Remedial Chaos Theory
|"Remedial Chaos Theory"|
Abed catches the die before it lands.
|Episode no.||Season 3|
|Directed by||Jeff Melman|
|Written by||Chris McKenna|
|Original air date||October 13, 2011|
"Remedial Chaos Theory" is the third (aired as fourth) episode of the third season of the U.S. television series Community. The episode was written by Chris McKenna and directed by Jeff Melman. It originally aired on October 13, 2011 on NBC. The episode features a housewarming party for Troy and Abed panning out in seven alternate timelines. Each timeline explored the effect of the absence/presence of a character on other characters in similar situations.
Considered one of the best episodes of the series, "Remedial Chaos Theory" received highly positive reviews, with many critics lauding its unconventional structure and noting a significant improvement from the first three episodes of the season. McKenna was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for this episode.
Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) invite the study group to their housewarming party. In particular, they call attention to their Indiana Jones boulder escape scene diorama. Once everyone has arrived, they begin playing Yahtzee. The pizza delivery man, Toby (Robert Tarpinian), arrives, and someone has to go downstairs to collect the pizza. Everyone agrees to Jeff's (Joel McHale) plan to roll a die to determine who has to get the pizza.
The episode then splits into different timelines—as noted by Abed throughout, to his friends' confusion—with each alternate timeline playing out every possible outcome of the die roll. Every timeline features running gags which end differently depending on which characters are present or absent:
- Britta (Gillian Jacobs) plays "Roxanne" by The Police on the iPod stereo system and begins to sing along to it, but Jeff cuts her off.
- Pierce (Chevy Chase) attempts to introduce his story about having had sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom into the conversation.
- Britta excuses herself after Jeff slams her down in order to visit the bathroom to smoke marijuana covertly.
- Annie (Alison Brie) has a gun in her bag.
- Pierce gives Troy a housewarming gift, a Norwegian troll (wrapped in a box), which frightened Troy while he lived in Pierce's mansion earlier in the series.
- Jeff gets up from the table to get a drink, hitting his head on the ceiling fan in the process. Annie tends to him, while Pierce and Troy laugh at him.
- Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is baking pies in order to curry favor with the group, though the others disapprove of her manipulative tactic of using baking to gain love.
- The boulder in the Indiana Jones diorama begins to roll down whenever someone closes the door, but Abed stops it before it reaches the bottom.
- The pizza man is called ugly or creepy.
- Abed wonders aloud what happens in all the other timelines, but Jeff dismissively says there are no other timelines.
In the first timeline, Jeff rolls a two and Annie (who is sitting second on his left around the table) goes to get the pizza. Troy opens Annie's purse to find a gun, and is too distracted to open Pierce's present. Abed confronts Britta about the smell of marijuana in the bathroom, which offends her.
In the second timeline, Jeff rolls a four and Shirley has to go. She reminds the group to take her pies out of the oven before leaving. Troy opens Pierce's present and freaks out. When Shirley returns, she finds that her pies were left in the oven to burn. She berates the group and leaves.
In the third timeline, the die lands on three and Pierce has to go. Jeff belittles Troy, which causes him to leave the table and join Britta in the bathroom. She consoles Troy by mocking Jeff's guarded personality. Annie demonstrates her first aid skills when tending to Jeff. When Pierce returns with the pizza, everyone is happy.
In the fourth timeline, Jeff rolls a six and Britta has to go. Annie tends to Jeff in the bathroom since Britta isn't using it. Jeff expresses his concern for Annie, but just as they are about to kiss, they are interrupted by Troy screaming. Pierce is terrorizing him with the troll, and reveals that he is upset that Troy has moved out from his mansion. Britta returns with the pizza man, doped, and announces they are now engaged.
In the fifth timeline, Jeff rolls a one and Troy has to go. He leaves in a hurry, so as not to miss anything interesting, and slams the door, which causes the diorama boulder to slip and roll onto the floor. Britta and Abed leave for the bathroom, not noticing the boulder. When Annie stands up, she trips over it and falls on the coffee table, in turn displacing Pierce's bottle of rum, which shatters on the floor. Pierce abruptly rises from the table in reaction to the fall, knocking Annie's purse to the floor. The gun inside discharges and hits Pierce in the thigh, and his blood from the wound sprays Shirley in the face. Abed rushes to help Annie with Pierce, while Britta comes out of the bathroom and goes slack-jawed upon seeing Pierce on the floor; her lit joint drops from her mouth and ignites the spilled rum. Jeff attempts to smother the fire with his shirt, only for it to catch fire itself and get wrapped around Jeff's right arm. Britta attempts to put out the fire by dropping glasses of water onto it. Troy returns to a scene of chaos with the troll doll, having been knocked from the table during the kerfuffle, staring directly at him from amid the flames, causing him to scream in horror.
In the sixth timeline, Jeff rolls a five, meaning Abed has to go. Forgetting the others' refusal to eat Shirley's pies, Britta does so, at the same time inadvertently revealing that she smoked marijuana, to Shirley's great dismay, and they confront each other about their respective "habits". Troy says a few kind words to Pierce, which causes Pierce to attempt to rescind the gift. In the ensuing struggle, the troll is flung out of the box. Jeff and Annie kiss at the kitchen counter, but Annie kills the mood inadvertently by saying that Jeff's actions remind her of her father; he belittles her for the remark and for using too much lip gloss. Abed returns to an awkward situation but acts obliviously ("I hope this is the real [timeline] because I just found a nickel in the hallway").
