There’s a reason Community, while struggling in the ratings out in the big wide world, often seems to be the most popular show on the internet. This is a show that has not only embraced geek culture, it threw geek culture a big party, baked it a cake then cleaned up afterwards and sent geek culture to bed with a cup of hot cocoa. From brief references to geek staples, to one-liners and visual gags, all the way up to complete spoof episodes, no show on television celebrates geek culture in quite the way that Community does. In preparation for the long-delayed return of everyone’s favourite gang of community college students, we celebrate ten of the show’s geekiest gags.
Each reference has been given a mark out of ten for obscurity – geeks love a reference no one else will get – and general geekiness. The scores don’t match the order of the list. This is Greendale, after all.
Episode: Contemporary American Poultry
Referencing: Greendale’s college newspaper headline reads: “Headline in reference to Watergate, not the 1994 sci-fi film.”
Geek level: 6/10 for obscurity, as although Stargate is a reasonably well known film, it’s not quite mentioned by name, and the headline flashes past pretty quickly. 6/10 for general geekiness as well – it’s an obvious joke, but a funny one nonetheless.
9. More fish for Kunta!
Episode: Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking
Referencing: LeVar Burton’s starring role as Kunta Kinte in Roots. Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation also get mentions.
Geek level: Roots isn’t really geeky, it’s a mainstream phenomenon. But Burton is a geek superstar, not only an important Star Trek regular and director of some very good episodes in later Star Trek series (Voyager’s Timeless springs to mind) but self-deprecating guest star as himself in both Community and The Big Bang Theory. All in all, 2/10 for obscurity (clearly name-checking two very well known shows and referencing a third equally well known show) but 4/10 for general geekiness.
8. Abed just really likes talking about Farscape. It’s a great show.
Episode: Mixology Certification
Referencing: Farscape, obviously.
Geek level: This isn’t so much a reference as a simple conversation about another show, but it makes the list because it’s such a great shout-out to geek culture. Farscape, a ‘cult classic’ (i.e. a show a small number of us love very much) is obscure to the big world outside fandom, but has left a lasting legacy in geek circles. This deserves at least 3/10 for obscurity and a solid 6/10 for general geekiness. Who can’t sympathise with Abed when he finds himself stringing the unfortunate Robert along because he just really likes talking about Farscape? It’s a great show.
7. Evil Abed’s goatee
Episode: Remedial Chaos Theory for its initial appearance in felt form; when Abed hallucinates Evil Abed in Contemporary Impressionists and Introduction to Finality he sees it as a full grown beard, when he becomes Evil Abed it reverts to felt.
Referencing: Numerous evil goatees from movies and television shows through the years, but it’s especially reminiscent of Mirror Universe Spock in Star Trek’s Mirror, Mirror (especially given the use of Fringe’s sting, with its universe-crossing associations, when Abed sees Evil Abed in Introduction to Finality).
Geek level: 4/10 for obscurity; the Star Trek episode is fairly well known and the trope of the evil goatee very well known. Generally, this one loses points for the fact that Mirror Universe Spock isn’t actually evil, but regains some for ingenious use of a well-known visual gag, so 5/10 for general geekiness.
6. ‘Cellular mitosis is what?’
Episode: Introduction to Finality, in which Jeff keeps trying to revise for his Biology final and persistently asks the rest of the study group what cellular mitosis is (no one knows).
Referencing: Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The True Adventures of Rudy Kazootie, in which Harvey spends the entire episode trying to revise for a Biology test and getting no further than ‘Mitosis is…’
Geek level: It’s such a small, throw-away reference, but it brought a smile to the faces of those of us who spent our teenaged years watching Sabrina on Nickelodeon, so 3/10 for general geekiness. This is easily a 9/10 for obscurity though; the reference is close enough that it’s unlikely to be a coincidence, but you have to be from a pretty specific age group to catch it.
