Why Community’s “Remedial Chaos Theory” Is the Best Sitcom Episode Ever
It’s my responsibility to convince you to vote for Community’s “Remedial Chaos Theory,” which aired a mere five months ago, over “Marge vs. the Monorail,” quite possibly the greatest episode of The Simpsons, the greatest show of all-time, as THE best sitcom episode EVER. Got that? This is probably impossible to do and you’ve likely already made your voting decision, but I am going to ask you to remember seeing “Remedial” for the first time, and how enthralled you were when Jeff threw the Yahtzee dice into the air, leading you into a series of alternate timelines. The writing is so ambitious (yet also small-scale — there’s not really a story to “Chaos,” just a series of plots in a singular location that start, but never reach their conclusion) that you kept expecting the episode to fall apart. But it never does. If anything, it only gets better, with Pierce’s increasingly amusing variations of his Eartha Kitt sex story. And oh how we yearned for Britta to be able to listen to “Roxanne” in peace without Jeff’s disapproval.
Let’s go through the episode’s two true centerpieces:
1) It’s Troy’s turn to get the pizza downstairs, and in the single minute he’s gone, the following happens: Britta puts on the Police’s “Roxanne”; the rock from Abed’s Raiders of the Lost Ark diorama begins rolling, and slides off the model; Jeff hits his head on a ceiling fan; Annie attempts to tend to Jeff’s injury in the bathroom; Annie trips over the boulder; Annie crashes onto a table, launching snacks and liquor into the air; Pierce gets shot in the leg by a gun in Annie’s purse; blood from Pierce’s wound sprays Shirley in the face; Britta runs out of the bathroom back into the living room, and drops the joint she was smoking out of her mouth; the joint sets the liquor on fire, and a mini-bonfire begins in the middle of the apartment; Jeff tries to put out the fire with a shirt, while Britta runs into the kitchen for water; and finally, Troy returns with the pizzas…only to see the chaos that has reigned since he left the apartment, while an evil-looking Norwegian troll figurine that terrified him while he lived in Pierce’s mansion grins menacingly in his direction.
Again, all of this happens in ONE MINUTE — yet it never feels overstuffed. There’s no sense of Chris McKenna, Dan Harmon, and the rest of the writing staff (plus, the ever-looked editing crew, who did a fantastic job) trying to put in as much as they can just because they can; everything feels necessary, not overly clever, like a Rube Goldberg mechanism, where if just one thing is off, then everything’s off. It’s one of the most impressive — and funniest — single scenes in TV history.
2) Each of the increasingly complex timelines reveals how the study group would function without the one member who’s getting the pizza. In every situation, things turn to utter chaos (see: title of the episode), as if to say that the group only works if everyone’s present. In every situation, but one, that is: when it’s Jeff turn to pick up the pizzas downstairs, Britta’s finally allowed to play “Roxanne” and everyone else gets up to dance and sing alongside her. They’re finally allowed to have fun, and no fires begin and no one gets shot Think about that: the message of “Remedial Chaos Theory” is, the study group would be better without its “star,” both in the fictional Greendale universe, as Jeff is their leader, and in our own, where Joel McHale is the biggest name on the show (sorry, Chevy). That’s like ending an episode of Seinfeld with Jerry moving to Idaho, and George, Elaine, and Kramer realizing they’re weren’t able to sustain a healthy relationship all these years because their comedian “friend” was holding them back.
But back to our competition: “Marge vs. the Monorail” is undoubtedly the funnier episode of the two, but we’re not choosing the Funniest Episode of All-Time — we’re choosing the Best, and “Remedial Chaos Theory,” a perfect mix of a high-concept plot with show-defining characterizations, just might be better.
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