Advance Review of Community’s “Basic Human Anatomy”
Body-swap comedies are such an unusual, specific, and cliché-ridden genre that it’s kind of surprising that Community hadn’t taken it on already, but “Basic Human Anatony” finally parodies the genre, with only two more episodes remaining until the end of the season and very possibly the series. And, naturally, it’s BFFs Troy and Abed who make the switch, because they’re the only ones who are the right mixture of playful and committed—to the bit and to each other.
It’s the anniversary of Troy and Brita’s first date, something that Annie remembers, but Troy and Britta don’t. Troy does, however, remember the third anniversary of the first time he watched the movie Freaky Friday with Abed and, with the help of a stack of DVDs (Greendale may be the only place left in America with a working video rental store) and a “routine light switch check”, the two switch bodies.
The switch allows Donald Glover and Danny Pudi, whose easy chemistry made the Troy/Abed pairing so much fun to begin with, a chance to break down each other’s mannerisms. It’s a hell of a showcase for both actors, and a welcome return to the fun for Glover in particular, who’s been on the sidelines for most of the season. Pudi, for his part, proves yet again that he may be the most versatile comedic actor on television by nailing the way that Troy teeters between bliss and confusion. These guys really understand both characters, and it shows.
The switch puts the group’s History project in jeopardy, which in turn puts Annie and Shirley’s race for valedictorian in jeopardy—especially once they learn that their biggest competition is Leonard who, it turns out, got in “A” in his first class and has been coasting for decades. Jeff goes to Dean Pelton to complain about Leonard’s grade, but the Dean becomes preoccupied after hearing about Troy and Abed’s switch, and orchestrates a switch of his own, taking on Jeff’s gruff, shirtless manner—though Jeff refuses to play along. Jim Rash not only does an excellent imitation of Joel McHale, but he also wrote this episode, by far the funniest and smartest of the season. It’s nice to have an Oscar-winning screenwriter on the bench.
The group is so used to Troy playing along with Abed that they don’t realize that it’s actually Troy who started the bit, to help hide from his own doubts about his relationship with Britta. Abed’s just going along with the swap to help Troy, and mirrors his friend’s behavior because he realizes that he needs it, and that he can say all the things that Britta needs to hear but Troy can’t express. That’s not just smart writing, but brilliant writing. There’s a beautiful melancholy to that truth every bit the match of the sadness of Abed’s claymation Christmas or Troy’s 21st birthday, but this episode is far funnier than either of those episodes were.
The swap reaches its climax with an elegantly interlaced scene where Abed (as Troy) breaks up with Britta while Troy (as Abed) confesses his fears to Jeff. Jeff responds with a Winger speech that both honors Troy’s commitment to Abed while reminding him of the honor he owes Britta. Community’s done emotion well before, but not this well. It’s a flawless sequence that stays true to the characters and avoids the treacle that the series tends to fall back on for its lessons.
And beyond the clever conceit and emotional resonance, there are a number of genius throwaway gags here, like Annie’s flushed admiration of Dean Pelton once he assumes Jeff’s persona, the janitorial crew’s “mystery theater” night (boy, nothing like the sight of Eddie Pepitone in a fur coat), and the Dean’s repeated use of the phrase “having Jeffrey inside of me”.
There are so many elements that go into making an episode of television that it’s something of a miracle when everything comes into alignment. Even the very best shows might have one or two episodes in a season where everything falls into place—Community fans have had an embarrassment of riches, especially during Season Two, when it seemed like every other episode carried that emotional and comedic Midas touch.
This season there’s been something off, and that’s been attributable to so many different things that it’s been hard to pin down exactly what it is. At times the writing’s been weak, at times the editing has been jerky, at times the direction has seemed basic, and at times the performances have been flat. In a few episodes, all of the above. But this episode captures that magical balance again, thanks to snappy dialogue, genius performances, and tight direction from Beth McCarthy-Miller, best known for her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. If Community manages to land a fifth season, they need to bring her back full time—her experience with quick-paced comedy really brought a steady hand to this episode.
And after this episode, a fifth season of Community suddenly doesn’t sound so bad. If the series can still deliver episodes this clever, funny, and emotionally resonant, then it matters much more who’s still in house than who’s left. There have been steady signs of improvement. Last week’s episode stood out as the best of the season so far, but this episode stands out because it’s one of the very best the series has ever done.
Season 4, Episode 11
“Basic Human Anatomy: A+