Give me some rope, tie me to dream / Give me the hope to run out of steam / Somebody said it could be here / We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year / I can’t count the reasons I should stay / One by one they all just fade away
Those are the lyrics to the Community theme song, excerpted from “At Least it Was Here” by The 88. While they’re performed over a bouncy, catchy, happy power-pop jangle-swing, they’re also, like, very sad and much deeper than an NBC sitcom about a silly community college group has any right to be. That, right there, is the appeal of Community in a nutshell. Come for the character shenanigans, the rat-a-tat jokes, the wild genre parodies — stay for the melancholy, the emotional complexities, the darkness and light existing in equal measure.
Created by Dan Harmon (Rick and Morty), the show first aired on NBC in 2009. Its original cast featured Joel McHale as sardonic leader Jeff Winger, Gillian Jacobs as wannabe activist Britta Perry, Donald Glover as star-quarterback-turned-nerd-goofball Troy Barnes, Danny Pudi as the meta-commentary master Abed Nadir, Alison Brie as type-A workaholic Annie Edison, Yvette Nicole Brown as ultra-Christian group mom Shirley Bennett, and Chevy Chase as out-of-touch millionaire Pierce Hawthorne — all as a group of misfit study members enrolled at Greendale Community College. Other notable cast members throughout the run include Ken Jeong as wilder-than-wild Spanish teacher Ben Chang, Jim Rash as the delightfully melodramatic Dean of the school, and Jonathan Banks, Paget Brewster, and Keith David as new members to the team in later seasons.
The show ran for six seasons, facing trials and tribulations throughout all of them: From low ratings threatening every season finale as a series finale, to perceived inaccessibility to a general audience, to late-night shoots beleaguered by a temperamental showrunner, to a dramatic firing/rehiring of said showrunner, to regular cast members leaving regularly, to a move to a short-lived network called “Yahoo! Screen” in its final season. All the while, it delivered peerless, experimental, revolutionary, hilarious, entertaining television.
Now, all six seasons are available for streaming on Hulu and Netflix. And if you’re looking for something to tide you over while you wait for the #amovie part of the hashtag, or are looking for an entry point to the Greendale world, here are my 20 favorite Community episodes, ranked.