If nothing else, "Basic Human Anatomy" demonstrated the advantage of having an Oscar-winning screenwriter finally on your writing staff. On the heels of last week's Christmas-themed debacle, Jim "Dean Pelton" Rash swooped in and saved the series at the 11th
hour episode, penning the only successful high concept half hour so far this season. The high concept in question was body switching, that old staple of '70s and '80s comedies like Vice Versa (sorry Abed, we dig that one, Judge Reinhold and all), Like Father, Like Son and Freaky Friday (not the Lindsay Lohan version -- the 1976 Jodie Foster-starring, fortune cookie-free original), the latter of which caused buddies Abed and Troy to trade identities just in time for Troy to make a big decision about his ill-advised romance with Britta.
And that decision is -- to paraphrase Joan Baez -- they may not be the best of lovers, but if they break up right now, they'll be more likely to remain the best of friends. Let's face it, this development wasn't much of a shocker, given that Britta and Troy have barely had a scene alone together since the third episode when she made her lingerie-clad escape from his bedroom lest Abed discovered his best friend was having sex with a girl... something it turned out he was perfectly aware of anyway. Much like the thankfully short-lived Tom/Ann pairing on Parks and Recreation, the Troy/Britta experiment was a trial balloon that the writers floated and then quickly reeled back in when they realized it wasn't going to fly due to the awkward chemistry between Gillian Jacobs and Donald Glover, both gifted performers individually and as part of the larger ensemble, but not as an OTP. (Glover's ideal partner is obviously Danny Pudi, while Jacobs has always done her funniest work bouncing off Joel McHale.)
As a cast member himself, Rash was well-placed to observe that lack of spark and he smartly uses it as the emotional and narrative thrust of this episode, where body switching becomes a metaphor for Troy's nagging sense that he's not himself when he's with Britta and vice versa. And the fact that they can't be themselves when they're around each other is a tell-tale sign that their love simply isn't meant to be. Since this is Troy we're talking about, he obviously just can't come out and tell Britta any of this... at least, not at first. No, he's got to invent the whole "body switching" thing, which Abed goes along with sans questions. (I love the scene where Troy-as-Abed wakes his buddy up and tells him they traded places overnight. Without missing a beat, Abed looks at himself in the mirror and when he turns back, he's become Troy. It's a beautifully played beat by Pudi; he knows it's a game, but runs with it without requiring any explanation.) It's then up to Abed-as-Troy to sit Britta down for "the talk," while Troy-as-Abed works through his insecurities in the company of Jeff until he feels brave enough to re-assume his identity and end things for good. The reason this particular bit of high concept comedy works where the season's other attempts have failed is that it's so strongly rooted in character's established personalities. Episodes like the puppet outing and the Changnesia documentary have forced the characters to conform to the concept; here, the concept flows out of the characters. It's the work of a writer who knows the voices he's writing for, as opposed to still figuring out what those voices sound like.
I'll admit that the B-plot isn't quite as deftly handled, as Rash tacks on a second bit of body-switching involving the Dean assuming Jeff's personality, which is amusing -- particularly for the effect it has on Annie -- but not especially enlightening. Speaking of Annie, she and Shirley don't have much to do either, mainly hanging in the background and bickering over which of them is going to win that coveted valedictorian spot. (That's still more than Pierce, who puts in an obligatory appearance in the first five minutes and the last five minutes. Chevy Chase was probably cleaning out his locker during the rest of the episode.) So no, "Basic Human Anatomy" doesn't qualify as a perfect episode of Community. But it's one of the few installments this year (I'd also count the Thanksgiving episode and the Sophie B. Hawkins outing) where the characters are recognizably themselves and the writing is rich in honest heart and humor. That Oscar was well-deserved, Mr. Rash. And now that Troy and Abed have set the body-switching precedent, here's which Greendale resident we think the other cast members should trade places with as well as their funniest lines from last night's episode.
Who He Should Switch Bodies With: Jeff and Pierce have always been united in their daddy issues if not much else and despite Jeff's best attempts to avoid it, some bonding has already gone on. If nothing else, spending a day as Pierce would help Jeff figure out what kind of old man he doesn't want to be.
Funniest Line: "You're not even holding a phone!"
Who She Should Switch Bodies With: Her mirror image (except for the whole Asian thing) and fellow Model UN participant, Annie Kim... the better to deliberately torpedo her rival's GPA.
Funniest Line: "Why is this happening?!"
Who He Should Switch Bodies With: Troy's approach to life is so laid back, he might benefit from experiencing Annie's hyper-attention to the smallest day-to-day detail. On the other hand, he might be too distracted by having boobs to leave the house for the day.
Funniest Line: (As Abed) "Stop pitching, it's not your thing."
Who She Should Switch Bodies With: Britta and Shirley have always been polar opposites: Christian/atheist; confrontational/conflict-avoidant; promiscuous/monogamous. Some time spent in each other's bodies might allow them to find some common ground.
Funniest Line: "What we need to figure out is Greendale's obsession with group assignments. Classic herd mentality."
Who He Should Switch Bodies With: Honestly, Abed's got such a rich and varied cast of personalities inside that pop-culture addled mind of his that he doesn't need to switch bodies with anyone. But if he did, let's go with Todd. Just because.
Funniest Line: (As Troy) "Oh my god, this is wrinkling my brain!"
Who She Should Switch Bodies With: See the Britta entry.
Funniest Line: "Then you might want to teach your mouth how to say 'We, our and us.'"
Who He Should Switch Bodies With: Leonard, so he be inside the skin of someone even older than him.
Funniest Line: "I've been told I look like a Kennedy."
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