Community was on the brink of cancellation throughout most of the six-season run, which is strange considering how much raw talent it helped to shape and refine.
Donald Glover is probably the immediate name to pop into your head, but it also became an establishing role for Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs and Ken Jeong and a place for Joel Mchale other than a bank teller or The Soup. The real breakouts though? Joe and Anthony Russo.
Some of their work on Community in both action and character building eventually caught the eye of Marvel, leading them to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier before making their way to the big climax of The Infinity Saga. So what could have gotten Marvel’s attention that made the Russo brothers stand out above the rest? There’s no confirmation for sure, but these episodes of Community they directed could be possibilities.
As a note, only the Pilot episode was co-directed by both brothers. The rest of these were directed separately by either Joe or Anthony Russo.
Joe and Anthony Russo
The episode that started everything and established the Greendale Seven. While the characters went through transformations and tweaks as time goes on, this was the one shot for a good first impression and they all nailed it. Finishing it all out with a great Breakfast Club homage was just the beginning of Community’s little love letters to movies and TV.
Spanish 101 S1E2
While they split a large part of season one between them, Joe had the duty of following up on the Pilot episode, which is arguably a harder feat to pull off. Building on characters and the introduction of Chang as a Spanish teacher helped pull the series up even further.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons S2E14
One of the most loved episodes and unfortunately unavailable on streaming now. Removed due to Chang painting himself black for a D&D game as a dark elf, the episode still holds up for the character-building moments the study group has, and was one of the big starts to Pierce’s villain arc.
Geography of Global Conflict S3E2
Annie’s envy comes to the forefront and Britta is… Britta. Chang though is the best part of the episode as his downward spiral kicks into high gear with his job as Greendale security guard.
Anthropology 101 S2E1
The late Betty White (RIP Queen) guest stars as Professor Bauer, and made not only one of the more unhinged performances as well as memorable. The group starts their second semester while the fallout from Britta’s confession shapes a lot of the character’s actions. Plus, it gave us the Spanish Rap remix.
Cooperative Calligraphy S2E8
Meta and hilarious, but also cheap! This is a classic bottle episode, containing everything in one location in a cost-saving effort for production. Community pulls it off by bringing up tensions that have been brewing between the study group since last season. Annie loses a pen, everyone loses their minds.
Documentary Filmmaking: Redux S3E8
The documentary-style episodes are some of the best in the series, with Abed filming the behind-the-scenes of the Dean’s Greendale commercial shoot. Dean Pelton gets to really shine, with Jim Rash pulling off a hilarious Heart of Darkness sendup and the ugly-as-hell statue of Luis Guzman.
A Fist Full of Paintballs/For a Few Paintballs More S2E23 and S2E24
Modern Paintball in season one was universally praised as an example of Community’s greatness and charm. Doing a second paintball episode was risky, but setting it in a Western theme and having Josh Holloway as a budget bounty hunter took it to a next level.
The second episode though shifts it over to a Star Wars sendup as City College attempts yet another sabotage of Greendale. This episode goes all out, covering the entire school in paint as Abed takes the lead in his best Han Solo impression. Not to mention the shocking revelation about Magnitude’s origins.
Politics of Human Sexuality S1E11
This episode has it all: an STD fair by Dean Pelton and Annie, Pierce hiring a prostitute, and Abed’s superhuman athletics. It also sets up one of the best background gags in the entire series, as a couple is seen grabbing a defective condom only to pay off later in the series.
Introduction to Film S1E3
Intro to the film is one of the first episodes to give Abed some background and heart, showing the sad reality as he has Jeff and Britta reenact scenes from his own life. The B plot shines with a John Michael Higgins cameo with a Dead Poet’s Society flair.
Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy S2E18
This episode has one of the funniest B-plots in the whole series. As Jeff and Shirley are busy trying to get rid of Chang, Britta jumps in between Troy and Abed’s friendship with a new dorm-Mae from Serbia. Britta does the Britta thing and gets with him, only to find out he’s a war criminal. Don’t you hate when that happens? There’s also some light child kidnapping by Chang.
Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism S3E9
Jeff and Shirley get involved in a foosball feud against Nick Kroll as an obnoxious German exchange student, and peak in an animated Dragonball-style face-off that brings up their past. It’s both a deeper character development and some goofy B-plot where Abed plays detective as Batman investigating who broke his Dark Knight DVD. Both plots have great jokes involved, but something about Abed in a Batman costume is just amazing.
Biology 101 S3E1
The Dean’s goatee is the real standout for this episode. Not really though, since this episode brought both Michael Kenneth Williams and John Goodman on for recurring roles. Jeff gets kicked out of the study group to up the stakes, and Abed has an existential crisis as Cougar Town has worse luck than Community. This also marks the debut of Inspector Spacetime, Abed’s new favorite show.
Physical Education S1E17
This is one of those episodes that doesn’t stand out for much on first watch, but then you realize how many running gags are played to such great effect. Dean Pelton’s crush on Jeff, Abed’s smooth-as-hell flirting ability, and Britta Britta-ing the pronunciation of the word “bagel” end up as running staples of the show, escalating to silly heights as the series progressed.
These are all subjective of course, with the brothers sharing 32 episodes of the series between them, there’s a lot to choose from and plenty more not listed. They all hold up as prime examples of Community though, with both Russo brothers being one of the biggest influences on and believers in the little show about a dysfunctional found family called Community.