10 Essential ‘Community’ Episodes to Watch Over Holiday Break

Well, it’s Thursday, but there won’t be a new episode of Community tonight. Apparently, there won’t be a new episode of Community for many more Thursday nights… excuse me…

Okay, I’m back. Nothing wrong with a good morning cry. As I was saying, last week’s Christmas episode marked the final new episode until the series’ undetermined spring return to the NBC schedule, as room is cleared in the Thursday night line-up for 30 Rock’s return and various other shufflings. NBC promises (promises!) that the innovative ensemble comedy isn’t cancelled, it’s just going on a little break, but their assurances have the subtle air of a parent’s earnest insistence that no, Sir Barksalot just went to a farm in the country where he can run and play, not that he was… put to… sorry, be right back…

Right-o. Our worries about Community’s future aside, its distressing exile—along with the rerun cycle that has already taken over prime-time — and the recent addition of the entire three-season run to Hulu Plus means that the holidays are a fine time for you Greendale novices out there to catch up on what is, I believe, the finest comedy program on network television. After the jump, we’ll give you the ten episodes most worth your time.

Oh, a quick summary may be in order, since we’re not including the pilot: the show is set at the fictional Greendale Community College in Colorado. The show began with a primary focus on Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a hotshot attorney disbarred over a bogus degree. Sent to community college in order to earn some real credits, he ends up in a “study group” with tough, sexy Britta (Gillian Jacobs), pop-culture obsessed weirdo Abed (Danny Pudi), charismatic jock Troy (Donald Glover), Christian single mother Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), type-A super-student Annie (Alison Brie), and rich retiree Pierce (Chevy Chase). Early in the first season, the show slowly evolved from a fast-paced star vehicle (and will-they-or-won’t-they rom-com) to a show piece for its crackerjack ensemble, expertly blending pop satire with an honest-to-goodness family dynamic that would court sappiness were it not imbued with genuine pathos and occasional darkness.

Each episode’s title is written as a course name. These are, in this fan’s humble opinion, their ten best (in chronological order):

“Contemporary American Poultry” (aka “The Goodfellas Episode”)

There are some great episodes in Community’s first season, but for this viewer, the moment of realization that no, no, this show is brilliant, came in the late first season “Contemporary American Poultry” episode, which begins with an innocuous, goofy little plot about the college-wide popularity of the cafeteria’s chicken fingers and transforms, with utterly infallible logic, into an episode-length parody of Goodfellas — and then, in spite of the show’s refusal to do so (Abed: “Please don’t do a special episode about me”), finds something resembling a heart inside it.