Film and TV

Community: "Virtual Systems Analysis"

As Ty Webb once said, a doughnut with no hole is a danish. So what name do we give a comedy with no (or few, anyway) laughs? One in which the bulk of a particular episode is given over to introspection and character analysis?

In the old days, we might call these "very special episodes" and mock them for their trite sentimentality. I can't really go down that road with last night's Community, however. Dan Harmon and company, for all their meta-tomfoolery, want us to genuinely care about these characters (well, except Pierce), and to that end are trying to help us understand their motivations and anxiety.

I can't say the attempt totally worked. Several scenes were too heavy-handed for my taste, and I'm just now coming to grips with the realization that I really don't care for the character of Abed. At all. But those are mostly minor complaints.

Romance is blooming. Thanks to a canceled biology exam, Annie is able to engineer a lunch date between Britta and Troy (a development not at all telegraphed by Troy's Sensitive New Age Guy text message last week). The catch? She has to spend their extended lunch hour in the Dreamatorium with Abed, who's less than thrilled at the prospect of Inspector Spacetime breaking in a new constable.

That, and he's annoyed at Annie's matchmaking. His Dreamatorium simulations project Troy and Britta are having a terrible time on their date, and he also manages to work in a dig at Annie's IQ. Troy, not having as bad a time as Abed has hypothesized, calls Annie and asks him to be careful with his friend. So of course she forces him to consider other people's feelings for once and this breaks his brain.

The result: a simulation of a sexy hospital where Abed is suspiciously absent. Since the simulation is now being run through a "filter of other people's needs" and it turns out no one needs him. After a series of intermittently humorous encounters with virtual members of the study group (Troy under the influence of sodium pentothal was especially enjoyable), Annie is transported back with "Jeff" to the place she wants to go most: the night the two kissed.

Once we get through more permutations, including Annie-as-Abed finally discovering Abed's prison of his own design (why do I feel a Creed song coming on?), we discover the entire simulation has been Abed manifesting his own insecurities.

Last night's episode wasn't especially heavy on the lulz (the exception being Truth Serum Troy and the "Duali-Dean of Man"; Jim Rash killed the three scenes he was in), but it was definitely one of the more complex and well-acted of the series to date. I personally didn't need to delve that far into Abed's character (because, in all honesty, he tends to annoy me faster than the others), but the intricacies involved with seeing Joel McHale play himself as Abed would portray him, and Harmon and company doing things like reusing the music from the first-season finale for the the first-season finale show that Community still works harder than 99 percent of its sitcom peers.

There's a definite fatalism at play here, as Abed has always been the guy who knows what's coming but is unable to stop it. More to the point, what's coming for Abed is the study group's inevitably moving on from him.

Random Abuse of Chevy Chase:

Pierce sits on his balls.

Random Out-of-Context Quotes:

"Why not use 'Karen?'" "Because it's *gay* sex, dummy."

"Is this a social cue?"

"It's 'Blorgon,' with an 'r.' 'Blogon' is how you say 'thank you' in Blorgon."

"I didn't get Inception!"

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar