TV in Review: Community, “Virtual Systems Analysis”
April 20, 2012 Leave a comment
Community this week focuses on a specific relationship, and it’s not the one you might expect. Yes, it’s obvious that Troy and Britta have a brewing brouhaha, but it’s Annie’s attempt to play matchmaker with the two of them that leads her into confrontation with Abed. Annie and Abed enter into a world of simulations, with characters playing other characters, all coming together to suggest that imagination can be utilized to explore and strengthen friendships.
So, shall we join the group?
“Virtual Systems Analysis” opened too slowly for me. The bit at the beginning had some trite gay-related jokes with Pierce (the group wonders why Pierce uses gay sex in his mnemonic devices) and they accentuate Dean Pelton’s gender confusion to a level where it made me uncomfortable. Not with his decision to dress as a man on the left and as a woman on the right, as I’m totally down with that, but with them presenting his gender play as an object of comic derision. It felt sharper than usual this time. Rather than enjoying his offbeat brilliance (I’m a big Dean Pelton fan), I felt sorry about his ostracization. (That’s right, I said “ostracization.” Let me feel smart for a single sentence, okay?).
The main conceit of the episode involves Abed and Annie entering the Dreamatorium, where they can be themselves and also play other characters, starting with those in the show-within-the-show (Inspector Spacetime) before moving on to simulating their friends. Initially, Annie is not impressed.
ANNIE: So you can dart back and forth doing impressions of your friends. There’s no science at work here.
Abed opens up the mechanism of the Dreamatorium to show Annie how it works, starting with himself.
But Annie insists on Abed starting the process by thinking of other people.
ANNIE: Why don’t you take all your thoughts and your logic and add one step to the process. From now on, before you do or say anything, you’re going to think about how it effects the people around you. We lower-functioning brains call this empathy.
At first, it kind of looks like the wrong move.
ANNIE: Oh my God, I broke Abed.
But this is where it finally took off for me, leaving the realm of set-up and getting to a point of fun and fantasy. Abed will only interact with Annie if she plays along in the Dreamatorium and accepts the simulation of them being at Hospital School, with her searching for Abed, while Abed plays a variety of their friends — who are, of course, played by the actors who normally play those characters, so there’s a lot of actors playing characters playing other characters. Got it?
Annie gets the clues she wants to locate Abed in the Hospital School when she plays along with the scenario. I particularly enjoyed her administering truth serum to fake Troy (Danny Glover playing Abed playing Troy).
TROY: I saw Abed’s name in the Hospital School files. I love butt stuff. I hate spiders. I stole a pen from the bank. I cried during About A Boy — the soundtrack. I don’t wash my hands before surgery. I can see why women find Clive Owen attractive to the point that I might just as well be attracted to him. I use comparisons to Hitler to win arguments on the internet at the drop of a hat. I know nothing about wine. I’m more turned on by women in pajamas than lingerie. I just want to know they’re comfortable. I didn’t get Inception. I didn’t get Inception.
My own Sodium Pentothol-induced confession? I’m with Troy on the whole Inception business. It seemed like two hours of overly-earnest exposition to me. I like it better when Community makes it playful.
ANNIE: Are we close?
JEFF: Almost there. Although you should probably run in place and let the hallway move around you.
It’s a sentimental episode, where plot winds up revealing character. Take, for example, where Annie-playing-Annie winds up arguing with Abed-playing-Annie.
ABED-AS-ANNIE: But we love Jeff.
ANNIE-AS-ANNIE: No we don’t. We’re just in love with the idea of being loved. And if we can teach a guy like Jeff to do it, we’ll never be unloved, so we keep running the same scenario over and over, hoping for a different result.
Or, Abed’s own reflections on the Dreamatorium school locker to which he retreats.
ABED: It’s a metaphorical locker. It’s a place where people like me get put when everyone’s finally fed up with us.
Annie tries to convince Abed that the simulations he’s run predicting everyone’s future are not necessarily going to come true.
ANNIE: Look at 2001. Did we have a space odyssey? No. We got snow-boarding in the Olympics and we over-validated Carson Daly.
I actually disagree with Annie. Not about Carson Daly, of course — I’m not crazy. I disagree that science fiction can’t predict the future. I’d argue that the truths of sci-fi lie not in the accuracy of its gadgets, but in the insights of its metaphors. Like Abed’s locker.
Annie and Abed bond, which is satisfying, although the very end bored me again with their return to Inspector Spacetime. So, yeah, I found the start and finish to be slow, but really enjoyed the meat of the episode.
ANNIE: So, should we get back to lunch?
ABED: I guess so. A little more anti-climactic than I would have simulated it, but whatever.
NBC first aired Season 3, Episode 16 of Community on April 19, 2012.
Polentical: TV in Review: Community, “Origins of Vampire Mythology” (Season 3, Episode 15)
TV Dinner & a Movie: thoughts on community: virtual systems analysis
Couchtime with Jill: Community – I Dreamed A Dream