Friday, October 14, 2011

"Community" knocks it out of the park in every timeline

Photo courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com.

I've been in something of a minority concerning Community the past few weeks. A lot of viewers and critics have been complaining about a drop in quality on the basis of the last three episodes, but I thought that "Biology 101" and "Competitive Ecology" in particular were great, and I found "Geography of Global Conflict" quite likable despite its flaws. Tonight's "Remedial Chaos Theory," however, blew those three episodes out of the water. The multiple-timeline adventure was equal parts hilarious, moving and deeply twisted; everything that Community does well, packed into a fast-paced high-concept twenty-minutes.

There was a lot going on here, but the biggest theme of the episode was the way in which the characters' relationships are inextricably (yet unevenly) intertwined. Every person in the group has a unique dynamic with every other person, and we got to see many permutations of those dynamics. So, in order to break down the episode into more manageable pieces, I'm going to focus on some of the relationships we got to see play out over the course of seven different timelines.

Troy and Britta. This relationship is actually one of my favorites on the show, but it hasn't gotten a lot of screentime: they bonded in "Interpretive Dance" and had a falling-out in "Competitive Wine Tasting," and that's about it. There have been a number of moments, however, that have indicated that Troy is attracted to Britta - one of the best came during "Mixology Certification," when Troy found out that Jeff and Britta had been making out in the backseat of the car - and the lovely moment they shared tonight, eating candy cigarettes and gently connecting, was a reminder of Troy's crush. Britta reminding Troy that he doesn't have to be like Jeff in order to be a man was also great, a nice indication that, of the two men, Troy is really the responsible one.

Jeff and Annie. These two are going to hook up this season, right? No matter how you feel about that (particularly given the character's respective ages), there's no denying that Joel McHale and Alison Brie have some serious chemistry. I know the fire in the darkest timeline was started by Britta's joint, but it could just as easily have been ignited by their smoldering gazes. Of course, the whole thing is problematized by Jeff's protective feelings towards Annie, and her admission that he reminds her of her father (and will likely grow even more complicated when Annie moves in with Troy and Abed). Jeff never had to protect Britta the way he does Annie, so their relationship has a completely different vibe to it. A completely different, incredibly sexy vibe.

Troy and Pierce. This relationship is fairly underdeveloped, but there were some nice scenes here. Given Pierce's character arc from last season, it's immediately understandable that he would be upset by Troy's decision to move in with Abed, and of course he would try to get back at Troy by giving him the troll doll that haunted his nightmares. It's equally clear that Troy, who is good-hearted and mature, would really be grateful to Pierce for taking him in, and the scene where he says as much is beautifully understated. Well, until Pierce tries to take the box back and all hell breaks loose.

Shirley and everyone. Shirley is one character who has never had a particularly close relationship with anyone else in the group. Abed has Troy, Jeff has Britta and Annie, and even Pierce is fairly close, at various times, to various other group members. Part of this is because, as she says in the episode, she has a life outside of Greendale, which is something that sets her apart from the others. However, it's become clear both this week and last week that she really wants to connect with these people, and she does it by mothering them. To have Jeff shut down her baking is really to have Jeff tell her that they don't need her; it's no wonder she breaks down in two different timelines.

Jeff and everyone. There's no getting around it; this episode made it fairly clear that the group is happier and healthier without Jeff around. He manipulates everyone else into getting the pizza so he won't have to get up, with disastrous results every time. The one time that everything turns out fine is the time he leaves, so he isn't there to reject Shirley, belittle Troy or take advantage of Annie. Hell, the reason everyone manages to have a great time at the end is because Britta is allowed to start singing "Roxanne," something Jeff kept putting a stop to. By the end of the episode, Jeff is on the outside looking in. That moment may be the beginning of the serious, self-reflective Jeff storyline that Dan Harmon has been teasing for this season.

Those descriptions made the episode sound unbearably melancholy, which it was in some ways. However, it was also totally hilarious, so here are some of the best jokes.
  • Pierce's constant repetition of his anecdote about having sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom - not to mention his many explanations for how the story was relevant to the conversation - was amazing. I kind of want to know the whole story now... (except I really don't.)
  • The really dark timeline, and the scene at the end that followed up on it, was amazingly funny in the most twisted way possible. It reminded me a lot of Archer, with the same kind of it's-so-tragic-it's-funny-again vibe.
  • Abed didn't have a huge amount to do this episode, but his smile as he greeted Britta and Annie at the door was great, as was Evil Abed's solution to the dark timeline problem. When has growing a goatee ever failed to solve something?
  • Jeff hitting his head on the fan was funny no matter how many times it happened. Joel McHale is a giant.
  • The "Roxanne" dance was a moment of pure, exuberant joy. It's the sort of thing I always want to happen at my parties, but it never does.
  • "There's no such thing as Single-Malt Platinum Boobs and Billiards Club?"

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