In the final, prime timeline, Abed stops the die from rolling and urges the group to stay united regardless of whatever happens to them. He then points out that Jeff (using a six-sided die for seven people) devised a system in which he would never be selected, resulting in the group berating Jeff for his deception. In the end, Jeff has to get the pizza. After he leaves (hitting his head as he stands) and Britta puts on "Roxanne", the five other group members sing and dance to the song. Pierce decides not to give Troy his gift and discards the doll. Abed invites Annie to move in with him and Troy.
The end tag shows the universe in which Troy got the pizza. With the (remaining) group members sitting around the study table, it is revealed that Pierce is dead, Annie has been institutionalized after going insane with guilt for having indirectly caused it, Shirley is an alcoholic, Troy injured his larynx trying to destroy the flaming troll (he tried to eat it) and can only speak with the assistance of an artificial voice box, Jeff is missing an arm, and Britta has a blue streak in her hair. Abed declares that, as this is "the darkest timeline", they must become "the evil study group" and find a way to enter the "prime timeline" and take control over it. He hands out black felt goatees to the others, mimicking the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Mirror, Mirror". Depressed, Britta, Jeff, and Shirley depart, but Troy stays behind; he and Abed don the goatees, singing "Evil Troy and Evil Abed," a variation on the series’ running gag of "Troy and Abed in the Morning." Suddenly, the scene changes via the reverse of the dice roll animation used throughout the episode (the camera zooms out from that timeline to the prime timeline at the center this time) to the "prime" Abed and Troy watching TV, where Abed mentions that something felt strange for a moment, but dismisses it without a thought.
"Remedial Chaos Theory" is another concept episode, which is popular among fans. Despite the alternate realities, each story was part of a cohesive narrative. The episode's structure depicted how the characters relate to each other in different situations. How the situation changes each time a character leaves suggests the character's role within the group. Some characters always get along easily, some of them do not, and ultimately the group dynamic requires everyone to work.
In Jeff's absence, the group lets loose and has fun. Jeff cannot bring himself to do the same because he enjoys being cool and detached. Annie wishes that everyone would be less worried about her and view her as an adult. Troy prevents chaos; when he is gone, the situation dissolves into madness. He also wishes that Jeff would view him as an adult. Shirley feels left out because she is the only one happily married. She plays a maternal role, quick to anger with everyone as she simultaneously tries to guide and nurture them. However, the other group members often refuse to take responsibility and mock her judgement even though they secretly like her mini-pies. Meanwhile, Pierce is upset that Troy moved out even though he seems so happy and he constantly attempts to impress Jeff by trying to prove his own masculinity. Abed dispels tension: without him, the other study group members are uncomfortable with each other.
"Remedial Chaos Theory" was written by Chris McKenna, his sixth writing credit of the series. It is the first directing credit of the show for Jeff Melman. The episode was originally intended to air as the third episode, but was delayed a week because the episode still needed to be completed, including editing, reshoots, and visual effects. A number of jokes from this episode are cited in the earlier aired episode "Competitive Ecology", due to a re-ordering of the episodes. The revised order is referenced in the episode's opening joke of Abed and Troy's apartment number being 303 or 304, which Gillian Jacobs suggested.
Series creator Dan Harmon had previously said that the writers intended to make an episode along the lines of Rashomon, Run Lola Run and Sliding Doors, with multiple revisitations of the same timeline. Among other scripted American television shows, Leverage, Mama's Family, Malcolm in the Middle, Scrubs, The Simpsons, and The X-Files have also done similar episodes.
In its original broadcast on October 13, 2011, the episode was viewed by an estimated 3.82 million people, up 13 per cent from the previous week. It had a Nielsen rating of 1.7 in the 18–49 demographic.
"Remedial Chaos Theory" is often regarded by both fans and critics as being among the show's greatest episodes. After an underwhelming reception by some critics and fans for the first three episodes of season 3, "Remedial Chaos Theory" helped Community bounce back with universally positive reviews. Critics praised the episode's structure and the show's return to a high-concept episode.
Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club gave the episode an "A" grade, calling it one of the ten best episodes the show will ever make. He added, "I think when Community is at its best, it hits all three of those marks [silly, moving, and revelatory], and that can only mean this is one of its best episodes yet. For those of you who worried the show was done or worried the mostly new writing staff had killed some of its momentum or even worried that it would never do a concept episode again, this one was for you." Kelsea Stahler contended that the series' concept episodes are the best, including "Remedial Chaos Theory": "Finally, Community came back to what we love about it: experimental, high-concept television laced with absurd comedy."
Cory Barker praised the episode's unique structure and said: "This effort presents all the different sides of Community within just one episode, buttons it off with a ridiculously funny final sequence and still informs a number of character positions that should be integral to the rest of the season." Alan Sepinwall called it a "great episode," and praised it for delving deep into the relationships between each of the characters. He added that it was "the kind that reminds me of all the different things 'Community' can do when it's at its best... it's at times ridiculously funny and at others simple and elegant and touching." TV Fanatic's Leigh Raines gave the episode 4.5/5 stars, saying that it "bounced back in the grandest of ways" following a disappointing episode. IGN's Robert Canning awarded "Remedial Chaos Theory" a 10/10 score, saying that the episode "succeeded on every possible level. It told a great story, it satirized a specific aspect of pop culture and it, above all else, was full of laughs."
In 2018, TV Guide included the episode on their list of "The 100 Best TV Episodes of the 21st Century".
In TV.com's ranking of all 110 episodes of the series, they placed the episode first overall, and wrote "smart, narratively inventive, constantly funny, and somehow still couched in character relationships ... the gold standard of Community episodes, and of contemporary sitcom storytelling. "
Awards and nominations
It won the PAAFTJ Television Award for Best Writing for a Comedy Series.
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