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Community Recap: ‘Basic Human Anatomy’ (Season 4, Episode 11)

Community - Season 4

Photos © NBC Universal, Inc./Colleen Hayes

In my previous Community recap, I incorrectly attributed last week’s disastrous episode (“Intro to Knots”) to Jim Rash whom I believed penned the script. A reader was kind enough to point out in the comments section that Jim Rash didn’t write “Knots” (curse you, IMDb!). He did, however, write this week’s episode, titled “Basic Human Anatomy,” and the result isn’t much better than the pile of suck that happened last week. The entire plot of “Human Anatomy” hinges on one ridiculous ploy to (once again) convince fans of the show that Community is still as quirky and high concept as ever.

Trying to recapture the “outside the box” antics that made Community so beloved in the earlier seasons, “Human Anatomy” focuses on Abed and Troy doing a Freaky Friday-style body switch for most of the episode. While no one believes they have actually switched bodies, the rest of the group goes along with it so that they can complete the History project that is conveniently due very soon. Jeff just wants to get a passing grade so he talks to Troy as if he’s Abed and Vice Versa (get it?) while Britta tries to work out relationship issues with “Troy” who is really Abed.

As the audience, we are supposed to lump the body switch storyline into the past high concept episodes that I’ll call Alternate Reality episodes. These include “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” “Modern Warfare,” “A Fistful of Paintballs,” “Epidemiology,” “Basic Lupine Urology” and others. Essentially, this happens when normal storytelling paradigms are eschewed for the duration of the episode and the characters either willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly enter into an alternate reality in which the rules of their world are affected.

For example, from beginning to end, “Basic Lupine Urology” is presented as an exact replica of an episode of Law & Order, down to the music cues and wisecracks. None of the characters say, “Hey, let’s behave like they do on Law & Order,” but they all adhere to its model. They are unknowingly acting in a world that must play by the rules set forth by Dick Wolf (who gets a special thanks at the end of the episode). They never break from the archetypes because, in this episode, that is not what their characters would do.

Another example: “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” This was the first episode that took a risk by altering the visual look of the series. Made up predominantly of Claymation, we see little of the actors as they are voicing the Christmas-y characters that Abed has dreamed up for each of them. Even though the study group is unwilling at first, they knowingly go along with the alternate reality and – eventually — willingly abide by the rules of Abed’s world in order to help him deal with his personal issues. The characters are free to point out the Claymation artifice and even mock the world because they are, in a sense, outside of it. But, because they are there willingly, we as the viewer can understand and appreciate the storytelling approach.

“Human Anatomy” fails to fall into any of these categories because, at its root, the episode is not an Alternate Reality episode; it is merely trying to play the part. We know we haven’t officially entered an alternate reality because when Abed and Troy “switch bodies” the lights flash on and off but we then see a maintenance worker who says he is doing a “routine light switch check.” That single line proves that Abed and Troy have not switched bodies, they are only pretending to. They then force the rest of the group – and the audience – to play along. The group knows something is happening but is unwilling to go along so the concept should end there. Instead, “Basic Anatomy” drags out for the full 22 minutes and ends exactly as we expect it to. Jim Rash could have done so much better, but my guess is he had very strict requirements from the show runners.

Watching Danny Pudi and Donald Glover act like one another is funny for about 45 seconds. Glover nails Abed’s mannerisms and speech pattern while Pudi shows his range again by taking on Troy’s cool persona. The only saving grace is watching Rash himself embody Jeff through his only body switch. Rash has every single characteristic of Jeff perfected, only proving that Rash has been underutilized for some time.

Like every episode this season, “Basic Human Anatomy” is a disappointment that will serve only to highlight how good Seasons 1-3 really were. We’re almost at the end, friends, and then we can forget this ever happened.

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