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Community: Remedial Chaos Theory


Far too many sitcoms are lazy. They play it safe by spoon feeding their audience predictable gags even a blind man can see the punchline coming from a mile away. Since we live in a unjust reality, these shows are often the more successful ones. This is why Two and A Half Men kicks off its ninth season with record ratings, while all three seasons of Arrested Development sit gathering dust on the dvd shelf (hurry up with that movie, already).

But Community is not one of those shows. Community is the type of show that once did an entire episode about a group of people sitting around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons. And it was brilliant. Now Community has given us an episode that explored more alternative realities than all four seasons of Fringe, all without ever leaving the confines of Trobed's new apartment.

And, yes, it was freakin' brilliant.

'Remedial Chaos Theory' was Community at its absolute best. Smart, insightful, laugh out loud funny and heart-warming all at the same time. This is an episode that demands multiple re-watches for you to fully appreciate every last second of it. This also made it something of a pain to review. I had to watch it at least four times before I could get this review done. There was just so much to take in, so much to analyse and write about, so much to love and cherish.

Other sitcoms have played with the idea of multiple timelines before, but they've often just settled for the Sliding Doors approach; two overlapping timelines that show what would happen if a character had gone left instead of right. But this episode takes the concept several steps further by creating seven distinct timelines that explored everyone's different roles within the group and what happened when you take one person out. There was also an element of Groundhog Day to this episode, as we kept seeing the same period of time replayed over and over again with varying results.

First Timeline – Annie Got Her Gun

The calmest and least eventful of the timelines. Not much actually happens, this timeline was mainly about establishing the recurring elements in each subsequent timeline; the gun in Annie's bag, Britta trying to sing 'Roxanne', Jeff hitting his head on the fan, Pierce telling everyone about joining the mile high club with Eartha Kitt, and Britta smoking in the bathroom.

Second Timeline – Shirley's Nervous Bake Down

The dice rolls a four so Shirley has to go. Before leaving, she reminds everyone not to let her pies burn (they burn). Once she's gone, Brigadier General Jeffrey 'Too cool for Sting' Winger orders everyone not to enable her by eating her pies. When did Jeff go from reluctant group leader to killjoy dictator? I don't like it. I don't want Jeff to become in season three what Pierce was in season two.

Also in this timeline: Troy opened Pierce's present and freaked out. I don't blame him, that Norwegian troll doll is bloody creepy. Jeff and Annie started making googly eyes at each other. I swear, if they don't get together this season I am going to lose it. I'm sick of them teasing us every single week.

Third Timeline – Troy and Britta Sitting in the Bathroom...

And onto the other possible couple they've been teasing us with this season; Britta and Troy. I will admit that they do make for a cute couple, but I'm not fully on-board yet with this potential hookup. It feels too much like Troy is cheating on Abed. I don't want Britta to ruin what they have. After all, she is president of the Ruiners Club.

Fourth Timeline – I Now Pronounce You Mr and Mrs Pizza Delivery Guy

Britta has to go. No one tries to sing 'Roxanne'. We get more Jeff/Annie teasing, including a near kiss, but it's cut short by Troy's screaming. Pierce is terrorizing him with the creepy Norwegian troll but only because he's upset that Troy moved out. Britta returns with Toby, the pizza guy, and announces that they are engaged. And she isn't even high in this timeline.

Fifth Timeline – Revenge of the Norwegian Troll

The darkest timeline and also the funniest. If eleven seasons of Frasier have taught me anything its that when sitcom characters host a party, it will inevitably end in disaster and hilarity. This timeline was that idea taken to the extreme. Everything that was established in the previous timelines (Annie's gun, Britta's spliff, Pierce's Serbian rum, the Raiders model, the creepy Norwegian troll) finally came into play as the party went from dull to disaster in record time.

Even funnier was the credits scene that showed the aftermath of this timeline. Pierce died (“To Pierce. May he rest in Pierce.”), Annie ended up in a mental asylum, Jeff lost an arm in the fire, Shirley became a drunk, Troy tried to eat the troll and lost his larynx, and Britta got a blue streak in her hair. Their only course of action, per Abed's suggestion, was to don felt goatees until they could grow real ones, commit to being evil and replace their good selves.

