Episode 11: Basic Human Anatomy
By: Carlos Uribe
Community is a show about the senior year of a group of friends attending Greendale Community College.
What a wild ride the last few episodes have been. It has a pretty good puppet episode, follows it with the worst episode in the series, and then delivers the funniest episode of the season. Basic Human Anatomy is a good episode of Community and is one that could have easily fit in the Dan Harmon era. That's because it gets one thing right: it uses the sit-com, sub-genre parody in service of the characters. What has made Community great in those first three seasons is that it would make make fun of movies or whole genres but it would always serve a purpose. It also helps that this episode remains grounded in a semblance of reality. As comedies get older, a lot of them have the tendency to take their characters into the realm of fantasy or science fiction. A character might build a life-sized robot, they might time travel, or encounter an alien. Some comedies will pretend that they were dreaming all along but others will play them straight. Family Matters had Urkel's inventions going more and more sophisticated to the point where disbelief was stretched to it's limits. There's sit-coms out there where characters might actually run into some fantastical situation such as getting cursed by a real witch. There's nothing wrong with that per se but it's usually a sign that the writers have run out of ideas of situations to put their characters in. Community decided to do a body-switching episode. Troy and Abed switch bodies as a fun way to have the actors mimicking each other. If this was a traditional sit-com, this might be a dream or it might actually happen. This is Community so it doesn't happen. Abed and Troy just pretend it does.
That's really why the episode excels. It doesn't try to pretend that this actually happened. The whole group pretty much realizes that this is a “bit” that they're doing. The question becomes why are they doing it? It's pretty significant to note that it's not Abed who decides to pretend they're switching bodies. It's Troy. That's where the answer lies. Troy has been dating Britta for pretty much the whole season. Their relationship has largely been in the background but this episode focuses on that. It begins with Troy and Britta being told by Annie that it's their anniversary. The two are shocked as they had completely forgotten. It makes sense if one of them doesn't remember but both of them? That's not a pretty good sign of how healthy their relationship is. The two decide to go on a date but that's when the “body switch” happens. This is because Troy realizes that he can't be with Britta. Their relationship isn't working but he wants to remain friends with her. He doesn't know how to break things off with her so he deflects by pretending to be Abed. The main plot basically splits into half before converging at the end. Britta goes on her anniversary date with Abed while Jeff helps Troy look for a lost Freaky Friday DVD so that they can “switch” back. It's during their search that Jeff is able to figure out what's wrong. He's able to give a great speech that Troy ending things with Britta is the right thing to do and he can't run away. Troy gets encouraged and goes to the restaurant where the date is going on in order to properly end things with her. It's a complicated character move for Troy to use the body-switching genre to avoid dealing with reality but it works within the Community universe. The plot isn't perfect but at least the gimmick doesn't drag the episode down.
So what's the problem with the episode? I think the conversation with Abed highlights this. He talks to Britta during their date as Troy. He basically reveals how Troy never talks to him about Britta. It's not because Abed is uncomfortable with the relationship, as Britta at first assumes, but because Troy doesn't want to. He's only able to gather their status of their relationship through the skills of observation. Just like how Troy doesn't talk about Britta, the series never really showed the two as a couple outside of the premiere and the convention episode. The two might have been dating but it was only referenced rarely to the point where it was easy to forget. The whole plot is about the end of their relationship but it's hard to completely care when it's been almost completely out of mind. It's a sad scene where the two break up but it lacks any real emotional impact because them being a couple was never really sold to the audience. If they have had more as a presence when they were together then maybe this would have resonated because we would have understood better what they meant to each other. When Abed broke up with Britta the first time around, she seemed genuinely sad at the idea of things ending. She might have accepted it, or understood why, by the time Troy officially broke up with her but what did he mean to her? I can honestly say I don't know. The plot was still good but that's because of the work it did with Troy and because it was genuinely funny. As an episode on it's own, it works fine. I just think that previous episodes could have at least tried to develop them better so we know what was lost.
The sub-plot of the episode had to do with grades. Annie and Shirley are both in the running for valedictorian but Leonard is shockingly beating them. How is this possible? It turns out that Leonard got a single A in one class on his first year. He's been taking pass/fail classes since then to keep his GPA perfect. He's now graduating so he's in first place. Annie and Shirley decide to knock him out. How? They go to the dean to figure out his success. The dean violates his ethics because he pretends to switch bodies with Jeff when he learns that Troy and Abed “switched” bodies. Nobody buys it and Jeff doesn't even pretend to follow along but the Dean sticks with it till the very end. The Dean scolds Leonard to help Shirley and Annie due to his abuse of the system. The sub-plot ends with a happy note as Annie and Shirley are able to take out Leonard. They are now the top two contenders for valedictorian. It'll be interesting to see how this will affect the group as the season draws to a close. This plot is able to get Annie and Shirley back on top after last week they got a low grade in a paper. Even Pierce gets to finish the episode strong as he does their group project for them. Just when you think that he's been completely forgotten about by the writers and everyone, he makes a lot of banners revolving around the American Revolution. It's a nice way to tie up all lose ends.
Basic Human Anatomy is a pretty funny episode. Academy Award Winner Jim Rash is able to craft a Community episode that finally felt like a return to the level of quality this show used to reach while remaining true to the show that this season has become. The main plot with the body-switching is outlandish but it works because of it's exploration of Troy. The relationship angle could have used a bit more build-up in previous episodes. The sub-plot is funny and this valedictorian hints at what could be a major point of conflict between Shirley and Annie. Overall, if you're going to see one episode of Community this season then I think this one might be it.