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Recap: Community, Episode 3.16, “Virtual Systems Analysis”

I had heard rumors that there was a “dreamatorium” episode in our near future, so I wasn’t completely surprised when it happened, but I was surprised by the direction it took. Rather than being a whimsical Troy and Abed adventure, it was an in-depth character episode with Abed and Annie (with the rest of the cast cleverly worked in).

Especially after the developments of the past few weeks, we were overdue for giving Abed’s character (and psyche) a much closer look. I mean, who is Abed? Is he just an unusually analytical, unemotional person, or does he have a psychological disorder? The show has done an admirable job of taking a characteristic of Abed’s that had been a punchline and bringing it to its logical conclusion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sitcom that said “No really, what would it be like to know someone whose brain worked like this?” Kramer on Seinfeld felt like a real, fleshed-out character, but the show never really took you inside his head, at least in part because none of his friends seemed to want to go in there.

The premise, unremarkable except for the Dean’s a-mazing half dress/half suit outfit, set up that the group would be splintering for a long lunch. Annie tries to set up a lunch date for Troy and Britta, and since Abed and Troy had planned to have some time in the dreamatorium, Abed has to settle for playing with Annie.

Annie’s attempts to fit in with the guys have actually brought out some really nice moments. Her intense, often overly earnest approach to everything in her life serves her well when she’s dealing with two very un-grounded people. So, despite her best efforts, it’s not shocking that she’s unable to play along to “Inspector Spacetime” with Abed to his satisfaction. After Abed hurts her feelings over this, she rearranges the dreamatorium engine so that Abed must filter his actions by first considering what other people want. In my least favorite moment of the episode, this causes Abed to squeal and then collapse on the floor.

Just when Annie starts to get nervous, Abed gets up and starts talking in a very un-Abed way. I didn’t get immediately that Abed was doing his best Jeff impression, and it’s actually funny in hindsight that I thought he was doing his “normal person voice” from the episode with Shirley’s wedding a few weeks ago. So that was actually a fun reveal for me. Anyway, as Jeff, he tells her he’s a doctor and they’re in the hospital school cafeteria.

Abed gets Annie to play along, and at first it seems he’s leading her to a chance to apologize to him by searching for him using the dramatic hospital setting as a backdrop. But Abed thinks he knows what Annie wants, and he’s wrong. He thinks Annie doesn’t care about finding him or apologizing to him; he thinks she just wants to be with Jeff.

It was totally weird to see them morph back to that episode from the Season One finale (which I hated at the time, I should note), and it was also great to see that, while Abed had missed the mark, he hadn’t been completely off-base either. I couldn’t tell if we were supposed to think that Annie had been self-aware about her feelings for Jeff this whole time, or if Abed’s simulation had drawn it out of her. Allison Brie’s acting in this episode was stellar. Annie can feel extremely one-note sometimes, but last night, she proved that she can really do some great subtle work with Annie’s character, and that she has a setting other than “frightened Disney princess” or whatever she’s been called before.

It was good to get the gang back in the study group at the end, although this time, there wasn’t much to resolve, since the group hadn’t actually gone through anything in real life. Sure, we can see that Britta and Troy had a good lunch, and we get a little too much information about Pierce’s balls, but after the Dean comes in to tell them about the new friends he made while wearing his costume, it seems like things are looking up for everyone at Greendale. Maybe we’re not on the darkest timeline, after all.

7 replies on “Recap: Community, Episode 3.16, “Virtual Systems Analysis””

I really liked this episode, partially because it always cracks me up to see actors imitating other actors. It was especially obvious with Jeff – even when he was technically supposed to be himself inside the dreamatorium, you could still see a hint of “this is not Jeff, this is Joel McHale pretending to be Abed pretending to be Jeff” which I always think is great. (there’s a more clear version of what I mean floating around somewhere, but in regards to the scene in Harry Potter when Hermione’s taken polyjuice potion and is Bellatrix.)

Someone make us a flow chart! No, I do know what you mean, and the Jeff-Annie scenes (particularly the climactic one) really packed a punch. I was starting to get fed up with their storyline but this episode was actually surprisingly emotional between the two of them. I should also have pointed out that although Allison Brie wins the episode I also think Joel did a great job with this one. He’s come a long way considering that, as far as I can tell, he’d only done broad comedy before this show.

I think I liked this episode but I feel like I need to watch it again. My mom is here visiting and kept laughing at all the wrong places trying to ‘get’ it. Kept throwing me out of the moment. I love Abed. And the dean! That was a sweet moment at the end with him. I’d like more dean-centric episodes. The heart of darkness one was fabulous.

Definitely do re-watch it! I always watch twice before I do my recaps and I got a lot out of this episode the second time around. I wish I’d said more about the Dean in my recap but there was already so much to talk about! But yes he was awesome this week. I loved how distraught he sounded when he said “Guys, I think I overdid it this time.” Brilliant.

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