"We're going to seem like a mainstream dream/And be appealing to all mankind./We're going to have more fun and be less weird/Than the first two years combined," the cast of Community sang in Season 3's memorably over-the-top opening musical number.

It was a lie. Community has never been anything resembling a mainstream dream, and in Season 3 it reached new heights of creative oddity. The season came to a close with an hour-long block featuring Chang as a dictator, a heist, a murder,
Abed's evil twin, and Troy becoming the messiah of the Air Conditioning Repair Annex.   .
But that was all downright normal compared to the first episode of the night (which was separated from the other two by 30 Rock's Season 6 finale — the scheduling is as weird as the programs), in which the gang spent half an hour trying to defeat Pierce's father in an 8-bit videogame. It was one of the most daring, bizarre, and questionable episodes the show has ever made. Depending on who you ask, it was either absolutely brilliant or a total mess. Welp, that's the Greendale way.

In honor of Season 3 coming to an end in such specularly creative fashion, we've looked back over Community's entire run and picked out its 5 strangest episodes, ever. We're hoping they manage to top these in Season 4.

1. Season 3, Episode 20: "Digital Estate Planning"

It's not just that the cast was rendered in 8-bit format for the majority of the episode. It's that it also featured Breaking Bad badass Giancarlo Esposito as their in-game enemy and Peirce's surprise half-brother. It's that Abed fell in love with a video game character. It's that the gang won the day by spawning an army of Abed/video game character babies and blasting the giant roving head of Peirce's dead dad with a nuke. Both emotionally compelling and utterly surreal, this episode fluctuated between laugh-out-loud hilarious and scratch-your-head strange. We think we love it, but we have to re-watch it about five times before we really decide.  

2. Season 3, Episode 16: "Virtual Systems Analysis"

We're sure some people would argue that "Virtual Systems Analysis" tops even "Digital Estate Planning" on the weirdness scale. Taking place almost entirely inside the constructed world of Abed's Dreamatorium, this trope-laden trip into the recesses of Abed's imagination travels from Doctor Who parody to hospital drama to the inside of a giant locker, all while delving into the neuroses that make Abed and Annie tick. It's one of the least conventional character studies you'll ever watch, but it might also be one of the best.

3. Season 2, Episode 19: "Critical Film Studies"

Abed is the most self aware and, arguably, the most complex character on Community, so it's no surprise that many of the episodes on this list heavily involve him. "Critical Film Studies" parodies My Dinner With Andre, a movie that's obscure even for Community's pop-culture loving fanbase. Taking a step back from standard Greendale wackiness, most of "Critical Film Studies" centers on a single conversation between Jeff and Abed, where Abed pretends to be normal to bond with the friend he thinks he's losing. Abed monologues about pooping his pants on a life-changing visit to the Cougar Town set, Jeff breaks down and admits his deep insecurities, and their relationship does, in fact, grow. It was a gamble and a big break from the show's normal tone, but it worked.

4. Season 3, Episode 8: "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux"

It's not a mistake that most of these episodes are character studies. Community likes to dig deep into its characters, and when your cast is filled with as many oddballs as this one is, that's going to take you to some strange places. Documenting — literally: the episode is a mockumentary — the Dean's descent into madness as he tries to create the perfect Greendale commercial, this episode is as insane as its protagonist. In this case, that's a good thing: Jim Rash plays the Dean's dizzying downward spiral with enough comedic finesse to make this easily our favorite episode on this list.

5. Season 2, Episode 7: "Aerodynamics of Gender"

"Aerodynamics of Gender" is the one episode on this list that we can confidently say doesn't really work,. It also didn't aim all that high; it's strangeness comes more from a failure of concept than a leap of creative faith. It was kind of, sort of supposed to be a take on the typical teen Mean Girls-type scenario, but devolved into Abed going around with a Robo-Cop interface destroying girls' self esteem for no reason. Also there was a Secret Garden with a trampoline and a racist groundskeeper. Neither particularly funny nor particularly daring, this episode was the kind of odd we could do without. But it's okay! Even the best shows slip up occasionally.

Honorable mentions:

  • Season 2, Episode 5: "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples." This not quite successful attempt to parody over-the-top, self-indulgent, Charlie Kaufman-esque films was definitely a bold move, but the "old people acting like hooligans" B-plot is standard enough to keep the episode this side of normal.
  • Season 2, Episode 11: "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." Abed goes insane and the gang has to go on a claymation adventure to save him. Definitely out there, but Claymation Christmas specials are common enough that it's not that out of the blue.
  • Season 2, Episode 21: "Paradigms of Human Memory." A clip show with all new clips, including a parody of fan-vids and one of the best Jeff Winger speeches ever.
  • Season 3, Episode 22: "Introduction to Finality." Again: Abed's evil twin. Troy as an Air Conditioning Messiah. This is not how normal TV works.

Do you agree? Think other episodes are even odder? We'll admit as pop-culture junkies we're less likely to find straight parodies weird than the general population might. Sound off in the comments!

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