Community Watch: Basic Rocket Science

It was a turbulent time for Greendale Community College. A time of unsure leadership. Of waning enrollment. Of butthole flags. But in this week’s episode of Community, six brave souls brought pride to their school by making the first trip by a community college into simulated space.

After discovering cross-town rival school City College would be receiving a space flight simulator, Dean Pelton decides Greendale needs a flight simulator of their own. Pelton acquires an antiquated and Kentucky Fried Chicken-branded simulator and enlists the help of our favorite study group to prepare it for “launch”. This is the group’s punishment for submitting a winning design to the school flag competition with a symbol that looks suspiciously like a sphincter with the motto “E Pluribus Anus”.

After some slow-motion walking in matching white uniforms, the group shows up to clean the Winnebago-turned-flight-simulator for its inaugural launch. However, when the group is inspecting the vessel from the inside, they are sealed within, and are accidentally kidnapped when the Winnebago is towed with them inside. Well, all are trapped except a dejected Abed, who is left behind while he is out retrieving an astronaut suit for the “voyage”.

Though their cell phones don’t work, the group is able to contact the school through a radio in the flight simulator. They soon discover that the only way they’ll be able to open one of the van’s windows is if they complete the simulation. Abed, playing a part similar to Gary Sinise’s character in Apollo 13, attempts to talk them through the exercise. Troy, who is serving as the flight’s captain (since he sat in the chair with the biggest knobs), conveys to Abed the complex readings aboard the vessel, such as how the simulation is set to Original Recipe over Extra Crispy. The group is able to pass this strenuous test, and a look outside their vehicle tells them they are out of town... with little to no hope of being able to bring it back to Greendale in time for the launch event.

Along the way, it is revealed that Annie was the one who orchestrated the van’s abduction. Angry and disappointed with her friends for disrespecting her school with the butthole flag submission, Annie attempts to buy entrance into City College by sabotaging Greendale’s mission into simulated space. When Annie shares her feelings to the group, she is unable to galvanize the troops with a stirring morale boost. However, Jeff speaks up, and realizes that while their school may be a toilet, it’s their toilet, and only they should be allowed to crap in it.

This speech gets the group back in the right mindset. Even Pierce, who had been locked up for his violent and delusional outbursts (possibly stemming from claustrophobia or senility), seems back on the mend, and the group lets him out of his cell. However, Pierce’s calm behavior was merely a rouse, and he attacks the monitor housing the voice of Col. SANDERS (the simulation’s computerized navigator). Pierce rips the TV from the panel, inadvertently creating a hole large enough for one thin person to crawl through. Annie is able to make it through the hole, and the flight simulator makes it back to the school just in time for the event.

This episode follows in the footsteps of last year’s excellent genre movie parodies “Contemporary American Poultry” and “Modern Warfare”, which satirized mafia films and action films respectively. Considering those two episodes are among my all-time favorites for the show, I have no reservations in saying Basic Rocket Science is also one of the best episodes of the series’ run, and will be immensely enjoyed by fans of the other episodes I mentioned. Community is, simply put, a TV series for people who enjoy movies, and the show is at its best when it creates these hilarious satires.

Extra Credit:

- Quote of the Week: So hard to choose this week, since there were quite a few one-liners that had me gasping for air. However, I’d have to say the crown shifts back to the always funny Troy. When asked by Dean Pelton about the location of the group and the flight simulator, Troy glances at the instruments on-board and answers, “We are 40 light-years out of the Buttermilk Nebula, but it may be… yeah, it’s a sticker.”

- I figured this episode would be an instant-classic when I read the description beforehand, but it was all-but-confirmed from the very first scene. A lone school aide is shown urgently running down a dimly lit hallway with a piece of paper in hand. The aide visits Pelton and relays the news about City College’s flight simulator. Pelton, already aware of the news, displays a quick presentation of the threat City College represents should they succeed in their mission of manned simulated space flight.

On-screen, a map of the Greendale area and the two community colleges is shown, with City College represented as an ever-expanding red blob. This scene introduced an absurd situation in which two city colleges compete to enter fake space, which parodied American fear toward the Soviets during the Space Race, while simultaneously paying homage to Apollo 13 and other films depicting that era of American history. Multiple. Nerdgasm. And that’s just what I picked up on – there’s likely even more layers to that scene I’m not educated/smart enough to realize on my own. Please comment if you spotted any.

- One thing I thought this episode lacked was more moments from characters not named Jeff or Annie. Shirley and Britta hardly had any lines at all. And I thought the exchange between Abed and Troy (satirizing the relationship between the characters of Gary Sinise and Kevin Bacon in, of course, Apollo 13) could have been pushed further. Then again, it’s difficult to cram all of this into a 22-minute network television comedy.

- Also, could we have please gotten a cliché voiceover epilogue for each character at the end of the episode? I was waiting with bated breath, but it never came. Oh well.