If you’re like me, you’ve seen last week’s episode of Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory,” about, oh, five times now. Actually, now it’s six. I just opened iTunes and re-watched it. If I could get my phone to play a ring tone of Donald Glover and Danny Pudi singing “Troy and Abed’s new apartment!” that would make me endlessly happy.
I’m not the only one who loved it so. Our James Poniewozik called it “an example of the show at its best: an episode with an ingenious premise and structure that uses it mainly to illuminate the characters.” The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff declared it “very likely one of the 10 best episodes the show will ever make.” A brief summary: When a pizza delivery man rings the bell at Troy and Abed’s housewarming party, Jeff rolls a die to determine who will answer the door. As a result, six separate timelines play out over the course of the half-hour episode. In each timeline, the absence of a different character causes events to play out in radically divergent ways—an ingenious way of revealing the dynamics at play within the group.
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On his Tumblr blog this weekend, Community creator Dan Harmon gave a behind the scenes peek at how the episode was sketched out:
If you’re just a passive consumer of television, you’ve likely never thought about how a half-hour sitcom comes together. Suffice it to say that most of them are not written like this. Each week of Community is at the mercy of the slightly-insane Harmon, who believes, according to this fascinating Wired profile, that he has found a way to “codify the storytelling process—to find the hidden structure powering the movies and TV shows, even songs, he’d been absorbing since he was a kid.” That codification comes in the form of a circle broken up into eight sections, each of which contains the key parts of any good story (A comfortable character enters a new situation, and so forth).
So every episode of Community is broken down into one of these circles. An episode with seven story lines is naturally more complex. Crazy-looking, even. This makes us love “Remedial Chaos Theory” even more. Those may look like Expo low-odor dry erase markers. They’re not. They’re fountains of low-odor comedic gold.
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