You know how they say that humans are the only species that if you removed them from Earth it would actually help the planet’s ecosystem? That’s how I feel watching Jeff Winger in Community sometimes. I know that’s a bit dramatic, but if there’s an episode that proves it, it’s “Remedial Chaos Theory”.
This episode may not seem like it fits the theme I’ve been doing this month of Groundhog Day-premises, however the events of the episode do keep repeating. Usually in these premises there’s one character who is aware of this fact, but in this episode no one is because it’s not stated as a “repeat day” premise but a multiple timeline premise. And while the latter is more accurate, there is someone that is repeating the day… you. The audience. And you have no idea how they’re going to get out of it or how they’re going to change/evolve to end the loop. I think this is an interesting way to look at it. And because no one in the group knows what’s happening (except, arguably Abed), we’re able to get an interesting look at the eco-system of the group as one member is removed in each scenario.
Every time a person is removed, it highlights an element in another character’s arc. The most prominent are Jeff’s need to be in control of the group while not being seen as “old” and Troy’s need to be seen as an adult, earning the respect of the group via Jeff.
Everyone else has a highlighted flaw as well. Britta’s lack of self-control. Annie’s having to be the most mature when she’s the youngest and shouldn’t have to be. Shirley’s feeling left out of the group because of her age. Pierce’s feeling abandoned by Troy and feeling more isolated from the group because of it. And Abed’s inability to see any of this because he’s simply the most present and in the moment (not really a flaw, but this insight leaves him blaming himself in the darkest timeline).
When Jeff is removed from the group, none of these flaws matter. No one tells Britta she can’t be weird and enjoy dancing and singing. Annie and Shirley join in because Annie’s not trying to impress Jeff and Shirley is embraced in a fun moment. Every one is in a “state of Abed”. The timelines end when Jeff is removed, they all do what they want to do without second-guessing or criticizing one another, and when Jeff comes back he’s out-numbered so he basically has no choice but to accept it and join in. Therefore, Jeff actually hurts this eco-system.
And that’s kind of the arc of the entire third season as they take biology.
It starts off with Jeff wanting to keep Pierce out, when really it should be him. They study eco-systems, learning about terrariums (in probably one of my top-five favorite episodes of the show), showing how toxic this group is. But if you remove Jeff they might actually do better all around. They needed him at the beginning to unite them, but they probably don’t need him anymore, and at the start of season three he’s realizing it.
The one arc in this episode that I wasn’t as in love what was Britta’s. She’s weird from start to finish and a good support for Troy (I’ll never get over how season four handled that pairing, they were clearly a way better version of Jesse Spano and AC Slater). It’s simply not as prominent as the others. Which is fine, it always just surprises me when she gets pushed back, knowing how into the character Dan Harmon is.
But anyways… Dan Harmon is obviously known for his story circles, and this was no exception. For this episode, the writers made a circle for every individual character (which is what you should do whether it’s 3 act or a circle in your own script). I so wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall for those conversations.
For the breakdown though, I’m only going to look at Jeff, as he’s the linchpin for the overall arc completion. I would highly recommend seeing if you can put together the arc for each character just for fun, because I am a nerd and those are the kinds of things I think are fun.
Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory”
Season 3, Episode 4 (was supposed to be 3)
Protagonist: Everyone, but most Jeff
Want: Be in control of everyone and intervention for Shirley
Need: Let everyone be and embrace the community
Pre-Existing Life: Everyone goes to Troy and Abed’s new apartment for their housewarming party. Shirley is set up as bored and wanting a purpose in the group. Troy wants to be seen as an adult. Pierce is bitter about Troy moving out. Jeff wants to be anywhere else. Annie has PTSD about something.
Inciting Incident: Abed announces that they are creating six different timelines as they roll a dice to determine who will get the pizza from the delivery guy. Britta is stoned and has zero self awareness.
Plot Push / First Act Decision: In the next loop, at Jeff’s insistence, the group has agreed to not let Shirley be the group baker and enable her. Her pies burn and she runs out.
Reversal: Pierce goes for the pizza. Troy feels insecure about his age with Jeff picking on him, but finds a connection with Britta.
Midpoint: Britta goes for the pizza and the group is in silence for a minute. Pierce is annoyed with Troy and Abed’s friendship and gives Troy a gift to harass him. Jeff is worried about Annie’s living situation.
Reversal #2: Troy runs down as fast as he can for the pizza and while he’s gone, chaos breaks out in the apartment with Pierce getting shot, Jeff spilling alcohol that Britta drops her joint in that causes a fire, and Pierce’s terrifying gift in the middle of it all.
False Climax / Low Point: Abed goes downstairs and Britta accidentally blows it, revealing that they were going to give Shirley a baking-intervention. And Troy thanks Pierce, but Troy still sees the gift. Both Shirley and Troy are heartbroken. Jeff and Annie kiss but then they insult each other as their insecure about their ages.
Plot Push / Third Act Decision: Abed catches the die to prevent the creation of multiple timelines. He points out that Jeff set it up so he wouldn’t have to get the pizza and they send him down.
Climax: When Jeff leaves, the group gets along. Shirley feels apart of the group and doesn’t care about baking. No one makes Britta feel embarrassed. Abed invites Annie to move in with him and Troy. Jeff is embarrassed to see them dancing when he gets back but ultimately joins in.
Tag: The darkest timeline plays out and we find out Pierce died, Annie’s in a mental ward, Jeff lost an arm, Troy ate a burning troll doll and destroyed his larynx, and Britta died a little bit of her hair. Abed apologizes for not catching the die that night.