After creator Dan Harmon was unceremoniously dismissed from his role as showrunner at the end of Season 3, Community ‘s loyal fans feared its departure would plunge the show into what Abed Nadir would surely call “the darkest timeline.” But despite our concerns, we hold out hope that the new showrunners and their stable of writers are able to make the best of this worst possible role of the dice. This week’s episode, “Basic Human Anatomy,” is a riff on the old “body-switching” formula, with Troy and Abed swapping souls at a particularly opportune moment.
This week’s Community is one we’ve all been looking forward, as it is the first of the series penned by Jim Rash—“Dean Pelton” on the show, an Oscar-winning screenwriter off of it. Considering how uneven the writing has been this season, Rash is the one first-timer you can get behind, and it must be said that the episode is right in all kinds of little ways: the dialogue is sharp (Jeff’s “passable/doable” construct is kind of genius), the running gags work (“Sorry, routine light switch check”), there are some wonderful bits of throwaway weirdness (like the janitors’ murder mystery game), and the pace is snappy and tight (credit due to director Beth McCarthy-Miller, the great, longtime SNL director who has helmed countless episodes of 30 Rock and other shows).
But if “Basic Human Anatomy” gets the little things right, it gets the big ones very, very wrong. The episode’s basic purpose is, sorry, shockingly stupid: the idea of breaking up Troy and Britta might seem a logical, natural progression of narrative events if they’d ever invested any kind of time or energy in that particular arc. But the Troy/Britta coupling has been such an afterthought this season, only considered as anything other than fodder for a throwaway line or two in every episode save one, that this viewer’s brow furrowed when much was made of their one-year anniversary. (That can’t be right, I thought. They just got together.)
Compounding that difficulty is the excuse given for the break-up—specifically, Troy’s lament that it’s “like we’re working at it too hard.” Come again? Based on what we’ve seen this season, it doesn’t appear that they’re working at it at all. The break-up, in other words, is as half-baked and ill-formed as the relationship itself; if the show acknowledged either of those facts, fine, but in treating it as a Seminal Event, they’re trying to invest the subplot with a weight it hasn’t earned.
And is someone going to acknowledge the fact that, taking all the quirkiness and pop reference elements out of the equation, sending your best friend to break up with your girlfriend of a year is a dick move? Sure, Troy shows up at the last possible second to save him, but one gets the impression that Britta was sort of fine with it either way—which is kind of a betrayal of who is she and what she’s about. Britta’s not the kind of person who gets doormatted and walks away from it with a pleasant smile. She raises hell—comically or seriously, but somehow.
“Basic Human Anatomy” isn’t a total waste—it’s got more laughs than some of the season’s weaker shows, the Dean-as-Jeff stuff (or, as he puts it, “having Jeffrey inside me…”) is a scream, and the emotion is genuine. But it’s misplaced. Maybe Rash’s byline got our hopes unreasonably high for this one. Nonetheless, with only two episodes remaining, Community still has a long way to go to get reliably back on track.
- Donald Glover’s Danny Pudi impression is flawless. Flawless, I say.
- “I’ve been told I look like a Kennedy!”
- Jeff’s sensible response to the routine light switch checks: “That is not a thing!”
- Jeff’s “Dorks! Stop doing outtakes!” (Too bad he didn’t tell them that during the puppet episode.)
- Wait, there was an Annie-Shirley plot in this episode, right? Where’d that end up?