Community S4 E02 – “Paranormal Parentage”

Community‘s Halloween episodes have always been some of my favourites. When I first watched the show, it was around “Introduction to Statistics” with Batman Abed that I began to fall in love. Since then, from zombie epic “Epidemiology” to the clip show of horror movie send-ups that was “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps,” Halloween has been an excuse for Community  to fully embrace the ridiculousness that makes the show so unique.

So perhaps my expectations for “Paranormal Parentage” were a little high, and perhaps that’s why I find myself disappointed.

The group's costumes, at least, make enjoyable sight gags.

The group’s costumes, at least, make enjoyable sight gags. Britta the ham, Shirley as Princess Leia, Jeff and Annie as a boxer and his “ring girl,” and Abed and Troy as Calvin and Hobbes.

“Paranormal Parentage” takes the study group to Pierce’s mansion to release him from the panic room he’s locked himself into. Pierce tells the group he’s forgotten the code to the door and that it can be found in a red notebook somewhere in the house, then reluctantly admits that he’s in the panic room because he thinks he saw his father’s ghost.

The group splits into pairs — Jeff with Britta, Annie with Abed, and Shirley with Troy — as they explore Pierce’s creepy 80s mansion. Annie quickly loses track of Abed when he discovers a room full of televisions behind a bookcase in Pierce’s study. Shirley and Troy discover Pierce’s “indoor swing room,” and Troy’s naivete prompts Shirley to express concern that Troy may not be able to keep up with a “modern woman” like Britta. Meanwhile Britta, ever the self-appointed therapist, tries to use Pierce’s unresolved daddy issues to encourage Jeff to talk about his feelings towards his own father, and learns that Jeff looked up his father’s phone number three weeks ago.

From there, the episode quickly descends into a riff on haunted house movies. Each pair receives a scare of some sort, culminating in the entire study group ending up in Pierce’s panic room where the ghostly happenings are explained, one by one, Scooby Doo style. (It was even the butler who did it — well, sort of.)

So why, exactly, did this episode leave me cold? The pieces are there. It’s a classic horror movie scenario, with a Community twist. It was written by Megan Ganz, who has written some of its best episodes, including season three’s “Basic Lupin Urology.” There are multiple emotional angles — Pierce and his family, Troy and Britta, Jeff and his father — to give the episode some heart. After four years, it’s particularly shocking to watch Jeff Winger call his father, and maybe even more shocking to learn the boxing gloves he’s worn all episode are his father’s, too.

It’s the humour, in the end, that prevents this episode from being as good as it might have been. Though some jokes are funny — Troy yelping “secret dogs?!” in response to Pierce’s collection of collars was my personal favourite — many fell flat, or simply felt a bit too easy. The classic miscommunication scene where Annie tries to warn Troy of danger behind him is awkward and goes on too long. Britta’s characteristic lame humour fails to be even ironically funny. Abed, perhaps in response to the heavy reliance on “Abed TV” in the previous episode, seems benched for most of “Paranormal Parentage,” and even his “I remember when this show was about a community college” line feels unearned.

As an episode of Community, “Paranormal Parentage” is simply mediocre, and joins the ranks of episodes which shoot for a concept and don’t quite stick the landing. As the Halloween episode, though, it feels just a little bit emptier.

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