Lewis Jacobs, Still Photographer, 2011

A special look at my favorite episodes of the Dan Harmon series continues as we celebrate the season for a return to academics. Each edition of this 5-part series will look at 5 episodes over the show’s six seasons – yes, even season 4. Well, maybe. 

Make sure you check out PART 1 as we get into our next edition. 

COMMUNITY — “The Art of Discourse” Episode 124 — Pictured: (l-r) Joel McHale as Jeff, Lisa Rinna as Mark’s Mom — Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC

The Art of Discourse 
Season 1, Episode 22 

We all know that Pierce Hawthorne (CHEVY CHASE) isn’t really a good dude. But for the most part, the elder sanitary wipes heir is a guy just trying to fit in with a younger crowd who takes things too far, like when he pulls down Shirley’s (Yvette Nicole Brown) pants to copy the hi-jinx of Troy and Abed. For his desire to be accepted, Pierce gets kicked out of the group and spends the next 20 minutes or so trying to get back in. 

Pierce bounces between being angry with the group and begging to get back in, and we see the full range of what Chase can do with the character here, and what the study group means to the old man. I think it’s probably Chase’s best episode in the series. 

Elsewhere, Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed are doing classic 80s comedy tropes to mixed results, while Jeff and Britta face off against a trio of high school students taking classes at Greendale for college credit. The kids are rightly mocking of the older pair and Jeff and Britta let out their inner Pierce to get back to them. The final confrontation, a “duh-doi” contest, should be obnoxious, but it works so well with the rest of the episode. Plus we get a slo-mo food fight to close out the episode, so it’s all worth it. 

Lewis Jacobs Still Photographer 2010

Basic Rocket Science 
Season 2, Episode 4 

The feud between Greendale Community College and City College takes center stage in this episode, as Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) is trying to get a space simulation program off the ground before the rival institution does theirs. Before the official kick-off, the Dean needs the simulator – an old RV tricked out with a Kentucky Fried Chicken space program – completely cleaned, so he tasks the study group with cleaning it as punishment for submitting a new school flag that clearly includes a sphincter. 

He really is a terrible dean. 

The study group – minus Abed, who went off to get something to add to the hi-jinx – end up locked in the simulator, which then gets towed. The group then needs to finish the simulation to get out of the RV and then drive back to campus in time for the launch so City College doesn’t win. 

It’s a great ensemble episode where everyone has an opportunity to shine.

COMMUNITY — “Basic Lupine Urology” Episode 317 — Pictured: (l-r) Donald Glover as Troy, Danny Pudi as Abed — Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC

Basic Lupine Urology
Season 3, Episode 17 

One of the best parts of COMMUNITY are the homages the show manages to pull off. This episode is probably the best example of this, as the whole thing is a send-up of Law & Order episodes, as the study group tries to figure out who killed the yam in their biology lab. 

The character breakdowns are almost too perfect, with Troy and Abed serving as the cops, with Shirley as their boss. Jeff and Annie (Allison Brie) represent the district attorneys. Britta and Pierce are, unfortunately, relegated to small supporting roles. 

Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar from The Wire) is great as the biology teacher throughout season 3 and serves as the judge in the case. The ensemble shines here in this fun episode, which ends with word that fellow Greendale student and drug dealer Star Burns died when he was rear ended and the meth lab in his trunk exploded. 

Basic Intergluteal Numismatics
Season 5, Episode 3 

After a year away from the show, Dan Harmon came back strong, and the third episode is maybe the best of the early part of this season. More importantly, it’s a spiritual continuation of the previous episode on the list. 

A serial criminal has returned to campus, only he’s not killing anyone. Or stealing anything. He – or she – is just sticking quarters down the ass cracks of random people encountered on campus. OK, maybe it’s not a crime in the classic sense, but it’s certainly weird, even for Greendale. So the study group – now the Committee to Save Greendale – takes it upon themselves to try and figure out who this Ass Crack Bandit is. 

We also get the return of Star Burns, who takes the fall as the bad guy before Jeff and Annie figure out he couldn’t be the bad guy because he has no idea who Dave Matthews is. It’s a weird connection, but it works. 

The episode is moody and atmospheric, with classic Community humor mixed in. At the end, though, the identity of the Ass Crack Bandit (spoiler: it was Britta) is less important than the reveal from Shirley that Pierce had a heart attack and died. It’s an understated end to one of the show’s best characters. But Pierce would still have a lasting effect on the rest of the season, even if Chevy Chase had decided to leave the show. 

Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing 
Season 6, Episode 4 

Normally, I can’t stand Chang-centric episodes. Everything about the end of the third season (and the focus on him in the fourth) really soured me on him as a character. But the final two seasons of the show really began to rehabilitate him a bit. 

In this final season episode, Chang tries out for a role in the Greendale production of The Karate Kid. He wants to play Daniel, so as to not play into Asian stereotypes, but the director, played by the dastardly Jason Mantzoukas, casts him as Mr. Miyagi and proceeds to berate Chang all the way through rehearsals. When Annie – who got cast as Daniel instead – tries to stand up for Chang, we get the director’s true motives: he thinks Chang is a brilliant actor and is trying to get the best out of him. On a show that trains its viewers to expect subverted expectations, going with a more universal TV trope sometimes is enough to be unexpected. 

The other plot of the episode involves Dean Pelton getting recruited by school board members Richie and Carl – whose appearances are either fantastic or obnoxious and nothing in between – to be the board’s token gay member. It’s a pretty blah bit, especially when Pelton declares that being gay doesn’t even begin to cover his orientation. Regardless, Jim Rash does a great job with the story and makes sure it’s entertaining. 

That’s the bell for this time around. I’ll be back next Wednesday for our third edition.