I’ve always heard it said that we cannot choose our families, and I’ve sometimes wondered if – given the choice – I would choose mine out of everyone else’s. (I really would because they’re amazing.) Jeff Winger, the leader of the Greendale study group, never really had a family to rely on. His dad abandoned him when he was younger, and his mother did the best that she could to raise him. So when he met six misfit students and formed a Spanish study group with them, I don’t believe he ever thought they would become his very definition of family.
Since “Community” was pushed (way) back, we celebrated Thanksgiving in March! As the study group is sitting around their table, lamenting the fact that the majority of them have to spend the holiday with unbearable family members, Shirley invites the group to her home to celebrate with her in-laws. Annie and Troy jump at the opportunity, while Abed decides to join. Jeff declines the offer and Dean Pelton, waltzing into the room, lets it slip that Jeff is having Thanksgiving dinner with his estranged father. Everyone is slack-jawed at the news.
Britta is energetic about the prospect of Jeff meeting with his father and – as the former lawyer additionally reveals – his half-brother, but warns him that a lot of emotions may bubble to the surface during their dinner. Jeff ignores Britta’s warnings. But when he drives to his father’s house and raises a hand to knock on the door, he chickens out and runs away. Britta… well, she took the liberty of actually going to William Winger’s house without Jeff, and the former lawyer begrudgingly turns his car around.
At Shirley’s, the rest of the study group gathers and mingles with their friend’s family members who are eccentric, awkward, and are driving Troy, Abed, Annie, and Pierce slowly crazy. They all agree that the best decision is to leave Shirley’s. When Annie attempts to leave, she ends up being roped back into the house to suffer conversation with the Thanksgiving guests. The group members end up taking turns hiding out in Shirley’s garage, barricaded off from the rest of the Thanksgiving guests. After a while, the group (or, rather, Abed) decides that the only way to save themselves entirely is to break out of garage.
Jeff, interestingly enough, seems to be getting along with his father quite well. He doesn’t connect quite well with his half-brother Willy Jr. (who is VERY emotional), and after William Sr. begins to insinuate to Jeff that the former lawyer is a better person BECAUSE he abandoned him as a child… well, Jeff leaves in disgust. Eventually, he returns, realizing that he needs to tell his father exactly what the absence of a father-figure in his life did to him. It’s then that Jeff reveals how broken he is – how he constantly is texting, with no one on the other end. How he feigned appendicitis as a child so that other kids would actually care and worry about him. How he remembers the seventeen cards those children sent him because he still has them, tucked away under his bed. It’s with this heartbreaking revelation that we, the audience, realize family – to Jeff – is made up of the people you love and care about and you CHOOSE to love and care about. For him? That’s the study group.
The rest of Shirley’s Thanksgiving rapidly declines when she catches Troy, Abed, and Annie attempting to literally make themselves sick in order to leave the dinner. The mother admits that she’s struggling with her family and the holiday, too. The group decides to stay with her and endure the awkward relatives. On Monday in the study room, the group enters to find that Jeff has prepared their table with food and drinks – their own Thanksgiving. Because, he insists, they’re a family.
This episode, to me, was beautiful because it really represented the heart of “Community” – the show is about a group of friends who became a family. Families don’t always agree or enjoy the same things. They bicker and fight from time to time. But the most important characteristic of a family is that they love, and love deeply.
That’s what the Greendale Seven have. And that’s what “Community” has too.