You know what’s fun? Community. You know what else is fun? Lists. So this list of all the second season episodes of Community ranked from 24 to 1 is sure to be a blast. It should also have the added benefit of demonstrating just how good the second season of Community was.
24. Early 21st Century Romanticism: So how good was Community this season? So good that a perfectly harmless, generally entertaining, just slightly messy episode is the worst of the season. Everything works sporadically here, but doesn’t really come together in the end. Britta and alterna-faux-lesbian-Britta’s extremely awkward kiss is the clear highlight, though the introduction of the instant party that is Magnitude! definitely deserves a mention.
23. Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples: Maybe the most ambitious episode of the season, “Messianic Myths” just never manages to live up to that ambition. There are those who really dislike this episode, but I’m not one of them, as Abed’s attempt to understand religion–and Shirley’s growing frustration with the film that attempt produces–is both good character work and an incredibly impressive thing for a sitcom to try. It still ranks 23.
22. Asian Population Studies: Though I like the character of Rich a lot, there’s nothing terribly memorable here, and that’s why it slots in so low. It’s just one of those really solid episodes of television most sitcoms would be thrilled to produce on any given week.
21. Competitive Wine Tasting: A class about “Who’s the Boss” taught by Stephen Tobolowsky should probably have been given an episode of its own, not shunted off to a subplot like it is here, where it feels too rushed and not quite fully formed. That narrative unevenness aside, the A-plot is good, built around Jeff’s insecurity and Pierce’s growing sense of alienation.
20. Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy: Shirley’s pregnancy–though an important story throughout the season–was never quite as funny or interesting as the writers wanted it to be. Consequently, the B-plot here is the memorable one, making good use of Britta’s strident liberalism and guest starring Enver Gjokaj in a funny turn as an unrepentant war criminal turned Greendale student.
19. Basic Rocket Science: This episode probably works better for people more invested in the astronaut genre than I am, but even so, its commitment to that genre is undeniable. It also does a fine job establishing the City College-Greendale rivalry.
18. Celebrity Pharmacology 212: This is the part of the list where we move from funny episodes that don’t quite come together to very funny episodes that don’t quite come together. “Celebrity Pharmacology” is around the time when fans really began questioning Pierce’s character arc, as his behavior begins to cross the line from obnoxious to almost unbearably obnoxious. But the way Pierce turns his marijuana leaf villain into the hero of Annie’s play is an instructive insight into his character: like The Office‘s Michael Scott, he just wants people to like him. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to make that happen.
17. Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts: Despite my ambivalence towards Shirley’s pregnancy, the pay-off is quite good, going so far as to make Chang seem something close to human for a minute or two. What it all means for Shirley is less clear, unfortunately. Britta’s attempt to play midwife is one of the funnier gags of the season and continues her struggle to live up to her ridiculous ideals.
16. Intro to Political Science: Despite the general absence of Britta and Shirley, and being a bit too on the nose with Jeff and Annie’s relationship, there’s a lot of sharp political humor here between Jeff’s inane catchphrases and Troy and Abed’s commentary. Additionally, Jeff dresses up like George Micheal and sings “You’ve Gotta Have Jeff,” and the Dean dresses up in “his sister’s” Uncle Sam costume. It’s a good episode for fans of outfit humor.
15. Aerodynamics of Gender: Community did a lot of really bizarre plots this season, but Troy and Jeff finding a magical trampoline is probably the most bizarre plot of all. Abed as a mean girl, meanwhile, does a good job highlighting his antisocial tendencies. Abed must be used for good, not for evil.
14. The Psychology of Letting Go: Pierce’s second-season storyline really begins here, with the death of his mother. The episode manages to depict both the group’s pathologies and the way they genuinely try to support one another. In the end, Pierce is left with a CD of his mother’s last words and a profound loneliness that will feed his own pathologies in the episodes to come.
13. Anthropology 101: Two great scenes bookend the season premiere. The first is the opening montage, which is one of those iconic scenes that successfully encapsulates the characters in just a few short moments. The second features Betty White rapping before breaking into Toto’s “Africa.”
