2010-2011 season wrap: Ranking the episodes of Community’s second season

The 2010-2011 television series officially ended last week. Obviously, there will be a lot of great television coming in the summer months ahead and it is sort of silly to stick to the ancient constructs of the broadcast television season (which ran from September 20, 2010 to May 25, 2011 this season), but I’ve never claimed to not be silly. Therefore, over the next handful of days, I’ll be writing some reflection pieces on this season. These posts will range from lists (like this one!) to season reviews for my favorite series. There’s no set schedule for what’s to come, but stay close to the site and to Twitter and you’ll be fine.

This might have been the toughest list I have ever compiled and I have done some stupid-long lists in my day. Heck, I even tried to work on this list as the second season of Community progressed with a trusty WordPad file that I updated each week when a new episode aired. But when I sat down to actually type out this list in a WordPress post, the pressure came bearing down on me. Community‘s second season is one of my favorite seasons of television ever and most certainly my favorite season of any comedy. It might not be the best (though it might be close), but it is my favorite, so I take the rankings of this list very seriously. And if you don’t like mine (or even if you do, I guess), you should definitely head over to Justin Fowler’s Late Reviews blog and read his list. I can’t not plug a man who is after my own list-loving heart.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my ranked list of the 23 episodes (with the two-part finale considered one episode) of Community‘s second season, in reverse order.

23. “Competitive Wine Tasting”: An episode with three quality story ideas unfortunately jammed into the constraints of a 21-minute episode. Jeff and Pierce’s problems are always worth exploring  and Abed taking an entire course about Who’s The Boss seemed like a dream idea for the series to execute. But because of the time crunch, neither those stories or Britta and Troy’s possible attraction get going in the way most episodes do. Far from terrible and still a B-minus episode, which shows you how great this season actually was.

22. “Basic Rocket Science”: Definitely the most hyped episode of the fall, but it failed to live up to the expectations. Of all the major “theme” episodes, this is the only one that never reaches any character relevancy and mostly feels like parody for parody’s sake. It gets better on subsequent viewings, but that is not enough.

21. “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”: Shirley’s pregnancy and her relationship with Chang never developed in the way it could have, especially on her end, but this is a nice, small episode that allows Ken Jeong to do Ken Jeong-ian things. Also: I’m never one to complain about plotlines that allow Britta to be awful.

20. “The Psychology of Letting Go”: The death of Pierce’s mother ended up being much more important than it initially seemed here, but this episode still did a great job of treating his loss with honesty and emotion — and ice cream. Abed delivering the baby in the background was one of the season’s most intelligent “small” moments.

19. “Celebrity Pharmacology”: I think this was the point where everyone started to realize that Pierce was much more awful than we thought, but I enjoyed his tantrums here. This just felt like an odd episode, which is probably weird to say about Community to begin with, right?

18. “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts”: The season’s true penultimate episode wrapped up Shirley’s pregnancy and her “relationship” with Chang too easily, but the final moments the study group spent in Anthropology were still worthwhile. Ken Jeong gave his best performance of the season as his Chang became something of a hero to Shirley in the final moments before her son’s birth. Pierce devaluing Troy and Abed’s handshake with his blood money proved that the character could still be evil without appearing totally villainous.

17. “Asian Population Studies”: Rich is one of those characters I wish the series would use more often, even if I understand why they don’t since he solely exists as a foil for Jeff and the series really isn’t about Jeff and his “growing” anymore. This one works almost entirely because of Jeff’s final sprint through the rain to Rich’s apartment.

16. “Intro to Political Science”: Sometimes the series overdoes it with Jeff and Annie without really committing to anything, but this quasi-spiritual sequel to the season one debate episode works nevertheless. This is one of those episodes that ended up being more important than we thought because it does such a nice job of expanding the series’ world with the student elections. The Magnitude-Leonard showdown is obvious, but still tremendously funny.

