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Community – Basic Rocket Science

“Basic Rocket Science” gave us the first movie-reference based episode of the second season.  Last year Community attempted this on a few occasions, sometimes very successfully (the paintball-centric “Modern Warfare”) and sometimes less so (the mob parody “Contemporary American Poultry”). The main difference between the two was their ability to have the characters behave convincingly no matter how ridiculous the events around them were.  “Modern Warfare” went wonderfully over the top, with its depiction of a campus divided into tribes during an all-out game of paintball. But, through all of it, Abed still acted like Abed, or at least how I’d imagine Abed would act while engaging in war against the chess club.  In “Poultry,” conversely, the characters acted how the show needed them to act for the sake of the joke or movie reference, not how they would actually act in that (highly implausible) situation. 

All this bring us to “Basic Rocket Science”; Community’s parody of astronaut movies, which, unfortunately, falls closer to the inconsistency of “Poultry” than to the sustained hilarity of “Warfare.” 


A rivalry with nearby City College leads Greendale to acquire a space flight simulator, which, in typical Greendale fashion is from 1980 and was built by Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Eventually the gang (minus Abed, who stays behind in mission control, playing the Gary Sinese in Apollo 13 role) getting trapped in it and getting accidentally launched into simulated-outer space. As per usual, there were almost too many film references to count (the ones I caught ranged from the previously mentioned Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, Galaxy Quest, and Space Camp, although I’m sure there was more that I missed), and many of the jokes landed (pretty much anything related to the new Greendale flag that looks like a butt made me laugh). But some of the character’s actions didn’t ring true, particularly Annie turning on her friends and Greendale college all because of the stupid flag, when she’s admitted in the past how important Greendale is to her.

Also, some of the plotlines felt recycled from previous, better episodes of Community. Annie already considered transferring away during last year’s finale, and for much more convincing reasons than not finding a flag humorous. Pearce’s freakout in the spaceship due to being in an enclosed space seemed a lot like his Halloween episode drug-induced freakout, although this felt much more out of the blue. 

It’s a fine line that Community tries to walk.  It leans heavily on pop culture references and over-the-top situations, but attempts to have them all spring naturally from the characters (as opposed to Family Guy-like references with no relation to what’s happening). The characters need to live in this crazy world but still be believable themselves, and through all of this it needs to be consistently funny. Even in an episode like this, where all the pieces don’t come together, there’s still enough successful comedy and the actors are so good that it remains entertaining.  But Community has set the bar for itself so high that an episode like this is still disappointing, entertaining or not.  They can’t all be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wish that they were. 




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