I toyed with writing seven separate reviews for this week’s Community, aptly titled “Remedial Chaos Theory,” but balked when I realized an homage to this episode could barely do it justice. In a twist that only Community seems to be able to pull off, “Chaos Theory” was a television experience that delivered hearty laughs while teaching viewers a great deal about its characters. And not only was this a half hour that shone in all general sitcom areas, it also juggled continuity between seven different timelines like serious professionals. I wouldn’t say it was the show’s greatest episode overall, but if it’s not, it’s pretty darn close to the top.
What may surprise most viewers is that suspiciously Dean Pelton and Chang are nowhere to be found during this cleverly played bottle episode. Perhaps their prolonged appearances during the first few episodes gave the writers freedom to nix the two give-or-take characters and bring focus back onto our beloved study group. It goes back to my complaints with the last episodes, as bringing more characters into Community usually turns it into a muddled mess. No other shows balance seven actors with fairly equal presence and shove it all into 22 minutes or so of comedy, so extending the universe out to nine spreads the classic characters thin to involve those who operated best on the fringe. Which is why “Remedial Chaos Theory” works: we’re given enough characters to fill one six-sided die and one extra cheater trying to get out of having to work.
I’d love to recap the story, complete with seven very different timelines based on the absence of one character, but I think I’d have to fill several pages just to recap well enough. What I will say though is that each timeline expressed, even if for a moment, what the study group would be like without each member. Shirley’s absence revealed the group’s inherent selfishness, Troy’s uncovered a lack of dependability and therefore chaos. But what was most evident was that the lack of Jeff was best for them as a whole. Unfortunately Jeff wasn’t able to see this from our eyes, but I believe it’s already a trend this season for Jeff to return to his original role as the poison of the group. He became sort of a parody of himself somewhere around the second half of season one, but the Jeff here is all self-destructive. The rest would either be better off without him, or they’d be able to live freely if he decided to invest in them and be useful.
Yet while this lesson on Jeff may have been the crux of this episode, there was still a lot to learn about each character. Britta and Troy have a connection that’s beginning to go much deeper, that is only one fated meet-up in a bathroom away from growing. Jeff and Annie have a May/August love affair going that’s getting creepier by the day, yet they find themselves inexplicably pushed towards one another. Troy and Abed are growing up; Pierce and Jeff are learning to accept that fact. So even though these little glimpses into other worlds didn’t actually occur in our “prime” universe, here we get quick looks into each character that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. And each new look played out in such a way that every minor character interaction was affected by the absence of another character, therefore changing dynamically at each roll of the dice.
Few comedies draw out or even deserve this level of criticism. The fact that so much effort can go into merely examining the surface of “Remedial Chaos Theory” shows how much strength lies in Community’s character and story. This episode should go down in the annals of great television, and should be taken note of by every run-of-the-mill unambitious comedy out there.
Also, I hope we live in the evil universe. I would look great with one of those goatees.