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Friday, October 14, 2011

Community: "Remedial Chaos Theory"

Community can do things no other show currently airing can do. The problem with that is that it sometimes makes the show seem comparatively dull when nothing earth-shattering is happening. Very funny, cleverly written episodes that only deal with the real world can, to some, seem little more than serviceable, workmanlike, and unmemorable. The show has asked for this kind of scrutiny, though, so I can’t be too critical of those who overanalyze it. I myself sometimes wish the show would do more “normal” sitcom stuff, except with the attention to detail and commitment to premise that it devotes to things like zombies and Star Wars-themed paintball games.

Remedial Chaos Theory is an episode of Community to shut down all complaints about the show and its unusual style. It proves that the show, however good it is week to week, can still be at its best when doing things no one else on TV would dare to try, probably because they see what kind of ratings Community draws.

One of the delights of Remedial Chaos Theory is the juxtaposition between the mundane nature of its premise and the mind-blowing complexity of its plot. At a housewarming party for Troy’s and Abed’s new apartment, the gang sits down for a game of Yahtzee. When no one wants to go down to let in the pizza guy, Jeff rolls a die to determine who should go. Abed points out, as only he can, that this creates six different timelines, one for each possible number on the die. The episode then actually shows us each separate timeline, in an ingenious effort to examine each member of the study group’s role within the little family they’ve formed, and the effect their absence has on the others.

In essence, each timeline is a short one-act play, with some consistencies throughout. Jeff always hits his head on the fan, Britta has to go to the bathroom, Shirley is worried about the pies no one wants, and Pierce has to figure out some way to bring up the time he banged Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom.

I’d be lying if I said the episode didn’t get a little repetitive with the need to replay the pre-roll conversation between Jeff and Abed, but as the episode builds to its most crucial timelines, the laughs grow fiercer and the interpersonal moments become more thrilling. The different universes create room for people who want Jeff and Annie, or Troy and Britta (!) to couple up. It makes it possible to see Pierce be a dick and make amends, there’s angry Shirley, goofy Britta, and more.

The highlight is definitely when Troy leaves the room (after saying he hopes he doesn’t miss anything) and everything goes to hell, with several elements from the other timelines (Annie’s gun, Abed’s rolling boulder, Pierce’s Serbian rum, and Britta’s cigarette) combine to create chaos. The callback to this timeline in the tag was also incredible.

Remedial Chaos Theory is just remarkable. An absurdly ambitious, carefully constructed, impeccably written and acted spectacular. No show could do something like this every week, but let’s try to keep in mind that Community is really the only one that ever tries.

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