Community season 4 episode 2 review: Paranormal Parentage

Review Emma Matthews
17 Feb 2013 - 18:00

It's an out-of-season Halloween episode from Community this week, but how does it measure up to previous outings?

This review contains spoilers.

4.1 Paranormal Parentage

Our second foray into the Harmon-less wilds of Greendale turned up the now traditionally un-traditional Halloween Special. Yup. Halloween. Thanks to the much-delayed series start, in the Community-verse, it’s still October 2012; which is surely the only downfall of planning your show around an actual calendar – Networks are no respecter of format...

Anyhoo, the becostumed gang are drawn into Pierce’s specifically designed haunted house, to track down a racist ghost, bond, and generally reveal things about Pierce that no one ever needed to know, in true Community style... Well, almost. Whether it’s the jolt of watching a brand new Halloween episode in February, or the costumed reminder that the show’s uphill battle with NBC is a losing one, but Paranormal Parentage was a rather subdued affair.

Generally the Halloween episodes are joyous, completely removed from the rest of the series, and an excuse for the writing team to crank the homage-o-meter way the hell up to eleven. And while this year’s spooky celebration had plenty of homages, they were presented – and treated – in a very different way. Rather than the usual peppering of references and in-jokes that you either get or you don’t, this year, they were generic, mostly highlighted and often bookended by negative reactions from the group – “I hate reference humour” or “I cannot appreciate the reference.” Which at times left the episode feeling not quite so much the joyous affair, and more like hand-wringing self-loathing.

That isn’t to say that episode didn’t have some great comedy moments – it is still Community-ish after all. As the gang make their way around Pierce’s maid-free home, much of the decor is in the laugh-even-though-your-eyes-are-burning style, and the adventure produced an early contender for Jeff’s best line of the series, the immortal “It looks like David Lee Roth threw up Miami Vice.” Similarly, Troy’s too-innocent-to-survive reaction to stumbling across Pierce’s S&M dungeon, followed by the hilarious conversation about Britta’s alleged ‘appetites’ and his success – or not – at satisfying them was fantastic. Somehow, despite the subdued feeling elsewhere, Donald Glover somehow manages to completely step outside of it and turn in a performance that proves he was right to leave 30 Rock – funny, totally believable and always the right side of ridiculous. If only we could say the same of Chevy Chase.  Much of the comedy though, came from what could very well be described as traditional sitcom setups and lead-ins, and while amusing, it’s precisely the sort of comedy that is not Abed’s forte; his relegation to the surveillance room was unlikely to be a coincidence.

The same could also be said of talking up the Britta/Troy relationship, the lack of Leonard et al and the reappearance of the Jeff/Absent father storyline – all plot points that could be read as a more traditional interpretation of the show that is Community. Given the very Harmon-esque Muppet Babies animation included in last week’s season opener, the veering to the comedic right of this episode is all the starker, and it’s starting to look as though the pressure may be well be making the writing team ever so slightly schizophrenic. Not that we can blame them, but if you need proof, see the show’s least trad character – Abed – utter the most ominous words of the episode: “I remember when this show used to be about a Community College.”

There is a chance of course that we’re complete and utterly spoiled where Community is concerned, and that sooner or later some sort of evolution was inevitable. In TV lore, character and format progression are what keeps a show alive, and while that lore is questionable - Seinfeld after all was a show about nothing in which none of the characters really progressed at all, and was one of the biggest sitcoms of all time - it is the reality in which Community operates. And change isn’t always bad – even a more a trad Community is still going to kick the ass of any comedy currently airing. Hell, any show that has Winger make one of the most important phone calls of his life without any trousers on is worth a watch; any show that faithfully reproduces Chevy Chase’s coke-fuelled, egomaniacal eighties mansion clearly has something to blackmail Chevy Chase with, and that has got to be worth celebrating. And the biggest upshot of the slightly reworked Community? Britta is suddenly far more likeable now that she’s less... Britta. Make of that what you will. For now, let’s see what the next class brings...

Read Emma's review of the previous episode, History 101, here.

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