12. For a Few Paintballs More: The season finale, meanwhile, had one job it had to do: It had to pay Pierce’s character arc off. And “For a Few Paintballs More” did so in a way that seemed to redeem the storyline even in the eyes of its harshest critics. That last scene, with Pierce addressing the study group before leaving, and the group waiting for Pierce to return only to realize he’s not going to, is a thing of beauty.
11 and 10. Epidemiology and A Fistful of Paintballs: Great for the complete commitment to their genre aesthetics, neither of these are the funniest episodes, but they’re both an awful lot of fun. “Epidemiology” is important for introducing Shirley’s pregnancy storyline with her and Chang’s apocalyptic tryst. “A Fistful of Paintballs,” meanwhile, ably sets up the conclusion of Pierce’s second season arc and features a really enjoyable guest turn from Josh Holloway.
9. Accounting for Lawyers: The second episode of the season features maybe the funniest scene on television all year, with Annie’s deranged chloroforming of everybody around her. Drew Carey also guest stars as a lawyer with a hole in his hand that he can drop a quarter through. You don’t really need much more than that.
8. Cooperative Calligraphy: The bottle episode, in which Annie holds the group hostage and demands the return of her stolen pen. As a result, they miss a puppy parade. Turns out it was Troy’s monkey all along. (I now blame Troy’s monkey for everything.) As with most of the remaining episodes on this list, it’s great because of its focus on the individual characters and how they each fit into the group as a whole.
7. Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking: As if to illustrate that (I only sort of did it on purpose, I swear), the focus here is very much on the characters and the way they view themselves and one another. Interestingly, it’s maybe the best defense of the documentary-style sitcom ever produced, as it really plays up the strengths of the format, especially in regard to the talking head interviews and the quick cutting to pay off jokes. My only complaint is the end of the episode, as it’s the only time I ever really felt Pierce’s behavior went too far.
6. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas: As if the careful examination of the world as seen through Abed’s eyes as a Rankin-Bass Christmas special weren’t enough, the climax of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is a Lost joke. I have to be honest: I’m not entirely sure I didn’t dream this episode.
5. Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design: Well, most the episodes at this juncture of the list are great because of a strong focus on character dynamics. This one’s great because of the brilliantly elaborate conspiracy theory parody. And the Kevin Corrigan. And the giant blanket fort city.
4. Critical Film Studies: The best Abed episode, “Critical Film Studies” hides an obscure movie parody within a popular movie parody. Abed and Jeff play the audience roles, with one of them aware of what’s happening and the other in the dark. By the end of the dinner, Jeff has become emotionally invested in Abed’s role, only to get angry when he discovers that Abed staged it all. The episode asks, broadly, whether it makes any sense to get emotionally involved with fiction–be it television, movies or literature–and, specifically, whether it makes any sense to get emotionally involved in a show so meta that it intentionally leaves a large portion of its audience adrift. And then it puts Pierce in a leather bodysuit.
3. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Much of the latter half of the season was devoted to expanding the world of the show, but this episode in particular is important because a recurring character is actually at the center of the story, which opens up a lot of possibilities for world-building going forward. Also, Chang wears drowface. And then there’s this little bit of brilliance, for all those Abed-Annie shippers out there.
2. Mixology Certification: For all of its half-smirking, the second best episode of the season plays a few old tropes completely straight, taking the gang to a bar on Troy’s 21st birthday. Jeff and Britta argue over which bar to go to, only to discover they each had the some one in mind. Abed again displays complete and utter social ineptitude. Shirley tries to hide past transgressions under a thick layer of piety. Annie gets a false ID and tries out a new identity. Pierce is stuck in the entryway, not exactly excluded from the group but not quite a part of it either. And Troy discovers that growing up isn’t really all that great.
1. Paradigms of Human Memory: Even at their worst, clip shows are pretty good at two things: nostalgia and character study. They remind viewers of all the good times they’ve had and demonstrate how the characters have evolved over the years. They’re also a hackneyed money-saving device ripe for parody, and several shows have offered up clip show parodies, some that still manage convey that sense of nostalgia and evolution. “Paradigms of Human Memory” adds to all of that a deconstruction of the clip show and of Community itself, ripping apart its characters, themes and narrative motifs in such a way that only makes us love them more. It is everything that Community is, for better and for worse. But mostly for better.