Review: COMMUNITY S4E11, Basic Human Anatomy (Or, Commit To The Bit, Even When It's Not Great)

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
Basic Human Anatomy is an odd duck of an episode. It shouldn't work based on a number of reasons going in, but then largely succeeds on some of those same reasons (and then some), thus proving that the craft of executing a television show in all its stages (from writing to performance) is a rather nuanced, hard-to-pin-down specter (less a muse) of creative urges and tasks.

The task at hand tonight is to address the status of Troy and Britta's relationship, which has been one element of this season that never quite felt justified or even really very real... despite so many of us wanting the two to get together. I haven't talked about their relationship in quite some time mainly because it was largely put on the back burner after just a few episodes into the season. The writers never quite seemed to wrap their collective mind around the construct of Troy and Britta as an actual couple, so by default neither did Troy and Britta, which is how Basic Human Anatomy was born. This makes for a difficult episode on many fronts, but the fact that the writers are addressing the inert nature surrounding the characters' relationship this quickly is a testament to all sides of the show. Nipping it in the bud now means things will be easier for everyone as we move forward... assuming the show is going to get at least one more season...

The Dean himself Jim Rash, is the particular pen behind's tonight's episode, and as it goes the plot is this: The study group have one final joint project for history. Seeing that Professor Cornwallis is half-assing even his assignment letter (he can't even finish signing his name), Jeff proposes that the group pick a project that is "doable" and "passable" and nothing more. Both vying for valedictorian, Annie and Shirley struggle through this idea, but agree to this... sort of. Meanwhile (or rather concurrently), Annie reminds Britta and Troy that Friday is the one year anniversary of their first date at Senor Kevin's. Initially surprised at this, they both are then underwhelmed, with Troy shifting his attention to Abed, giving his BFF a stack of body-switching themed movies on account of it being the third anniversary since they first watched Freaky Friday together. They do a bit, pretending to switch bodies, no one is amused and the day goes on. Come the next morning Abed wakes up in Troy's body, and Troy in Abed's. Or, well, Troy has decided to commit to the bit with Abed going for broke too. It's obvious that Troy will do just about anything at this point to postpone the anniversary date, which now means Abed is going on the date with Britta. This also means that until the two switch back the group has hit a snag in finishing their project, so Jeff goes along with Troy as they search for the lost Freaky Friday DVD that was initially used in their bit as the device that made them flip-flop.  

No Community fan in their right mind would totally deny the idea of, or the relative enjoyment that one could derive from watching, Danny Pudi doing a Troy impression and Donald Glover taking on Abed. They're both cute and very animated, playing up the base stereotypes of each character. What may be even better about this body-swapping scenario is that The Dean then tries to prove to himself and everyone else that he and Jeff have switched bodies. There is no denying that the best laughs tonight came from Rash trying on a little of that Winger charm, which included confronting Leonard shirtless. It's cracking stuff to be sure, but then again the most consistently strong material this season has all but gone to Rash, so it's no real surprise how well he runs with it.  

What is a surprise is how well the rest of it works, considering that at the same time it perhaps shouldn't. Right off the bat my one major gripe with this episode is that it's been one year since Troy and Britta's first date. As last week was only Christmas does this mean we've jumped ahead in their timeline to coincide with our/their April? I can buy that, but that would then totally drop the idea that Jeff was trying to graduate mid-year, right? And also means that History was a year long class... or have I forgotten something?

The ending that works then is the emotional one. Troy's confession, first to Jeff and parallel of Abed's to Britta, but then actually from himself to Britta, hits home if only because there are so many layers in how all of these people support and understand each other, even through the tough times. Yes, it may seem awful for Britta to be getting the brunt of the break-up from Abed, but it works in large part because she understands Troy's fears and actions, which she is then able to let go of somewhat out of sheer empathy. The final moment in the study room where Britta pulls Troy back for a big hug may seem like they are back on the road to being just friends a bit too quickly, but it proves this more complex place of being and hurting and understanding that I'm talking about. Nothing is ever easy, even when it is. Case in point: this one last private moment between Troy and Britta most of all hearkens back to some of those initial warm and tender times that led them to becoming a couple in the first place.

Random Thoughts And Observations:

- Annie being smitten by The Dean's Winger persona was undeniably great.

- While Pierce sat out much of this episode, he kept plenty busy, making some kick-ass banners in just 25 minutes. 

- The Dean's speech where he tried to get in the words "having Jeff inside of me" in as many times as he could was another magnificent play made by Jim Rash (with a fine assist from Joel McHale). 
Around the Internet:
  • Sam

    Huh, I actually thought this was one of the weaker episodes of the season. I thought last week's episode was much better. This episode just seemed sad and forced. The humor of the body-switching gag was overshadowed by the looming breakup of Troy and Britta. Troy/Abed's speech to Britta wasn't particularly moving (or even believable). I watched the ending to this episode twice and I am still not sure why they broke up. I think they should have broke up, but I think they did not cover the real issues here. Troy only really says that he is immature and they are better as friends. They could have handled it much better.

    The only moments of this episode that I thought were at all funny were: the Troy/Abed penis gag (and Britta's eye roll when they do it the second time) and Dean's pretending to switch body's with Jeff.

    Other Criticisms:
    Everything else felt very contrived. The whole body switch thing is too typical community, it didn't really do it for me. Troy/Abed's impressions of one another were not that funny. The Shirley/Annie competition only adds unecessary tension to the show without setting up any jokes that are particularly good.

