Skip to main content

Rolling the Dice: An Advance Review of Community's "Remedial Chaos Theory"

Warning: You do not want to miss Thursday's episode of Community.

It's a given that some of the most ambitious episodes of NBC's Community are often the ones with the seemingly most straightforward concepts. Look at Season Two's fantastic "Cooperative Calligraphy" for a strong example of this: the gang at Greendale is locked in the study room when Annie's pen goes missing. A bottle episode is turned on its head (no pun intended) here, transforming a slight idea into a larger one as the group is beset by paranoia and fractures in front of our eyes.

The same holds true for Thursday's upcoming episode, "Remedial Chaos Theory," another bottle episode that defies the laws of logic and probability in a way. With Dan Harmon and the writing staff achieving such dizzying heights with "Cooperative Calligraphy," it seemed nearly impossible that they would be able to approach another bottle episode with the same gonzo spirit that made the original so palpably exciting and innovative. And yet that's just what they've managed to do with this week's episode, another bottle episode of ingenuity, emotion, and true insight, which I loved from start to finish.

Quick set up: Troy and Abed have a new apartment and they've invited the study group over for a housewarming party with genteel rules and a bowl of olives next to the toilet. (It's that sort of "fancy" do.) When the pizza they ordered arrives, no one wants to go down to get it, leading Jeff to come up with a solution: he'll roll a six-sided die to determine which of them will go downstairs. This is where the chaos theory of the title comes in, as Abed posits that Jeff has unwittingly created a series of alternate timelines, based on the outcome of the roll.

The genius of the installment comes from the fact that we're allowed to witness how each of these timelines plays out, sometimes similarly, sometimes with vast differences, each spinning out of the singular event of Jeff throwing that die in the air. In some, truths are dragged out into the light; in others, feelings are locked away, possibly forever, as moments fizzle, are missed, or are shunned altogether. The beauty of the episode comes from the small universalities created across the timelines, some of which are affected by the chaotic nature of the die-roll: Shirley baking pies, Jeff injuring himself, Britta wanting to sing aloud to "Roxanne," Pierce's insensitivity (and a gross Eartha Kitt story), etc.

Likewise, the episode works because of the individual characters' consistency from timeline to timeline. The dynamics between the characters may shift and buckle due to external pressures--people are in different places due to the chaotic nature of change in the timestream--but the characters themselves remain reassuringly the same: Jeff will always act like Jeff; Shirley will always be giving; Britta always flighty. The simmering attraction between Jeff and Annie is still bubbling away, because these timelines emanate not from the distant past but from the immediacy of now, from a chance roll of the dice.

I don't want to spoil too much of "Remedial Chaos Theory" because it is a breathtakingly ambitious episode comprised of separate narrative strands that twist together into an intoxicating union of character, story, and plot. (And fake goatees.) The concept may be heady, but the emotions within these timelines are painfully real, resonant, and yet not separate from the comedy. Will the gang tell Shirley why they're shunning her baked goods? Will Jeff and Annie give into their mutual attraction? What's going on between Troy and Britta? Will Pierce choose to humiliate Troy or choose to be a decent human being?

What I will say is that the episode gives us one of the series' best moments of group unity and singularity that had my face aching from smiling by the end of it. I'm definitely not going to ruin the moment here, but I'll say that it's both fitting and unexpected, a true instance of shared joy and collectiveness that harkens to the show's title and the group's relationship, not just to one another, but to the audience as well.

All in all, "Remedial Chaos Theory" is an intelligent, hysterical, and ambitious installment that proves just how much the Community writers challenge themselves to break through long-held narrative traditions to produce something innovative and electrifying. It's clear that they too took a chance on a roll of the dice, and this piece of narrative origami has paid off magnificently.

Community's "Remedial Chaos Theory" airs Thursday at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.

Comments

John said…
Gee, thanks Jace, for making my wait for the new Community episode all the more unbearable D:
Anonymous said…
God I fricking love Community, I'll watch Modern Family and be impressed by its polish but it's Community that's taking all the risks and therefore the one that should be showered with all the awards.
Debbie said…
I really enjoyed this episode. The alternate timelines idea was cool, but I immediately told my husband that there were seven of them and Jeff was being self-serving (as the gang finally figured out). Definitely enjoyed the Troy timeline the most with his "I'll hurry not to miss anything" and that is when it all went downhill for the rest of the gang.

Really enjoying Troy and Abed dressing like twins, down to the ascot, and also the mahogany bunk beds.

Did not expect the reason that came out for Annie moving in with them in the ep...
Amrit said…
Jace if you have time can you please do a full review of this wonderful episode? I always love your insights, thank you.
orthopedics nyc said…
Thanks for the reviews shared. Loved reading it. Nice sharing. Keep posting.
J Si said…
This was a very creative episode of Community, in fact it was one of the best episodes of a TV show I've ever seen, period.

It took the basic sitcom storyline structure and turned it on it's head. It really made me think about how one action could potentially set up different timelines.

It also gave a little insight into each character and you get to see a side of them that you otherwise may not have seen

Popular posts from this blog

Katie Lee Packs Her Knives: Breaking News from Bravo's "Top Chef"

The android has left the building. Or the test kitchen, anyway. Top Chef 's robotic host Katie Lee Joel, the veritable "Uptown Girl" herself (pictured at left), will NOT be sticking around for a second course of Bravo's hit culinary competition. According to a well-placed insider, Joel will "not be returning" to the show. No reason for her departure was cited. Unfortunately, the perfect replacement for Joel, Top Chef judge and professional chef Tom Colicchio, will not be taking over as the reality series' host (damn!). Instead, the show's producers are currently scouring to find a replacement for Joel. Top Chef 's second season was announced by Bravo last month, but no return date has been set for the series' ten-episode sophomore season. Stay tuned as this story develops. UPDATE (6/27): Bravo has now confirmed the above story .

Me Want Food: Jenna Gets Famously Fat on "30 Rock"

I don't know about you, but I've already ordered my "Me Want Food" t-shirt from the NBC store. Last night's episode of 30 Rock ("Jack Gets in the Game") was, in my opinion, one of the strongest of the series and has officially pushed the zany comedy into the realm of Arrested Development : deftly plotted and intricately layered, with so many jokes piled atop of jokes that it requires several viewings in order to catch them all. While at its heart, 30 Rock is a workplace comedy, it's left that narrow pigeonhole behind to become a witty example of how intelligent and taut humor can work (and flourish) on television... and exist in harmony with hilarious throwaways like the Thriller -inspired Werewolf Bar Mitzvah music video that would have done the AD crew proud. I want Will Arnett to appear on this series whenever possible. His gay exec Devin is hilarious, manipulative, and has an inexplicable weakness for Kenneth the Page, but he claims to have

"Gilmore" Guy: Who is New Showrunner David Rosenthal?

A few days later and I am still processing the news that Gilmore Girls showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino--and her exceptionally talented husband, writer and producer Daniel Palladino-- announced their departure from the whip-smart drama after six seasons. The news wouldn't be such a blow, save for the fact that Gilmore Girls is as much about Amy and Daniel as it is about Lorelai and Rory. In their capable hands, the show explored a supremely complicated family dynamic through the beautiful friendship of mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory... and did so with smart dialogue usually found in a Nick & Nora film rather than on television. Zany subplots abounded as did quirky, beloved supporting characters. And now, after six seasons (including this most recent--and very shaky--season where Amy and Daniel wrote less episodes than usual), Amy and Daniel are passing on the showrunning torch to... Dave Rosenthal?!? For those of you in the audience unfamiliar with David Rosenthal ,