Community: The Power of Imagination

Community S03E16: "Virtual Systems Analysis"

Those who hate Community (we like to call them idiots...kidding! Opinions and stuff...) have a common complaint: "The show tries too hard." Whatever that means. But with last night's "Virtual Systems Analysis," I can kind of see what they're saying. I know, I know. I'm a huge jerk, etc., etc.

The episode revolved around Annie setting Troy and Britta up on a date to Senor Kevin's Mexican restaurant (haha!)—the one with the cage-free burritos (haha!)—and Annie and Abed spent the day in the Dreamatorium, where total effects-heavy insanity ensued. Despite the silly situations created by the Dreamatorium, it was a very mature peek into Abed's mind and Annie's attempt to understand him.

"Virtual Systems Analysis" is already being labeled as one of the series' weirdest episodes, and with good reason. Using the Dreamatorium and the power of their imaginations, Abed and Annie each played several different characters from the show in weird situations. But their new "worlds" were mostly limited to Abed's view of them, because introvert Abed struggles with empathy and seeing the big picture. The first situation saw Abed reenacting Troy and Britta's date with just a hint of Abed's jealousy mixed in, and it was fantastic. The tracers from Abed moving back and forth from character to character, as well as the audio mixing where Danny Pudi's voice started the sentence before Donald Glover's or Gillian Jacobs' finished it, were awesome touches. At first, "Virtual Systems Analysis" had all the makings of a legendary episode.

But after that promising start, I thought the different scenarios began to feel repetitive and meandering, and I got all sad and because I felt like a great opportunity had been squandered. And for the first time, I slightly understood what those idiots mentioned above mean when they say Community "tries too hard." I don't think that's the right phrase, because the thing I like most about Community is that it DOES try harder than any other comedy out there, and often with fantastic results.

But "Virtual Systems Analysis" focused too much of its energy on the Dreamatorium concept for my taste, and failed to be what I watch Community for in the first place: funny. In justifying her own attempt to match-make Troy and Britta and potentially break up Troybed, Annie basically tried to change Abed's way of thinking. But do we want Abed to change? And can Abed really change, even though at the end he claimed to use a new superpower call empathy? Abed's been a bit of a prickly character this season. His quirkiness has given way to stubbornness and, at times, arrogance.

All that said, let's not over-analyze this too much. I love Community when it's weird, and I love Community when it's cute. I appreciated the ambition of "Virtual Systems Analysis," but this show has definitely done weird and cute, both individually and at the same time, a lot better than it did this week. Maybe some of you out there liked it a lot more than I did—regardless, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Study Group Notes

– Okay, if this Troy and Britta thing is going to work, Community needs to show us why it should work. So far, all we have to go on are a few wayward glances and a mysterious text message. Right now the problem with their "relationship" and its effect on the show is that it has totally neutered both characters. Yep, it's cut off their funny balls. In my book, Troy and Britta are the funniest characters on the show, and right now they're being relegated to acting like nervous schoolchildren. When Abed heard that Annie set Troy and Britta up on a date, he said, "I'm mad at you because you tampered with the fabric of the group. How do you know Troy and Britta pairing up wouldn't destroy everything?" So far, he's right.

– Dean Pelton continues to be hilarious, and his good-news-bad-news costume might be his best yet. Jim Rash should be thrown in prison for stealing scenes.

– Technically speaking, this episode was incredible. Community has been on a roll with its post-production work, and this might be the most impressive of the bunch.

– Hold on, let me try something... "Execute simulation Tim in loin cloth/Annie in lingerie." *hopeful pause* Damn, didn't work.

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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