TV Talk: COMMUNITY 4.11 - “Basic Human Anatomy”
"I scolded Leonard today, and according to the Greendale bylaws, I now have to grant him three wishes."
I guess if any of the cast members of Community would ever take a stab at writing an episode, it would be Jim Rash, the only Oscar-winning screenwriter among them (true, Chevy has a writing Emmy for SNL - but come on) and the most consistent source of laughs all season. While the others have had some "pod person" moments or generally given less to do in this compressed season (Alison Brie in particular has been shorted by the various issues surrounding S4), Rash has been knocking it out of the park every week, and that streak continues with "Basic Human Anatomy". In fact, on paper it sounds like the most ridiculous one yet - Troy and Abed swap bodies much like Freaky Friday or the recent The Change-Up - but once we realize what's going on, it's actually the most grounded and human episode of the entire season.
At some point after Christmas but before Jeff's planned half-year graduation (I have given up trying to understand the timeline of this season), Cornwallis has assigned them another group project, and Annie has decided banners are the best chance of doing something that will net them the "A" they need to get her (and Shirley) back on track to be valedictorian, as their "C" from last week has put Leonard, of all people, in the lead. But the next day happens to be the one year anniversary of Troy and Britta's first date at Señor Kevin's (from the Dreamatorium episode, another one that had the actors playing each others' roles), which they seem to have forgotten. The slip doesn't seem to upset Britta much, until Troy reveals that TODAY is the 3 year anniversary of the first time he and Abed watched Freaky Friday, and has bought him a pile of body-swapping movies to celebrate the occasion. They then wish to swap bodies while holding on to the "magic" DVD, and it doesn't seem to work until the next morning when they wake up. Suddenly, Troy is speaking in a very stilted, robotic manner while holding up a finger, and Abed is outgoing and prone to making ridiculous observations and bemoaning the bad timing for a swap as he "has a very important meeting with his study group today".
At this point I should stress that if there was ever an episode to submit for Emmy consideration for Donald Glover, it would be this one. Danny Pudi's "Troy" is solid, but Glover is revelatory, perfectly nailing every mannerism and tic as Abed (and, in turn, playing Abed PRETENDING to be Troy during a brief period where they try to hide the situation from the others), and while you can poke holes in some of the logic when the reveal occurs (they play each other even in private, which seems excessive but then again it IS Troy and Abed we're talking about), it doesn't change the fact that this is a truly impressive physical performance from both actors. And it takes on a new level that you don't see in any of the aforementioned body swapping movies (nearly all of which are name-checked in the episode), which is that their friends just assume they're doing a bit from a movie, as they tend to do every week. For Jeff, this means a lot of exasperation as he just wants to get the project done but can't until the two of them swap back, joining Troy-as-Abed in a hunt around the school (including a hilarious stop to the janitorial breakroom, where Jerry Minor reprises his recurring role for the first time this season) for the Freaky Friday DVD, which has gone missing.
For Britta, however, this means going on the date with Abed-as-Troy, and it's her belief that their act is the result of Abed's continued issues with their relationship. The editing in the 2nd act is terrific, with Jeff realizing what's going on right around the same time Britta realizes that the guy across the table has been sent to break up with her. Both still playing the other, Troy and Abed lay down the facts as we cut back and forth between the two scenes; Troy can't bear the thought of manning up to break up with someone he cares about in order to go back to being friends, and thus Abed does it for him while pretending to BE him. I'm not going to suggest it works perfectly - maybe if it this had occurred right after an episode where the two of them were together, but apart from the tag with the Let's Chips a few episodes back, I wasn't even sure they were still together anymore anyway, so it's hard to get invested in what ultimately ends in a breakup. To be fair, part of the issue that causes it is that Troy realizes he liked being her friend more than her boyfriend, which would explain the lack of lovey-dovey stuff, but we haven't had much evidence to suggest they were ever even really together on a regular occurrence, and thus haven't noticed anything had changed. But it's easy to sympathize with Britta; it's not Gillian Jacobs' funniest performance by any means, but for the drama stuff, this should be her Emmy consideration episode as well. She goes from kind of annoyed to amused to confused and finally heartbroken all in the span of about 3 minutes of screentime, and while I never quite shined to the idea of them being a couple in the first place (regardless of how minimally it was depicted in the past 8-9 episodes), it's impossible not to feel for her when that final realization sets in - it's the saddest I've ever seen the character.
Meanwhile, Annie and Shirley set about trying to figure out why Leonard's grades are so good; an odd subplot in a season full of them. Maybe he just works hard? Why can't they just ask him? Anyway, somewhere along the line Dean decides he and Jeff have swapped bodies as well (Jeff, of course, doesn't seem to agree), a pointless diversion that at least lets Rash show off his Joel McHale impression, which is actually quite good. I enjoyed some of this - Annie suddenly finding him attractive was a nice bit of physical acting from Brie - but I don't quite get the story logic behind it. Why is Dean, who hasn't even been witness to Troy and Abed's antics (which DID have a function), suddenly doing this? Even when he "explains" it near the end, it just seems like Rash and McHale the actors amusing one another more than anything that makes sense in the narrative. I guess we can assume the Dean was just bored and wanted to play a character without dressing up? I dunno.
Oh and Chevy gets written out of the bulk of the episode, as usual. Though UNLIKE usual, at least Rash's script has a good payoff for it - the reveal of what Pierce was up to the entire time is pretty hilarious, as are the 2-3 lines he gets in the first few moments (his line to Britta is a welcome return to S1 style Pierce). Chang doesn't even appear, but no real loss there.
As with "Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations", if you find no use for the show beyond 22 minutes of straight laughs, skip over it. It's funny enough (Minor's lines are all winners, and the sight gag of Troy and Abed checking each others' penis size is wonderful; they're both impressed by the others' and disappointed with their own), but setting up the plot and dealing with the breakup are largely laugh-free sequences, which tend to annoy some people who bizarrely think that every other line needs to be a laugh for the episode to be considered a success. You need to be in a place where you genuinely care about these characters' lives in order for the episode (and a lot of the humor) to work, and on that regard it's one of the season's best, rightfully joining the roster of episodes that took seemingly silly concepts and used them to deliver some emotionally stirring material. Add Rash to the writing staff!