So this is, of course, the episode that has the distinction of being written by Dean Pelton, Jim Rash himself, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Descendants. Knowing this in advance, I wasn’t going in assuming this pedigree would automatically translate to quality as I haven’t seen The Descendants and it’s been a long time since the Oscars had any real credibility (remember when Juno got Best Original Screenplay?). But, still, I expected it to give the episode a unique voice.
Well, you know what? Turns out Jim Rash’s writing style for Community skews more heavily toward what the show used to feel like than any of the rest of Season 4 has. In other words, this was easily the best episode of the season and I know I’ve said that again and again through Season 4, but it’s always been in a smarmy “but that’s only because the bar is so low” kind of way. This time I mean it more sincerely. Quite frankly, if you’re one of the wise souls who stopped watching after Season 3, this is the only episode from the current season you might still want to check out.
The plot is that the group has a final History project to do that Annie and Shirley are freaking out about some since they’re both in the running for valedictorian behind Leonard after the previous episode where they got a C+ (I do have to admire that there’s still a thread of continuity running through the series so it hasn’t veered off completely into cliché sitcom land where everything resets from episode to episode). Meanwhile, it’s supposed to be the one year anniversary of Troy and Britta’s first date, but Troy and Abed have manufactured a Freaky Friday body-switching plot, which is disrupting that milestone as well as the History project. Jeff just wants to corral everyone back into the study room to actually get the project done without any trouble. Oh yeah, also Pierce is around again because, as it turns out, there were only two episodes Chevy Chase wasn’t present for and they were the two we just saw. Anyway, he doesn’t do much here, but his few lines and interactions with the others are welcome moments.
In fact, on the whole, there’s a bit more of a sense of how these characters should be interacting with each other. Shirley and Annie’s competitiveness feels right and, ridiculous and dysfunctional though it is, the notion that Troy and Abed switch bodies so that it’s Abed that Britta ends up having her anniversary dinner with (and that Britta eventually sort of just accepts Abed as “Troy”) seems exactly the odd sort of concept that would naturally develop from the dynamic of these characters. Jeff also felt right, but in a very classic Jeff sort of way. One of the things this season has struggled with is deciding what versions of these characters to use and it’s meant that we’ve been getting a mishmash of characters feeling at times more like evolved versions of themselves and, at others, like we’re back in Season 1. It’s most jarring when you’ve got, for example, Season 3 Jeff alongside Season 1 Abed within the same episode.
“Basic Human Anatomy” continues that problem because Jeff is at his most perturbed and rambling, shooting off rapid mouthfuls of sharp, pissed-off lines. Though, admittedly, he’s dealing with the group at some of their most ridiculous and unmanageable here, he still feels a lot more like the Jeff of Season 1 when he regarded these people as more of a burden than family. All of that said, I like this version of Jeff and when he was throwing out rapid-fire putdowns in the cold open, it felt really great.
This episode also got Community’s tone quite well. The emotional bit where Abed/Troy breaks up with Britta while Troy/Abed explains himself to Jeff was given the amount of time it needed to properly land as a touching moment, instead of being shoehorned in like some of the season’s other supposedly important moments (Jeff’s speech to his dad sticks out). And, yeah, it might’ve mattered all the more if we even cared at all about Britta and Troy’s relationship and had seen more of it but at least the show was smart enough to acknowledge how it didn’t seem to be working in the least.
It wasn’t consistent hilarious, but “Basic Human Anatomy” also had a number of sequences (I like how the janitors are having a daytime murder mystery dinner) and the tag in which Troy, Abed, and the Dean pretend to record bloopers was one of the best there’d been in a while, again, feeling right for the series and like the correct way to handle the meta stuff (which has been a lot more heavy-handed recently). Lastly, though it certainly wasn’t a subtle joke, I have to admit that the Dean’s repeated line of “having Jeffrey inside me” eventually cracked me up.
“Basic Human Anatomy” wasn’t the greatest episode but I think it stacks up to some of Season 3’s output. It feels right tonally, has a number of good jokes, and the interactions were more true to the characters than they’ve been in some time. I’m sure this episode was workshopped by the entire writing staff as all the episodes are, but, just to be safe, if Community somehow comes back for another season, force Jim Rash to write everything, okay? I can roll with that.