COMMUNITY Review: 4.02 “Paranormal Parentage”

An improvement over last week's episode and more like the COMMUNITY of old.

After last week's polarizing episode, I think we can all agree that "Paranormal Parentage" is at least more in line with the Community of old. While not the funniest episode they've ever done by any measure, the characters seem like themselves again (though I don't buy that Jeff wants to go to a Greendale-centric Halloween party so badly that he'd get angry at Pierce for keeping them from it), and the emotional bits land a lot more smoothly than in "History 401." Not an all-time classic, but a promising sign that things might not be so bad this season.

It's also a contained episode; apart from a quick cameo at the end (a surprise that was spoiled by the ads) and an even quicker appearance from the Dean, only the Greendale Seven appear this week, as the gang takes a detour on their way to Vicki's Halloween party in order to save Pierce, who has trapped himself in his panic room at Hawthorne Manor. He has written the code down in a notebook, but forgets where the notebook is, so everyone pairs off to find it and get the hell out of his hideous mansion. It's another showcase for Community's exceptional art department - you'll have a blast looking at the backgrounds as they make their way through various studies and bedrooms, all adorned with tacky paintings (mostly of Pierce himself) and garish decor. "I too lack the adjectives," Jeff says after Britta's horrified response to yet another ugly room, and a trip to Pierce's previously mentioned "secret gym" only briefly hints at the horrors within. I truly hope they find a reason to go there again this season, because there sure as hell won't be any reason to go in a fifth year if they get it (unless Pierce is actually killed off, then I guess they could go there for a will reading or something). Seems almost wasteful to put in this much effort for a single episode, though there's a lot of that this season (the next episode takes place at an Inspector Spacetime convention, which is equally impressive in that respect).

And even though it pairs everyone off again like last week, the pairings are much better and also rare. I can't even remember the last time Shirley and Troy did anything together, and I think the last time Britta and Jeff had any time to themselves was in the closing (and best) scene of the largely bad "Impressionists" episode (which the writers admitted was a stinker at Communicon last weekend!). Next we have Annie and Abed, though they don't last long as Abed finds a secret door and enters a surveillance room where he can watch Cougar Town, which is all he wanted to do in the first place. Their scenes are the weakest of the lot; I like that Annie tries to keep herself from being scared by pointing out that she doesn't watch horror movies and thus wouldn't appreciate the homage (she thinks it's Abed trying to spook her), but Abed sitting in a room watching everything is a bit too on the nose, and then Annie just joins up with Shirley and Troy, which limits the potential there as she is motherly trying to protect him from both Britta's influence and from understanding how Pierce's "indoor swing" works.

That leaves Jeff and Britta, the latter scoring the best bits as she tries to analyze Pierce and then Jeff once she realizes that both of them suffer from the same daddy issues, and gets even more excited when Jeff reveals that for the past three weeks he has had, but never felt compelled to call, his long-lost father William. Advanced casting reports and such have already spoiled that we do indeed meet Jeff's dad soon, but the story still has a nice little coda in this episode, and in a way it sort of works as a sequel to "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" (also written by Megan Ganz) since that's where the dad stuff (and Pierce's role in it) really came to light. Plus, Gillian Jacobs has to spout lots and lots of dialogue while dressed as a ham, and makes it look easy - yet another reason to enjoy the episode.

Plus, it's just kind of cute. There's a clear Scooby-Doo influence with all of the hijinks (spoiler: it's not a ghost), and even though they don't get to spend much time as a group, you can really feel the love between them all (though the episode overdoses on "Awwww"s and call-backs). There aren't a lot of big laughs, but I was chuckling quite often and grinning for the rest, at times even forgetting that there was anything to worry about in the first place. Even Chevy gets some good material here, both in his first scene ("I came down for some red w- uh, water...") and at the end when the "villain" is revealed (I also love that he gets back at the group instead of Vicki - who was the one who didn't invite him to her party - because "I hate her"). Donald Glover gets to panic not once but twice (always comic gold), and I don't care how many times I saw it on the ads, I was STILL impressed by Alison Brie's Samara (or Sadako) impression. The best thing the show has got going for it going forward is the talents of the cast and their chemistry, so any episode that plays up those strengths can be considered a winner in my book.

In short: certainly not deserving of the show's all time lowest rating. I suspect the scheduling was a big hurdle; while they admirably tried to play up the "Only on Community would they celebrate Halloween on Valentine's Day!" thing in the ads (yes - the ads! They're actually promoting the show this season!), in the end it might have just confused folks into thinking that the characters were dressing up for February 14th gathering. Not everyone understands that TV shows are shot months ago even when they air normally - it's even worse when they're airing three or four months late. That in addition to the reaction to last week's (which again, I kind of liked, but this was better for sure) were to blame for the low ratings, and now I'm getting a bit worried since next week's is more like the premiere (and yet another "pair off" episode), and the following week is the actual second episode for the season, production wise, which makes me wonder if they're trying to hide it for some reason. With The Office and 30 Rock gone and Up All Night imploding, Community actually has a decent shot at a fifth season simply because NBC is sort of backed into a corner, but if the ratings sink even lower then they're more likely to air Office reruns. Hopefully not. I know a lot of folks have sworn it off forever after last week, but I remain optimistic!

Now, someone on the Paramount lot find me that big portrait of Chevy (the one that was behind Jeff when he pulled out the phone number)! I need it for my wall!