Well, if you were wondering how many weeks it would take before we got a theme episode, you have your answer: four. Four weeks. This week, rather than being a straight-up genre spoof, played on the sci-fi trope of alternate timelines. It was a nice nod to the episode a few weeks ago with the two Earths and the two Model UNs, and in the Community Theme Episode tradition, allowed some low-stakes character development. (There weren’t consequences for most of the group’s actions in any timeline but the “real” one.)
Troy and Abed’s overly earnest party-hosting in their new, excessively wood-paneled apartment was absolutely perfect, and the subplot of the two becoming roommates is having a lot more payoff than I’d expected. Their hosting skills, which were a little outdated, were sharp enough to include ordering some “real pizza” (as opposed to Shirley’s ketchup and cream cheese variety). Since the guys’ buzzer doesn’t work, Jeff devises a numbering system related to rolling a die that will randomly select a member of the group to have to go down and get the pizza.
As Jeff prepares to throw the die, Abed dutifully points out that he’s creating six different timelines. From the moment I saw the die-rolling graphic (special effects! Maybe they have a budget this year!), I knew where the episode was going. And I was excited.
What follows is a series of escalating alternate timelines showing what would happen if each group member were to leave to get the pizza. Following the timelines, and seeing the impact of each member’s absence, draws out the dynamics through different members of the group. The outcomes of these timelines also ranged from the mundane (Britta and Troy continue to flirt) to the horrifying (Pierce gets shot and Britta accidentally sets the apartment on fire).
As we cycle through the timelines, you can start to pick out some recurring events, like Jeff bumping his head on the ceiling fan, or Britta’s repeated attempts to break out into song. Once I noticed that Jeff seemed to play a role in most events (like cutting Britta off from singing “Roxanne,” or his persistent moment with Annie as she tends to his completely unserious head wound), I started to wonder if the conclusion was going to have to do with Jeff. In the seventh timeline, rather than let the die fall, Abed catches it and calls out Jeff for creating a system where he would never have to get the pizza. Jeff ends up being the “last” person we see go fetch the pizza.
As it turns out, everything works out the best, and the group is happiest when Jeff leaves. There are no complicated sexual dynamics, no unnecessary gun wounds, no heated arguments, and no judgment about other people’s habits or addictions: just a group of weirdos singing along to “Roxanne.” Jeff even mutters to himself, “So this is what happens when I leave you guys alone,” before biting into a slice of pizza by himself.
Considering Community’s continuously bad ratings, one wonders if the writers are planting little seeds for the possibility that this will be the show’s last season. Perhaps, like the Breaking Bad writers, they’re going to structure this season so that it could be the last, even if they hope they’ll get renewed. (And I certainly hope we’ll be as lucky as Breaking Bad fans and get that extra season.) And maybe part of that plan is to prepare the characters (and the viewers) for the end of the study group.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into things.