A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as we have a murder mystery night during the day...
Though we know him best as our favorite gender-bending, furry-loving dean, Oscar Winner Jim Rash is also a writer (and Jolie impersonator) of some renown. So it wasn't exactly a gamble for Port and Guarascio to invite him to write an episode, and yet the payoff was big, with by far my favorite episode of this season.
"Basic Human Anatomy" has a few issues — Jeff's an enormous jerk for much of the running time without anyone seeming to notice or mind — and it has to provide emotional closure to a relationship the season has barely even pretended it wants us to invest in. (The last Troy/Britta relationship story of note was back in the Inspector Spacetime episode, and it's only occasionally even been mentioned since then.) But it works very well despite those internal and external flaws, and made me feel more about this couple than I ever did when they were actually dating.
Among the smartest beats of the episode is the moment when Troy goes to wake up Abed. Troy's dialogue, and the long pause after, make it instantly clear that Abed is just playing along with his best friend's need to pretend to swap bodies, which lends a necessary bit of gravity to the plot even before the rest of the study group starts questioning it. An actual "Freaky Friday" plot is several degrees too crazy even for a show that's featured zombies and a space adventure, but Troy taking a page from Abed and using pop culture as a coping mechanism for an emotional problem he didn't want to deal with worked perfectly.
And once you make clear what's happening, then it's just an opportunity for Donald Glover and Danny Pudi to do their expert impressions of each other — and, later, for Rash himself to bust out an even better version of Joel McHale after the Dean decides to fantasize about having Jeff Winger inside of him. (It helped that the dialogue was so spot-on: the line about Leonard's new nose being a lateral move was the funniest Winger insult in a long time, even if Jeff didn't actually deliver it.) Dean-as-Jeff was the more overtly comic part of the episode(*), but Abed going full-on Troy was a pleasure in its own way.
(*) It also roped in Annie, whose resurrected crush on Jeff — or a bald-but-ripped facsimile of him — really can't be ignored now. With Britta — who's spent more time this year around Jeff than with her ostensible boyfriend — suddenly single, are we heading towards a return of that triangle in the season's finale episodes? I hope not.
Again, the show has done a pretty terrible job of making Troy/Britta into an actual thing, and yet the sequence with Troy and Abed each talking about how the relationship has fallen apart (in a way that reflected both their own experience and that of the character they were playing) was really nicely done. So was the way Gillian Jacobs played Britta's transition from delight at an opportunity to play therapist (when she thought this was an Abed coping mechanism to deal with his best friend being in a long-term relationship) into sadness once she realizes that this was actually Troy's idea, and what that says about where she stands with him. As far as making lemonade out of lemons goes, this was excellent.
And because the episode was about characters pretending to be other characters, it had to really nail the voices of each to work, and I thought Rash — and/or whomever else in production worked on later drafts of the script — did the best job so far this season of making the characters feel like themselves.
Throw in a bunch of well-executed running gags like the routine light switch checks, and you've got what was just a fine episode of "Community," regardless of era.
Some other thoughts:
* The valedictory tension between Annie and Shirley continues, and Annie continues to not come off particularly well as she keeps dismissing the chances of her friend — up until the moment Shirley pulls ahead of her in the rankings, at which point Shirley's the one who's not magnanimous.
* Joel McHale's voice was really hoarse throughout this one. Any "Soup" viewers recall if he went through a similar bout of laryngitis in late 2012, around when this would've been filmed?
* I'm really puzzled about the timeline. Last week's episode was set at Christmas, and is referred to in this one as having happened recently. But the show has always treated Christmas the way an actual college schedule does: as the end of the semester. Yet they're still working on a project for Cornwallis' class. And on top of that, Troy and Britta went on their first date in "Virtual Systems Analysis," which aired last spring and was set, like the back half of the show's other full-length seasons, in the spring semester.
* In bed with Troy, Britta wears her "Help the Gulf" t-shirt, from season 2's "The Psycholoy of Letting Go."
* Pierce (back after being absent from the Christmas episode) is once again marginalized in this one, yet winds up surprising everyone by finishing their history project on his own, and doing it well. In general, no one knew what to do with Pierce this year, but at least several of his recent appearances have shown him in a mostly positive light.
* The Greendale janitorial staff is a strange, strange bunch. Probably for the best that we didn't see more of their murder mystery game; just a quick, weird sight gag, then moving on before the joke tires out.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com