In a reunion three seasons in the making, Jeff Winger finally met his pater familias Willie (played by James Brolin) in Community's Thanksgiving-themed outing "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations." Due to the heavy nature of this encounter, it's perhaps no surprise that the episode erred on the side of serious rather than seriously funny (not that we've seen much of the latter this season anyway) and, to his credit, Joel McHale rose to the occasion, doing some really terrific work that made up for creative lapses like Jeff's obnoxiously self-esteem challenged step-brother, Willie Jr. (Adam DeVine, who had the misfortune of being saddled with such a poorly conceived character).
As someone who has found Jeff's daddy issues to be a major drag on the show even back in the Dan Harmon days, I wasn't especially looking forward to this father-and-child reunion. But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that it the new showrunners handled it as well as could be expected (again, excluding Willie Jr.) and look forward to a daddy-free future now that Jeff appears to have worked all these issues out of his system. I'm also thankful that episode's B-plot -- in which the rest of the study group (save Britta, who is busy putting her amateur-therapist skills to work helping the Winger men) heads over to celebrate Turkey Day at Shirley's with her extended family and then plot a Shawshank-style escape once they realize what terrible people they are -- offered up a few decent-sized laughs to help offset the seriousness of the Jeff storyline. (The big problem with this storyline? We never actually saw how unpleasant Shirley's family was, which would have helped make the prison break scenario seem more necessary instead of just a random pop culture reference the writers pulled out of the air.) Above all, I'm thankful that "Cooperative Escapism" was a vast improvement over last week's dire episode (which, as you'll recall, was the second episode produced even though it aired fourth), once again leading me to hope that the season will continue to gather steam as it rolls along. Continuing this theme, here are the character-by-character moments that I'm most thankful to have seen in "Cooperative Escapism."
Most Thankful For: His episode-concluding act of self-realization, telling Willie Sr. exactly what kind of man he became due to his dad not being around. (Best moment: the revelation that all those texts he's composing are addressed to nobody.) It was a well-written, well-acted speech that allowed Jeff (and McHale) to drop his too-cool-for-school façade for once.
Funniest Line: "I like your hair. The presence of it, I mean."
Most Thankful For: Pulling out her boom box and launching into her own self-created therapist rap. That's the jingle she should use on all her late-night TV commercials after graduation.
Funniest Line: "I just want to acknowledge that there are a lot of emotions flowing right now and you two are probably feeling a strong impulse to sleep with each other. And hey -- that's normal."
Most Thankful For: His Morgan Freeman impression, which would have made the actual Shawshank Redemption (unpopular opinion alert: the most overrated movie of all time) actually watchable.
Funniest Line: "Maybe the hardest prisons to break out of are the ones without locks. Wait... that doesn't make sense."
Most Thankful For: Her genuine conflict between bailing on a friend and having to endure a family gathering that make her own look... about as bad. It was a nice reminder that Annie can be both the nicest and meanest member of the group.
Funniest Line: "This is the Jonestown of dinners."
Most Thankful For: Taking it upon himself to defend Batman's honor (in private anyway) against people who think the Dark Knight is "kinda gay."
Funniest Line: "I feel like I'm in jail. And you know what happens to guys like me in jail. They get really into push-ups and I am fine with my upper body the way it is."
Most Thankful For: Getting the opportunity to see her on her home turf, which helped humanize a character that the show has never seemed to entirely understand. (Also, bonus points to her bakery-themed: "He has risen" apron.)
Funniest Line: "Oh sweetie -- do you have your monthly shame?"
Most Thankful For: Sparing the study group from his surly presence in the close quarters of the garage by going into the dining room to "entertain" Shirley's family. The less screentime for Chevy Chase (who couldn't see less interested in being there if he tried), the happier everyone is.
Funniest Line: "Let's carve that jive turkey."
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