After in my opinion 2 weeks with Harmon era level hilarity and gags, “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” reverted to the suddenly less funny show from this season’s first few episodes. The analogy between an awkward thanksgiving and a Shawshank-like prison in previous seasons would’ve been right up the writers’ alley, but these jokes felt more obvious, more spelled out and less creative. The wit in the dialog also felt flat compared both to the Harmon seasons and last week’s episode. Likewise Jeff’s plot with his father (James Brolin) relied on the William stepbrother (Adam DeVine) for its jokes, a character who’s ludicrous over-attachment and Peter Pan personality, felt more suited for a more generic sitcom. William felt more caricature than human, trying for the same comedic angle that failed with Chang the last 2 seasons.
With that said for my criticisms regarding this week’s humor, Community still did a lot right this week. It appears the writers have decided if they can’t be as funny as the first 3 seasons, they can make up for it by increasing the sentimentality and humanity of its characters. Jeff revealed a lot about himself in this episode, as did we see Shirley’s vulnerability. I also appreciate Britta and Jeff’s friendship having a moment, by Britta stepping up for him. The episode dared to be dramatic and sentimental and did it well. I'd argue this is one of the most serious Community episodes alongside "Mixology Certification", centering on Troy's 21st birthday and "Critical Film Studies", the My Dinner With Andre spoof episode.
This has been far from a perfect season of Community, but to the new writers’ credit they appear to fully understand the characters, their trajectory going forward as humans and their personalities. For fans who understand Community has layers beneath the jokes, this is a relief. The “darkest timeline” I envisioned for this season wasn’t its comedic legs falling out from under it, but the writers changing and ruining the character arcs carefully built up over the first 3 seasons. This episode shows the new writers and old characters are meshing quite beautifully.