Over six seasons, the wacky misadventures of community college students in Colorado struggled to find its place in a tough TV world. COMMUNITY alternated between being one of the smartest comedies on TV and one of the silliest. But which season was its best?
Debuting on NBC in September 2009, Dan Harmon’s COMMUNITY was never a huge hit, and managed to be on the cancellation bubble for its entire run. The show followed a group of outcasts at Greendale Community College who were brought together when disgraced former lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) created a fake study group to get a date with a classmate. Despite Winger’s protestations, the study group became not just close friends, but also a family. They stuck together through paintball games, crazy teachers, regionals and more drama than you could ever fit into a four-year degree.
NBC cancelled the show after its fifth season, but it was picked up for a sixth by streaming service YAHOO! SCREEN. Is that service even around any more? The only thing I ever watched on it was COMMUNITY…
I recently finished a complete series rewatch of the show, and it has become a binge-watch favorite for me. Almost everything about the show gets a smile from me every time I watch an episode. Now that I’ve watched every episode again, though, let’s go through and rank the seasons from worst to first. We’ll look at the bottom half of the show here, with a look at the three best seasons coming later in the week.
6 – The Britta – Season 4
This probably isn’t a controversial choice… Creator Dan Harmon was fired at the end of season 3 (he would be back in season 5), but the series went on with new showrunners. However, without the personal touch Harmon brought to the show – he created it based on his time at community college – COMMUNITY lost something special. The situations, while just as wacky as the previous three seasons, seemed more forced and all seven main members of the ensemble cast felt a bit off. Add in a lame overarching story about former Spanish teacher (and would-be ruler – more on that later) Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) suffering from “Changnesia” and a completely flat relationship between Troy (Donald Glover) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs), and it became tough to care about these (usually) lovable characters. In later seasons, the characters would refer to this year as “the gas leak year” to write off anything that happened here.
There were still some fun episodes, but the bad far outweighed the good here, and season 4 is probably the only season where I think that’s true.
Herstory of Dance – Britta rails against Dean Pelton’s announcement of an upcoming Sadie Hawkins Dance by announcing a dance of her own. But instead of calling it a Susan B. Anthony Dance, after the noted women’s rights advocate, she Brittas it (the show’s term for screwing up) and calls it a Sophie B. Hawkins dance, after the 1990s pop star. With some help from Pierce (Chevy Chase), Hawkins actually shows up to perform, giving Britta a much-needed win. The B-plot, with Abed (Danny Pudi) enjoying the classic TV trope of running between two dates before meeting a girl he actually likes, adds to the fun, as does Hawkins singing the line, “Damn! I wish Abed was Batman!” It’s a rare highlight in an other wise dim season.
5 – Time For A Chang? – Season 3
Here’s where the controversy probably comes in. The final season of Harmon’s original run on the show, in my opinion, doesn’t get nearly as much flak for its role in leading into the abysmal fourth season. The multi-episode arc at the end of the season led to disgraced former Spanish professor Ben Chang becoming a security guard and then manipulating the school board into letting him become the emperor of Greendale and expelling the study group. Plus, we get the beginning of the awkward Troy-Britta relationship.
There are a bunch of classic episodes in season 3, including the housewarming party for Troy and Abed in Remedial Chaos Theory that sets up the alternate timelines idea for the show, but I season 3 felt like a complete letdown after the first two brilliant seasons.
Studies In Modern Movement – While most of the gang helps Annie (Alison Brie) move into Troy and Abed’s apartment, Jeff pretends he’s sick and goes to the mall, where he runs into Dean Pelton (Jim Rash). The karaoke segment where Jeff and the Dean sing “Kiss From A Rose” is one of my favorite parts of the show.
Basic Lupine Urology – In season 3, the group took a biology class together, and when their yam project is destroyed, they split up to try and discover whodunnit. The episode is presented like a classic LAW & ORDER episode, with Troy and Abed serving a the cops and Annie and Jeff the District Attorneys. The episode ends with a court case inside biology class with teacher Marshall Kane (Michael Kenneth Williams) presiding as the judge.
Digital Estate Planning – Right in the middle of the Chang Dynasty arc, the group breaks from the chaos to accompany Pierce as he goes to accept his inheritance from his father – who died of a heart attack after getting yelled at by Jeff earlier in the season. In order to gain his inheritance, Pierce has to win a video game competition created by his father as a final challenge. Most of the episode is presented as a 16-bit video game as the gang tries to beat Pierce’s father’s man-servant Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito), who has a surprising connection to the family.
4 – The End – Season 6
No longer held to the standards of broadcast television, COMMUNITY… didn’t really change very much on YAHOO! SCREEN (there there was more cussing than before). Both Troy and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) left the show before the final season, so Paget Brewster and Keith David were brought on to fill out the ensemble as the former study group continued on as the Committee to Save Greendale. While everyone was trying hard to recreate the magic of earlier seasons – including a return to campus-wide paintball games – it just wasn’t the same without Troy, Shirley and Pierce. Thankfully, the show ends on a high note, with Annie and Abed going off to pursue their dreams while the others accept their roles in the world.
Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing – Chang tries out for a role in a stage adaptation of The Karate Kid and has to deal with an abusive director (Jason Mantzoukas), though it turns out he’s just trying to bring out the best in Chang. Meanwhile, the school board wants Dean Pelton to join to be their token gay member, though that limits the scope of the Dean’s true identity.
Modern Espionage – One of the final three episodes of the series is exceptional for how much better it was than the rest of the season. An underground paintball game disrupts the campus and the gang go undercover to try and find the person running it. All the hallmarks of classic COMMUNITY episodes are here – irreverent humor, call backs and, of course, paintball.
That’s all for part one. Check out the SECOND PART of the rankings, where we see which season of COMMUNITY is named valedictorian!