A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I have to do a Jewish thing in the other room...
None of the five episodes so far this season have made me laugh all that much, but the two that I've enjoyed — this one and "Paranormal Parentage" — have worked by telling an emotional story well, even when the comedy has been spotty.
In this case, it's the meeting we've been waiting several seasons for, and that Jeff Winger has been waiting decades for, as he finally comes face-to-face with the father who abandoned him, in the form of guest star James Brolin.(*) It's hard to top season 2's documentary episode for mining pathos out of Jeff's resentment towards his old man, but by putting the two in the same room together — and letting Jeff come right out and admit just how broken he is, despite outward appearances(**) — we got a satisfying next step in the emotional journey, and a strong episode for Joel McHale.
(*) Brolin also recently played Nathan Fillion's estranged dad on "Castle," and at PaleyFest the other night, Joel McHale successfully pandered to the nerd audience when asked about this, saying, "Let's just say if there's a season 5, we end up on the Serenity."
(**) His speech also finally solves another long-standing Jeff Winger mystery: given that the study group seem to be Jeff's only friends, who is he always texting? As it turns out, no one. McHale tried to warn us of this back at Comic-Con when he said, "I'm just composing texts. I don't send them."
There was less overt comedy in this half of the story, and what was there was a mixed bag. I pretty much always enjoy Britta playing therapist, and succeeding despite herself, but Adam DeVine from "Workaholics" didn't amount to much as Jeff's ineffectual half-brother Willie. And while William faking a heart attack was an easy joke, I liked how it drew a line between him and Pierce, who's done that many times and has been on occasion — loathe though Jeff would be to admit it — the closest thing Jeff's had to a father figure in recent years. (I think if Chevy Chase wasn't such an enormous pain to work with, the show could have mined that territory a lot more in the last couple of years.)
Thanksgiving at Shirley's, meanwhile, felt like it rushed into the "Shawshank Redemption" parody, barely giving us any sense of the party as a prison (or of Shirley as the unbreakable warden) before Troy, Abed, Annie and Pierce started plotting their escape. Whether that was a lack of time or of budget (an unruly family gathering means a lot of paid speaking parts, and the show's done several episodes with lots of background characters already this season), I don't know, but it felt more like the writers wanted to do a "Shawshank" homage and worked backwards to see how quickly they could get there. That said, Danny Pudi's Morgan Freeman voice was amusing (and the narration felt like a good blend of Red and Abed), and there were some good stray gags along the way, like Troy's frustration at being the third one to speak while trying to lie about eating the garbage dip. Also, I might enjoy a "Die Hard in a Restaurant" Christmas episode, but McHale already did a pretty definitive John McClane back in "Modern Warfare."
What did everybody else think?