A concept episode is an episode built around a core idea, separate from the show’s usual dynamic. Usually, sitcoms will have two or three across their existence, and that’s if they get a lot of series renewals too. Community though never did things the easy way, pushing the boundary with way more concept episodes than any show has ever done.
By some counts, 41 out of 110 episodes could be arguably labelled concept episodes; so over one every three episodes.
Typically concept episodes come in the from of musicals, parodies or clip shows, but Community went above and beyond its ideas - with characters even referencing what the writers were doing in some cases.
Concepts big and small make the cut here, as it’s all about the quality of the episode, not the idea. Uniqueness and the scale of ambition counts, as does how well it stitches into the rest of the show. For example, the animated concept parts of GI Joe are highly praised, but the real world link of Jeff drinking anti-ageing serum gets criticised, so it just misses out here.
There’s plenty to choose from though, and a tough race for the top spot!
10. A Fistful Of Paintballs
Oof, a paintball episode at number ten? 'But that’s Community’s thing!' I hear you cry.
Well, exactly. There are more paintball episodes coming, and each and every one is brilliant, but one of the huge charms of a concept episode is their unique angle. Having done paintballs over and over again, it starts to hit diminishing returns in terms of uniqueness.
The execution, scale, hilarity and action is all still brilliant though, so it’s well worthy of its place in the top ten. It’s also considered largely responsible for Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame, as the Russos were first invited to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier off the back of their blend of action and characterisation in the Greendale paintball sagas.
This specific episode goes for a Western parody, with Abed dressed as The Man With No Name and Troy as Sheriff Bart from Blazing Saddles.
A guest spot from Josh Holloway as The Black Rider is brilliant too, but the heart of the episode concerns Pierce’s place in the group. Before the show turned him into a bona fide villain, this episode struck to the heart of why he was such a great character, even if he wasn’t always the best friend.