On one hand, you've got some excellent Community quotes, you've got a decent Shawshank gag (always welcome, of course), and you've got stand-out performances from the entire cast, especially from Joel McHale.
McHale does great work with whatever he's given, and for the first time this season, he was given a plum, spotlight opportunity to show exactly what he's capable of. McHale's Jeff was a fine-tuned instrument tonight, telegraphing emotional depths far beyond what was dictated by the script.
On the other hand, you've got...what was dictated by the script. Thanksgiving episodes are, by their very nature, usually puffy placeholders--light confections that entertain viewers just enough during a time of the year when they're so stuffed full of holiday spirit (or nauseous with holiday dread) that they can't focus on anything else. With a few noteworthy exceptions (How I Met Your Mother comes to mind), they're almost always the weakest episode of any given season.
Perhaps watching a Thanksgiving episode during a March snowstorm made the seams show a little bit more than they would have had this episode screened during our national celebration of carbs, carbs, and also more carbs.
But given that we've spent all of our time with this show--from Community Season 1 onward--hurtling towards Jeff's eventual meeting with his estranged dad, their moment of attempted reconciliation was ultimately just kind of unsatisfying.
While James Brolin gave William Winger as much d-bag flair and swagger as possible, again, it was an issue of what he was given to work with. William wasn't enough of a sharply drawn character--not enough of a contemptible villain or pathetic lost soul--to make his appearance have much of an impact. His meeting with Jeff had the feeling of simply tying up loose plot holes.
But at least we all learned in the end that friends are our real family...except when family is our real family, and we have to stick by them, and not our friend-family. But then there are other times when our friends are actually our real real family? Though Community has never been shy in spelling out its takeaways, it is usually done a bit more clearly than this.
And so, I remain confused, conflicted, and stuffed with mashed potatoes (the mashed potatoes were due to an earlier, unrelated incident, though they ended up dovetailing with the plot nicely). I thought the Greendale Seven did some of their strongest, most energetic acting work of the season. But for such a highly anticipated moment, Jeff's meeting with his dad just did not measure up.
Did Jeff's family reunion live up to your expectations? Do you think we'll ever see William or Willy Jr. again? Did you end up kind of eating an entire thing of mashed potatoes after watching this episode?