by Mark Greig
The year is 2010, and Greendale Community College tries to launch the first of its KFC sponsored space flight simulators. In a freak mishap the Eleven Herbs and Space Experience and its cleaning crew, the Greendale 7 (minus Abed), are towed out of the Greendale parking lot into an orbit which dumps them in a field out of town (far beyond the world they've known, far beyond their time), too far for them to make it back in time for the college's simulator launch. Meanwhile, back at mission control (AKA the study room), the Dean and Abed channel Ed Harris and Gary Sinise, as they work tirelessly to locate the missing simulator and bring its crew home safely.
After three weeks of average Community episodes, 'Basic Rocket Science' was a return to the type of high concept episodes we started to get near the end of season one. The entire episode was an extended riff on Apollo 13 (with a few brilliant references to The Right Stuff and 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in for good measure). Like 'Contemporary American Poultry' and 'Modern Warfare', it was a parody that managed to be funny while still managing to remain accessible to anyone who is familiar with films being lovingly mocked.
The inclusion of KFC was a brilliant use of product placement. Being the capitalist hating communist that I am, I would normally despise such blatant product integration. I often roll my eyes whenever one of my favourite dramas stop everything for five minutes so the character can point out all the great features of their new car. But, being a comedy (and a very meta one at that), Community is able to not only acknowledge the fact that it is promoting a major fast food chain, but also mine it for comedy gold. Thus we get a brilliant HAL proxy named S.A.N.D.E.R.S.
As enjoyable as this episode was, I would never consider it one of my favourites. It never quite manages to reach the same heights as the show's previous high concept episodes. And making Annie a traitor felt an unnecessary addition. Sure, no one really wants to go to a school whose flag is an anus, but I have a hard time believing that she would betray her school and abandon her friends over one stupid prank. City College could've easily made off with the simulator on their own. There was really no need for there to be an inside man.
It would be silly for me to say that my favorite part of this episode was the running penis-as-thumbs joke. After all, my brow is higher than that. And higher than a butt flag, too. Right?
But I do like this episode a bit more than Mark. Something about the absurdity really clicks with me, especially the juxtaposition between Mission Control and Sanders 13. It might be the fun Dean stuff, or Abed finding his inner hero (which he does quite a bit). It might be the subtle puns, like "C'mon, you family-sized bucket of bolts." Or it might be rockin' applause that the Greendale Greenstonauts totally, totally deserve.
Notes and Quotes
-- City College was first mentioned in 'Debate 109', but this is the first time we've met Dean Steven Spreck.
-- I loved the way Abed slid across the table to get to the map.
-- Chevy Chase starred in Memoirs of an Invisible Man with Daryl Hannah, who was in Splash with Tom Hanks, who was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon. Boo-yah!
Troy: “There is a time and a place for subtlety, and that time was before Scary Movie.”
Britta: “How many schools would let you get a degree in theoretical phys-ed?”
Troy: “We are 40 light years outside of the buttermilk nebula, although it's possible that ... yeah, this is a sticker.”
Three out of four butt flags.