    Last week's episode had a lot more subtlety, which is what I think community does best -- the kind of episode that rewards re-watching. I don't think I laughed out loud once the entire episode

  • benu

    This is a measured, well-observed critique for sure.

    My feeling about this episode, which I touch upon in varying degrees in the review, is that it shouldn't have worked at all considering it was centered around one of the most undercooked elements of this season, and perhaps even the run of the show thus far. Considering this, I enjoyed it because I have an investment in Troy and Britta as people. I think any confusion as to why they broke up stems from several factors: sometimes people don't really know why they need to break up. Also, considering how unsure the writers have been with T&B as a couple, it makes sense that there would be some difficulty in bringing a relationship to light that was never really there in the first place. I don't know, perhaps that's the point, and it is all some stealth commentary on the hollowness and denial built into many modern relationships.

    I think the sense of this feeling contrived certainly stems from the fact that the staff realized that they needed to fix/adjust something that wasn't really working in the trajectory of the show. When an idea for an episode comes from the need for maintenance, like this one so clearly did, I think contrivances are going to be present no matter how well you base it in the show's universe.

    It does baffle me that many folks across the net are calling this the best episode of the season as well as the most outright funniest. Contrived or not, the subject is pretty heavy if you drop the subplot (extended gag?) with the Dean, with most of the humor stemming from darker, fear based places.

    Sure, dark and sad can be funny, but I don't think that is what they were aiming for, at least when it came to Troy and Britta's conclusion.

  • Christopher Holloway

    I thought this episode was amazing, as soon as it started, i just found myself enjoying it, and wasn't analysing it (something i've found myself doing all other episodes this season) I was just having too much fun watching it, this definiately the first episode of s4 i've really felt that with
    and regarding the body swap, it seemed troy and abed just did it as a bit to start with, but when troy woke up and britta said happy aniverary, he decided to commit to it, and abed obviously went along with it (i was confused while watching the bed scene, as thought if it was an actual body swap, "troy" would have been far more confused" but like all good community episodes, makes more sense looking back when the facts are known)

  • benu

    Do you think your enjoyment of this episode has anything to do with the fact that we're far enough into the season where your tolerance level for this version of the show has shifted, where your analytical eye is largely diffused by the sheer goodwill of the show.

    For me, it's really been a episode to episode kind of season, my analytical eye having to stay on and sharp for these reviews, but I am certainly glad as to where we are currently at in the season versus the first couple of episodes, which were upside-down traffic accidents.

  • Christopher Holloway

    I feel almost the opposite, as each episode has gone on I've gone into it with a more and more negative mindset, and probably less and less able to just enjoy them, on the "changnesia" episode, as soon as i saw the "mcguffin institute" i was instantly annoyed at how cheap and easy the line was (and that abed would INSTANTLY have picked up, or at least mentioned it), and when pierce and jeff were in the barbershop and pierce read the message on jeffs phone, i was thinking "cheap device to move plot forward".
    I was literally shaking with excitement before ep 1 of this season aired, and certainly didn't want to be this critical; rewatching old episodes and I'm still find myself straight up enjoying them, but I just found something didn't click with pretty much any of the episodes so far this season till this one (other than the scenes with partner and hoolihan, which i loved, although the idea of troy saying one partner needs to always say the opposite of the other seemed silly, as he'd partnered with abed without taking it that far in the law and order episode.)
    I think if I enjoy the route the plot is taking, I can overlook characters being abit out of character if it really does serve the plot, and if I like what the characters are doing, I can overlook a weird plot, But I've never really found either have properly clicked this season (I've laughed at lines, but never whole episodes this season, untill basic human anatomy)
    like this episode was really heavy with "annie likes bad boy jeffdean" but I didn't mind that, as enjoyed seeing annie do that, and so could put up with the heavyhandedness (unlike shirleys judge judy reference, which annoye me in the puppet episode). I think next weeks episode will be interesting, will the fact that I've started liking s4 mean I can enjoy the rest of the season, or will I go back to being more critical?

  • benu

    I've been told by someone who has already seen the remaining two episodes that, in their opinion, they're not good in that they're too ambitious like the first few eps were, and do not succeed in fulfilling those lofty aims. One opinion, so we will see...

    There's no doubt in my mind that every episode of this season has had at least one major element, character choice or plot that felt way off. I think "Basic Human Anatomy" is no less guilty of that than most of the others, but like I stated in the review, came out swinging from what could have been a terrible game. To me, that's the difference with this episode. The Inspecticon ep fell flat on its face as did the Haunted House one. Though I moaned my way through a couple others they ended up being 'decent' by the end or in hindsight... harmless enough.

    The thing I think people forget about TV versus a feature film, is that if a show lasts for more than a season, that show's creative process is highly mutable, very organic, or has the opportunity to be based on how the basics of the medium and approach to production can work. "Anatomy" is a perfect example of the writers going in and adjusting something that clearly wasn't working, rather than letting it languish until it became a true problem. ALTHOUGH, I've also learned that they not only shot this season quite a bit out of sequence, they also aired it somewhat out of sequence and so that can cause problems in regards to how we're digesting the narrative. There's been a weird, erratic swing to this whole season, something off outside of new folks running the show. Looking back on the season, the out-of-sequence choice confirms a lot of those feelings for me.

    o

  • Edo

    By far the best episode this season! And finally a very funny tag!

  • benu

    While I will wait til the end of the season to talk about what are my favorite episodes, this one is certainly in the top five. And truly truly a very fine tag. It caught me off guard for a second, which made it all the better.

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