'Community' interview: Jim Rash previews his body-switching episode, 'Basic Human Anatomy'

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It's not a secret that "Community" actor Jim Rash is also a writer -- he has an Oscar for co-writing "The Descendants" and has a new film, "The Way, Way Back," out now. But "Basic Human Anatomy," airing Thursday (April 25) is Rash's first foray into television writing. We talked to the man behind both this script and Dean Pelton about how he came to write his body-switching episode.



When did the idea for you to write a "Community" episode first happen?

Jim Rash: My recollection is between Seasons 3 and 4. You know, over our hiatus. Not so much the idea like "You should write one!" It was just kind of thrown out there [as] ... a possibility down the road.

And then as we got into the season, that opportunity sort of came up again. And I was like, "Absolutely! Of course!" As soon as you say that, you start stressing. Because that means A) you have to write it and B) you want it to do right by this show that you've already been a personal fan of.

With that sort of declaration of "Yeah, let's do it," it's "Oh. S**t. Now I've got to do it."


What was the writing process for this episode?

Jim Rash: Probably about two weeks, I'd say, prior to when we would be reading ... I'd gone into the writers' room and just kind of thrown out a few pitches. We actually latched onto one and started pursuing it. And it's just one of those things that happens quite a bit, where you realize "This story is broken" or you were treading over something that you'd already done.

So, just in reassessing, I'd mentioned the "Freaky Friday" thing, the idea of body switching. And randomly, someone in the room said "Oh my God! That came up at some point." Of course it would, in the world of "Community."

That was it. We just started running with that and then I was off and writing.


Why a body-switching episode?

Jim Rash: Well I think what's cool about a body-switching movie is "The grass is always greener," the idea that someone else has a better life than I do.

And here was a great way to use a device -- selfishly for me just to watch two good friends [ Donald Glover and Danny Pudi] and great actors play each other. [They] know each other so well, both on and off-screen as far as friends. Definitely that was a reason. But it gave you an opportunity for both Troy and Abed to learn more about each other and advance their friendship.


What is the difference between writing for television and writing a screenplay?

Jim Rash: Other than a page count, the big difference is -- the beauty of writing a show that's already established, it's almost like someone has adapted a book. Not that it's easy to adapt a book. Someone has really fleshed out such a rich character, so you go into it with sort of those voices in your head and created to come out of you.

While writing is never simple, no matter from a poem to a screenplay, it's all excruciating sometimes, I think it's nice sometimes to have the advantage here to at least have a map. Writing an original screenplay, you have to set that map out first, and then you get to write it.

They're both different challenges in different ways, both have pros and cons you could list.


While this episode definitely takes its cues from "Freaky Friday," I noticed you mentioned other body-switching films. Did you try to get them all in?

Jim Rash: I tried to get every generation their generation's body-switching movie.


"Basic Human Anatomy" airs Thursday, April 25 at 8pm on NBC.

Photo/Video credit: NBC
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