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Wednesday, 26 of February of 2020

Community – “Virtual Systems Analysis”

“Is this a social cue?”

Community Title CardThe cast, writers, and producers of Community were pretty concerned about “Virtual Systems Analysis” at PaleyFest, with Dan Harmon in particularly fretting about whether this episode was going to be the best or worst thing to happen to television ever.

Ego-stroking aside about being able to be the best or worst on television, “Virtual Systems Analysis” is really neither of those things. Like “Critical Film Studies” before it (but nowhere near as…I don’t even know…elegant, I think is the word I want), the episode seeks to offer some insight into Abed’s behavior, and this time adds in Annie to the mix. Running through scenarios in the Dreamatorium during a 3-hour lunch, the two come to grips with a number of things about their behaviors and their positions within in the group.

It’s not a terribly funny episode (though it does have funny elements) and I do appreciate the character work they do in the episode, but it was just like a bit…too much, maybe? Not in a bad way, but just in a way that I can see how the episode would’ve worked in less gimmicky way. Like “Critical Film Studies.”

I do think that “Virtual Systems Analysis” is successful at what it wants to do, which is do some in-depth exploration of Abed and Annie. Both characters, who have been grappling with various demons this season (Annie with her unresolved Jeff/father/love issues and Abed facing his best friend drifting away from him), and this episode forces them to confront those demons. It leads to a “We’re not so different, you and I” sort of situation, as they both acknowledge that they’re control freaks who have maneuvered (and still are) the members of the study group to their own ends.

 This isn’t really anything completely new for either character. Abed’s behavior, as Annie notes in the episode, is facilitated by the group bending over backwards to make him happy and/or safe (see this season’s episode of “Contemporary Impressionists”), and Abed, as Troy has noted, routinely fails to think of others first. It’s a selfishness on Abed’s part that the show has slowly come to pointing out and attempting to work through, and no longer just writing off.

Annie, on the other hand, refuses to let go of being loved by anyone, including the possibility of Jeff. It’s been built into her actions since the end of the first season, with passive-aggressive actions toward Jeff (pointing prop guns, leaving notes as other people). And now she’s realizing that her match-making of Britta and Troy (who are just fucking adorable, really) is really just a way to free up Jeff (as Abed is able to show her). And while she may write it off as a “bonus”, it’s her plan all along.

Of course, the group facilitates this behavior since they’re the only people who will accept each other at Greendale. Both Annie and Abed are seeing people move on and grow into more confident people (except for maybe Pierce), while they’re left behind, not sure that they want to move on, or even if they could if they knew how. For the first time in a while, the transitional nature of college-going is coming back into the fold here, and it’s exciting and engaging.

But did we need the Dreamatorium to achieve this? I just don’t know. The second act, as Annie tries to get a handle on the rules as they navigate a Grey’s Anatomy-esque simulation, feels like so much padding, even if it supplies the most laughs, between Abed-as-Troy confessing all of Troy’s secrets (“I cried during About A Boy…soundtrack.” “I’m more turned on by women in pajamas than lingerie. I just want to know they’re comfortable.” “I didn’t get Inception. So many layers.”)  and the simulated slapping, I was laughing a good deal.

It just feels like it comes from a different episode, one where the Dreamatorium runs amok, like its holodeck predecessor, and sucks in everyone in some way. But it does offer Annie and Abed a way of being the other, and seeing a mirror version of themselves to come to those revelations, so I see how they wanted to mobilize the Dreamatorium, and it’s successful enough in the third act in this sense, but that second act is just…lumpy.

I feel…bad about complaining about this. I routinely want Community‘s high concept episodes to deliver on character development, and “Virtual Systems Analysis” pushes that forward in spades (we’ll see if it sticks as the season begins to wind down). But here I am, calling foul on the concept portions of the episode, the thing I would be, based on my expectations about the show, least concerned with.

So perhaps in that regard, “Virtual Systems Analysis” is a more successful episode than I feel I’m giving it credit for. The episode is trying to do its form of character growth in, really, the best way it knows how. And while I may feel it’s clunky in its journey, the episode’s ultimate conclusions are still exactly what tickles me as a television viewer.

Maybe I should just accept it when Community pleases me, and stop worrying about the larger details.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Jim Rash will do anything. I love him for it. “I think I went too far with this. Come on, Craig. Get your life together.”
  • “The tortillas are made with microfinanced flour.”
  • “Can’t we play something I know about? Like hospital administration?”
  • “‘I don’t usually support lunch because it’s unfair to breakfast.'”
  • “We overvalidated Carson Daly.”
  • “It hurt like hell. I saw eagles.”
  • I’m going to point to this comment at the AV Club (saw after I posted) about Abed “being a dick” and the idea of this portrayal of Asperger’s, and its accuracy. This is a really complicated issue to me, largely since Community never identifies it as Asperger’s, and as such can play both fast and loose with the representation one week and then get it spot on the next.

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