Television comedies have been walking in two different directions over the past decade. With The Office, we have seen the rise of one-camera sitcoms that changed the style of the, now feeling, old timey manner in which television situational comedies had been created. That is not to say that multis don't exist and thrive anymore because they do. Additionally, there has been another mark on sitcoms that both types of shows have tapped into and this is the use of popular culture references. As early as The Simpsons, done incredibly well on Friends and over done on Modern Family, using pop culture as a part of the joke has been woven into our sitcoms. Viewers enjoy it because when they understand the reference, they "get it," and who doesn't want to be a part of the cool club that gets things?
What Community has, that no other show has accomplished, is the ability to make the entire episode revolve around a singular pop culture reference seamlessly. They have tackled video games, claymation, D&D, you name it, and it is not just a casual reference to these artifacts of our current culture, the entire episode is focused on getting jokes out of them. The only issue with this method of storytelling is, if you don't get it, you really don't get it, which may be some of the cause of the show's isolated audience.
Last night, the study group found themselves in the middle of The Shawshank Redemption also known as Thanksgiving.
The gang all seems to either hate turkey day or have nowhere to go, so Shirley invites them all over for dinner at her place. She is having her husband Andre's family and they are a handful. They excitedly agree except Jeff, who is actually going to see his estranged father for the holiday. If you've been keeping track of the melodrama of this season (and last), Jeff didn't know his father and has decided to let him back into his life, one step at a time.
The gang shows up at Shirley's but is taken aback by how rude and annoying Andre's family is. And of course Pierce keeps making racial remarks like saying, "Jive turkey," and calling old ladies "Tyler Perry in drag." The group unanimously decides that this Thanksgiving sucks worse than being with their own families, so they take shelter in the garage.
Meanwhile, Jeff is terrified to go to his father's place but Brita, who has been pushing for this reunion all season, happens to already be at his dad's, which forces Jeff to man up. His father, who is played by James Brolin, is kind of just like him. He is a sassy, scotch drinking, self-made man. Jeff's father has another son whom he raised. And Jeff's nebbishy stepbrother, who is played hilariously by Workaholic's Adam DeVine, is afraid that Jeff is going to steal their father's love.
While the study group decides how they are going to break out of the prison that is Shirley's dinner, Abed narrates their adventure with a Shawshank Redemption-style voiceover akin to Morgan Freeman. The group tries various approaches to get out of the dinner; Annie pretends to have awful cramps, Pierce tries to break a hip but winds up enjoying the attention he gets, and the group's last ditch effort is to eat moldy 7-layer dip that Abed has been keeping in his freezer for months for a special occasion. But what they realize (of course) is that Shirley is as miserable as they are and she needs their support.
Jeff, on the other hand, realizes the opposite. As lovely of a time he has with his father he gets offended when his father takes credit for Jeff turning out so good, which Jeff explains vehemently that he is not. The speech is too much and too dramatic, but I feel that about this entire plot line. I just want Jeff to be nasty and sarcastic; that's who he is.
In the end, obvs, the gang comes together to celebrate Thanksgiving in the study room and yay, they love each other and are besties.
I could have lived without the sappy finish, but I would say this episode felt the closest to a "Community" episode that we've seen this season. Abed's voice over, the montage of them trying to "break out," referring to Shirley as the jail's warden, all of these little Shawshank-type references made this episode so successful. This is what Community is, a tight-knit puzzle that starts with the joke and builds a ridiculous plot around. Other television shows build in the opposite direction.
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My faith is somewhat renewed, if I ever really lost it. I hope that now that we have met Jeff's father and he has said his peace we can move on from that arc and get back to Chang's made-up amnesia and the college's multitude of great side characters that make this show what it is.
Some great lines in this episode: Abed says instead of Thanksgiving that he was just going to "microwave some noodles and butter but this sounds good too."
Shirley calls Annie's period her "monthly shame."
Shirley has an apron on embroidered with "He is Risen" and it has two French breads in the shape of a cross.