Friday, October 14th, 2011

Community Recap: Timeline-by-Timeline Analysis of "Remedial Chaos Theory"

"Bienvenido de la casa Chez Trobed."

There is a lot to go over in last night’s brilliant episode of Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the show’s most clever way of spending little to no money yet (with the exception of the rights to “Roxanne”), so let’s do this timeline-by-timeline, yes?

Actually, before we get to that, a question: Pierce mentioned that he had sex with Eartha Kitt in last week's episode, when the Seven speaks to Omar, and no one blinked an eye; does that mean these episodes airdates were swapped? That would explain why their apartment is 303, the episode's production order. Also: props to writer Chris McKenna, who also penned "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" and "Paradigms of Human Memory" (and the best episode of American Dad!, too: "Rapture's Delight"), for thinking everything out, Lost-style, and evaluating how the Seven would react with one member missing.

To the timelines! Just remember the paraphrased advice your father gave you on your wedding day: if you travel through time, don't step on anything.

Timeline #1: Annie

(Who is that kid in the top right of the picture frame?)

Everything begins normally, with the exception of Troy finding a gun in Annie’s purse and Britta doing her pizza dance in front of everyone. Jeff hits his head, Pierce laughs, and nobody eats Shirley’s homemade mini-pies.

What does this timeline say about the Seven? It's tough to tell yet, because this timeline sets up the options for the other ones. A world where Annie's not around, even for a second, isn't one that I'd want to live in, though.

Timeline #2: Shirley

As a housewarming present, Pierce gives Troy a terrifying looking traditional Norwegian troll, which Pierce had hanging in his hallway when he and Troy lived together. Everyone forgets to take Shirley's mini-pies out of the oven, and they're burned to a crisp. Shirley then calls everyone out for making googly eyes at one another (Annie/Jeff to Jeff/Britta to Britta/Troy to Troy/Abed), and has a nervous BAKEdown.

What does this timeline say about the Seven? As soon as Shirley's outta sight, she's outta mind. She's the mother figure of the group ("You're not allowed to have baking things as an identity," Jeff tells her, forgetting her "Here's Browniesss" speech from season one), and the rest of the Six, even if they don't realize it, they need their mommies to keep things calm and steady.

Timeline #3: Pierce

Troy catches Britta smoking weed in the bathroom, and the two of them bond over candy cigarettes and discuss why Jeff's always picking on him. They agree it's because he's threatened by Troy (who's so grown up that he keeps a bowl of olives next to the toilet), and then they make googly eyes at each other.

What does this timeline say about the Seven? Without Pierce around, Jeff's the oldest one in the group, and because of that, he feels scared. So he makes fun of the male younger than him, and his hostility — and Pierce's absence — brings Troy and Britta together.

Timeline #4: Britta

Jeff and Annie bond and nearly kiss in the bathroom after he hits his head on an overhead fan, and Pierce threatens Troy with his troll gift (Abed looks momentarily disappointed that he didn't get a gift, too). Britta, while down getting the food, falls in love with the Khal Drogo-looking pizza guy, her soon-to-be husband.

What does this timeline say about the Seven? Troy tries to act sophisticated and cool when Britta's around, but when she's down fetching the pizza, he begins acting like a child with Abed, with talk of bunk beds and secret handshakes. This infuriates Pierce, who's jealous of what Troy and Abed have. And without Troy around, and without being able to get high, Britta acts even more impulsive.

Timeline #5: Troy

Troy slams the door to the apartment so hard, because he's racing and doesn't want to miss anything, that the boulder on Abed's recreation of the first scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark rolls onto the floor. Annie trips over it, launching potato chip bags and bottles into the air and then, the floor. The gun in Annie's purse goes off and hits Pierce in the leg, the blood squirting from the wound into Shirley's face, ruining her mini-pies. A shell shocked Britta drops her joint on the floor, setting the apartment on fire, so she starts throwing water onto the flame, glass-by-glass. Upon his return to the apartment, Troy sees the troll in the middle of everything and screams, "NOOOOO."

Later, in the episode's tag, the tragedy continues: the FIVE are back at Greendale. Pierce is dead from the gun wound; Annie, wracked with guilt, is now in a mental hospital; Shirley's a drunk again; Jeff lost an arm in the fire; Troy can no longer talk without the use of a voice box because he tried to get rid of the flaming troll doll by eating it, destroying his larynx in the process; Britta has a blue streak in her hair; and Abed's embracing the dark timeline by committing to its evilness, through the use of an Evil Spock goatee.

What does this say about the Seven? Things fall to shit with Troy gone. He's the one who should be the leader, not Jeff, but no one realizes it yet, with the possible exception of Britta.

Timeline #6: Abed

Britta tries and enjoys one of Shirley's mini-pies; Shirley confesses that she thinks the only thing she's good for is making desserts. While the two have a moment alone, and after Pierce gives him his still-unopened housewarming present, Troy thanks Pierce for letting him live with him. Jeff and Annie make out in the kitchen (and she says he reminds her of her father, and then makes a grandfather joke, too), and Pierce tries to take his gift back from Troy, who demands to be housewarmed. Britta lets it slip that the group agreed to not eat Shirley's pies, and Shirley calls her a "hippie skank."

