Last year, on this very website, NBC’s much-missed Parks and Recreation was compared to The Simpsons, the idea being that Pawnee — with its wide-ranging population of wacky characters and recurring jokes — was becoming a live-action Springfield. While our return to Indiana has been delayed owing to an ill-advised detour to India, our opinion has changed: Parks and Rec isn’t the live-action cartoon. Community is.
“Basic Rocket Science,” like last season’s incredibly successful paintball episode, is a ludicrous fantasy, one that expects all viewers to suspend even the small amount of reality-based thinking Community usually asks of us. To wit: There’s a spaceflight simulator! From the eighties! In a Winnebago! Sponsored by Kentucky Fried Chicken! (Mmm, that Hawaiian bread ...) But, as with paintball, Community’s balls-to-the-wall commitment to its meta-references (Apollo 13! The Right Stuff!) and to
its delicious blend of herbs and spices its contagious sense of unbridled fun ultimately gets it through. Unlike Jeff, there’s no need for us to “pull reality” here. In fact, it would be almost mean-spirited to do so: Community abandoned that orbit a long time ago.
Instead, let’s enjoy the little details, shall we? The unabashed passion of Dean Pelton for
random hookups with dudes in truck stops “becoming the first community college to pretend to put a man in space.” Abed’s insistence that the gang wear white and walk in slow motion. (Not to mention the fact that he’s got a full astronaut costume — replete with helmet — just hanging in his dorm room.) Pierce talking first to an Atari cartridge and then to Wesley Snipes’s audiobook (“he sure does hate the government!”). Troy consulting a faded sticker to determine their location. Annie flooring the Winnebago with the words, “C’mon, you family-sized bucket of bolts!” Even Abed was judiciously used this week, settling nicely (and appropriately) into the role of Apollo 13–esque “guy who should have been on that rocket” but instead, with the aid of a nerd-filled mission control, gets them home again.
Was it perfect? Of course not. The whole “Annie wanted to transfer and thus sabotaged the launch” thing seemed stapled on from another, more recognizably human plot. It was unnecessary since, as Troy sagely noted, “There is a time and place for subtlety and that time was before Scary Movie.” Sometimes we just want to watch a bunch of well-defined comic characters try to keep an arrow inside of a moving rectangle and plant a butt flag in a parking lot. It’s the little things, you know?