3.4 Remedial Chaos Theory
A show with a constantly growing classic episodes list, Community came up with the goods once again this week, adding yet another 21 minutes of comedy gold to the Community hall of fame.
Part Goundhog Day, part Family Guy simulation sequence, part moral tale, Remedial Chaos Theory was full of surprising touches, revealing moments, and a superb excuse for killing off Pierce. Revolving around Troy and Abed’s housewarming, the desire to play Yahtzee – the party is taking place in the 50s, apparently – leads to the creation of six new timelines, the die acting as a prism through which we are able to see the effect that chaos can have on even a small group of mental cases.
Each of the timelines has terrible consequences for someone, and in more than one case, everyone. Chaos does not like these people. As a plot device, the die works well, and allows us to see things that wouldn’t ordinarily come up – Shirley’s alleged baking habit being a case in point, as is Britta’s least subtle joint smoking ever. But, the most interesting events in the different timelines were all character beats – Annie’s admission that Jeff reminds her of her father; Pierce’s jealousy over Troy and Abed’s living arrangements, even Shirley’s confession that desert seems to be her only function in the group, are all beats that wouldn’t necessarily have a place anywhere else.
Okay, so it turns out that none of it actually happened, but, with an ensemble cast, and still much character fleshing to be done, alternate timelines are therefore an effective way to service the cast and keep the show pacey, and they’re still a relatively rare macguffin on TV.
It’s also a great way to pack the show with gags, which the gang did with relish, from Troy’s Bill Cosby inspired moves, to Pierce’s gunshot wound (that will never cease to be funny) and the evils of trolls, Remedial Chaos Theory is the definition of a classic Community episode – the more you watch it, the more gags you’ll catch.
One of the most surprising things to come out of the timelines was that the writers finally found a way to make Britta likable – weed. Keeping her high throughout the alternative outcomes not only made her tolerable, she was actually funny. Having been the least likable character for two seasons, (not just an opinion, but the result of a straw poll of local Community fans) actually liking Britta this week comes as something of a shock, but a pleasant one – the campaign to keep Britta high starts here.
Not that we in any way condone drug use, but surely in this case, it qualifies as medicinal. However they manage it, let’s hope high-as-a-kite Britta makes a welcome return soon. The episode doesn’t make it onto the classics list just for the gags, though – the timelines themselves are just as important as the comedy, and treated as such. Each one neatly ties in to the next, as well as preceding timelines – the weird smell in the bathroom becomes Britta’s joint; Annie’s creepy pizza guy becomes Britta’s fiancé; the gun that kills Pierce is in the apartment because Annie lives in a crappy area, which is also why she’s the group’s Florence Nightingale, and so on.
Complex, well thought out, and completely logical in their own way, it’s the timelines that make the script a gem. As if you needed any more evidence of the this episode’s classic credentials, the apartment is almost an eighth character, so perfectly Tory and Abed is it – there’s a vending machine in the kitchen, a Warhol-esque rendition of Community’s favourite duo on the wall, and the place is covered in Greendale memorabilia and photos of past adventures. It’s an in-universe dream and beautifully realised.
And the moral of all the timeline shenanigans? Jeff Winger is a massive killjoy and everyone has more fun when he’s not in charge. Go figure.