Sixth Timeline – The Annie Ruins A Perfect Moment Timeline

This time it's Abed's turn to go. Jeff and Annie kiss at the kitchen counter, but Annie kills the moment by comparing Jeff to her dad. What the frak, Edison? No man, except the really disturbing ones, wants to hear that from the girl he's making out with. I'm seriously starting to question your commitment to this ship.

Meanwhile, Troy has a few kind words for Pierce. Feeling guilty, Pierce attempts to rescind the gift. In the ensuing struggle, the troll is flung out of the box. Troy no longer has kind words for Pierce.

On the bright side, Abed finds a nickel in the hallway.

Seventh Timeline – Roxanne! You don't have to put on the red light!

In the final timeline, Abed stops the dice from rolling and reveals that Jeff, in a typically Jeffian move, has rigged the dice roll in his favour. Jeff is sent to get the pizza. With Mr Negative out of room, Britta is free to butcher The Police. One by one everyone else starts singing along, except Pierce, who decides not to talk about sex with Eartha Kitt and throws away the creepy Norwegian troll. Jeff returns to finds his friends singing and dancing like idiots and having fun.

So the happiest timeline is the one where Jeff isn't there. Are they trying to tell us that the group would be better off without Jeff? I don't think so. When he sees all his friends singing, dancing and having fun, Jeff can't help but smile. And yet, he doesn't join them. Jeff doesn't need to leave the group, he needs to let go and stop being so rigidly cool and controlling. Stop saying no, Jeff. Let Shirley bake her pies. Let Britta sing. Doesn't matter how lousy she is, just let her sing.

Oh, and ask Annie out on a date.

Notes and Quotes

-- Best episode of the season and there is not a single trace of Chang. I refuse to believe this was a coincidence.

-- Puerto Rican Chess; a game beloved by vampire queens everywhere.

-- This episode was originally meant to air before 'Competitive Ecology'. This is why Tory and Abed's apartment number was 303 (this episode's production number).

-- Since he is now a man grown, Troy has got a cigarette case full of candy cigarettes. I want one.

-- Will Annie move in with Trobed? That will certainly shake up the group dynamic a bit. Especially if Troy and Britta are going to become a couple.

-- Jeff made fun of the fact Troy and Abed have mahogany bunk beds. Clearly he doesn't know that bunk beds are cool. For Christ's sake, Winger, it's a bed with a ladder. You can't beat that.

-- And who keeps their toiletries in a safe?

Jeff: “I can’t help but worry about you, Annie. You’re very important to me.”

Jeff: “Okay, starting on my left with one, your number comes up, you go.”
Abed: “Just so you know, Jeff, you are now creating six different timelines.”
Jeff: “Of course, I am, Abed.”

Britta: “Pizza, pizza, go in tummy, me so hung-ee, me so hung-ee.”

Pierce: “Feel the terror of the Norwegian troll!”

Pierce: “Pizza guys are getting worse and worse looking. I guess all the good looking ones went into porn.”

Britta: “Drug addict? You’re a pie pusher. You push pies to get love!”

Troy: “I demand to be housewarmed!”

Jeff: “Uh, a little Makeout 101. Less Dad talk. And you could ease up on the bubblegum lip gloss.”

Troy: “Uh, guys, what does a pregnancy test look like?
Jeff: “It's like a thin piece of plastic with a thing on the end of it.”
Troy: “Okay, so this is definitely a gun.”

Britta: “Life’s gone to Hell, Abed. This is real. Look at us. Look at me.”
Jeff: “Britta, you put one wash away blue streak in your hair. I lost an arm.”
Britta: “Exactly! Life got dark.”

Britta: “Troy lost his larynx because for some dumb reason he tried to destroy a flaming troll doll by eating it.”
Troy: “Clearly you don't understand anything about defeating trolls.”

Abed: “Chaos already dominates enough of our lives. The universe is an endless raging sea of randomness. Our job isn’t to fight it, but to weather it—together. On the raft of life. A raft held together by those few rare, beautiful things that we know to be predictable."
Britta: “Ropes? Vines. Vines? Let him finish.”
Abed: “Us. It won’t matter what happens to us as long as we stay honest and accepting of each other’s flaws and virtues. Annie will always be driven. Shirley will always be giving. Pierce will never apologise. Britta's sort of a wild card from my perspective. And Jeff will forever remain a conniving son of a bitch.”

