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'Community' Recap: Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations

Jeremy Fuster |
March 8, 2013 | 3:18 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Jeff finally comes face-to-face with his father (NBC)
Jeff finally comes face-to-face with his father (NBC)
Yes, that's it. That's more like it.  At long last, the fourth season of "Community" has yielded an episode that is truly memorable and can stand up when placed alongside the greats of seasons past. But strangely enough, it's not because it was particularly funny. Oh, it had several great jokes throughout, but the focus wasn't on the comedic side of this sitcom, but rather the rough emotional drama that makes it so special. And this late Thanksgiving episode, entitled "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations," provided the payoff for one of the most sensitive issues that has hung over the series since the beginning: Jeff Winger's animosity towards his estranged father, William.

Joel McHale is known by most people for his comedy, and really hasn't had a chance to put his serious side out on display on a major TV show (well, except for that time he guest-starred on "Sons Of Anarchy"). But this week, he was spectacular, particularly in the final act, when Jeff finally steps forward and tells his father (played by James Brolin) about all the damage his parental neglect has done to him and how it still hurts him. It's such a raw and heartbreaking scene, and it represents the culmination of all the character development Jeff has gone through since the beginning of the show.  

William is the reason Jeff came to Greendale as a cold, distant loner who pretends to be more popular than he really is. He is also why Jeff needs the study group so badly in order to truly recover and, most importantly, why he has locked horns with Pierce so often in the past. To Jeff, Pierce is the embodiment of everything he hates, but also what he fears he will become: antisocial, old, defeated, and alone, just like his father. After Jeff calls out his father on all the pain he has dealt out to him, William can only respond by faking a heart attack in the same attempt to dodge responsibility we have seen from Pierce so many times. The polar opposite approaches to facing social fears are proof that Jeff has grown to the point that he no longer needs to be afraid of turning into his father or Pierce, and while the scars may never fade (including the literal, self-inflicted fake appendicitis scar Jeff made to gain sympathy from his classmates), the pain of the past doesn't have to define him.

The side elements to this confrontation also work. Just like in "Paranormal Parentage," Britta works off Jeff perfectly, as she attempts to be Jeff's psychiatrist/big sister while he continuously brushes her off until he realizes how accurate she is about the emotional struggle he is facing. It's a well the show has frequently gone to, but it never ceases to work, and it is way better than the romantic relationships they have had simmering in the background. She pushes Jeff to confront his demons and is there to catch him when he falls, but also knows when to let go and let Jeff handle things on his own. In this episode, when that time comes to let go, she spends time with Jeff's half-brother, William Jr. (Adam Devine). The funniest part of the episode is when she uses dinner rolls to do role play with him (yes, Britta, we see what you did there) and help him vent his frustrations with feeling inadequate. William Jr. feels a bit two-dimensional when placed alongside the well-rounded Jeff and Britta, but Devine does a great job providing the laughs as he plays along with Britta's weird attempts to psychoanalyze.

The side plot, on the other hand, is probably the weakest part. While Jeff and Britta resolve daddy issues, the rest of the study group celebrates Thanksgiving with Shirley and her in-laws from hell, only to spend it in the garage cowering in fear. It's quite rushed, as we only get a quick taste of Shirley's family before we are whisked into the garage so Abed can turn the whole affair into an homage to "The Shawshank Redemption." So when Shirley provides the emotional payoff when she confesses that she invited the study group so the in-laws would make fun of them instead of her, it doesn't resonate as well as it could because we haven't had enough time to really know how terrible those in-laws could be.  Still, Abed keeps it from being a total failure with his great voiceovers throughout, as well as his realization midway that the situation doesn't fit with the movie and turns it into a "Prison Break" homage by drawing a map of the house on his stomach.

Bottom line, "Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations" is head, shoulders, knees, and toes above the four episodes that came before it, and is an episode I will look back on very fondly. It still has several flaws, but it gets the core goal down perfectly. If this episode had failed, it not only would have been a dagger to this season, but to the entire series. Instead, it gives Jeff the closure he needs and adds another major milestone to the life-changing experience he has had as a Greendale student.  

Reach Staff Reporter Jeremy Fuster here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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