5. Kevin Corrigan as Professor Professorson
Episode: Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design
Referencing: Corrigan’s appearance as a mysterious character who speaks in riddles and half-truths is a shout-out to his role as Sam Weiss on Fringe, a character with mysterious powers of psychotherapy who was involved in a complex conspiracy involving the pen-name Seamus Wiles. Although Professor Professorson is eventually revealed to be drama teacher Sean Garrity, Corrigan’s performance as Garrity in Competitive Wine Tasting also involves Sam Weiss-like ponderous tones as he rambles on about how story doesn’t matter because they’re not writers, they’re actors.
Geek level: Fringe tends to invite the description ‘cult favourite,’ so 6/10 for obscurity. Corrigan’s ability to create a performance that is both subtly different from Weiss while at the same time clearly echoing his Fringe character – the alternate universe’s Sam Weiss, perhaps – creates a lovely meta reference that is surely worth a 7/10 for general geekiness.
4. The voiceover in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
Episode: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
Referencing: Cate Blanchett’s opening voiceover as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring.
Geek level: The Lord of the Rings is very well known, though the reference is relatively subtle, so 4/10 for obscurity. The reveal that rather than a tall and ethereally beautiful Elf Queen, the voice belongs to the, shall we say, less tall and slender cleaner is a nice reversal and brings the mundane world in which the characters actually live (“And so the group did describe themselves walking, and Abed did confirm that they walked”) and the fantasy world they’ve been embracing throughout the episode together rather beautifully, so 7/10 for general geekiness.
3. The Dreamatorium is a holodeck
Episode: Studies in Modern Movement onwards. In Introduction to Finality, it becomes TARDIS-shaped with a holodeck-like interior.
Referencing: Star Trek: The Next Generation’s holodeck (and, eventually, Doctor Who).
Geek level: 5/10 for obscurity, as The Next Generation’s standard sets are pretty well known, but a hearty 8/10 for general geekiness. Virtual Systems Analysis works at least partly because it essentially embraces the idea that the Dreamatorium really is a holodeck, or as near as it’s possible to get to it without actually becoming a science fiction show.
2. ‘I love you;’ ‘I know’
Referencing: Princess Leia and Han Solo’s classic exchange in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The genius of this reference is the shifting of the classic romantic declaration to Troy and Abed, and it’s also a wonderful way for Troy to affirm the geekiness he has been trying to deny throughout the episode.
Geek level: 4/10 for obscurity, as these are well-known lines from one of the biggest films of all time, but easily 10/10 for general geekiness. These are some of the best-loved lines in science fiction cinema, perfectly used to develop Troy and Abed’s characters via the reference.
1. Everything about Inspector Spacetime.
Episode: Many episodes from Biology 101 onwards, but especially Virtual Systems Analysis, in which Annie attacks a Blorgon with her bare hands, surely a reference to…
Referencing:… Ace attacking a Dalek with a baseball bat in Remembrance of the Daleks. Inspector Spacetime is, of course, the Community universe’s Doctor Who, though it’s worth nothing that according to Britta, Spacetime actually predates Who by a year.
Geek level: Doctor Who is never mentioned by name, though the resemblances are numerous and obvious. For a British viewer, 10/10 for general geekiness, but 2/10 for obscurity: obscurity score to be adjusted according to the relative popularity of Doctor Who in the viewer’s home country. Everything about Inspector Spacetime is so lovingly constructed as an homage to one of the BBC’s most popular exports that it almost makes the wait for new Who easier to bear.
Bubbling under: Jeff’s Die Hard vest in Modern Warfare, Troy’s channelling of Elliott from E.T. in Curriculum Unavailable, Jeff ‘Goldblumming’ in Beginner’s Pottery, Abed as Batman in Introduction to Statistics, Josh Holloway’s Black Rider in A Fistful of Paintballs (who’s ‘network television handsome’), the whole of For a Few Paintballs More, Professor Kane’s A man’s gotta have a code, Jeff’s meltdown in Biology 101, the ending of Cougartown Abbey which references Blackadder and Blake’s 7, Abed-as-Troy: I didn’t get Inception!
Community returns tonight, Thursday the 7th of February, on NBC.
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