15. “Early 21st Century Romanticism”: There was some weird hate for this episode. The folks who wanted the series to be more like it was in season one were disappointed that this wasn’t enough like season one and those who prefer season two didn’t like it because it felt too much like season one. I actually really enjoyed this one, particularly Britta’s quasi-lesbian experience and Jeff’s domesticated Chang problems. Not every episode has to be an all-timer or a “theme” episode, ones like this are the glue that keeps the season together, at least in my opinion.

14. “Aerodynamics of Gender”: The secret trampoline plot was most certainly the weirdest thing the series did in a season full of weird things, but it worked because of Pierce’s childish, but believable reaction. I prefer episodes that show a more subtle version of how Abed interacts with people through popular culture touchstones, but it is hard to deny the hilarity of him insulting Hilary Duff and pulling up the ovulating schedules of the study group’s females on his Terminator-like internal screen.

13. “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples”: I know, I know. Most people, even die-hard fans of Community, hate this episode. It is abstract, difficult, mostly unbelievable and a bit on the nose. But dammit if I don’t kind of love it, even if it totally betrays the things I just said about preferring episodes that portray Abed’s interpersonal skills more subtlety. Abed and Shirley’s final few conversations are honest ships in a sea of totally wonky religious and social commentary and I think those moments are what make the episode for me. Moreover, the runner about Pierce hanging out with the wrong crowd is one of the season’s more underrated B/C plots.

12. “Accounting For Lawyers”: The series’ first ever full-bore excursion outside of Greendale is rock-solid success. Second seasons often dive much deeper into characters’ backgrounds and this one does a great job of accomplishing that for Jeff while reminding the audience who might have forgotten over the summer what the series is often about (i.e. Jeff’s struggles to be part of the group, the group members’ overall struggle to fit in anywhere but with one another). Throw in Annie’s epic chloroforming and the weird thing with the hand of Drew Carrey’s character and you have yourself a fine 21.5 minutes of comedic television.

11. “Anthropology 101: Maybe it is just me, but it feels like the fantastic season premiere gets lost amid the shuffle of tremendous episodes that followed it. Clearly its place on this list suggests I do not think it was the best the series had to offer, but there is really nothing I even remotely dislike about this episode. I thought it backed away from the first season’s romantic cliffhangers beautifully while setting the stage for the inter-group drama that was to follow the rest of the season. The group never really recovers from the big fight they have in this episode, which is impressive plotting if you ask me.

10. “A Fistful of Paintballs”/”For a Few Paintballs More”: The two-part season finale might have aired across two weeks, but they were totally constructed as one and I’m thus going to keep them together in that way here. The series was never going to top “Modern Warfare,” but Dan Harmon and his team did a wonderful job of not really trying by tackling different genres and focusing more on character developments that were much more important to the season’s overall narrative than what “Warfare” did for Britta and Jeff’s sexual tension. The first part is certainly much stronger, but the last few minutes of “More” are some of the strongest in the series’ run to-date.

9. “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”: I have never played D&D, which perhaps colors my slightly-lower-than-expected opinion on this episode. Don’t get my wrong, I thought this one was innovative and hilarious and didn’t mind the direction it took Pierce, but I would imagine that I have it lower on the list than many fans and critics might. I’m okay with that.

8. “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”: This is where my personal taste and interests come in again. I love conspiracy theories and I love dramatic, intense thrillers that are about conspiracy theories, so there was no way that I wasn’t going to adore this episode. The plot of this episode is completely ridiculous, but it is just so hilarious that it doesn’t even matter. From Professor Professorson and the Time Desk to the blanket fort chase sequence, this episode is Community at its oddball heights.

7. “Critical Film Studies”: During his most recent appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Dan Harmon noted that he cried while reading the overwhelmingly positive response to this episode. The fact that the people making this series can do an episode like this, one that includes a secret parody/reference to a lesser-known film under the guise of an obvious parody/reference to a widely-known film, and care about it so much that they’re weeping in response to the fan reaction is all I really need to know about Community. This isn’t a series that does episodes like “Critical Film Studies” just for kicks, they mean something, both to the characters and the people creating them.

6. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”: Though the Lost dig made my inner fanboy twitch, there is really nothing to complain about with this episode (or obviously, any of the ones above it on the list). The claymation work was fantastic, the representations of the characters totally fitting and somehow, it all made complete sense in the zany world of this series.

5. “Epidemiology”: After the misstep of “Basic Rock Science,” I was admittedly worried about the series’ ability to do the big theme/concept episodes, as it kind of felt like the series was chasing the success of “Modern Warfare,” if even just a bit. “Epidemiology” changed my mind completely with its wonderful mix of zombie fun and useful character development for Troy, the season’s MVP. I know it is blasphemous to say it, but I think I actually like this episode more than “Modern Warfare.”

4. “Cooperative Calligraphy”: Another episode that works as an episodic triumph and larger piece of the season’s longer narrative, the “bottle episode” (even if there were a number of bottle episodes this season) is definitely the pivot point for the second season. From here onward, the season, and really, the series became something more, something better. This episode is not only hilarious, but compelling in its deconstruction of the group’s dynamic and reasons for being together at all…

3. “Paradigms of Human Memory”:…which makes it a nice partner episode for the season’s most outwardly funny episode. The fake clip show conceit is definitely one of the most creative things I have ever heard of (even if the Clerks animated series did it first) and really only Community could pull something like this off. There are so many standout moments (the shipper montages, Troy’s Inception-like nose bleeds, the locations alone) that I am straining to not simply write them all down here and say, “PROOF” or something. Furthermore, like “Calligraphy,” this episode also finds time amid the bully laughs to accentuate the somewhat toxic state of the study group’s relations at the late juncture of the season. Really an all-time comedy episode of the 21st century.

2. “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”: When I was compiling my top 10 episodes of the whole television season last week, my Community choice came down to the wire. I ultimately went with another episode, but I was oh so close to picking this one, which uses the mockumentary style to expert perfection. Whomever decided that a story with such raw emotions like this one needed to be shot in the most intimate of sitcom styles really deserves a pay raise because it was a near-genius call. This episode includes both season-highlight laughs (everything with Troy) and intense personal moments (Jeff’s breakdown most notably). I think I could watch this episode on a loop forever and never get bored.

1. “Mixology Certification”: It was my #2 episode of the entire television season, so obviously it’s going to be my #1 episode of the season. I cannot overstate how much I love this episode. There are probably a dozen episodes further down on this list that are technically “funnier,” but I prefer my comedies to be about something more than just providing laughs to the audience. “Mixology” isn’t as overtly raw or “real” like “Documentary Filmmaking,” but it taps into the loneliness that each of these characters has to battle when they step outside of the Greendale campus and emphasizes the season’s thematic concerns about the sort of healing nature of Greendale as a place. Swoon.

There you have it folks. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “2010-2011 season wrap: Ranking the episodes of Community’s second season

  1. It’s scary how much you think like me. Mixology Certification is also my favourite episode of the season. The scene at the end with Annie and Troy outside her apartment was one of my favourite serious/dramatic moments in a sitcom ever. I also like like Epidemiology more than Modern Warfare(Abba and zombies. whats not to love?).

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  2. fantastic list. I’ve really enjoyed reading all of your reviews this season.

    and for posterity, my top 5 this season:

    Conspiracy Theories
    Cooperative Calligraphy
    Paradigms of Human Memory
    Paintball Part I
    Mixology Certification

    lots of overlap in the top 5!

    Like

  3. Yeah man, that is so weird because I think Mixology was the best of the entire season as well. The moment after taking annie in – when he gets back in the car. Truely powerful stuff (with just the way he says Thanks, and tells Abed not to be a tattle). Somehow Donald can turn just one phrase into the most powerful phrase of the entire season. I love that fucking dude. Also, I love the message about alcohol how he leaves. So powerful.

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