“Remedial Chaos Theory” employs a nifty little gimmick that incorporates seven different story lines, a whole lot of repetition, and felt goatees to indicate evilness. It’s impressive in scope, so-so in execution. What I’m trying to say is: standard Community.
I don’t mean to say the episode wasn’t good, though. Because although there were moments in “Remedial Chaos Theory” that slowed its momentum, the episode had charm and a hell of a lot of ambition. And I do mean ambition: It’s Troy and Abed’s housewarming party, and before they scamper off to bed in matching pajamas, they’ve invited the gang to admire their sweet wood-paneled bachelor pad and play some Yahtzee. When the pizza delivery guy arrives, no one wants to go down and let him in, so Jeff decides to roll a six-sided die to determine who has to leave. “Just so you know, Jeff, you are now creating six different timelines,” Abed points out. “Of course I am, Abed,” Jeff sarcastically slings back, flexing his stubble. Cue seven different versions of events, each predicated on the result of the roll and playing out the consequences of one group member exiting the room for a few minutes. The results range from devastating to confusing and occasionally mundane. Jeff shushes Britta’s singing, he hits his head on the fan — things like that. Every character has a part to play in each alternate timeline, even if that part is pretty small, or involves Britta getting engaged to the pizza guy.
And those parts build. In a few of the alternate timelines that happen back-to-back, Britta heads to the bathroom to smoke and is caught by Abed; in one, though, Troy joins her as an act of adulthood, having just been teased for acting so young. (He winds up eating a candy cigarette instead of smoking a real one — he’s not growing up anytime soon.) The two bond and almost kiss, teasing the tension that was evident last week and nonexistent in the other timelines. In another series of timelines, it becomes clear that Pierce is angry at Troy for moving out. And his housewarming gift — a traditional Norwegian troll — is introduced in different ways each time: Once he gives it to Troy directly, but in another timeline he tries to hide it after Troy acts kindly toward him. Jeff hits his head on the fan every time, but when Annie’s around, she rushes to his rescue — and they kiss when everyone else is too preoccupied to interrupt them. (So much for all that wise paternal character development two episodes ago!) Shirley’s insistence on baking and checking on her mini-pies in the oven plays out as either delicious, burnt, or the gang holding an intervention about Shirley using baking as a form of identity.
The seven characters are like seven particles in a Hadron Collider, or seven strangers hanging out at the Single Malt Platinum Boobs & Billiards Club: They interact in various combinations, and can fire each other up or cool each other off. The best parts of “Remedial Chaos Theory” are those extremes. Five of the seven timelines are fairly standard — Abed worries about the other timelines, Jeff hits his head, Pierce shoehorns a story about bedding Eartha Kitt in an airport bathroom, the boulder rolls down Abed’s Indiana Jones model, and the whole thing starts over again. And sure, Pierce finds more and more inventive ways to force the conversation about his tryst, and occasionally the characters bicker in new ways, but the repetition is a bit much — try watching Memento the secret way, where the scenes are in chronological order, and you’ll know what I mean. It’s no substitute for the most intense of the seven. In one, Troy leaves to get the pizza and a Mousetrap series of events occurs that has Pierce shot (Annie’s been packing heat since moving into her dangerous apartment), the entire apartment on fire, and the menacing grin of the Norwegian troll waiting for Troy when he returns. Later, it turns out, he tries to eat it.
But then Abed wraps things up with timeline No. 7, the good timeline. He grabs the die mid-roll and explains that there’s already enough chaos in all their lives; there need to be constants, and one of them is that Jeff is conniving and developed a system by which he wouldn’t have to get the pizza. So, paying his karmic debt, Jeff rises, hits his head, and goes downstairs. And without Jeff’s snide remarks about Britta’s music choice, she pumps up “Roxanne” and the gang dances ecstatically. Is Jeff the source of all the group’s chaos? Probably. But even he can come back in, laugh at the silliness of his friends, and admire what the group, and the show, has built. An infinite number of alternate timelines, and this is definitely the best one.
If only he knew the horrors that would have befallen him in the darkest timeline, which we get to see before the closing credits. Pierce dead! Troy voiceless! Abed wearing a felt goatee to appear evil! Jeff without an arm! That’d wipe the smile right off his face.