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TV Recap: Community “Virtual Systems Analysis”

(Image © NBC Universal)

(Image © NBC Universal)

"So I probably shouldn’t say things like Star Wars, Zardoz, Cougar Town, cool, cool, cool, pop culture, pop culture, I’m on a TV show.”

There are two resident control freaks in the Greendale study group, Annie Edison and Abed Nadir, but we’ve never had a full episode that focuses on the dynamic between the two until tonight. Annie’s enthusiasm and Abed detachment make matching up the two alone an interesting challenge for both actors: Alison Brie can’t overplay Annie’s peppiness without seeming strident, and Danny Pudi can’t overplay Abed’s remoteness without becoming robotic. Thankfully, Abed and Annie also share a playful nature, even if Abed disapproves of the way Annie plays Inspector Spacetime, and that sense of fun informs the entire episode.

By now the “Abed retreats into a fantasy world and the group must go in after him” storyline is a familiar trope on Community. In this episode, as in the claymation Christmas special, we are aware at all times that even thought the show is letting us see what Abed’s sees (a fantasy that becomes so real that Annie bonks her head trying to escape through the wrong door), in reality he is making up these scenarios and acting them out. Maybe they don’t let us see that end of things because if we did then there would be no way to see Abed as anything other than a grown man with severe social problems, as opposed to the loveable nerd we know him as. Still, I wish there had been more chances for Pudi to do impersonations of the cast, because his Joel McHale was pretty amazing (as was his Don Draper a few seasons ago and his Han Solo last year).

Abed thinks that Annie wants to turn the world into a soap opera, and he’s not entirely wrong, as Annie admits to, um, herself (?), by the end of the episode. It also leads Annie to manipulate her friends into situations that she thinks they should be in, whether or not it’s where they want to be. We’ve seen Annie create fantasy worlds of her own before–creating a fake break-in to avoid her guilt for breaking Abed’s Dark Knight DVD, for instance. Annie throws herself into the hospital scenario Abed creates for her (“I left my wife for you when she was pregnant!” “Who do you think inseminated her?”), because it’s a world that she can control. Like Abed, Annie enjoys the world most when she gets to be the one making the rules.

And now here’s the part of the review where I become everything I claimed to hate last week: I would love to see Abed and Annie as a couple. In this episode, when we see Jeff seducing Annie, we are actually seeing Abed trying to give Annie what she thinks she needs, and maybe making an attempt to reach out to her. Now that Annie can vocalize that she wants someone to want her more than she truly wants to be with Jeff she may be ready to put her infatuation behind her. But even if Annie could love Abed, can Abed ever really grow as a character? That gets a little too deep into the nature of Abed’s social patterns than I’m willing to go right now, but if he has Aspergers Syndrome, than not really. It’s a question that hovers over everything Abed does. When he finally says, while locked in chains of his own imagining, “I’ve run the simulations, Annie, I don’t get married, I don’t invent a million dollar website that helps people have sex, I don’t make it to Sundance, Slamdance, or Dance Pants,” it can play as a cry for help. One that a fixer like Annie can’t help but answer.

In the middle of an episode that focused almost entirely on only two characters, I would fail in my duties to not mention the incredible job done in this episode by Jim Rash and Donald Glover. Dean Pelton gets probably two minutes of screen time in this episode, but Rash provides a complete story arc for his triumphant day at the bank, infusing pathos and humanity into what amounts to a walk-on bit. Glover’s breakdowns are always great, but the long confessional run by Troy is a work of art, building as it keeps going into ever goofier territory (“I like girls in pajamas better than lingerie! I just like to know that they’re comfortable!”), and culminating in an anguished cry of “I didn’t get Inception!” Neither did I, buddy. Neither did I.

Community, Episode 3:16 “Virtual Systems Analysis”: A