14
Oct
2010
Community: Season 2, Episode 4
Basic Rocket Science
Jordan
Community is a show that is deeply in touch with pop culture. In addition to Abed's nearly endless barrage of meta jokes and Jeff's pop culture literate barbs, this is a show that knows how to do a parody. In fact, some of the better episodes in its first season, were high concept parodies that mixed their satire with fully realized character explorations (remember my consistent theory that Community is a sitcom that's actually about something, and so tends to do more than just make us laugh). "Contemporary American Poultry" was an insanely intricate Goodfellas parody, sure, but it was also an episode about how Abed relates to the world and the relationships he has built with the characters. "Modern Warfare" was a satire of action movies, but it was also about Jeff's slowly shattering detachment from the gang and his pent up feelings for Britta. These episodes were two of the best outings for the show during its first season, and likewise "Basic Rocket Science," with its Apollo 13 parody is probably the best episode the show has done so far this season. It doesn't quite reach the level of "Poultry" or "Warfare," mostly because its character focus is more abstract (and not handled quite as adeptly), but it is a wildly funny episode, and a blast to watch.

When Greendale's (new, and welcome) rival City College gets a space simulator, the Dean feels his school will be overshadowed (all they have to brag about is a foosball table). So he buys an ancient space simulator from a nearby museum and recruits the study group to clean it off as punishment for their practical joke in the flag designing contest that won the popular vote and has been adopted as the school's flag (its a pretty obvious picture of a butt that reads, hilariously, "E Pluribus Anus"). They don't get to pilot the simulator, a job reserved for Leonard, but because this is a sitcom, the gang finds themselves trapped inside the simulator anyway, with only Abed left behind. And when they get towed away from the parking lot, they have to work together, and listen to Abed, who is of course an expert on the shuttle, in order to get the simulator back to campus for its big debut.

As I said above, the episode's character focus is not as well handled as in the other parody episodes. This is an Annie episode, about her innate earnestness and her Greendale pride, and the way that this doesn't always mesh with the group's cynical attitude. Annie, angry about the group's flag joke, is considering transferring to City College where she could have more pride, and has been scheming with the dean over there to foil Greendale's debut in order to secure herself a spot. There are a few reasons this doesn't work as well as a center point for an episode as Abed and Jeff did in "Poultry" and "Warfare." First off, the episode describes Annie's problem, and gives us a hint at the conflicts that have lead to it, but it also forces her into the background for most of the episode, leaving us without the emotional investment and the conflict resolution that her story needs. Additionally, this plotline is kind of a nonstarter, as we know from the moment Annie raises the issue that she will not go to City College, because she can't. This is a tv show, and that means that Annie, a cast member on said show, will not be leaving to go to another college. This, along with the other attempt to give the episode stakes (the Dean beign afraid that Greendale will close down if the simulator doesn't show up City College), doesn't really work, and so contributes to make "Basic Rocket Science" slightly less excellent than some of the best episodes of the show.

And yet, good God this episode is funny. This is a show that is often transcendant because it back up the laughs with meaning, yet even if the meaning in an episode doesn't really connect, it doesn't stop the show from delivering on the laughs. Add to that the fact that this is an excellent Apollo 13 parody, even if it doesn't stick the second level of meaning, and you have a real winner. Little moments, like Britta falling into Troy's lap, or Abed's team of randomly collected geeks scurrying around as he tries to communicate with the group, or the group's tearful, triumphant return to Greendale, or even the Dean proudly waving his newly adopted ass flag, exuberant at his victory are all so funny, its hard to fault the show too much for not telling a very coherent Annie story around the parody. "Basic Rocket Science" isn't a classic episode of Community, but its a damn funny one, and it certainly reminded me (as if I was ever in need of reminding) that this show is capable of turning out a classic on any given week.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-Really, shockingly funny moment from Ken Jeong when Chang rushes up to Abed and says, "I figured out to reroute the power" and Abed asks "To what?" and then Chang just backs away slowly.

-"This is now our school flag forever!"

-"We don't know that! It was 80s. Everyone who made it was on cocaine."

-"Alright, this is a long shot...but maybe if I do THIS, it'll solve everything!"

-"So handicap spots count on Saturday?"

-"We are 40 lightyears outside the buttermilk nebula, although it's possible that...yeah, this is a sticker."

-"We stopped moving...Pierce has got space madness, or he's just old or something."

-"I'm not buying it." "Yeah, let's kill her."

-"How many schools would let you get a degree in theoretical phys ed?"

-"There is a time and a place for subtlety. And that time is before Scary Movie."

-"I tried to buy some time with these double down sandwiches, but they just thought I was doing product integration for KFC. These are delicious by the way." The really obvious product placement joke has been done before, but it still works for me, and I still think its funny. Plus, if Community got an episode paid for by setting it inside a ridiculous KFC space simulator, I am totally ok with that.

-"If NASA ever needs someone to keep an arrow inside a moving rectangle, I know who I'd recommend."
Tags: Community
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