works like gangbusters.

9. Epidemiology (Season 2, Episode 6)

Never buy military surplus taco meat in bulk. Honestly, accidentally turning most of your students into zombies is almost a best-case scenario at that point.

"Epidemiology" is set at Greendale Halloween party, where the dean's attempt to get cheap snacks has resulted in a zombie outbreak ... and his attempt to get help has resulted in the Army locking down the school, trapping the uninfected inside with their slavering former classmates. Add in costumes, an endless ABBA playlist, Troy's fear of turning as geeky as his best friend, an unexpected Shirley-Chang hookup, and clever horror movie jokes, and you have one of the series' most memorable episodes. It even manages some genuine tension and creepiness, as well as real cheers when Troy wades through zombies to save the day.

8. Contemporary American Poultry (Season 1, Episode 21)

Anyone who ever ate in a school cafeteria knows the bitter truth at the heart of "Contemporary American Poultry." Almost nothing that comes out of that kitchen is going to be any good. When you do find the one thing the cafeteria does right, you seize on it. So when Greendale devolves into a chicken finger economy that lets fry cook Abed and his friends jump head-first into a "Goodfellas" riff, it almost seems plausible.

"Contemporary American Poultry" is so weird and audacious that it was always going to be great, but what takes it to the next level is its in-depth look at Abed's desire to connect with the people around him. You'll come for the thrill of seeing the show actually pull off the concept of a chicken finger Mafia, and you'll stay for the emotional resolution that's more delicious than anything from a cafeteria fryer.

7. Digital Estate Planning (Season 3, Episode 20)

One of the most formally and stylistically risky episodes "Community" ever produced, "Digital Estate Planning" could've been an abysmal flop. But instead, this episode — which sees 8-bit video game versions of our characters battling their way through a retro video game designed by a dead bigot, all so Pierce can claim his inheritance — is simply fantastic. It also features one of the show's best guest stars, Giancarlo Esposito, as Pierce's secret half-brother, Gilbert.

Old-school video game fans will get a huge kick out of the brilliant sense of gameplay and design. And the episode gets bonus mileage out of the contrast between the cheerful graphics and the "Grand Theft Auto"-like freedom the characters have to commit robbery, murder, and arson.

The episode also works because of the depth it succeeds in getting out of Pierce and Gilbert's troubled relationship with their father. For once, they may literally play his game, but in the most important ways, they're able to step away from it.

6. Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design (Season 2, Episode 9)

"Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" features one of the best opening segments in the show's history, full of terrific twists and reversals. Jeff invents a fake conspiracy theory class taught by "Professor Professorson" ... and when he gets called on the obvious lie, somehow the imaginary Professor Professorson shows up to back him up.

While Jeff just wants to coast on his good luck, Annie insists on finding out what's going on, leading them into the weird world of Greendale's night school, a chase through Troy and Abed's blanket fort city, and an epic finale full of prop guns. The episode is incredibly bold and dramatic, and the twists are so well-executed and grounded in characterization that they never stop feeling fresh, even if you've watched this one as many times as we have.

5. Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television (Season 6, Episode 13)

It all had to end sometime.

The finale of "Community" is unabashedly wistful, dealing with not only a major transition for the cast — Annie is off to an FBI internship and Abed to Hollywood — but also with how audiences feel when a long-running and well-loved show needs to come to an end. Part of the comfort of TV is the sense of a status quo, but sometimes you know the characters have to move on in order to really be happy. So what makes for a good ending? And how does Jeff feel as more and more of his friends reinvent their lives and he stays behind, still tied to Greendale? What if these people lose touch with each other?

"Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television" accepts that there will always be plenty of unknowns. As an elegiac look at getting older and moving on, it's the perfect, emotionally complex coda to a show where the characters sometimes felt stuck. And it reassures us that the connection between these people will always matter, even when they're far apart.

4. A Fistful of Paintballs - For a Few Paintballs More (Season 2, Episodes 23-24)

The first paintball war episode was such an invigorating surprise that it must've been hard to plan the Season 2 version. But with the two-parter "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For a Few Paintballs More," the show blew away the idea of any kind of sophomore slump.

"A Fistful of Paintballs" blends the paintball game with a Western parody — one where Josh Holloway shows up as the dangerously dreamy "Black Rider" — and "For a Few Paintballs More" lets it evolve naturally into a "Star Wars" riff. The key element in the switch? Realizing that the $100,000 prize offered in "Fistful" plunged the campus into chaos deliberately. City College posed as the ice cream parlor offering the prize money, hoping Greendale would destroy itself, just as it nearly did last year. Now, the whole school rallies together in an alliance to have a Greendale student win the game and use the prize money for the necessary repairs.

With awesome action, an Annie-Abed kiss (while Abed is in Han Solo mode), and a poignant subplot about Pierce's loneliness and sense of exclusion, this two-parter is more than just a worthy successor to "Modern Warfare." It's terrific in its own right.

3. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (Season 2, Episode 14)

"Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" is a high-concept episode that proves how great "Community" can be even with all the spectacle stripped down. Here, we just watch the study group sit around a table and play an unusually high-stakes game of D&D. And it's unbelievably riveting.

Part of that is due to Neil (Charley Koontz), who's the reason they're all there. All the routine awfulness he endures as "Fat Neil" has led to him getting so depressed that the study group is concerned he might hurt himself. They hope that playing his beloved D&D with him will help him get his joy back. But they organized it without asking Pierce to participate, and now he's decided to crash the game and make them all pay.

The high emotions of the episode somehow blend seamlessly with the in-game details of trying to seduce an elf maiden to get a good deal on some pegasi. This episode is as clever as it is heartfelt, and its resolution is genuinely touching.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

2. Modern Warfare (Season 1, Episode 23)

Shot like an action movie in a way that's beautiful to behold, "Modern Warfare" helped push the limits of what "Community" could be. The most in-depth and transformative parody to date, it shook up the series' style and proved how formally ambitious it could be. And with Jeff and Britta finally resolving their sexual tension via a paintball war hookup on the study room table — something that manages to be sexy, playful, and full of layered feelings all at the same time — it's tremendously plot-important as well.

The basic idea is that the school's paintball war disintegrates into cutthroat chaos once the dean announces the prize, which is a hilarious combination of banal and too valuable for any student to pass up: priority registration. It's then a quick trip to the world of an apocalyptic war movie, to the point where Jeff naps in his car and wakes up in a wasteland.

With fluid action direction and a nod to every war movie cliché in the books, "Modern Warfare" still stuns us.

1. Remedial Chaos Theory (Season 3, Episode 4)

"Remedial Chaos Theory" starts off as a housewarming party for Troy and Abed's apartment. Then someone has to go down to retrieve the pizza they've ordered, and Jeff suggests rolling a die to see who gets up. The rest is history.

We see the alternate possibilities created by this random variable, as the show splinters off to show different versions of how the night could play out depending on who leaves to get the pizza. The best is an over-the-top explosion of perfectly timed chaos, where Troy — in a sequence that became an iconic GIF — returns with the pizzas to find Pierce shot and the apartment on fire.

It's a fascinating episode full of character insights, and the comedic pile-up of disasters in the "darkest timeline" segment is just uproariously funny. But what really seals the deal is the bittersweetness of the final outcome. Jeff goes to get the pizza ... and everything, at least for now, is better off without him and his obsession with keeping things cool and normal. When he comes back and smiles at them all dancing to "Roxanne," we see this is in fact the universe he wants — he just keeps making choices that keep it from happening. That surprising shot of darkness at the end completes the tonal variety of this episode, making this the best "Community" episode ever.