Preview: ‘Community’ tells 7 stories in one with ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’

Senior Television Writer
10.13.11 39 Comments

It’s still very early in the TV season, but there seems to be a rising tide of concern among “Community” fans on two different fronts: 1)That the ratings so far this fall have been down notably over a year ago, and 2)That the season’s first 3 episodes haven’t wowed many of you, and in fact have left many concerned about the creative state of the show.

There’s not much that can be done on the first front. Adding “The X Factor” to the fall mix hasn’t helped – it’s like “Community” now goes up against “American Idol” year-round – and all we can do is hope that the sheer number of disaster areas on the NBC schedule will put “Community” (a show that, unlike some of the other ratings fiascos, has a lot of critical backing and fan passion, which is good for the brand if not the bottom line) low on the priority list. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it moved to Wednesdays at some point, or put in hiatus for a bit when “30 Rock” is ready to come back, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see it left there as a sacrificial lamb opposite “Big Bang Theory” and “X Factor,” since “30 Rock,” “Up All Night” or any other alternative is just as likely to get whalloped by the twin forces of Sheldon Cooper and Simon Cowell. NBC already ordered a full season for this year, so we’ll get those episodes. Will there be a fourth season? Considering that this is the network that’s about to debut a fifth season of “Chuck,” you never know. I can envision multiple scenarios where the show comes back, either because Sony (which bent over backwards to keep “Til Death” in production long enough to qualify for a syndication deal) makes NBC an offer it can’t refuse, because Bob Greenblatt continues his plan to expand NBC’s comedy lineup past Thursday and just needs inventory, or because things continue to be a big mess and he decides he’d rather fail with something people love than something people will hate. It’s a strange business, and a very strange time at NBC.

As for things creatively, I was getting a little antsy as early as the second episode, when Todd VanDerWerff and I went back and forth on the tricky space the show finds itself operating in at this point, and I know a lot of you were very unhappy with the study group’s behavior in last week’s episode.

But tonight’s episode, titled “Remedial Chaos Theory,” is a special one, the kind that reminds me of all the different things “Community” can do when it’s at its best. Without going into too much detail – I’ll have a full review tonight at 8:30 – the episode takes place at the house-warming party for Troy and Abed’s new apartment, it features multiple alternate timelines, and tonally, it feels like a mash-up of last season’s “Mixology Certification” (Troy’s 21st birthday) and “Paradigms of Human Memory” (the fake clip show). It goes deeply into the ways different members of the study group are connected, and why, it’s at times ridiculously funny and at others simple and elegant and touching. Todd and I talked about the different flavors of “Community,” and this episode feels like most of those flavors all arrayed in a single outing.

“Community” has become something of a power hitter. When it swings for the fences, it usually hits. It’s the singles and doubles where it tends to have problems connecting, and it’s just not possible for a variety of reasons (budget, schedule, mental energy, pacing and overall tone) to go for the home run every time. But this one’s an absolute home run, and hopefully it’ll leave people feeling better about what they’re watching, even if we can’t do much about how many people are watching.

Back tonight at 8:30 to talk all about it.

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