Community season 4 episode 5 review: Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations
Oh dear. Community's latest episode has done nothing to convince Emma it's the same show as it used to be...
This review contains spoilers.
4.5 Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations
After a less than stellar performance last week, and much of the new season, for the sake of everyone’s sanity Community needed to produce something resembling the show that it purports to be. Even though all the pieces (bar one, as the show is sans Harmon) are in place, so far, it's so far lacked any punch – could Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations claw back at least some of the credibility that the show is haemorrhaging?
The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is sadly no. As the clearly over-thought, over-wordy title would suggest, this is a show flailing in the dark, unable to find even a smidgeon of comedy worth noting. It was based around a disastrous double Thanksgiving – one dinner at Shirley’s and one at Winger Sr’s house – that’s right, Daddy Dearest finally makes an appearance, more of which later. What followed the world’s dullest set up was a show so trad it was painful; a comedy by committee, holiday ‘special’ empty of any genuine feeling. With none of the usual unusual celebrations, no truth via obscure homage, and most terrifyingly of all, no laughs. Not content with just removing the comedy, Big Bang Community now appears to be systematically removing anything that makes the characters endearing or interesting, and in some cases, making them downright disagreeable. The group members who accept Shirley’s invitation to Thanksgiving dinner spend most of their screen time sounding and behaving like ungrateful children, while dragging their asses through an almost painful ‘homage’ to The Shawshank Redemption and Prison Break, a storyline written, it seems, by someone who has seen neither. In places, the dialogue is almost bitter, which is unusual in and of itself and while it’s true that family gatherings can be stressful, in comedy terms, this is Friends/The Big Bang Theory/Any bland sitcom territory – and Community has always prided itself on not treading the same old worn tracks as every other sitcom in history. If you need proof, see all the other Thanksgiving shows they’ve produced.
Across town, presumably, there was the Winger family reunion, with extra Britta. Why? Good question. Anyhoo, having indeed made the most important phone call of his life in his pants, Wingers Senior and not quite so senior finally meet over an overcooked bird and some soggy vegetables – or Britta and Winger Jr as they’re more commonly known. After a quick exchange of hair tips, a shockingly unfunny attempt at OAP sex humour and an entirely predictable unburdening, wouldn’t you know it, Jeff’s all better. God only knows why Britta had to be there, but her presence along with the sobbing brother made for distinctly bizarre viewing, and not in the good way.
So, let’s see where that leaves us: Jeff’s all better, Britta has her direction, Troy has a girlfriend, Abed is trying life, Annie’s discovered forensics and Shirley has her sandwiches... All we need now is for Pierce to find a steady stream of narcotics and we can all go home. Apparently the show’s new goal is to make all of the characters as well adjusted and ‘relatable’ as possible, and doing away with anything that might make it interesting to watch, including Jeff’s ridiculous desire to prove his Dad wrong every waking second of his life, is clearly the only way to go. What was most disturbing about this week’s episode – aside from the crying twentysomething in Winger Sr’s front room – was that somehow, incredibly, even Donald Glover wasn’t funny. It comes to something when the characters there specifically to make the cultural references work, can’t.
The mis-steps that could have been forgiven as new regime nerves - trad jokes, mainstream storylines, Chang devoid of life – now almost certainly are part and parcel of the new blueprint for the show this season. With Cooperative Escapism, Community moved into one hundred per cent safe territory, and in doing so has confirmed the irrevocable change in the show’s values. The white flag hasn’t so much been waved, as enlarged, stuck on the wall of the study room, and used to send covert messages to those of us refusing to believe the battle is over. This week’s message? Thanks again for watching. It would seem that the battle is indeed over, and what’s worse, it’s clear that everyone knows it. How very sad indeed.
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