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From Westerns to G.I. Joe: Binge Guide to Community's Best Genre Parody Episodes

What do Apollo 13Goodfellas, and Law & Order all have in common? Community spoofed 'em. 

By James Grebey

It would be reductive to say Community, the cult classic sitcom that has recently made its way to Peacock, is great just because of its parody episodes. The series, which followed a group of students from different walks of life at a (not very good) community college, was famous for its episode-length, extremely meta riffs on various genres or iconic movies. That’s not all the show was — some of the best episodes aren’t pastiches of any one genre but instead are just really, really good episodes of a sitcom. Those parody episodes, though, are Community’s signature, and they tend to be really good. 

Here are the 10 best genre parodies Community ever did. At their best, these parodies could be both hilarious, smart takes on iconic pieces of pop culture, and they could tell a perfect story within the world of Greendale Community College, too. 

RELATED: Where to Watch All 6 Seasons (and a Movie) of Community

Because Community was such a meta show, it’s a little tricky to make a call on whether an episode is a specific parody or something else. “Cooperative Calligraphy,” the eighth episode of the show’s sophomore season, is a riff on “bottle episodes,” a term for an intimate, small-scale episode that a longrunning TV show will do when it needs to save money. It’s one of the best episodes of the show, full-stop, but a spoof of a production trope isn’t exactly the same as an episode that’s just straight-up Goodfellas or Apollo 13. You’ll find lots of other great genre parodies and riffs throughout Community’s six seasons (and presumably the forthcoming movie), but these 10 are some of the most clear-cut examples in addition to being some of the best.

The Very Best Parody Episodes of Community, Now Streaming on Peacock

10. “Basic Rocket Science”: Season 2, Episode 4

After two killer episodes near the end of the first season set the template for what Community could do with parody episodes (more on them later in this list), there was naturally pressure for the show to deliver more of them in the second season. The first of these was “Basic Rocket Science,” a spoof of Apollo 13 which had some of the Study Group inside an old KFC-sponsored space simulator and Abed acting as mission control trying to guide them through catastrophe. Compared to some of the other great parody episodes, it feels a little paint-by-numbers, but given that the source material is Apollo 13, one of the most purely enjoyable movies ever made, the episode still achieves liftoff. 

9. “A Fistful of Paintballs”: Season 2 Episode 23

The first of a two-part spiritual follow-up to Season 1’s paintball extraordinaire “Modern Warfare,” “A Fistful of Paintballs” can’t quite capture the same lightning in a bottle of that pitch-perfect action movie pastiche. (Sequels are rarely better than the original.) However, it’s a pretty fantastic riff on the Western genre, a specificity that makes the episode a killer. The second episode, “For a Few Paintballs More,” drops the Western motif in favor of a surprisingly broad and underwhelming Star Wars one, as the paintball battle continues, making “Fistful” the better of the pair.

8. “Geothermal Escapism”: Season 5, Episode 5

Community’s big “disaster movie” parody also marked what could have been a real disaster for the show. “Geothermal Escapism” was Donald Glover’s last episode as a series regular, and the loss of Troy would be felt in the remaining episodes. The half-hour gives his departure the emotional weight it deserves and offers a great send-up of disaster movies as a school-wide game of “the floor is lava” turns Greendale into Dante’s Peak.

7. “G.I. Jeff”: Season 5, Episode 11

Perhaps the most explicit parody on this list, as “G.I. Jeff” drops viewers into an animated G.I. Joe cartoon where Jeff and the rest of the Study Group are there battling Cobra. Why, exactly, they’re all in this cartoon form is revealed as the episode progresses, but the episode is both a good meta-psychodrama and a loving mockery of the ‘80s classic. (Why didn’t they just kill Destro?)

6. “Basic Lupine Urology”: Season 3, Episode 17

Even the name of Community’s Law & Order parody is funny, as “Basic Lupine Urology” is a reference to the iconic crime show’s creator, Dick Wolf. The Season 3 episode doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that’s part of its appeal, because it is a perfect send-up of all of L&O’s well-known tropes, beats, and even musical cues. 

RELATED: Alison Brie on What She Wants to See in The Community Movie - and What About Annie and Jeff?

5. “Critical Film Studies”: Season 2, Episode 19

“Critical Film Studies” was a bait-and-switch that irked some fans of the show when it originally aired but it’s all the better for it, and the episode has since become regarded as a classic. What looks like it’s going to be a spoof of Pulp Fiction, complete with the cast in costumes, instead is almost entirely an homage to My Dinner With Andre, a quiet, thoughtful, and intimate comedy-drama from 1981, as Jeff and Abed have a fancy meal together and talk about some deep stuff. “Critical Film Studies” zigged when everybody expected it to zag, and in doing so it proved that there was much more to Community’s parodies than just flash. 

4. “Contemporary American Poultry”: Season 1, Episode 21

“Contemporary American Poultry,” coming near the tail end of Community’s first season, was the first true genre parody the show ever did. It also remains one of the best, taking the plot and style of Martin Scorsese's mobster masterpiece, Goodfellas, and applying it to the Study Group as they create a chicken finger cartel. All the beats of Goodfellas are in “Contemporary American Poultry,” but Community-fied.

3. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”: Season 2 Episode 11

This Christmas episode from the second season is a parody of the old Rankin/Bass specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or The Little Drummer Boy, as Abed has seemingly suffered a mental breakdown and is seeing everything in stop-motion. While the fun animation style is a faithful recreation, it masks one of the more emotional, heartfelt plots that any Community episode has ever had. It’s one of the best examples of Community fully committing to pastiche but making sure that it’s earnest — much more than just a gimmick. 

RELATED: Here Are All the Major Characters on Community, from Seasons 1-6

2. “Pillow and Blankets”: Season 3, Episode 14

Troy and Abed’s blanket fort war gets the documentary coverage it deserves in this dead-on parody of Ken Burn’s The Civil War, complete with grave narration and plenty of slow pans of sepia-toned photos. This episode is another triumph, as it demonstrates both a perfect understanding of the aesthetics and meaning of what its parodying, and it understands how to use that framework to tell a story on its own terms — in this case, the Civil War in Troy and Abed’s own friendship.

1. “Modern Warfare”: Season 1, Episode 23

“Modern Warfare” might be the best episode of Community, full stop, not just its best parody episode. Coming just two episodes after “Contemporary American Poultry,” the episode — which saw Greendale turn into an action movie as a paintball competition escalates way too far — unlocked what this show could really be. Every action movie trope is there, and the parody brings new life to Community’s characters just as they bring new life to the source material. It’s no wonder that Community would keep chasing the high of “Modern Warfare” in subsequent seasons. Given how close many of those episodes came, it’s a good thing they did. 

All six seasons of Community are now streaming on Peacock. The NBCUniversal platform currently offers two monthly subscription plans: Premium ($5.99 a month with ads) and Premium Plus ($11.99 a month with no ads and download access for certain titles). If you're a student, you can enjoy the Premium plan for just $1.99 for an entire year!