‘Community’ Recap: Basic Rocket Science

S2: E4 After last season’s ambitious “Modern Warfare” episode, we’ve been itching for Community to dish out another epic episode and this week’s was our answer. Inspired in great part by Apollo 13 (and a handful of other space movies), the Greendale gang embarked on a (simulated) space mission, and I’m happy to say they did it without a single reference to “Houston, we have a problem.”

The cold open got right into the theme, replicating a 1960’s meeting room, where the dean lays down the issue: City College is launching a space simulator and Greendale has to beat them to the punch. The dean’s handful of yes-men (dressed a lot more like Mad Men; seriously, one of them looks an awful lot like Paul Kinsey) nod and take unnecessary notes as he shows them the plan. He’s acquired the Greendale Museum’s old KFC sponsored “Eleven Herbs & Space Experience” which needs a little work, but he’s got just the crew to do it. Cut to the study group walking in slow motion through the parking lot in white janitor suits (but yeah, they look an awful lot like space suits) when Jeff asks if they can stop walking in slo-mo. “20 more yards.” Oh Abed, you’re going to get your movie reference-riddled episode after all.

The reason the dean is making the gang clean the old bucket o’ bolts (get it? Bucket, because it’s sponsored by KFC? Ha!) is because they submitted a design for the new Greendale flag and it won. The flag has a pink circle with black star at its center surrounded by the phrase “E Pluribus Anus” – yeah, that’s not a symbol for “the crossroads of ideas,” it’s an anus and it’s now the school flag. Bravo.

The dean forbids them from going inside the simulator – that’s reserved for the real fake astronauts in training (the old guy at Greendale in a cardboard box with a paper-plate steering wheel). Before the gang gets to scrubbing, Abed and Troy sneak inside the simulator to Annie’s dismay. (She’s got a really bad feeling about this.) Abed continues to act out his film fantasies and the whole gang jumps into the simulator as well. Pierce jumps in last and in a panic, accidentally starts the simulator causing the handle-less door to lock them all in. Whoops.

The Systemaitc Android Network Diode Energy Rocket System (or Sanders) begins the simulation (and this is only the beginning of the KFC references, folks). Everyone panics, but Jeff insists that they’re just in a Winnebago, until everything starts shaking – “I don’t think this is a simulation…I think we’re being towed.” Duh duh duh.

As the simulator is hauled away (did anyone catch the KFC bucket exhaust nozzles on the back?) Abed comes running out to the parking lot – he left to find an appropriate outfit for the occasion – in an orange spacesuit. Forever skirting the line between reality and his film-inspired imagination, Abed realizes they’re gone and instead of looking down the road, looks wistfully up into the sky.

Back in the simulator, no one can get a cell signal to call someone to stop the tow truck. Pierce can, but “it’s a black guy with the wrong number again.” (Nope, that’s an iPod and he’s listening to Wesley Snipes’ audio book. Oh, OldWhiteManSays.) Troy takes a “long shot” (essential in any space adventure movie) that his “crazy” idea to shake the gravy nozzle handles (KFC sponsored, people!) might save them, but it doesn’t and the dean’s voice starts to crackle through the simulator’s speakers. He says if they don’t get back in time the world will end – as far as Greendale is concerned. The only way they can find out where they are so that they can get back to Greendale in time for the three o’clock launch is if they finish the simulator which will trigger the porthole window to open and thus give them a view of their location. And here we go. Back in the study room the dean asks Abed to walk the crew through the simulator – this episode is really Abed’s dream. He gets to be both Ed Harris and Gary Sinise from the Apollo 13 control room. “I was supposed to be on that thing, I know how she works.”

Abed walks Captain Troy through the Kentucky Fried simulation (he’s got to raise his levels to “Delicious”) but the crew’s not so ready to cooperate. Jeff tries to break open the window before Troy “pulls rank” on him and Sanders is beginning to talk to Pierce but instead of “I can’t do that, Dave” the Colonel tells Pierce he’ll die alone. Clearly he’s got space (simulation) madness or “he’s just old or something” so they lock him up in the back. Annie starts freaking out and ends up admitting that she was the one who set up the tow truck because the dean at City College would guarantee her transfer if she sabotaged the launch. Completely skipping over all that psycho, conniving shit, the gang gets upset that Annie wants to transfer to the other community college. She explains that they hate the school so much and she doesn’t want to be at a school that’s a joke, with that Jeff is inspired to save the simulator mission and thus save Greendale. “Our school may be a toilet, but it’s our toilet. Nobody craps in it but us.” Slow claps…anyone? No? Okay.

Jeff pauses and looks at Troy, “Captain?” Cue dramatic music, and the gang is ready to man their stations and save Greendale. “Thrusters?” “Full.” “Thermals?” “On.” “Navigation?” “Three.” “Chicken?” “Yeah.” It’s “suppertime.” The gang furrows their brows as they jiggle their joysticks to get little yellow circles into a slightly larger center circle (the simulator’s basically a giant Atari). Suddenly they’ve done it and the single window begins to open. They tell Abed where they are, and he uses a map (that the dean has also used to mark and rate all the local truck stop bathrooms; do I have to spell it out for you?) to determine the bad news, “I’m sorry Jeff. You’re out of town.”

The study group sits around the ship like they’re stranded in space (I’m pretty sure they’ve been gone for like an hour, tops). Troy already misses Greendale, “What other school would let us make a butt flag and actually fly it?” They all apologize to Annie, but Jeff confesses that it was actually him who turned the gang in for the butt flag, and he told him it was a butt – the dean just wasn’t seeing it. “There is a time and a place for subtlety, and that time was before Scary Movie.” Yes, Troy, and what a wonderful time it was. Damn those Wayans Brothers.

They let Pierce out of his cage, but he’s still got space madness and he rips Sanders out of the wall revealing the driver’s seat for the space simulator. Jeff calls for the skinniest group member to weasel through the hole and drive the KFC mobile, so Annie takes the wheel. Jeff hops on the radio and tells Abed they’re coming home. Abed helps them navigate as Annie makes sharp turns, causing Britta and Troy to fall into an embrace (yup, the dancing duo’s sexual tension is back).

The gang arrives at the three o’clock ceremony just in time, being greeted and cheered by a crowd in slow motion and the music swells.

Troy’s giving interviews to the press, but waves them off to have a heart to heart with his space comrade, Jeff who puts aside their former differences to congratulate him on being a great captain (it’s a movie episode guys, these kinds of moments are kind of prerequisites). They ask Abed if he wants to sit in the captain’s chair, but he says it’s okay because nothing will be cooler than what he got to do all day – did he mean acting out a movie or saving his friends? We never know with that mega-meta kid anyway.

The ship’s cockpit suddenly explodes and the camera pans over to the dean who’s proudly flying the Greendale anus flag as the soundtrack draws to a close and the adventure ends…on a close up of the anus graphic. Typical Greendale… insert nostalgic sigh.

Before they leave us, Troy and Abed have put together a trailer for a new space movie: SPACE SHIPS. Totally epic. (Someone had to do something with those cardboard training cockpits.)