25
Apr
2013
Community: Season 4, Episode 11
Basic Human Anatomy
Jordan
When I heard that "Basic Human Anatomy" was a body-switching episode, I was ready to hate it. I was ready to hate it a lot. This was the sort of premise, in my mind, that displayed the same lack of understanding on the part of the new team I've been complaining about for large swaths of the season. I'm happy to say I was dead wrong, and that "Basic Human Anatomy" is the best episode Community has done all season. And for bonus points, its also the funniest.

The smartest thing this episode (scripted by the great, Oscar winning Jim Rash) does is almost immediately let us know that, no, Troy and Abed didn't actually switch bodies, something I was worried the show was going for and was convinced that would be a bridge too far for my suspension of disbelief. Instead, it leaves us pondering the question of why Troy and Abed are pretending to have switched bodies. And while the reveal (which I'll get to) would have worked better if the season had spent more time with Troy and Britta as a couple, it was the sort of emotional gut punch that turned me around on the episode completely. It was the sort of thing this show used to do several times a season, and nitpicks aside, it was done pretty much as well.

The episode also deftly sets all of the characters on their own adventures and gives everyone their own agenda. It throws a lot of balls in the air, and it lands every single one of them. Annie and Shirley need to get an 'A' on their stupid banner project (I enjoyed Britta's question about why every Greendale professor is obsessed with group projects) in order to beat Leonard out for valedictorian. Jeff just wants the banners done as quickly as possible so he can get an early weekend. "Troy" (as I'll call Abed during the faux-body switching plotline) and Britta are having their anniversary dinner (also, if this is the first semester of senior year, Troy and Britta haven't been together a year yet...You know what, let's not worry about that...), and "Abed" is looking for the Freaky Friday DVD to switch back. Oh yeah, and Pierce is just staying alive...or not. Nobody really cares about that one.

At this point, the Troy and Britta relationship is an almost impossible one to follow. Their couple-dom was a big deal for the first few episodes of the season, but even in those, it felt more like something the writers felt required to do than something they were interested in. Then it disappeared for a long stretch of episodes, virtually entirely. And now, the show expects us to be deeply invested in it and in their parting. And I am, a little, though not because of how well its been handled this season. I love Troy and Britta because I've loved them for seasons, and this story works from that perspective. It also works because it makes character sense. I buy that Troy would be in over his head with Britta and would feel more comfortable being friends. And I buy that Britta might just coast through the relationship, never really aware of whether things were going particularly well. Within this episode, the character beats all work, and work as well as anything the show has done this season. If these beats had been built to for a few episodes, I think it could have been incredible.

The assumption, throughout the early running of the episode, is that Troy is humoring Abed and doing a bit for him, in honor of the anniversary of the first time they watched Freaky Friday. This works because it makes the most sense, and also because it is probably how the writers would have handled a lesser version of this episode. It also works because it means that this episode has Abed doing something big for Troy, where we often see their relationship going the other way. Instead of Troy sheltering Abed from harsh emotional truths, this time Abed is protecting Troy. Of course, this means that Britta is the third wheel even in her own break-up story, and that isn't ideal, but its clear the writers are more comfortable in the Troy-Abed wheelhouse, and from that perspective, this episode just works. Troy is afraid to grow up and break up with Britta, and so Abed steps up and does it for him. And when Jeff figures out what's going on, it feels like a natural outgrowth of the episode, not a plot contrivance. It also reminds me of Jeff's run to get the imaginary hats in "Pillows and Blankets." Jeff spends much of the episode undercutting the bit and being generally surly, but when he realizes what's actually going on, he buys into it enough to break through Troy's shields and talk to his friend about doing the right thing.

And while this isn't a Britta episode, to its slight detriment, it does give her a really great moment, played incredibly subtly. The show has a lot of fun with "Britta is a shitty therapist" jokes, but "Basic Human Anatomy" actually gives her a win on that front, when she realizes, slowly, that the body-switch gambit is Troy's coping mechanism and that Abed is taking the fall for him, and to some extent, for Britta.

Also, even if your mileage varies on the A-plot, this episode had a lot of fun stuff going on around the edges. The Dean pretending to have swapped bodies with Jeff was a comedic goldmine (seriously, in a just world, Jim Rash would get halfway to EGOT with a Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy this fall...he has been far and away the best part of this season of the show), even if all of the "Annie is attracted to The Dean when he acts like Jeff" stuff was problematic for me (the show's treatment of Annie's sexuality is wildly inconsistent and often ends up simplifying a character I actually think can be very three dimensional when handled well).

"Basic Human Anatomy" may get a lot of credit from me just for being so much better than the episode that had been playing out in my head since I learned the show was going to do a body-swapping episode, but it should also get credit for being the first time the new regime has fully nailed the high-concept episode by tailoring it to realistic character emotions. This isn't just a parody of body-switching movies, though it is that. It is also a story about Troy having to make a hard decision, and learning how to be an adult about his approach to it. And it worked for me on both levels, even if it also had problems in each respect. In a longer season, the show might have built better to the disintegration of Troy and Britta's relationship, but the episode order is the fault of no one on the show, and this episode works as a story in and of itself well enough that the weakness of the arc building to it is almost entirely forgivable. "Basic Human Anatomy" made me laugh. It made me think. And it made me feel things. In other words, it had all the makings of a great episode of Community, in this or any era of the show.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"Professor Cornwa-...He didn't even finish signing his name!"

-"Sorry. Routine light switch check."

-"Look at his arms and legs! He's like the pick up sticks of people!"

-"We have murder mystery night during the day."

-"Shut up, Leonard! I've got a picture of your old nose. It was a lateral move!"

-"Now, if you'll excuse me, I scolded Leonard today, and according to Greendale bylaws, I now have to grant him three wishes." This may have been my biggest laugh of the season, but I am especially partial to jokes about weird Greendale rules.

-Also, that outtakes tag was really cute.
Tags: Community
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