Episode Title: "Remedial Chaos Theory"
Writer: Chris McKenna
Director: Jeff Melman
It's no secret that the writers at Crave Online are big fans of "Community." After all, we did name "Community" the best comedy series on TV for two years in a row.
Heading into 2012, there was only one episode of "Community's" third season that we haven't previously reviewed, "Remedial Chaos Theory." It also happens to be the finest half hour of comedy in 2011 and one of the best episodes in the entire series. I can't let that pass without comment.
If that kind of praise sounds effusive, let me assure you that "Remedial Chaos Theory" not only holds up in subsequent viewings, it becomes even better. Each segment reveals new details that can only be fully appreciated from seeing it more than once. Even more impressive, the bulk of the action takes place in just two rooms; making "Remedial Chaos Theory" one of the most innovative bottle episodes of any series.
The genius of "Community" is its ability to effortlessly cross genres. This episode embraces sci-fi as seven different timelines unfold while the study group attends the housewarming party of Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) for their new apartment. When the pizza man arrives, Jeff (Joel McHale) suggests that he roll a six-sided die to determine which of the group has to go downstairs and pay for the pizzas. And in each timeline, a different member leaves the room; drastically changing the way that the events unfold.
In Timeline 1, Annie (Alison Brie) is chosen to go and the events are largely benign. But this segment also lays the groundwork for the six timelines that follow it. Troy finds a handgun in Annie's purse, Pierce (Chevy Chase) tries to brag about hooking up with Eartha Kitt before giving Troy a housewarming present, Jeff bangs his head on the ceiling fan, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) sneaks away to smoke a joint in the bathroom and Annie returns without incident. All is pretty much well.
Timeline 2 is where things start going dark. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is called upon to get the pizzas and she only requests that the group take her pies out of the oven before they burn. Jeff reminds the group of their covenant to not eat any of Shirley's baked goods and we learn that Pierce gave Troy a Norwegian Troll that used to freak him out when he lived in Pierce's mansion. And it clearly still freaks him out. When Shirley returns to find that the group allowed her pies to burn, she suffers a nervous breakdown and runs out crying.
Timeline 3 sends Pierce to get the pizzas and it even pays off Shirley's complaint about the other members of the group making "googly eyes" at each other. This is actually one of the more positive timelines as Jeff and Annie get closer while she tends to his minor head injury as Britta and Troy begin to develop some obvious romantic feelings for each other while commiserating in the bathroom. If anyone suffers from this timeline not advancing, it's Troy and Britta because their burgeoning relationship is delayed… but probably not forever.
Timeline 4 finds Britta getting her turn to go get the pizza. And while everyone else who went in the previous timelines remarked about the creepiness of the pizza guy, Britta returns with the Pizza guy on her arm and she introduces him to the group as her new fiancee. The Pizza guy even has a hilarious reaction to Abed's theory of multiple timelines. The darkness comes back as Pierce terrorizes Troy with the troll and he angrily reveals that he resents the fact that Troy moved out. Pierce accuses Abed of being "Lonely and crazy," but even Pierce realizes that this was a self-diagnosis and he falls into silence.
Timeline 5 is infamously "the darkest, most terrible timeline." Troy rushes out of the room to pick up the pizzas and before he returns, chaos erupts in his apartment. The gun in Annie's purse accidentally goes off, hitting Pierce in his leg. Pierce's blood splashes into Shirley's face and Britta's dropped joint sets the apartment on fire when it hits the spilled alcohol. And thus, Troy returns to see his mortal enemy waiting for him in the flames.
Timeline 6 is also pretty dark, as Abed leaves to get the pizzas. Pierce changes his mind about tormenting Troy. But in the ensuing struggle over the housewarming gift, the troll is revealed and Troy angrily hopes that Pierce will die alone. Meanwhile, Britta gets too high from her joint and she mistakenly tells Shirley about the group's pact to avoid her baked goods; leading the older woman to grow angry as well. Even Jeff and Annie find disappointment in a long simmering kiss; which Annie ruins by comparing Jeff to her father. Only Abed is happy when he comes back, because he found a nickel in the hall.
And finally, Timeline 7 rolls around as Abed grabs the die in the air and gives a rousing speech about the group and how they should stick together to deal with the adversity of the universe. He also exposes Jeff's efforts to avoid going downstairs for the pizza by coming up with a system that would never pick him. The group forces Jeff to pick up the pizzas and they all laugh at his head injury on the ceiling fan.
But once Jeff leaves, something small and remarkable happens. Without Jeff to stop her, Britta begins belting out "Roxanne" (by The Police) and she's enthusiastically joined by Shirley and Annie. As Troy and Abed join them on the impromptu dance floor, Pierce realizes what he has with these people and he wisely discards the troll rather than attempting to have fun at Troy's expense. When Jeff returns to the apartment, everyone but him is dancing and having a great time. But rather than join in, Jeff simply makes a sardonic comment and begins eating the pizza.
Joel McHale is so likable as Jeff, that the audience (and critics) sometimes make excuses for his behavior. Jeff's emotional detachment (or rather, his attempts at detachment) are given a blatant example by his seeming refusal to jump in with his friends and enjoy the moment together. In fact, the way everything works out so perfectly in this timeline suggests that Jeff himself is the member of the group who keeps them from being happier. Jeff is probably the one who organized the pact against Shirley's cooking and he's clearly the guy who won't let Britta have her fun and sing along to a song that she likes. All of that behavior should lead us to believe that Jeff is a jerk to his very core.
And yet, Jeff doesn't look unhappy or angry as he watches the group dance together. Jeff seems amused and maybe even happy. He just can't fully join in.
The tag for the episode helps put it over the top, in terms of quality. The action returns to Timeline 5, where Pierce is dead, Jeff lost an arm, Annie was institutionalized over the guilt of Pierce's death, Shirley is a drunk, Troy lost his voice attempting to swallow the flaming troll and Britta… put a wash-away blue streak in her hair. "Things got dark!"
Abed apologizes for not stopping Jeff's die roll as he meant to, but he also suggests that the group "commit to being evil" and he passes out fake goatees to the surviving members so that they can become "the evil study group" and fulfill their evil mission to rejoin the prime timeline and retake their rightful lives. "Evil Jeff" immediately lashes out at Abed and walks out, with Shirley and Britta close behind him. But Troy accepts his evil goatee and he joins Abed. The evil glint in Abed's eyes as Troy took the goatee was classic. Danny Pudi, you're amazing.
And in the prime timeline, Abed feels a chill before dismissing it as nothing.
"Remedial Chaos Theory" was immaculately constructed, with terrific jokes that paid off in succession and it serviced all of the characters at the same time. Everyone in this ensemble cast got their chance to shine and the episode single-handedly reenergized the early third season of "Community." High concept episodes like "Remedial Chaos Theory" are almost always enjoyable, but it's the characters that bring us back to "Community." Ultimately, they are the reason that we love this show.
Ladies and gentlemen, a world without "Community" is truly "the darkest, most terrible timeline." If we don't mobilize support for this show, this could be the final season.
NBC has pulled "Community" from its midseason schedule until an unknown point in the spring. But rather than let the show disappear from this website, we're going to reexamine "Community" from the very beginning. Starting this week, new reviews of "Community's" earliest episodes will debut one per week until the gang from Greendale is back on our TV screens where they belong.
Crave Online Rating: 10 out of 10.