This high-concept episode was consistently amusing and provided some good insights into the characters of Abed (Danny Pudi) and Annie (Alison Brie), but it was just shy of excellent.
In this episode, after being given a three-hour lunch break by the Dean (Jim Rash), Annie played matchmaker by getting Troy (Donald Glover) to take Britta (Gillian Jacobs) out for a meal, while she kept Abed company in his so-called "Dreamatorium" (an empty room decorated in the style of a Star Trek Holodeck). Inside, they both acted out fantasies of the group's futures, triggering unexpected tension between them because both are control freaks with different perceptions of people and life. This lead to Annie losing her patience with the make-believe world, resolving to try to teach Abed true empathy.
As I said, "Virtual Systems Analysis" did a great job at exploring these two characters, who don't get enough opportunities to hang out together on the show (similarly to how Jeff and Shirley make an unexpected good pairing). As a piece of filmmaking it was also put together very well by director Tristram Shapeero; as it must have been a nightmare to film because of the effects required when Annie/Abed "morphed" into other people, not to mention the headaches Pudi and Brie faced with all the greenscreen and having to play their characters pretending to be other characters. Even Joel McHale had to play himself as Abed perceives him.
I was also pleased the Troy/Britta love-match is something Community looks keen to explore further, although once again it disappointed me to see Pierce (Chevy Chase) was marginalised. A fact that was especially annoying because Chase actually got one of the episode's funniest moments in the dénouement (his story about "nearly" sitting on his own testicles). It's unfortunate when real life intrudes on a show, but the antagonism between Chase and creator Dan Harmon now has me analysing everything Pierce is being given to do, and whether there's just cause for Chase to be angry about his treatment. And I have to agree with Chase that his character's not being treated very well.
But back to the story. I can't say this episode wowed me as I think was intended, but I certainly had fun watching it. Alison Brie was chirpy and adorable throughout; Pudi was typically excellent (love Abed's whine when he gets upset now); we got some brilliant Inspector SpaceTime fantasies (together with more ludicrous attempts at "British accents" Americans always do for comedy effect); and the concept was definitely imaginative with something meaningful to say. So why didn't I like it more? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because season 3's exploration of the characters feels overdone (why examine their relationships so much, just let things play out for us to watch), or that the novelty episodes no longer feel special because there are so many of them.
Overall, I liked "Virtual Systems Analysis" and it was cleverly done, but it was perhaps overreaching at times. I've had occasion to re-watch some of Community's earlier episodes recently, and they're notable less "on the nose" about getting under the skin of the characters. Funny stories just played out and we learned something about the characters by the end, in a more natural way. I hope the show remembers not everything has to be wrapped up in zany clothing to work.
written by Matt Murray / directed by Tristram Shapeero / 19 April 2012 / NBC
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