What does this say about the Seven? They're not good at talking about how they really feel about one other, because when they do tell the truth, everyone ends up hating everyone else. They need Abed to discuss their dynamic in pop culture terms, which makes personality faults easier to comprehend.

Timeline #7: Jeff

Abed figures out Jeff's been cheating (seven people, six-sided die), and he goes to get the pizza. Without the conniving son of a bitch/crafty jackrabbit around, Britta's FINALLY allowed to sing along to "Roxanne" (love Britta and Shirley's Sting accents), and everyone else joins in. There's dancing and camaraderie (and I felt warm and fuzzy), and Abed invites Annie, no longer busy sucking face with Jeff, to move in with them.

What does this say about the Seven? They're better off without Jeff, the real villain of season three.

What does this recap say about "Remedial Chaos Theory"? It's one of Community's best episodes.

Josh Kurp and a friend were trying to decide that if Parks and Recreation is Spoon (always very good, occasionally great), then what band is Community (lower lows, higher highs than Parks)?

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  • chris chris

    This episode makes up for last week. Hell, this episode makes up for any future episodes that might fall short this entire season. I laughed so hard during the "googly eyes" camera pan (that ended with Troy freaking out about the doll) that I had to actually pause the TV while I went into a 5 minute loughing (laugh-cough) fit (too many candy cigarettes, I guess).
    Amazing writing, acting and production. Wow.
    Oh and by the way, great recap, Josh. I think you are right. Jeff is the villain this season.

  • Michael McAllister@twitter

    I think Community as a band would be Weezer. Both had strong starts with highs & lows since then, plenty of pop culture references, a charming but kinda creepy front man (Rivers Cuomo & Dan Harmon).

    • Joshua Kurp

      @Michael McAllister@twitter I thought about Weezer, too, but they started BRILLIANTLY, and it's been all downhill since. Community, on the other, began slowly, and it took about halfway through the first season for them to hit a groove. I want it to work (especially the creepy front man thing), but don't think it does.

    • Michael McAllister@twitter

      @Joshua Kurp Good point about the differences in the respective debuts. I didn't catch on to Weezer right away so I don't always recall how strong their arrival was. Keeping with the indie-band theme: TV on the Radio – always had good buzz but took a while to take off, Cookie Mountain (Community season 1) established their presence, Dear Science (season 2) cemented their status as a creative force, but 9 Types of Light (Season 3) has been a slight re-direction but still knows how to do pull its weight. Plus, for all of its highs and lows (however perceived by the fans), they never seem to get the mainstream recognition the deserved.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @Michael McAllister@twitter Woah. You win. And the deleted scenes, which are always fantastic, are Young Liars, TVOTR's great EP.

    • Michael McAllister@twitter

      @Joshua Kurp Glad that works. It took a little more thought but then fit pretty well, like a felt evil-Spock beard.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Megan-Patterson/513945580 Megan Patterson

      @Michael McAllister@twitter YESSSSS

  • iamjustryingtolive

    I hated this episode. Oh how wrong i was. Most shows if they did this retracing steps i would hate it. They would do it poorly and there would be no reason to travel down the dif timelines. Community showed its excellence again in that we really did learn something new about the characters in each timeline. @josh kurp i cried in the jeff-getting-pizza timeline bc i felt so warm and fuzzy.

  • Angus

    I don't understand how you could have gotten the thing about "The Prime Timeline" so wrong…Abed clearly says that the prime timeline is the one where he catches the die (and jeff gets the pizza). Also it kind of makes abed's speech at the end of the episode about be honest about each other and trying to control the randomness of life a bit pointless if they all return to a timeline controlled by a dice throw.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @Angus That's my fault. Fixed.

  • Kamau Jamal Vaughn@twitter

    I agree with Angus they clearly state that The Prime Timeline is the one where Jeff gets the pizza.

  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    I don't remember if it was the timeline that Jeff and Annie almost kiss, or the one that they do, but Annie says that Jeff doesn't need to treat her like a child, then says "Remember" with a strange inflection. It could be in a "I keep telling you sort of way" but I think that Jeff and Annie have been having the "secret sex" as Abed would say.

    I love that that there was a photo of Troy and Abed from the Dude Ranch from the clip show. This episode was so good, I was depressed when Parks and Rec came on. A show has to be pretty damn good for me to be depressed that Parks and Rec is on.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @Joshua Ungerleider There were so many small details that I loved about the episode, too. You mentioned the photo, but the cowboy hats are visible, as well. Also: they still have an N64, the Greendale anus is hanging, their tea kettle is in the shape of a chicken, their fridge has an alarming number of dog magnets, and, of course, Kickpuncher posters everywhere.

    • Joe Bastian

      @Joshua Kurp Personally, I liked the Andy Warhol-esque portrait of Troy and Abed's faces. Great article.

