It’s taken a few episodes to get there, but season three of Community has finally hit it out of the park and reminded us of why we all love the show. Admittedly season three wasn’t the first to start off slowly, that’s become something of a tradition at this point, but Community’s first few episodes seemed more than a little bit tired. They weren’t so much bad—they weren’t—as directionless. The combination of characters reverting to their earlier selves and story repetition just didn’t match with a show that has some of the best individual television episodes made in the last few years.
But then again, it’s easy to forget how inconsistent Community can be. Fortunately, “Remedial Chaos Theory” was one of those episodes that’s so good it glosses over the disappointments. And while Community can have mediocre episodes like everything else on television, pretty much no other show can, or is willing, to make an episode like “Remedial Chaos Theory.”
The episode’s premise is kind of stupid, intentionally so in fact. Troy and Abed decide to host a small housewarming party for their new apartment with the whole study group invited. Just a couple minutes into things, a pizza delivery man arrives and they have to decide who will go down to get it. Jeff says they should roll for it, with each person assigned a number, and Abed decides that this will open up parallel universes for each possible roll because, well, he’s Abed. We then start rotating through what would happen were every character to leave for the pizza, courtesy of a terrible, terrible graphic showing the exact point where each particular universe is determined.
Like watching Clue, most of the fun lies in noticing what’s different and what remains the same about every possible version of events. This includes, during the first couple of trials, wondering what significance, for instance, the Indiana Jones simulation could possibly have. Because they have 21 minutes of time to spring through seven versions of events, nothing is insignificant. Every element is either there to drive a specific mini-story in one of the universes or to reveal something about character, and that leanness is a beautiful thing to behold.
Ultimately almost everything we see in the episode is discarded as non-cannon, but that doesn’t matter. “Remedial Chaos Theory” is in fact more revealing about characters’ thoughts and relationships than a normal episode, since we see a good deal more than what was actually played out. For instance, we see under what circumstances Pierce wishes to give Troy the troll and what circumstances mean he’s not. It’s a little thing that says a lot about the two characters and what they’ve been through and how they can hurt each other, intentionally or not.
The episode also implicitly parodies the type of sitcom writing in which one of the main tasks in writing is simply coming up with new character pairings and seeing what happens (Modern Family, I’m looking in your direction). Here, Community rejects that in favor of crafting the outcome that you believe your characters should come to organically. The randomness at the episode’s center represents a type of show that Community, for all its quirks, is unwilling to subscribe to. The events that do actually happen are fascinating as well, showing us how the study group bonds best when Jeff isn’t there, which I hope is something we see more of as the season continues.
This is another of Community’s classic episodes. It may be a bit disappointing that the show largely requires some sort of gimmick in order to really be great, but that’s just part of Community’s identity. As long as the show’s around it’ll be pushing the limits of sitcoms, and the results are almost always spectacular.
•I didn’t write much about the specific universes, but clearly the most fun one to watch is the Rube Goldberg one in which everyone is maimed or killed.
•”Avoid touchy topics, like ‘the negro problem.’”
•Shirley’s pizza sounds just so disgusting.
•”Serbian rum. So strong it was banned there.”
•”So Annie’s got a gun. Somebody on staff a big Irving Berlin fan?
•What is the deal with Britta’s terrible, terrible pizza dance? Is this song commonly known?
•Britta’s instant love with the super creepy pizza guy is also pretty amazing. What I appreciate is that rather than simply describing him again and again, they actually showed him, which goes against the way this sort of thing is written in most shows.
•”These taste just like regular-sized pies.” “Oh, yay!”
•I assume the second (third?) ending for the episode featured Troy and Abed watching Dr. Who, but even so was there a joke going on? To me, it was an amazing episode that ended on a really weird note.