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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The residents of Moonbase 8 long for the "human touch" in "Rats"

Illustration for article titled The residents of iMoonbase 8/i long for the human touch in Rats
Photo: A24/Showtime
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Note: All six episodes of Moonbase 8 are currently on-demand for Showtime subscribers, but we’ll be sharing our reviews on a weekly basis following each episode’s Sunday night airing. If you’re interested in a full season review of the series, Danette Chavez has you covered.

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It’s no huge revelation to say the moon is Moonbase 8's MacGuffin, but it’s worth noting while recapping “Rats,” an episode that continues to frame the natural satellite as more idea than object. Last week, John C. Reilly’s Cap told the late Travis Kelce that the moon was his get-out-of-jail-free card—set foot on the rock and his failures as a husband, father, and pilot will be wiped clean. This week, we get a more nuanced exploration of purpose with Tim Heidecker’s Rook, whose lunar dreams, it turns out, aren’t solely motivated by his desire to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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The episode begins with Rook recording a delightfully cheesy video tour of the base for his family—he’s got 10 kids, not 12, as I guessed last week, though one more is on the way—and nursing feelings of resentment for what he regards as a lack of appreciation from Cap. After a mysterious “prowler” begins stripping the base’s gear for parts, Rook fails at both the team’s sad attempts to strap on their suits faster and his first shift as a lookout, leading Cap to vent his pent-up panic and frustration out on him. This, along with a desire to see his next child’s birth—they’re running out of names!—prompts his decision to bail on the base, news that causes Cap to worry about NASA shutting them down. In the end, however, it’s not Cap’s going-away party (or his “capture” of the prowler) that keeps Rook there, but rather the realization that his family doesn’t miss him as much as he misses them. And, according to Skip (Fred Armisen), being a famous astronaut is just about the best gift he can give his kids. (Bonus: The hot pastor hanging around his house can’t say he’s been to outer space.)

“Rats” doesn’t quite hold together as an episode. The prowler storyline doesn’t go anywhere, with Cap discovering it to be a local mushroom dealer who wanted the parts for recycling. It allows for tension to develop between Cap and Rook, but never manages to speak thematically to Rook’s internal struggle, the central thrust of the episode. Perhaps the prowler’s plea for Cap to “give up the illusion of control” will resonate throughout subsequent episodes, but it falls flat here, failing to shed new light on either Cap or Rook’s journeys.

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But, as with last week’s episode, it’s easy to set aside sloppy plotting when any combination of your leads are capable of making comic gold. Laughs abound in “Rats,” from Cap and Rook’s “skin-on-skin” hug to Cap’s “It was nice to meet you” sign at Rook’s going-away party. It’s Armisen, however, that’s stealing the show—I can’t stop chuckling at the matter-of-fact way he says “I didn’t” after Cap asks him if he charged the iPod. When he’s engaging casually, Skip’s obliviousness to the general action or themes results in deliveries from Armisen that are wholly unexpected. His curt, clinical thank yous when Rook says he’s leaving don’t really work from a plot or character perspective, but who gives a shit? It’s funny.

Having said that, one of the things I loved about “Rats” is that it depicted Cap, Rook, and Skip as a unit that’s still in process. They’re not on the same page yet. These aren’t old pals or instant besties; these are three very different people who are as bad at being astronauts as they are desperate to be astronauts. To put it in the show’s terms: They still see each other as P-93s, not Jeremys. And, no, they’ll probably never get to the moon, but the moon doesn’t matter. The moon, after all, is no substitute for the “human touch,” something that takes more than a “skin-on-skin” hug to feel.

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Stray Observations

  • Biggest laugh of the episode for me was Skip’s sober analysis of who could be stealing their gear: “Artists looking for materials? Trick-or-treaters? Circus people who lost their way?”
  • As a former evangelical, I’d love to see the show dig deeper into Rook’s faith. His past as a pot enthusiast and Phish obsessive, combined with the “hey, man” with which he started his prayer, has me wondering just how ingrained his Christianity is.
  • Skip’s dad’s book about being an astronaut is called Moon Man: How We Did It.
  • “What are you looking forward to eating?” is a great question to ask somebody who’s retreating back into normal life.
  • “Nepotism is a great thing. That’s why there’s a word for it. It works.”
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Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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