This week, I am most thankful for an episode of Community 4.0 that actually feels like Community. I do not know if it’s lowered expectations or if the writing really improved, but that is something we can all come around the table and shout “Hallelujah” about, people! Pass the buttered noodles and garbage dip, please.
Thanks again to NBC’s brilliant idea of delaying Community’s return an extra four months, we are getting a holiday themed episode on another generic late winter day. This time, the Greendale Seven are celebrating Thanksgiving in March. Everyone has their special plans that they want to escape from. Troy must go home to his Jehovah’s Witness parents and eat marshmallows while pretending that he is not missing out on a super cool tradition; Annie will face the usual verbal assault on Annie’s boobs (not the monkey this time) from her aunt’s boyfriend; Pierce will be…Pierce. Shirley, always the happy provider, suggests that they all have Thanksgiving at her house. Her husband, Andre, will be gone because he is preparing the stereo store for the Black Friday mad rush and she is going to be stranded herself with the rest of his extended family. Thus her college chums would be a nice relief for her. Personally, I thought the Dean, dressed thankfully as a pilgrim-friendly cowboy, offered the best alternative when he invited them to Greendale’s ThanksLIVING Potluck. It turns out that studies have shown a correlation between Greendale enrollment and holiday-timed suicides. Fortunately for all the school’s jumpers, the Dean has never met a reality he cannot deeply deny. Thus wasting of the school’s resources can carry on!
The gang all agrees to go with Shirley…except for Jeff. He has already made Thanksgiving plans to meet up with the Winger who abandoned him in the nest as a child. Britta thinks this is wonderful, but the rest are ready to spend time with another turkey. Shirley’s Thanksgiving is possibly the most proudly pious in all the land! Greeting most of her friends at the door in an apron with a crucifix of bread loaves and the words, “He Has Risen,” it is a tribute to their understanding that Jewish Annie and Muslim Abed did not head for the door. However, they will soon wish they had because while Shirley is all hugs and kisses, her husband’s family of strangers are as intimidating as an alien tribe in the New World. Hence, Abed, Troy, Annie and Pierce self-separating from the household and staying in the garage. As he sits with his fellow prisoners waiting for (dinner) time to be served, Abed of course makes a connection between this misadventure and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). I remember the first time I heard a Morgan Freeman impersonation…
Meanwhile, Jeff lacks the courage to walk through his lost father’s door. Perhaps it is for the best he is speeding away and pouring his soul out to Britta on his cell. Either way, it is all for naught because Britta does what only Britta can…hit delicate relations with a stick and then hide from the fallback by saying she is a psych major. She is already at William Winger’s house for Thanksgiving and is having a lovely chat with the man. Jeff should join them! Jeff finally returns, probably out of anger at Britta instead of self-closure, and meets Pappy Winger. Jeff’s Dad, played by the equally handsome James Brolin, is as weary and smarmy about this meeting as his son. They both refuse to talk about their “feelings” and would rather drink Scotch while reminiscing over their failed careers as conmen. At first, Britta tries to help them cope with their obvious desire to sleep with each other (sigh…Britta…), but she eventually knows to keep her mouth shut. On the Brrita side, William has another son, a half-brother in his late 20s whose neuroses are legion. Finally, a head she can shrink.
Overall, it was an eventful episode of Community that played best when we were watching the two Wingers. McHale and Brolin had a natural and immediate chemistry as two blowhards who needed to come to grips. They eventually of course do arrive at cathartic blows when William compares seemingly self-reliant Jeff to his milk toast live-in son. William decides he should take credit for Jeff’s strength by leaving him to fend for himself. The new writers were wise to follow through on Harmon’s cliffhanger from the end of Season 3, “Introduction to Finality.” Their interactions were both hysterical and poignant when Jeff lays down the true heavy consequences William’s abandonment. I can even turn a blind eye to how Jeff’s brother feels more like a character from a CBS sitcom than Community, since it lets Britta britta his mind.
Still, the B-storyline at Shirley’s left something to be desired. While I appreciated the holiday staple of strangers feeling caged by pseudo-cutesy interaction, it never goes anywhere. It is funny when Troy needs a cuddle from Abed after Shirley’s sister-in-law, Sharon, forces him to say, “I never thought about it that way. Batman is sorta’ gay!” Yet, we never really see this horrid interaction because the writers felt obligated to force a movie parody in there. What made the best Community theme shows work in the first threes seasons was a full commitment to the parody. Go big or go home. Having Abed just make on-the-nose Freeman-esque narrations while standing around the garage with three other characters does not a Shawshank satire make. Also, the characters’ ability to lose cascading IQ points for a gag about sneaking Shirley away from her own family in a trashcan should be beneath Community.
Even with all my complaints, trust me when I say this is the best episode we have gotten this year. It actually felt like Greendale when the episode opened and the dramatic notes played when Jeff confronts his father at the end feel earned rather than tacked on. Given Greendale’s rough semester, this is enough to be thankful for. At the end of the episode, Abed hopes for their Christmas show, which I will just assume gets here around St. Patrick’s Day, to be Die Hard themed. If so, please do not be so timid to open the liquor cabinet for that celebration.