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Community Recap “Paranormal Parentage”

BY Matthew Guerruckey

Published 9 years ago

Getting warmer. Last night’s episode of Community, while still plagued with inconsistent characterizations and pacing issues, was a welcome improvement from the riddle wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a laugh-track premiere episode. “Paranormal Parentage” shakes off the “zombie” tone of “History 101” and delivers the laughs, proving that even if the series isn’t quite the feat of daring that it was before it can still be funny and heartfelt.

Through the unparalleled genius of NBC executives (I plan to mention that monkey doctor show in every review this season), we get a mix-em-up holiday episode, a Halloween ghost story in place of a Valentine’s day romance, and with the bizarre glacial progression of the Britta/Troy coupling, that may be for the best (more on that later). Halloween episodes are a big deal for Community. Their first Halloween show, only a few episodes into the first season, helped to define the random, whacked-out voice of the series, and the zombie-themed “Epidemiology” from Season Two is one of the study group’s best adventures. So there’s a lot of reputation at stake here.

But Halloween is also a chance to dress up and have fun, and to express character through costuming. Troy and Abed dress as Calvin and Hobbes, appropriate as we see just how much Abed’s influence is changing Troy into an aspect of his own closed-off personality. It may also be a shout-out to this inspired piece of fan art by artist Megan Lara:

Image © Megan Lara

Image © Megan Lara

The running gag of Shirley wearing indefinable costumes is dropped for as more straight-ahead Princess Leia suit (because Shirley’s no longer confused about her identity or because the writers forgot that particular trope? You make the call), and Joel McHale gets to show off his granite chest while Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs are clothed in a formless hospital gown and a giant ham, respectively—which is one way you can tell that a lady wrote this episode.

That lady is Megan Ganz who, of all the returning writers, is most saddled with the burden of continuing Dan Harmon’s legacy. While Dan was there she was his self-described “girl Friday”, and she’s gotten writing credit on some of the very best episodes of the series. True to form, there are some great lines here.

The story is straight-forward. As the group prepares to go to Vicki’s Halloween party—which her archenemy Pierce is not invited to—they get the news that Pierce has accidentally locked himself in his panic room (which he built, not coincidentally, on the same day that Do the Right Thing was released). The group, with a complaining Jeff in tow, goes to his mansion to find the code and rescue him. Once there they embark on the old reliable search through a haunted mansion bit, splitting up to find the code as Pierce warms them that the ghost of his dead father may have returned to punish him (and in extension, them). The setup is transparent, and the twist reveal at the end that Pierce’s half-brother Gilbert has been watching over him at night (nothing more terrifying than Gus Fring watching you sleep) is not surprising, but the story really only exists to service the jokes, which is better than the other way around.

The search party pairings, however, do seem obligated by the story the writers wants to tell than who the characters would naturally pair up with. You would expect Troy and Britta to pair off, but placing Britta with Jeff allows her to use what she clearly believes to be super-powered psychoanalytic skills to probe his daddy issues (which have always and will always mirror Pierce’s). It also allows Britta the opportunity to do an amazing “analyze this” dance. Whether it’s because the writers have gradually integrated more of her own goofy personality or because she’s grown more comfortable in the role, Gillian Jacobs has, so far, been the highlight of Season Four.

The writers seem to have lost their grip on Troy, though. He’s paired off with Shirley, which allows her a chance to warn him that Britta, as a “woman of the world” (Shirley code for whore), she may be about the pressure him for a physical relationship he’s not prepared for. Spending so much time with Abed has brought the geek out of Troy, but there still has to be some aspect of the Season One jock who was nailing chicks in the Greendale bathroom. Innocent Troy is fine, but his denial of any sexuality feels false, especially when his attraction to Britta is what led to the coupling. Troy thinking that Pierce’s sex swing is a child’s swing is fine, and it’s funny that he assumes the collars in the sex dungeon are for secret dogs (Glover really sells that line), but Troy not picking up—or blatantly ignoring—Shirley’s subtext is wrong. After all, Troy is seriously into butt-stuff.

Abed and Annie’s plot doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s all just an excuse to get Abed into the security center of the mansion so he can watch TV, which he finds through a bookshelf with a secret passageway (which he refers to as “the greatest moment” of his life, as would any of us). The security camera footage is an homage to the Paranormal Activity series, a current reference that, along with last week’s Hunger Games nod, feels like a studio note put into action.

The episode is a little too safe to be considered a return to the high-wire brilliance of Season Two, but it’s very entertaining, and improves on repeat viewing, which may well hold true of this entire season once it’s removed from the weight of our own expectations.

Season 4, Episode 2
“Paranormal Parentage: A-

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