<i>Community</i> Community

Community creator Dan Harmon knows that "Modern Warfare," Season 1's action-movie-spoofing paintball episode set a new standard for the show, and he's not daunted by trying to top it.

"The camera doesn't necessarily have to stay on campus this season," Harmon tells TVGuide.com. And in Thursday's episode (8/7c on NBC), it won't, as Greendale's study group goes to outer space — sort of.

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Facing stiff competition from a rival community college that is about to launch a simulated space program, Dean Pelton ( Jim Rash) forces the study group to pre-emptively stage Greendale's own space simulation. Abed (

Danny Pudi) and Troy (Donald Glover) take the lead in a satire of Apollo 13 and other space movies when the simulator is towed away with everyone but Abed locked inside."Before the season even started, the big question was: How are we going to beat the paintball episode? " Glover says. "And the joke I think was to say ... 'Maybe we send them to space.' Dan, being the genius that he is ... works out a way to send them to space."Harmon accepts the compliment. "Every show is good at something and one of things I'm most proud of is doing the wider range of stuff while still maintaining believability," he says. "I'm most excited by the fact that right toward the end [of Season 1], the big picture started to come together in terms of the show's versatility. It's not that you're just conceptual or you're Salisbury steak and peas. I've always found that it's possible to have a show where you can watch stuff through a variety of lenses because the characters themselves are so real.

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"Fifteen or 20 percent of Season 1 was stuff you don't remember because it was us trying really hard to do a TV show that played by the rules. We might as well have spent that percentage of our first season doing paintball, and now that we can do that, we are doing that. We're really coming out swinging."Indeed. Shortly after the space spoof comes a zombie-themed Halloween episode. And the show's Christmas episode will be done completely in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-style stop-motion animation. "I don't fear doing it too much because I feel like you can always pull back," Harmon says. "What I do fear is not doing it enough, and I hope to find out how much is too much."Glover thinks Harmon's use of Abed's character, who relates to other characters through TV and movie references, helps the audience accept such heightened situations. "Abed [is] the voice of the audience. He keeps us fair. He keeps us even," Glover says. "Dan really doesn't always love reference humor, but he knows he can do it better than anyone else. So he uses Abed to get the reference humor out and also combat it."

Community plans stop-motion animated Christmas episode

Still, the show hasn't attracted blockbuster ratings, particularly now that it's going head-to-head with CBS' recently relocated The Big Bang Theory.  But Glover doesn't worry. "If you make a delicious cake and it's awesome, and the crust is perfect and the icing [and] everything about it is really delicious... and only two people eat it and they love it, that's enough for me," he says. "I know that we're making a good product."How far might the show go in the future? "If I fly this ship to the center of the sun and the entire thing explodes, it will probably have been for a good reason," Harmon says. "I'd rather not spend 10 years doing something that's already been done."