In Slate’s Community TV Club, Aisha Harris will IM about each post-Dan Harmon episode with another Community fan. This week, she discusses “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” with Rachael Larimore, Slate’s managing editor.
Aisha Harris: Happy Thanksgiving!...in March. I may be having a complete brain fart, but I don't recall Community ever having a Thanksgiving episode.
Rachael Larimore: That is also my (lack of) recollection.
Aisha: I also don't recall the show ever being this soberingly intense, though the first few episodes this season definitely hinted this was coming.
Rachael: Well, the pillow fort episode was very intense, but it had the backdrop of the absurd pillow fort to lighten the mood. And there was the twisted episode with the multiple timelines as well. But similarly, that had a gimmick to offset the intensity.
Aisha: Right. We've definitely had high stakes and very dark moments, especially towards the end of last season when the guys got kicked out of Greendale. But this just seemed completely different—more personal than past episodes have felt. And while the prison break parallel storyline was definitely lighter, it still felt "heavy."
Rachael: Jeff's storyline was indeed the more intense of the two here, but I felt like it was something that was needed after all this time. And I loved the way Jeff came back and, as Britta suggested, didn't run away from all the messiness. His emotional outburst at his dad was pretty awesome.
Aisha: Yes, I really liked that too. I was a bit worried it was going to get way too sentimental. But the way it was undercut—with his dad faking a heart attack, Jeff recognizing it right away, and then calling him out on it—was great.
Rachael: I think that was the last straw for Jeff. His dad should have known how hard it was for him to come back at all, given that they shared a certain coldness and had been bonding over it earlier. And so to dismiss it like that was a whole 'nother level of cruelty. It was also a nice nod to when Pierce faked a heart attack last season (and when his father subsequently died of a heart attack in that same episode).
Aisha: The contrast between the two fakes here—that of the adolescent Jeff who faked appendicitis due to a need for attention, and that of his horrible adult father's faux heart attack—was quite poignant. Seeing how his dad treated his half-brother, whom he actually did raise, also proved that—absent or present—he’s just a really awful person in general.
Rachael: I suppose in the long run, Jeff will be glad that he didn't grow up with his father, but he's absolutely right to point out that his dad can't take credit for the way he turned out by being absent.
Aisha: The parallel storyline—Thanksgiving with Shirley’s extended family—was a bit disappointing, though.
Rachael: I was a little bummed that so soon after the lessons of "Occupy the Study Room" that the group had already reverted to pretty selfish ways. The way that Abed, Troy, Annie, and Pierce tried to get out of Shirley's party was selfish and mean. I was extremely glad when Shirley called them on it, and I'm sure that a normal dinner where they got to know her in-laws wouldn't have been very Community-ish. But it didn't warm me to them.
Aisha: I actually kind of wish we had spent the day with them being forced to interact with her family. I think that could have provided plenty of comedic fodder as opposed to their being confined to the garage. If Shirley can't stand them, then those characters definitely could've provided a funnier contrast to Jeff's meeting with his dad.
Rachael: You're right! Instead of seeing the aftermath of Troy hearing that some people think that—spoiler alert!—Batman and Robin might be gay, we could have seen his surely priceless expression.
I have had mixed feelings about Community this whole season, but I largely liked the episode. Jeff had a breakthrough moment, and the gang eventually came around to Shirley's point of view, and there was that nice moment at the end. I suspect that Jeff having charged through the icy wall that kept him cut off from everyone will provide its own comedic fodder—as we saw at the end of this episode, Abed narrated that Jeff talked so much that he stopped listening.
Aisha: Yes, I loved that. In fact, any episode that features Abed’s voice-over narration is greatly enhanced. It would be wonderful to see Jeff fumble to try to become a "normal," "feeling" human being. Kind of like Greendale's mascot.
Rachael: I don't know, I’d still rather have the gang making up Greendale flags that say "E Pluribus Anus" than serving as Greendale's mascot! But a normal Jeff would be fun. And next year, he can host Thanskgiving.