“TV’s the best dad there is. TV never came home drunk. TV never forgot me at the zoo. TV never abused and insulted me… unless you count Cop Rock.”Solemn words delivered by disgraced lawyer Jeff Winger to new pal Abed Nadir over a bowl of sugar cereal on the latter’s dorm room couch. It was this remark, in Community‘s first season episode “Home Economics” (man, the titles were simple back then!) that first introduced viewers to Jeff’s troubled relationship with his father. Over time, we grew to learn a lot about the man who abandoned Jeff and his mother Doreen many years ago. And now, we’re finally coming to meet the bastard: Community has cast James Brolin to play William Winger for a Thanksgiving-themed Season 4 ep.
But let’s backtrack for a second; for even though we have never even seen a picture of, heard a word from, or gotten more than an odd piece of information about the senior Winger, we know how heavy a weight he has placed on his emotionally tormented son. In Season 2’s “Accounting for Lawyers,” Jeff lamented the divorce that left him a fatherless boy (but ironically instilled in him the desire to be an attorney). Later on in the second season, Jeff’s portrayer Joel McHale gave arguably his greatest performance in the series’ run when he was faced with the possibility of reuniting with his dad — the ordinarily wry, apathetic Jeff crumbled into a scrap heap of anxiety and insecurity, torrentially disturbed by the idea of seeing the man who abandoned him once again (the whole thing turned out to be an act of trickery devised by Jeff’s “friend” Pierce in an ill-conceived attempt to teach the young man a lesson).
Season 3, which delved even deeper into the psyches of its characters than its predecessors, turned up the spotlight on Jeff’s Oedipal derision of his father. In an act of misdirected vengeance, Jeff lashed out at Pierce’s oppressive dad in “Advanced Gay,” inadvertently giving the old man a fatal heart attack. An intoxicated Jeff wept openly during an intended wedding speech for his friend Shirley in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts,” crying out about his own father’s inability to stay committed to his mom.
And finally, the third season finale, which concluded with a montage inviting open-ended conclusions to each of the main characters’ stories (as those behind the show were at the time unaware of whether or not it would find a fourth season). Among the images is one of Jeff opening his laptop and seeking out any information he might find on his dad — the first step Jeff had ever taken toward reconnecting with the man.
And here he is, at long last. The masterful James Brolin will take the role of William Winger in Season 4, granting McHale’s character what could be the final chapter of his development. As the series is in new hands now, we’re not quite sure what the intention is in the introduction of William. Hopefully, the episode will be delivered with the same kind of gravity we saw in the aforementioned installments. Jeff’s father’s absence is one of the most important components of the character, if not the most important. The reintroduction of this man into his life is bound to be the most significant turn of events we’ll have seen Jeff endure so far.
So what should Jeff take away from this? The end of Season 3 saw him come to the realization that he is happy where he is — he no longer needs the glitz, glamour, and ego-injections that came with his lawyerly life. What he has at Greendale Community College is more important. This realization led him to swallow his pride, own up to his fears, and seek out his dad. In honesty, the greatest accomplishment that can come from this union is Jeff earning a new realization: that he doesn’t need to hate his dad any longer. The man abandoned him in youth, instilling a mass of rage and contempt in him. But now, Jeff has come to a place beyond the hate, the superficiality, the insecurity, and the sorrow that followed him through adulthood. Jeff is now genuinely happy, and surrounded by people he genuinely loves. Finally, Jeff is at a place where he has something to fall back on if he does let go of the hate that has built and defined him. He has Greendale. He has Annie, Pierce, Shirley, Abed, Troy, and (perhaps most of all) Britta. He finally has someone who he himself can be. And so, he doesn’t need William Winger. To love, to miss, to fear, or to hate.
[Photo Credit: NBC]