Thursday, April 25, 2013

'On Writing' with Jim Rash for 'Community's' Big Break-Up and Body-Swapping Episode...

Oscar Winner Jim Rash (he doesn't make us write his name that way; we just like to!) obviously has won a lot of awards and acclaim for his high-brow screenplays, but many people look at him and see Dean Pelton from Community, not fully aware of his writing talent. For the first time, Rash combined his talents and proved himself a true double threat by penning a very special episode of Community.

"Basic Human Anatomy" is another high-concept episode of the show that has loved to deliver homages of spaghetti westerns and mafia flicks, fake clip shows, musicals, and genre-bending multiple timeline stories. In this one, Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) switch bodies after holding onto a Freaky Friday and saying "I wish I had your life for just one day" at the same time.

"My favorite episodes of Community are the ones that really do balance the absurd with the heart and humor. It’s Community’s version of what can happen, and Dan created a world where these things can happen-- where we can have paintball episodes and we can go to quote-unquote space in our own real context, but yet there was always a way of moving the characters forward. There was always a nugget, at least, that gave us some insight or pushed the emotional journey for them forward," Rash said on a recent conference call.

"For me, this device of Freaky Friday allowed an opportunity to explore a friendship even further because I think one of the many great relationships that has been created over the four years is Troy and Abed."

Troy and Abed do not switch bodies just for high concept's sake, though. Troy finds himself at a crossroads, struggling with an important decision in his relationship with Britta (Gillian Jacobs), and taking a break from being himself is a copying mechanism of sorts. Meanwhile, for Abed, it is a chance to see just how far this good friend will go to help his buddy out-- learning more about relationships by stepping into someone else's for a day than he has on his own, from watching others' relationships on TV.

"When I went into the writers room, the main thing they wanted to do was break up Troy and Britta, and so the Freaky Friday offered this opportunity to show some growth in Troy, to as Jeff says ‘become a man’ in this moment," Rash said.

"If you’re going to offer Abed this opportunity to be in a body-switching movie, he’s going to commit to it 100%, so he’s not breaking character, and trying to figure out what it exactly is that Troy needed from him at this moment. It becomes a nice ballet for the two. Your writing becomes sort of a puzzle [though]; it’s how much can you say, and how much would Abed know to say since he’s not a person who understands relationships all that well?"

There may have been a little extra pressure on Rash not to "Britta" such a pivotal character moment as a breakup: "I’ve been a fan of Dan’s vision, of our writers from beginning to end—jealous of our writers from beginning to end—in how their brains work and how they’ve taken Dan’s vision and how the show’s evolved from year to year. All of those things, it was a sort of a scary challenge, really, to be able to have the opportunity but also to not want to let the show down by any means," Rash said.

But he noted that Community really does live up to its title, and the pressure wasn't solely on him. He was able to trust in those he was working with, all of whom deeply understand the characters, their quirks, and the show's ultimate message, to make something as "out there" as body-swapping believable.

"Because of the style of this particular episode, it’s more Troy getting in Abed’s brain and then having the conundrum for the actors to figure out who was in whose body," Rash said.

The extra layer to writing Troy-for-Danny and Abed-for-Donald was just a way to be creative and do something different. Just when you thought Community had done it all, Rash found a way to still be unique!

"I think what Community has done well is show that while they love each other, they’re each trying to figure out what their next chapter is, so I think for Troy specifically, to have this moment of acknowledging that he’s probably not ready for this, but he loves her so much and all of them so much, it’s a great way to do something insane and weird and a choice he makes, yet understand why he made that choice and get to write the understanding," Rash said.

While Glover and Pudi have to do the bulk of the heavy emotional work in "Basic Human Anatomy," Rash still wrote in juicy bits for others like Joel McHale, Alison Brie, and even himself.

"It was a dream come true to get to write for me, write for my voice," Rash said.

Admittedly, though Dean Pelton isn't exactly on par with Rash's own personality, and in this episode he takes it even farther away when he decides he wants to get in on the body-swapping fun and grabs the DVD while Jeff (McHale) is holding it in order to get to live like the object of his admiration for a day. The Dean's newly-odd behavior garners some attention from one special lady, while Jeff...doesn't change at all. Even after all of this time, he still doesn't believe in Greendale magic!

But such a character actually proved to be a grounding force for Rash as the writer because "he’s a character who just shuts everyone down, so he’s a great character to write for the pace of scenes because he’s sort of the person who’s moving it along."

At the end of the day, Rash is still in a set up to have one of the most special and memorable episodes of the season, though. He has been a part of the show for four years, working alongside these actors, witnessing of what they're capable. He knows how to write material that will bring out the best in his co-stars. He also knows how to respect the vision of the show set up at the time of conception, while still understanding the importance of moving the characters along.

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