As the end of the year approaches, Midcoast Station has begun looking back at our favorite shows, films and movies from 2011. We’ve already shared our favorite songs from 2011 and we have other end of the year surprises still to come. When it comes to television, there was one show in particular that had so many great moments that we could have made several “best of” lists about it: Community. Nick Guzman of AnotherPlotDevice.com really nailed it with his picks of some of the top Community moments and he was kind enough to share his great post. If you like Nick’s post about the top 10 movie references on Community, then be sure to visit AnotherPlotDevice.com and read more of his great film and television articles.
I am sure that you have at least heard of Community as denizens of the internet. It’s the show that has a rabid fan base, smart writing and a daring approach to the usual comedies that we see on television. Sadly with this sort of mixture of pop culture laden jokes and stellar cast, it is sadly on the verge of being cancelled. As we speak, the show has been taking off the mid-season schedule on NBC and might not even return. It’s a sad time to be a nerd when the show that is smart enough to genre bend and even devote an entire episode on Dungeon and Dragons, is threatening to be shut down. I blame people that choose to watch “The Big Bang Theory” and their supposed nerd pandering jokes that are set up brilliantly and then undercut by simplification. Also having a laugh track is fucking annoying. I don’t need to be told when to laugh or what is funny. I am not an idiot.
While I could go on and on about my utter hatred that seethes for shows that aren’t Community, I must take comfort in the fact that Community is a film lover’s delight. Every episode has some form of an homage or parody to pop culture movies. I fall in love every time I catch something in this show that appeals to the cinephile in me. It doesn’t matter if the movie is obscure, the writers and actors find a way to make it seem so natural and apart of the show setting.
So today, I want to list the top ten movie references in the three seasons of Community!
10. Season 2 Episode 1 – Anthropology 101
Did you see it? Troy was wearing Spider-man pajamas, which for a show like Community, just seems like a natural thing Troy would wear. If you are an intrepid film fan like myself, you will get that the fact that Donald Glover’s character was wearing Spider-man pajamas was a little wink to fans demanding that Donald Glover be made the new Spider-man in the upcoming reboot. It such a small little joke, but those rabid fans would see it and immediately feel vindicated for all their online petitions to have Donald Glover be cast as the first black Spider-man actor. Sadly, Andrew Garfield got the role, but at least we have this small little reference to a film petition that failed in its objective. This is the closest that we will see Donald Glover in the role of Spider-man.
9. Season 3 Episode 8 – Documentary Filmmaking: Redux
As a documentary film fan, this episode makes it into the top ten episodes of the entire series. A gorgeously done, manic representation of the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which chronicles the troubles of the making of Apocalypse Now. Even Abed references the film in the opening sequence and from that, we get to watch a Dean Pelton centered film. This was an episode that I think might have alienated a few fans of the show, since the focus was solely on the Dean as the main character. Usually we seem him in small glimpses in all the episodes, usually being the butt of the joke or some form of derision.
The episode is fantastic in the way they nailed the feel of the documentary they were referencing and if you are familiar with Hearts of Darkness, you are going to enjoy the utterly manic way that things go in the episode.
8. Season 3 Episode 5 – Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps
I got to hand it to Community when it comes to the special holiday episodes. This particular episode from season three really nails the general fallacies of horror movies that Abed fixes in his version of a horror story/movie. The beauty is that it takes all the typical tropes that horror movies use in order to progress the story such as; convenient radio announcement about the killer on the loose, going to explore strange noises, and even having sex, which usually leads to death. In his story, he fixes all of that so as not to fall victim to certain death and survive the horror movie in the most logical way possible.
7. Season 1 Episode 19 – Beginner Pottery
I knew right from the start that this was going to be a set-up for a Patrick Swayze (RIP) Ghost reference and sure enough it didn’t disappoint. It was awesome to see Tony Hale from Arrested Development in this episode as the world-weary pottery teacher, but it was the speech he gave in the beginning of the class that puts a stop to the potential Ghost reenactment pottery scene. It isn’t until Jeff has a mental breakdown that we get to see the final culmination of the episode and eventual Ghost reference. Also there is a beautiful rendition of Unchained Love.
6. Season 1 Episode 24 – English as a Second Language
This episode had the subplot of Troy being somewhat of a gifted repairman, parodying Good Will Hunting where instead of being brilliant at math, Troy is gifted with doing maintenance. Throughout the episode Troy is tested with new problems and confronts Abed about the situation. Abed ends up saying the same line as Ben Affleck did to Matt Damon about not seeing him one day. It was a solid little homage to Good Will Hunting and since the show takes place in college, surprised it wasn’t covered earlier in the first season.
