Community: Basic Human Anatomy

“Tell your boyfriend and his boyfriend that playtime is over.”

It’s Troy and Britta’s anniversary, but after Troy and Abed get hold of a copy of the original Freaky Friday, Britta finds herself on an anniversary date with Troy-in-Abed’s-body...

Things to do when your show is struggling: draft in an Oscar-winning screenwriter who just happens to be a member of your cast to write an episode. This episode was written by Dean Pelton himself, Jim Rash, Oscar-winner for his script work on The Descendants, and while it’s not perfect, it’s the best character work of the season. Even more importantly, this feels like Community again.

Bodyswap episodes are a staple of science fiction and fantasy, but you don’t normally see them on a supposedly real-world-set show. Sure, Community has done an actual zombie episode and an alternate timeline episode, but the only crossover between the alternate timelines and our own (so far) has happened in Abed’s head, and there was a vaguely not-quite-plausible-but-close-enough explanation for the zombies. An actual bodyswap, however, would be a step too far beyond the realms of reality.

Luckily, after a few minutes of wondering just where they’re going with this, the subplot in which the Dean insists that he’s swapped bodies with Jeff kicks in, reassuring the audience that this is most definitely Abed and Troy doing a bit, and not some kind of dramatic genre shift. The subplot itself is a little thin, and Shirley correctly observes that Annie’s sudden attraction to the Dean pretending to be Jeff is creepy (though it’s also quite funny), but it does its primary job perfectly, which is to make sure we stay oriented in the mad-but-not-that-mad world of Greendale.

The reason for the extended play-acting is, basically, that Troy wants to get Abed to break up with Britta for him. The fact that you come out of the episode actually feeling a little bit sorry for Troy is a testament to Donald Glover’s acting and his ability to sell Troy’s fear and conflicting emotions (plus, he does man up and do it himself in the end). Britta has never been more saint-like, showing a remarkable amount of compassion for both Troy and Abed where others might have (justifiably) ripped both of them a new one.

The joy of bodyswap episodes is watching the actors play each other’s characters, and Glover and Pudi are both brilliant here. This is especially impressive given the fact that, unlike in a regular bodyswap, they aren’t actually playing each other – they’re playing their characters, pretending to be each other. Pudi is especially brilliant in the few moments after he wakes up – when the audience have to be unsure exactly what he’s doing – and in the restaurant, as he desperately tries to get Britta to understand what’s happening. He just slightly over-plays it as Abed gets into the role, then dials it back as he tries to get through to Britta – it’s beautifully judged.

This isn’t a perfect episode – what Troy’s doing is really rather unfair on Britta, it’s right on the edge of how much silliness viewers can take and it’s too mildly confusing to be one of the show’s funniest episodes. But I must confess, I’ve never really bought the Troy/Britta relationship, so one of the things I really like about this episode is that it breaks them up. I like them both, but I don’t really see their chemistry with each other, and since they got together their scenes have felt strangely cold and awkward to me. And we all know Abed is Troy’s true love anyway. So all in all, I enjoyed this one a lot, even if I was a bit confused at the beginning!

Bits ‘n’ pieces

 - Greendale does, as our group observes, seem to be a bit obsessed with group projects, but to be fair a lot of universities these days are, because they’re supposed to help develop key skills and provide experience in team work and that sort of thing.

 - I know lots of people who forget anniversaries, and it isn’t an indication that there’s a problem with their relationship. But I suppose the fact that Troy remembered a random anniversary with Abed but missed his one-year anniversary with Britta means something.

 - Hurrah! It’s the waiter who hates Die Hard! This is the sort of callback that really works, especially since it means Abed has to sit and take the anti-Die Hard rant to keep up the act.

 - I love Leonard’s cunning plan to maintain a perfect GPA.

 - I also love that Pierce actually did the work and did it well. I like episodes that are positive about Pierce, even if I’m conflicted about the character’s place in the show.


Pierce: What do you want me to do?
Jeff: Stay alive. Or don’t.

Dean: I scolded Leonard today, so according to Greendale bylaws, I now have to grant him three wishes.

Jeff: Dean, I need you.
Dean: It’s happening!

Not perfect, but this feels like the show we love. Three out of four copies of Freaky Friday.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


sunbunny said...

I remember not liking this episode the first time I saw it, but your review was so favorable, I went back and watched it again. I liked it a lot more this time. Still not one of my favorites, but at least there was a lot of the Dean and he was back to his old not super stalker self.

I can't believe this is the first episode Jim Rash wrote! I would've thought they'd been tapping him to write seasons before this.

Juliette said...

I think it's one of those episodes that would look weaker in a stronger season too - but coming after Intro to Knots, it's just such a relief that it feels like Community again!

Billie Doux said...

This one sounds appealing, much more like a real Community episode. I rather wish I'd seen it. I'll make a point of catching it sometime. Nice review, Juliette -- it made me want to see it.

ChrisB said...

As Britta is usually the butt of all the jokes, I like the fact that she is so understanding and compassionate in this episode. Yes, I don't think anyone would be that way in our world, but it works here.

Agree that both Glover and Pudi give outstanding performances in this episode.