  • http://www.collegehumor.com/user:328495 Chase Mitchell

    Brilliant episode. I loved everything down to the ominous music that played every time the die was thrown. Still don't get why there's so much hate for last week's hard-boiled Chang though. I thought it was a huge improvement over Gollum Chang. I guess I'm just a lot more Chang-tolerant than most people. Jesus I'm saying Chang a lot. Chang.

  • http://www.shutupshelley.net/ Shelley

    Amazing review of an amazing episode! I really like how you focused on what the absence of each character in the various timelines said about their importance in the group.

    The addition of that 303/304 joke was great. I really, really liked the "Encarta it" joke. And they chose the perfect song. Roxanne went from chilling in the "evil study group" storyline (ie Troy gets the pizza) to fun and heartwarming in the prime storyline (Jeff).

    There's so much to talk about from this episode. Like how both Troy and Jeff are worried about Annie, but only Abed offers her an actual solution. Or how Jeff stifles Britta. Or why I don't currently have toilet olives.

    Also, I think you guys covered the band thing pretty well in earlier comments, but I'd like to throw another option out there. It's a little too early in the shows run to say this works for sure, but I'd say Led Zeppelin. They're a really cool band who are nerds at the core (endless lotr references in songs). They span genres (blues, hard rock, reggae, psychedelia). Every member is regarded as incredibly talented and vital (to the point that after Bonham's death they disbanded).

    • Joshua Kurp

      @Shelley I hope Community goes out on a stronger note than In Through the Out Door and Coda.

      Another favorite joke: Troy's "Negro problem."

    • http://www.shutupshelley.net/ Shelley

      @Joshua Kurp Agreed. But despite being chronically low ranked albums, they are both names of pretty decent Newsradio episodes, so there's always that. (I have no idea how it applies to the discussion, but hey I got to talk about Newsradio!)

      Yea, the party hosting book from the 40s was great! And I liked the whole "chop busted fellow adult, chop busted" line. Oh Troy, you're the best (with or without a layrnx). Britta's "let him finish!" was also great!

      It was neat to see Abed give the end-of-show-Jeff-Winger-speech. And the tag was so amazing. There's no way they're not going to bring that back, and there's no way it won't be the best thing ever.

  • http://www.shutupshelley.net/ Shelley

    Oh one more thing, Pierce doesn't mention Eartha Kitt in the prime timeline (I don't think), but he does mention it in the Competitive Ecology (which is supposed to be 304). Someone asked Dan Harmon on Twitter if that meant Competitive Ecology was in a different timeline, and he said think harder. Anybody got any ideas?

  • Alex Dayan@facebook

    I believe Abed's timeline is the real one! I've posted several proofs. http://tumblr.com/Z3HEMxAgFbDy

    • http://www.shutupshelley.net/ Shelley

      @Alex Dayan@facebook Oh wow, you're totally right! Which means we get to see Timeline 1 (Troy) and Timeline Prime (Jeff) square off later in the season without breaking the realities of the show. It'll be like the satisfying Lost ending that I never got!

      Amidst all the Breaking Bad references, I totally missed all the allusions to space-time. First Abed is introduced to Inspector Space-time in the first episode of the season (And of course Abed is our pop cultural window into the show). Then during the model United Nations Battle Royale he is obsessed with the concept of the parallel universes each model UN is in. And of course he's the only one in any timeline of this episode that believes there are multiple timelines.

      I take back what I said earlier. This show isn't just Led Zeppelin. This show is every massively amazing band that has ever existed. Okay, I got a little carried away.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @Alex Dayan@facebook Damn man, you're good. I only got halfway there, taking Apartment 303 too literally. Nice work.

    • Alex Dayan@facebook

      @Joshua Kurp Thanks! Dan Harmon tweeted that I'm wrong, though. If you need anyone to write Whitney recaps, give me a shout.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    This episode was greeeaaat! And this review really breaks everything down. I actually watched this one again to try to unpack it in my head.

    My favorite detail: Shirley's "He is Risen" Jesus baking pun apron. You'd wear it ironically, but I'm pretty sure a few of my aunts own that thing.

    And it was awesome that the group broke out into Roxanne once Jeff was gone, but it kind of made me sad for his character.

  • bill!

    Woah, wait. Can someone get an update or confirmation or something on the timelines across episodes thing? There is some truth to it? Or no truth, just reading into things too much? Whassa goin on here. That's an extremely exciting prospect.

  • bill!

    My b, yall. My b. I guess I was confused at what exactly Dan Harmon was saying you were wrong about because I waited until after I commented to go read your tumblr. Cool theory though. I kind of wish it were true. Its complex aspect could only mean more time to go through episodes and more reasons to think about Community. If they did do it, it would be the most elaborate Community homage yet.

  • Rogue Towel

    Just watched this, so may be a little behind on the discussion, but a thought after reading the other comments. If this season starts playing around with time lines and parallel universes, can we expect the evil timeline to actually wage war on the correct one? 'Cause that'd be fun. Also, can we expect more Lost references?

  • Christian

    Killer analysis, thanks! Been trying to work out the angles on each timeline. The Troy one is super obvious but it hadn't clicked! He should totally be the leader.