As disappointed as I’ve been with this season of Community, there were still stories to be told about its characters and unresolved threads when Dan Harmon left the show. It’s merely the execution that’s been lacking, and although “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” won’t be on anyone’s list of best episodes, half of it was solid and genuinely felt like a part of Community’s overall story.
The show’s cast split in two for “Escapism.” Jeff and Britta, for reasons ridiculous and stupid yet somehow fitting for Britta, went to Jeff’s dad’s house for a Thanksgiving. This was Jeff’s first meeting with his father and his half-brother, and the show did a good job honoring the complexity of this relationship (not that something like this can be resolved in 10 minutes like it was here, but this is still a sitcom, after all). Jeff was in awe of his father as much as he hated the man, and his combination of respect and loathing made for a memorable encounter. Even Jeff’s younger brother, who was kind of annoying, never felt out of place. Really, they felt more like real people than Community’s main cast has this season.
Jeff’s storyline wasn’t meant to be the funnier of the two, but it had the real belly laughs, and its gags weren’t recycled from what we’ve seen before. Even with the episode’s saccharine ending undercutting it, this was new material done well. Jeff’s concern about his dad’s hair, the way his dad faked a heart attack like Pierce has in the past as the group’s surrogate father—these details worked and made for a surprisingly three-dimensional relationship between the two characters.
The other half of the episode was, well, much more typical of this season. It focused on a Shawshank Redemption/Prison Break parody of Shirley’s Thanksgiving that brought out the usual parody jokes, leading up to a lame Abed speech (that makes three this season already, meaning he does far more of these than Jeff ever did) about their true family being their friends. But, of course, Shirley does have a real family, and speaking of which, why was her husband missing?
This was what we’ve come to expect from season four, a by-the-numbers lame pop culture parody and characters acting in a way that facilitates it rather than in a way that makes sense. For once Pierce was allowed to be one of the gang, not to mention Chevy Chase seemed to be shot with the other characters rather than inserted awkwardly, so some of the magic of the cast’s dynamic was there. But its laughs were reheated, and at this point I’ve come to dread Abed’s voiceovers and speeches more than practically any other part of the show. It wasn’t a disaster, but it did feel like a waste of time.
It’s sad that having one good storyline made this episode stand out so much above what we’ve seen for the past few weeks… but then, the last few weeks of Community have been pretty dreadful at times. While I have no illusion that Jeff’s storyline in “Escapism” signals a return to form, at least it means that the show’s writers may still be able to pull out a few decent plots this season. It’s sad that at this point, hearing that the show will do a puppet-based episode makes me groan, but Jeff’s storyline gives us at least a glimmer of hope, even if it was just a fluke.
•It’s already Thanksgiving and we’ve had a whopping one episode that features an actual class so far.
•Doesn’t Community’s theme song seem far more self-referential than it used to?
•So Britta was there with Jeff instead of, say, with her boyfriend? I found her fine, but the lack of even trying for an explanation was kind of strange.
•“You two are probably feeling a strong impulse to sleep with each other, and that’s normal” – why I want to murder Freud.
•”Reminds me of the year I was Ralph Lauren.”
•”Maybe you could shrink his head since you’re here… for some reason.”
•I mentioned this above, but I presume Andre wasn’t around because Malcolm Jamal Warner was busy?
•And if Jeff drove Britta home, how did she even get to his dad’s house?