Review: Community, “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations”

Just a shoelace and belt free night of fun!

“Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” is our first solid episode of Community this season (huzzah!). It ultimately succeeds where majority of the season has failed: it left me smiling at the end, happy with our study group and hoping for more.

While the study group is imprisoned in Shirley’s house of guilt for this once-again-late Thanksgiving episode, Jeff Winger finally goes face-to-face with the man whose influence is noted by his absence: his father, William Winger (James Brolin).

After planting seeds in earlier seasons (ultimately ending with the Halloween episode earlier this year), Jeff’s storyline carried this episode. The meeting wasn’t particularly funny – frankly, it shouldn’t be – but it had a lot of truth in it. When Jeff finally confronts his father, there was an air of meaningful sadness masked in righteous vindication. It was a “you tell ‘im, Winger” kind of moment, and there hasn’t been many of those in the series, much less this season.

The episode opens up with our favorite study group in our favorite study room, all discussing plans for Thanksgiving. The Dean reveals that Jeff made arrangements to have dinner with his estranged father (breaking his “no reading student emails” policy), and the group reacts appropriately shocked to this sudden news. Britta, on the other hand, has the greatest reaction: her therapizing brought on this sudden approach, so she’s jock jammin’ it up.

On Thanksgiving Day, Jeff arrives to his father’s house, but finds himself unable to ring the bell. He runs, which is par for the course when it comes to Jeff Winger’s emotional stability. He calls Britta admitting he couldn’t do it, but Britta reveals that she’s already waiting for him at the elder Winger’s house. Jeff returns, with an admonishing “you really you’d this one” to our favorite blonde therapist, and goes to confront his father.

The rest of the group, meanwhile, heads over to Shirley’s for dinner hoping for a nice, homecooked Thanksgiving dinner, but is beset on all sides by Shirley’s in-laws. When Troy has to admit that “Batman is sort of gay” in order to escape a conversation, they realize they don’t want to be anywhere near this Thanksgiving gathering. Unable to leave because of an obligation to their friend, the group retreats to the garage to get away from Shirley’s family. As is his way, Abed draws a Shawshank Redemption analogy and determines they must break out of prison.

This B-plot, unfortunately, gets lost in mediocrity. It was fairly off putting, as it once again seemed like a storyline penned simply to have everyone else doing something, not because it was going anywhere. (It certainly doesn’t help that none of the in-laws were physically present; perhaps seeing their conversations would have at least made it funny.)

The initial meeting between Jeff and his father turns out amazing well; their similarities are beyond apparent in their first, abbreviated sentences to one another. Brolin did an excellent job playing Richard Castle’s Jeff Winger’s father, playing, for all intents and purposes, an older Jeff Winger – a smart man with an unhealthy mix of pride and shame. Adam Devine plays Jeff’s half-brother, Willy Jr., in a way befitting one of the Workaholics: over-the-top, weird, and partially insane. Devine as an actor did well enough, but his character’s schtick was just too comically caricaturish to fit in an otherwise-sobering episode centered around a kid who had to grow up without a father.

Willy Jr., for all of his flaws, did provide for some great dialogue with Britta, who takes top prize in this episode for some golden nuggets of therapizing (“Why don’t we use these dinner rolls for some roleplay? Hah, I see what I did there.”) Britta succeeds as a therapist in spite of herself – she may be terrible all the time, but here, she was pretty much right from the beginning. Willy Jr. also succeeds as a direct foil to William, who is everything Junior is not. If William emotionally distant and Willy Jr. is emotionally drowning, Jeff has spent the past 4 seasons finding the middle of the spectrum with the aid of his friends.

Eventually, the conversation takes a turn when William actually suggested that, by leaving, he was doing Jeff a favor. Kudos to Joel McHale for that perfectly cold “With all due respect – which is none – go to hell.” Even though he delivered the line flatly, you could almost feel the anger coming out of those words. In the final confrontation, Jeff reveals some pretty dark secrets about his emotionally broken childhood, with a story of a self-inflicted scar in an attempt to feel as if someone acknowledged his existence.

Jeff also revealed one of the biggest secrets of the entire series: no one is on the other end of his text messages.

In the end, after everyone’s Thanksgivings were all shot to hell, Jeff sets up a Thanksgiving spread for the group in the study room: the only family to him that matters. A bit saccharine, yes, but a good dose of “feel good” was necessary to brighten up the mood.

When all is said and done, this was a strong episode. The “Shirley’s Thanksgiving” storyline was a bit out-of-place, but we at least had some good scenes with Annie, Abed, and Troy (even Chase’s Pierce seemed like he didn’t hate himself here.) Jeff and Britta contributed to a storyline that carried the episode, with Britta getting the biggest laughs and Jeff getting the emotional growth. Nothing here makes this episode rise to levels previously reached in the series, but this is a Community that I haven’t seen this season – and I’d like to see it again.

Final Thoughts:

  • The most dramatic “Britta’s the worst” ever happened this episode. And it was pretty wonderful.
  • Speaking of which, I’m getting a little shocked at how awesome Britta has been this season. With her therapizing in the Valloween episode, her understanding and support of the Troy/Abed relationship in “Conventions,” and now here, Britta is most definitely not the worst this season.
  • “You two are probably feeling a strong urge to sleep with each other, and, hey, that’s normal.”
  • “What if I did a gibberish language like Star Wars? You’d like that, I bet. Dick.”
  • We knew things wouldn’t turn out rainbows and flowers between the Wingers, but it should be a big clue that William approved of Jeff’s lawyer scam.
  • “Maybe you can shrink his head because you’re here. …for some reason.”
  • “Show me on the dinner roll where you’re hurt!”
  • The Dean’s outfit was pretty awesome in that it’s from Jeff’s closet.

Grade: B+. Psychology tells us there are no accidents, except for car accidents, Tara Reid, and the Hindenburg.

Written by: Dwight Tejano

Dwight is the founder of Open the Fridge, which he started in 2008 and rebooted in 2010. Due to the nature of early adopting, his bank account is normally empty. He likes to sing in world-renown choruses to forget such things.

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