Let’s take a moment to recognize John Oliver’s excellence throughout the run of Community, shall we? I’m embarrassed to admit that I sometimes forget how integral he was, especially in the early goings, of season one, and it’s always a delight when he pops back in. Every line of his throughout The Psychology of Letting Go elicits a major laugh, and Oliver brings in such a specific type of weirdo energy that fits perfectly within the show’s ecosystem. He’s the rare type of person who thinks he’s head and shoulders above everybody else at Greendale, but whose public and private life suggests otherwise.
Oliver may very well be the highlight throughout The Psychology of Letting Go, but the episode remains a strong one overall. The A-story deals with the death of Pierce’s mother and his absurd religious beliefs, but the episode – written by Hilary Winston – smartly weaves each of the stories around a central theme. That is, how much can we change who we really are? Naturally, it’s a key theme to the show as a whole as well, and a well that Harmon would return to many times at the show’s best moments. Jeff can’t change who he is by looking at every situation through a practical lens, so he seizes the opportunity to point out how unreasonable Pierce has been (it makes it a lot easier that it’s Pierce, who sucks).
Changing our nature is less subtext with Annie and Britta than it is straight-up text, when they start a fundraiser to clean up an oil spill. But Britta notices that Annie raises more money because the chauvinistic men of Greendale can’t help but fall for her “innocent school girl” routine. This inevitably leads to the two of them one-upping each other which culminates in a gloriously over-the-top mud/oil wrestling match, of course undermining the reason they began feuding to begin with.
If either episode in this installment suffers, it’s in Shirley’s – and weirdly, in the case of The Psychology of Letting Go, Abed’s – lack of inclusion. Though Basic Rocket Science has its own issues to deal with. Strangely, this is one of the episodes that I remember best from this season, in spite of it not being very good. It’s an episode that should work like gangbusters in theory: it unfolds essentially as a loose spoof of Apollo 13, which Danny Pudi nails to perfection. And the show’s bizarro spoofing of branded content – pitch-perfect as it is – never goes as hard as I’d like it to.
It’s never a bad thing to see the group come together to solve a common problem, especially when it’s as delightfully silly as a decrepit space simulator sponsored by KFC being towed around town. The ultimate reveal of Annie’s motivation for why she betrayed Greendale never really rang as more than a TV contrivance for me. Her dissatisfaction with the study group and Greendale at large comes out of nowhere, and I never really believed the show could be brave enough to break up the group so easily. At least the bulk of the episode allows the group to be in the same room together and just “bounce off of one another” (I hate that I just used that phrase but I suppose it applies in this situation).
Any movie or TV show that introduces a bout of Space Madness will always go down as a win in my book, and the episode is packed with as many jokes as any other. If nothing else, Basic Rocket Science is a great showcase for Jim Rash and his incredibly specific brand of insanity. If the episode serves as the low point for the season, at least it’s an enjoyable time with the same band of misfits that we’ll come to be even closer with in the course of this young season.
The Psychology of Letting Go Grade: A-
Basic Rocket Science Grade: B–