‘Community’ Review: “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations”
We're five episodes in on the Dan Harmon-less 'Community,' and though there's been some moments here and there, it's been a rough season, not helped by having themed episodes that are coming out months after the fact. Like tonight's "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations," which is a Thanksgiving episode in March. At least we'll get to Christmas before July.
But, first thing's first. This is a "real" episode and is easily the best of this new season, and suggests that even though it's not like it was, there's still good things to be mined in this show. I feel sort of bad for our usual 'Community' reviewer Britt Hayes (who will be back on 'Community' detail once SXSW is over), because last week I wasn't sure if I could keep watching the show, but if there's another episode or two -- or perhaps if the rest of the season -- is as good as this, I wouldn't mind Season five, or six and a movie.
The show starts with some solid gags, but more importantly than that, good character work, which is strong throughout the episode. Not all the jokes are laugh out loud funny, but seeing Gillian Jacobs' Britta peak with excitement over being a good therapist is a great character moment, and Donald Glover's reaction as Troy to the truth about Thanksgiving yams was smile-inducing. But this episode is about families, both real and created, and starting strong points out that the reason why some of us have soldiered on with this bastard season: We like seeing these performers together (even Chevy Chase).
This is also an episode that splits up the cast, pairing Britta with Jeff to deal with meeting his father for the first time (James Brolin), while everyone else ends up at Shirley's house for turkey day. Britta Britta's it (no surprise) with Jeff's dad, forcing Jeff to confront his father, while Troy, Abed, Annie and Pierce plot a prison escape from Shirley's house when they realize her in-laws are terrible people. The inherent problem with this is that it makes Shirley a foil, but the show figures out how to give everyone something interesting to do (though Chase is left with most of the bum notes of the episode), and this is easily the best use of Abed in the new season as he shuffles from 'The Shawshank Redemption' to 'Prison Break' references.
Side note: I'd say my biggest problem with this season so far is that there's all these elements that feel like they should be important but haven't had any effect on the show. The Dean lives next door to Jeff. Feels like it should be a big thing, but this is the first time it's been mentioned since the premiere. Britta and Troy are dating (and having sex) but it seems to have no actual effect on anything including their behavior together, and if Jeff and Britta ended up sleeping together at the end of this episode, it wouldn't have seemed out of character. Which brings me to an actual point, this episode is Chang-free and if Ken Jeong leaves the show (which seems likely) if/when 'Community' gets a fifth season, he won't be missed.
At the Winger house, Jeff is confronted with his dad, who turns out to be a lot like him. They're both self-made men and scotch drinkers who are a bit emotionally distant. But the dinner isn't just for Jeff and his dad, there's also Jeff's half brother (played by Adam DeVine) who is the antithesis of Jeff. As Winger Sr. says, he's soft, which gives Britta more therapy practice.
The episode builds (as it must) to Jeff confronting his father with the pain of his childhood, and it's an emotional sequence that works because of where we've gone with Jeff Winger. It plays on the great strength of the show (as evinced in the last couple episode of the third season) that being in the study group has actually made Jeff a better person, a better human being. This all leads to a real Thanksgiving dinner in the study room, and though this is as mushy as mushy gets, these people are family, and we're happy to see them together. And for better or worse, this functions as a metaphor for this season. You stick with people you care about during the rough times because you hope things get better. And hopefully, hopefully, they have.