Community "Basic Human Anatomy" Review: A Rough Break-up

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Community S04E11: "Basic Human Anatomy"

I struggle to form an opinion any time a show attempts to pull a powerful emotional moment out of a story that's failed to work, or that hasn't been given enough attention before said powerful moment. It's even more difficult when the individual moment works, whether because of actor's performance, or the writers figuring out what they did wrong, or just sheer luck. Am I supposed to be satisfied that a crummy story at least ended on a nice note? Should I be angry that the story could have been better all along? Should I just shut up and be grateful that modern technology shoots entertainment into my idiot box for a small fee? I just don't know. 

"Basic Human Anatomy" made me face these issues head-on, and frankly, it made them worse. For a long time now—an entire year on the show's calendar, actually—Troy and Britta have been a couple. But even though the two exhibited some really fascinating chemistry at times throughout the first three seasons, the heat hasn't really been there since they became a pair. I promise this isn't one of those false Moonlighting assumptions where I'm suggesting that two characters immediately grew boring once they finally got together. Troy and Britta never had much will-they-or-won't-they, which is what I initially enjoyed about their relationship. 

Nevertheless, since they've been a couple, Community has truly failed to convince me of why they've stayed together, or even that there are things they enjoy about one another, other than sex and discussions about chips (which, to be fair, are two valuable things to care about). In fact, the show pretty quickly turned into the skid by making mild jokes about Troy's relationship with Abed taking precedence over his relationship with Britta, and that's all fine and good. We all know that Troy and Abed are this show's forever 'ship. But with all that in mind, it was a little tough for me to fully enjoy the A-story in "Basic Human Anatomy," which involved Abed helping Troy "fake" a round of body-swapping hijinks so that he could break up with Britta. 

To their credit, I did get the sense that Community's writers knew the relationship wasn't really going anywhere. Not only did Troy and Britta not remember their own one-year anniversary*, but neither was particularly excited about going out to celebrate it. Troy was more excited about a silly anniversary with Abed, and there was a sense of malaise permeating through his interactions with Britta. Yet before their misery could continue, Troy and Abed "experienced" a "body swap," resulting in Britta having to go on the date with "Troy" (in Abed's body), while Jeff pushed "Abed" (in Troy's body) to knock it off, mostly so that he could phone in another history assignment.

*I'm wondering if Troy actually did remember the anniversary, considering the he worked with Abed to craft the body swap plan. Or, more likely, Abed remembered.

The body swap conceit was very silly, but because it was carried out by Troy and Abed, and because the two characters committed to it so well while everyone else reacted fairly skeptically, it worked. It was a low-key enough concept that the show could pull it off within this diminished Season 4 state. More importantly, both Danny Pudi and Donald Glover were borderline tremendous in their performances of one another's characters. We've seen Pudi emulate his fellow cast members before, and though this episode didn't ask him to do as much as, say, something like "Basic System Analysis" did, he embodied Troy's slightly confused immaturity very well. This was far from his best performance ever, but it was truly a shame that Pudi won't ever be nominated for an Emmy; he's been wonderful for four years. 

For his part, Glover's been asked to play a regressive version of Troy this year, which is also a shame, because this episode reminded us that he can also do solid dramatic work when called upon. He mimicked Pudi's Abed nicely, but really thrived in the final scene when he admitted to Britta that he's simply too immature for a relationship, no matter how he feels about her.

That final moment, and the suggestion that the reason the relationship failed was that Troy simply couldn't let go of his childhood and friendship with Abed, was both smart and believable. It rang especially true with this version of Troy, the one who'd seemingly stopped caring about being an adult up until this episode, only to come to the conclusion that he's not much of an adult. If you told me three months ago that a difference in maturity level would be the reason Troy and Britta would eventually break up, I would've believed you, but I also would've anticipated that we'd see some explicit exploration of why it couldn't work. Instead, here's how Season 4 handled the story: acknowledged the coupling, quickly starting making jokes at its expense, and then orchestrating the split. There was something missing between the initial coupling and the break-up, and although I liked big chunks of the story, as silly as it was at times, I can't fully buy the conclusion of it for that very reason. I get why the show ultimately ended Troy and Britta's romance, and in this way—but now I just wish there were moments that made the story feel earned as opposed to an implicit apology.

Elsewhere in the episode, Jim Rash (who also wrote it, btw) simply slayed as Dean Pelton tried to make a body swap happen with Jeff. The Dean's actions underscored the goofiness of the entire story, but also reflected just how badly he wants some kind of connection to Jeff. Rash did a pretty solid Joel McHale impression, and his ability to commit to it made it more entertaining than it probably had any business being. Annie's uncontrollable attraction to the Dean was also a nice touch. In some ways, "Basic Human Anatomy" felt like a throwback Jeff episode because all he was asked to do was react incredulously to the stupidity of his friends. McHale was still great at that, and somehow, the show managed to work in a Winger speech about adulthood that worked better than some of the other monologues he's been saddled with this year.

But ultimately, "Basic Human Anatomy" was about Troy and Britta, and mostly just Troy. It's possible that his break-up with Britta will push him toward the adulthood he's so clearly wanted for a few seasons. We know that he saw a relationship with Britta as a big step toward maturity, but now that relationship has failed and he recognizes that it was mostly his fault. But I'm not sure anything will actually change (whether Community gets a fifth season or not). And although I really enjoyed most of this story, particularly the final few scenes, it still feels a little like the show is right there alongside Troy, saying "my bad."  



STUDY NOTES

– Very little Pierce this week, which isn't a surprise since Chevy Chase was on his way out by the time this episode was shot. But I do like that he's basically turned into a harmless—and damn-near warm—old coot. If the show returns for Season 5, I'll miss him.

– Leonard's pass/fail plan to keep his perfect GPA was genius, and I'm happy he's still first in the class. But, isn't Leonard just going to be at Greendale forever? He's not actually in Annie and Shirley's class is he?

– This episode brought back Senor Frogs and the custodial crew, two little touches I enjoyed.

– The outtakes riff in the end tag was really fun, but the messed-up sequence of episodes ruined its impact a little bit, considering the show did outtakes two weeks ago, not last week. But how desperate is the Dean?

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