'Remedial Chaos Theory' was everything I love about Community and a fantastic example of what you can do with just a good script, one set and seven exceptionally good actors. Four out of four super sexy cool scale models of the rolling boulder scene from Raiders with actual rolling boulder.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.


  1. I haven't read the whole review yet, but I couldn't wait to share the great news. http://www.getthebigpicture.net/blog/2011/10/4/ron-howard-on-why-arrested-development-goes-back-to-tv-befor.html

    It's not only a movie, we'll have 10 tv eps, and then the movie.

    Now I say: hurry up already!!

  2. It took Community 4 episodes to give us the first brilliant episode of the season. Just like season 2.

    I agree on less Chang = better episode.

  3. Yup, one of the best 3 of this season; one of the top five of the entire series. This ep was TOTALLY brilliant; alternate timelines worked for S Trek, it does for this great show.

  4. Great review of a fabulous episode, Mark!

    I absolutely loved this. I loved it so much that I couldn't even watch the Vampire Diaries after. I just sat on my couch and laughed at a blank screen.

    Has anyone else noticed the emphasis on un-realities and alternate realities so far? The dream sequence that opened the season, the blue universe vs. red universe in the second episode, and now different time-lines. (I can't think of one in the third episode that was supposed to have been the fourth.)

    If this were Lost, I'd suspect we're about to finally find out the source of Greendale Community College's powerful energy, as well as its complicated mythic backstory.

  5. Mark, now that I've had time to digest the review I can comment properly.

    The effort you made into the review was worth it. It's great, and covered pretty much all the essential points.

    I agree with that Chang has to go. Although I laughed hysterically at the triple voiceover last week, it was an anomaly, not the rule.

    Is it just me, or Britta is coming out as more and more ridiculous as seasons go by? I mean "me so hung-ee" was hilarious, but getting engaged by the pizza guy? That was too much for me.

    I think that they're not trying to make Jeff the new Pierce; they're trying to get themselves out of a rut they dug last season. Pierce was pretty much a villain last season, but he's an integral part of the show. He can't go (unlike Chang). On the other hand, he can't simply stay while being ublic enemy #1. So they started making him more likeable (or less dislikeable) by: 1) making him repent and make amends (taking the fall for Jeff on the premiere); 2) make him at least realize he's being insensitive (the troll storyline); and 3) Showing that being seen as a villain can happen to anyone. Lately it's been Jeff, but maybe we'll see the others as temporary villains on the show.

    At least I hope it's that.

  6. I can't wait for Evil Abed and Evil Troy to find a way to cross over to our reality. That would be one awesome finale.

  7. Josie, you could maybe count Chang's delusions as another sort of alternative reality.

    Gus, thanks for the AD update. A new series and a movie? Almost seems too good to be true. It better not be too good to be true.

    Patryk, I really hope we get to see what Evil Troy and Evil Abed in the Morning looks like.

  8. For anyone interested, here's some promo pics for future episodes:





  9. Totally agree, this was fab (and agreed about Chang too). I fully expect to see evil Troy and evil Abed again. I'm pretty sure you'll get your Jeff/Annie wish as well, they've teased that in every episode so far this season. I hope they don't bother with Britta/Troy tho, that might be a ship too far, and they don't have as much chemistry.

  10. Troy: “Clearly you don't understand anything about defeating trolls.”

    Every time I re-watch this episode I can't stop laughing at this line and the ridiculously childish electronic voice.

  11. I have rewatched it tonight with a massive amount of pleasure. This episode alone deserves to be in an electronic museum of TV anthologies.

    Brilliant (understatement).

  12. As I watched this a second time, I was just grateful that I wouldn’t have to write the review. Great job, Mark.

    Astonishing television. One of the most interesting episodes of a comedy I have ever seen. It didn’t make me laugh out loud, but it made me think and it made me appreciate these characters even more than I have.

    But now, I’ll have the Police stuck in my head all day...

  13. After watching this episode tonight for not the thousandth time, I found an issue: does sleeping with Eartha Kitt seem in character for relatively racist Pierce? Hmmmm.

    Also, in the next episode (which was supposed to air before this one, Pierce tells intense biology teacher whose name I forget that the study group were the only people he ever told the Eartha Kitt story to. But in the "real" timeline, he doesn't get a chance to mention it.

    The scene where they all dance and sing Roxanne makes me ridiculously happy. They're all having so much fun and at no one's expense (that rarely happens).


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