If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading.
“Basic Human Anatomy” functions as a spiritual sequel to season 3’s highly experimental “Virtual Systems Analysis.” That’s an obvious observation, of course, since this episode calls back to their first date in that wonderful gem from last year. But it carries out very similar themes, too; while “Virtual Systems Analysis” used the start of Troy and Britta’s relationship as a reason to delve into Abed’s complex psyche, this episode uses the end of it to delve extensively into Troy, in a way just as creative as the previous installment. Abed’s and Annie’s adventure in the Dreamatorium was a whole lot more experimental, of course, but this endeavor was still a bit mindscrewy, while playing up the humor.
Clever is the closest word I can find to describing “Basic Human Anatomy,” though it does seem too weak with the heady material we’re given. But what it does imply is the smart subtlety of it all. Somehow, the show manages to bury so deep into the body-switching well that it pulls something completely original out of a trope that had been exhausted of its usefulness over 20 years ago. A Troy and Abed body swap is a silly idea that’s too out there to even fit in Community’s cartoonish universe, so we get a subversion by not focusing on whether or not it really happened, but rather the consequences of it happening and why they’d do it. There’s no surprise that it’s all fabricated, but there is surprise as to why they’d fabricate it. Academy Award winner Jim Rash wrote the episode (not the last episode like I incorrectly purported) and shows off his prowess by making the absolute best of what could have been a terrible, unfilmable idea. Community has always been ambitious, but being willing to do an episode in a genre style and writing around a concept like this are two very different things, and Rash tackled it well.
The concept itself, essentially, is that Troy is having trouble expressing his emotions, so he uses Abed as a communicator for those emotions while simultaneously acting as Abed to be less emotional (ergo less complicated.) The very idea of not wanting to express emotion is simple and relatable enough, but this wacky experience manages to capture the confusion we’ll inevitably feel when having to make tough choices like Troy has to. It also plays into Troy’s overall arc in the series of what it means to be a grown-up, as presented so adeptly in season 2’s “Mixology Certification,” the pillow fort war two-parter, and the air-conditioning arc of season 3. How Troy has learned to be a man has been increasingly weirder, so this episode certainly plays into the trend. Learning how to make the tough choices in a relationship is a big part of his neverending journey, and if this ends up being the last Troy-centric episode of the show, it’ll be a nice—even if kind of small—little cap to his arc.
The downside to this story being so Troy-centric is that, ultimately, Britta doesn’t have much to contribute to the end of her half of the relationship. But then, the Troy/Britta pairing has very seldom ever had much to do with Britta. Episodes where it was heavily featured always ended up having to do with Abed or Troy, and Britta-centric episodes rarely touched on their relationship. On the upside, though, Britta’s reaction to this revelation—not to mention her cheerful playing along throughout—is a testament to the strength of her character. It’s easy to call her the heart of the show, but she really showed it here. Gillian Jacobs didn’t have a whole lot to do comedy-wise, but her portrayal of a softer Britta here during a very vulnerable time kept her sympathetic without feeling like a victim. Also, Britta and Troy hugging as everyone cleared out just like their big moment in “Documentary Filming Redux” was a wonderful bookend.
It’s no surprise that the actors in this show are great and could pull off something this silly. Danny Pudi’s Troy impression came off as the weakest of the bunch, but that by no means implies that it wasn’t good; he played Troy at his most comically over-the-top, but it worked just fine. Donald Glover was perfect as Abed, though, changing everything about his posture, pitch and even facial expressions to match every iota of Pudi’s perofrmance. Little gestures went a long way, like Troy’s “lean forward with fingertips on the table” posture or Abed’s pointing of his index fingers during fast speeches.
Jim Rash stole the show as Jeff-in-Dean, though, in a surprise gag that has him taking on Jeff’s persona. Like the story itself, the thing that works best is the strange subtly of it; he doesn’t overindulge in the part, but hits right notes when they need to happen. There were points when I’d have to question if McHale was giving a voiceover, but it seems it’s all a testament to Rash’s surprisingly impeccable performance. And let’s not forget his “Having Jeffrey inside me” monologue at the end. Also, I still very heartily don’t like Annie’s characterization this season as she’s strangely dipped too deeply into into psycho stalker territory, but playing it for laughs has eased that blow. Alison Brie played it up perfectly, with her repeated smitten moments (and subsequent “Why is this happening?!” confusion) with Dean’s confident asshole persona drawing out some of the biggest laughs of the episode. The basis for the joke is still shaky, but that doesn’t make it any less funny, and it’s another clever piece of a wonderfully clever episode.
Season 4 has presented some heartfelt character moments, but the show is at its best when it mirrors the heartfelt feelings of family, love, and the stress that comes with it, rather than just showing them. This episode does that in spades with Troy’s confusion, even in the midst of an idea as silly as this. The jokes land, the pace is fast, the plot is engaging and it’s all quite heartfelt. It took a while for Community to get back on its game this season, but it’s clicking again. Like “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” this one’s great.
Odds & Ends
- We haven’t seen Chevy Chase onscreen in two episodes up until now, and he doesn’t really get much screentime. Pierce is still essentially the butt of a joke at the end with the banner-making, but a joke that makes him look competent for the first time in, like, ever. Which is nice, because however we might feel about Chase, Pierce is a pretty cool character.
- The tag was okay, but probably the weakest of the episode. Community could totally do a funny parody of the blooper reel, but it didn’t quite hit the mark this time.
- “Virtual Systems Analysis” was episode 16 of season 3, six episodes after the Christmas episode and in the second semester of that year. This is supposedly exactly a year after that episode, and we’re at episode 11 of season 4. We got a Christmas episode last week, so we could assume there was just a big time gap between this episode and last. Except, it must be part of the fall semester since this is the end of Cornwallis’s class, which would have been pre-Christmas. So, it doesn’t really make much sense timeline wise. But Greendale’s weird, so maybe they had to extend their fall semester into January or the beginning of spring or something.
- Yes. There is a difference between paint and puffy paint. Thank you, Annie.
- I wouldn’t really classify 13 Going on 30 as a body switching movie.
- The janitor’s Murder Mystery Night gag was truly inspired, completely random, and a true Community joke.
- Troy and Abed looking in their pants is exactly what people would do when they switch bodies.
- “You’re not even holding a phone!”
- “Holy makes no sense whatsoever!”
- “I’ve been told I look like a Kennedy.”