5. Season 2 Episode 6 – Basic Rocket Science
Oh god, a zombie episode with the most brilliant inclusion of an Aliens reference. I am fucking sold on this from the get go. The Halloween episodes have always been some of my favorite episodes of the series since each have been unique enough that it never gets stale. There are always references to the prior Halloween, which are more winks and nods for the fans. The best part of this episode is seeing Troy put on the mech suit from Aliens that Ripley put and in his own mind, thought that he was gonna be invincible. I was close to tears when we he comes to the realization that it wasn’t going to work and just says “fuck it” and tries to save everyone.
4. Season 2 Episode 11 – Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
Wow. It is a pretty ballsy thing to devote an entire episode to the styling of Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. But for a show like Community, this isn’t really out of the ordinary. We have already invested so much time into the shenanigans of Greendale and the group that an episode that is all done in stop motion animation seems so natural and fits their wacky theme. This is one of the more mature episodes that tackles Abed’s loneliness during the holidays, but also a great nod to the films of Rankin/Bass.
3. Season 1 Episode 21 – Contemporary American Poultry
I wish that I could find the montage clip that has the Greendale Study Group reenacting the entire montage scene from Goodfellas, but no such luck. I guess that is a good thing since the lead up to the reveal is really spectacular. Right from the start, Abed is thrilled that he is getting to be in a mafia movie and it makes me want to see a full-fledged mafia movie starring the whole gang. The care and references were amazing since I have seen the movies they lovingly parody numerous times. The whole episode is fantastic as the gang take over the chicken finger distribution at the school. Only Community can make cafeteria food such a humorous exposition.
2. Season 1 Episode 23/Season 2 Episodes 23 & 24 – Modern Warfare, Fistful of Paintballs and For a Few Paintballs More
I couldn’t leave out the quintessential Community episodes. The paintball episodes were some of the finest moments on television and solidified to the fans that this is a one of a kind show. As an action fan, Modern Warfare had all the tropes of action films and all the references to movies that you could count. It was incredible seeing everything from The Warriors, Die Hard, Terminator and even my favorite part of the episode, a little nod to the Hong Kong action director John Woo. If there is any episode you would want to watch of Community, this is it.
So with that penultimate episode in the bag, how could they top an episode that was the fan favorite even today? Well why not make a paintball episode for Season 2 and make it a two-part episode. As a western fan, I just about died of happiness. I couldn’t believe the utter care and admiration that they had for the western genre, from the music and the opening title cards, this was going to be one for the ages. The episodes found a way to drift between western and spaghetti western tropes, hitting heavily on the Sergio Leone films in particular. After the first episode of the two-part series, things just deteriorate back into the good old action films and even include some genre bending from Abed with his Star Wars inclusion. I could just watch these three episodes back to back on a loop for years to come.
1. Season 2 Episode 19 – Critical Film Studies
Finally, we come to the conclusion of the list. The reason why I love Community so much is that it is willing to take the high road with their jokes and writing. I don’t mean that the jokes are so high brow that only a certain subset of the viewing population will get them, but rather they setup what could be an amazing, easy homage and then just flip it on us. Critical Film Studies had all the making for a fantastic Pulp Fiction homage with the gang all wanting to celebrate Abed’s birthday by having a Pulp Fiction theme party. Everyone was dressed up, incredibly I might add, as different characters in the movie. There was even the fabled briefcase that was going to be given as a gift to Abed. While the jokes were prime for the taking, the show actually centered on Jeff and Abed having a regular old dinner and some conversation. I couldn’t believe it. They were going for a My Dinner With Andre send up.
Community has a habit of going far with their references or even subject matter. They chose to go with a film from 1981, one that I don’t think a lot of people have really seen and made that the plot of the episode. It was incredible that they risked alienating some of the fans by not going with the obvious Pulp Fiction references and focus on two guys having a meaningful conversation. That’s not to say they completely ignored the Pulp Fiction angle, they still managed to make that scenario hilarious in the only way they can.
It’s sad to see that a show like this might be getting cancelled. With so many shows going with a formulaic plot or similar show format like mockumentary (The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family), it’s brazen to see a show that is a pop culture fanatics dreams, but also willing to try something off the wall. While I only listed 10 episodes that were my favorite of the series that made references to movies, there is still a treasure trove of amazing single episodes that deal with a range of subject. It’s the brilliant casting, smart writing, and unbelievable willingness to just break from the mold and try something new.