By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 26, 2011 at 9:58AM
Led by the killer comedy ensemble of Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, Alison Brie and Yvette Nicole Brown, NBC's "Community" follows an ostensibly mismatched study group who, due to variously flawed pasts, find themselves attending the most mediocre of community colleges, Greendale. Originally formed as a defense against diabolical Professor Chang (a truly unhinged Ken Jeong), the little faction find solidarity in each other as they navigate relationships, life lessons and the other student misfits that make up the Greendale student body. But to put a twist on what sounds like melodramatic '90s fare, each episode takes cues from, or in some cases takes down, a different genre or television trope. The show reaches for such ridiculously high concepts and levels of self-awareness -- their recent "clip" episode (a popular sitcom go-to, rehashing moments from stories already aired) was made entirely of new clips from episodes that were never actually episodes -- that it's hilarious. And a lot of fun. The appeal of "Community" definitely comes from its subtleties (or perhaps the chance to see McHale and Glover shirtless), as well as side jokes for viewers that are paying attention: in an episode last fall, resident geek Abed befriends a pregnant student, gets in a tiff with her boyfriend, then helps deliver her baby in the back of a station wagon, all nearly imperceptibly in the background of other scenes. But the show's not without heart, and the "Community" writers still manage to find a saving grace in each of these weirdos and the relationships they forage that will keep you hoping they figure things out -- the depths, and occasional darkness, in the characters are continually surprising. While not every experiment-in-genre nails it -- in the latest season, the best episodes were classics, but there were perhaps more weaker episodes at the other extreme -- the highs are good enough to make up for the lows. The layers upon layers of this one make it best to start from the beginning, so we recommend you do some Netflixing, so you'll be amply prepared when Season 3 hits this fall.
Must-See Episode: Presently available for free on Hulu is the two part season finale, “A Fistful of Paintballs” and “For A Few Paintballs More.” A return to the concept that produced one of the best episodes of the first season, the school finds itself yet again in an epic paintball fight to the finish, this time with a Western flair and then in part two, as an homage to "Star Wars." But once again, there’s also a flurry of ace jokes, and a beating heart in the conclusion as well. This was tricky, though: the show had as many five-star episodes as any on this list, so "Paradigms of Human Memory," "Epidemiology 206," "Mixology Certification," "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" and "Cooperative Calligraphy" were all outstanding, and all worth watching.
6. “Eastbound & Down”
“Eastbound & Down” was conceived in a kiddie pool by filmmaking alums Ben Best, Jody Hill (“Observe and Report”) and Danny McBride, who also stars. After working together on their breakout comedy “The Foot Fist Way,” they got the attention of partners in comedy Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who signed on to produce 'Eastbound' for HBO. The series centers around Kenny Powers, an egotistical, mullet-sporting ex-major league pitcher who spent his earnings on coke and steroids and burnt bridges everywhere he went. Powers finds himself washed up, homeless, broke and alone in his hometown of Shelby, North Carolina. Dirty, dark hilarity ensues as Powers tries to reconcile his hometown self, the sports star he became and whatever shit is happening now. Powers is the show, his obnoxious and self centered antics as he strives for his comeback tempered with the occasional self revelation: an ‘awwwww’ for every ‘ewwwww.’ “Eastbound & Down” is shot like a three hour movie, with each 30-minute episode picking up where the last one left off, making it seem like a better quality version of a summer comedy jam. Except every time you think Powers has had a touching yet uncharacteristic change of heart, Hollywood style, he turns around and punches you in the gut, seemingly just for laughs, making him one of the most surprisingly complex characters around. Of course, a comedy as boorishly boundary pushing as "Eastbound & Down" isn't going to be for everyone, although the 1.7 million viewers for the second season opener almost tripled that of the first. This snowballing of viewers is likely indebted to the cult following of the first season, and the release of it on DVD prior to the second season airing. The decision in the 2nd season to leave North Carolina for Mexico and with it most of the first season characters behind ensured that "Eastbound & Down" wasn't retreading the same “coming home” material, and helped keep it fresh. Fortunately, they've kept the essential ingredients -- a Kenny Powers in crisis, the same down-and-out asshole trying to make good - and the killer soundtrack, including the awesome Freddie King classic "Goin’ Down" for the titles. The season ended with Kenny Powers looking down the barrel of parenthood, and Season 3 is likely to be the show's last according to McBride -- last chance to say you saw it when it was first on.
Must-Watch Episode: “Chapter 6” -- The first season finale sees it all come together and fall apart again for Kenny Powers, features the typical Hollywood ending speech 'EB&D' style, a cameo by Adam Scott and the whole thing plays like a crass comedy take on "Five Easy Pieces."