Saturday, 15 October 2011

COMMUNITY, 3.4 – "Remedial Chaos Theory"

Saturday, 15 October 2011
As I explained recently, I'll be checking in with Community from time to time, as there's clearly a passionate minority of readers who'd like a place to discuss the episodes. I can't promise proper reviews all the time, and may miss a few weeks if the episodes don't strike me as being particularly conducive for discussion, but "Remedial Chaos Theory" was thankfully a good example of the show's geeky and inventive side.

A house-warming party with an amusing twist on Groundhog Day, this episode saw the Greendale study group convene at Abed (Danny Pudi) and Troy's (Donald Glover) new shared apartment—complete with scale model of the rolling boulder scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark ("Indiana Jones And The Apartment Of Perpetual Virginity"). But as Annie (Alison Brie), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Jeff (Joel McHale), Pierce (Chevy Chase) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) settled down for a game of Yahtzee, they were interrupted by a doorbell from the pizza delivery guy, so Jeff threw a die to decide who'll get the door... resulting in the creation of six separate timelines, according to who was chosen to leave the game and answer the door.

Community tends to have two broad "types" of story: the ones where things are relatively down-to-earth and resemble a fairly standard "quirky comedy", and ones where the writers are free to indulge their geekier natures. "Remedial Chaos Theory" definitely fell into the latter camp, and it's by far my favourite of the two popular styles—although they can sometimes overshadow the characters in their haste to fill time with pop-culture references and off-kilter plotting. Luckily this episode managed to keep its feet on the ground, by virtue of the fact each "universe" found ways to explore the characters under slightly different circumstances. There wasn't much here that added anything too unforeseen (even another kiss between Jeff and Annie felt passé), but it was still fun seeing the group adjust in different combinations. It was an episode that found a creative way to explore the different facets of the group within each timeline, and it was perhaps quite telling that they all got on much better when "leader" Jeff was the one to go and get the pizza. (Although he didn't seem to even notice that fact when he returned to see his friends dancing to The Police's "Roxanne".)

It was a funny episode, too, once you'd grown accustomed to the repeated jokes that opened each timeline (Pierce's brag about having sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane toilet, Jeff banging his head on the ceiling fan, Britta getting silenced just before "Roxanne" kicked in, etc.) There was a period in the middle when the joke was starting to feel stretched and the variations didn't seem to be losing direction, but this was quickly solved by allowing some of the timelines to go crazy (like Britta getting engaged to the pizza guy), and the episode's end-credits "tag" was a hilarious parody of the Star Trek "mirror universes" trope, as the "evil study group" from another universe convened back at college (Jeff's lost an arm, Troy speaks with a voice-box, Britta's dyed her hair, Shirley's an alcoholic, Abed wears an Evil Spock-style goatee, etc.)

Overall, "Remedial Chaos Theory" was a gimmick episode with heart and something witty to say about the gang's relationship, which thus made it a resounding success. It's not my favourite experimental half-hour the show's pulled off, and I'm not sure the repeat-value as high as the Dungeons & Dragons riff or the three acclaimed paintball episodes, but it was very entertaining and cleverly done.

written by Chris McKenna · directed by Jeff Melman · 13 October 2011 · NBC