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Community Review: "Paranormal Parentage" (Episode 4.02)

February 15, 2013  |  1:23pm
<em>Community</em> Review: "Paranormal Parentage" (Episode 4.02)

Comedy is so subjective that it’s difficult to define why exactly something works or doesn’t work—either you like it or you don’t, and frequently there’s no way of explaining why. Unfortunately, the humor of “Paranormal Parentage” misfired horribly to me, making the rest of the episode to a certain extent window dressing. It was just one joke after another that seemed predictable or lazy, which was particularly disappointing given that this was a Halloween episode and some of Community’s best episodes in the past have been Halloween or other holiday-based. While last week we had a case of rote Community, an episode that felt it didn’t have new ideas for stories, this episode had a much worse problem: it felt like the show had no new ideas for jokes.

Its premise, visiting Pierce’s mansion only to find that it may be haunted, wasn’t the problem. It actually seems ripe for Community, as turning the study group into a Scooby Doo-style gang of mystery solvers is the type of thing the show has traditionally been good at. And the group does split into pairings to wander around and have various hauntings, but none of these feel particularly inspired. Before the end of the episode, it’s confirmed that Pierce was actually the culprit haunting the house and, in a twist it’s impossible not to see from a mile away, Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito) was also there haunting, in a sense, him.

Perhaps it’s the missing element of surprise that made “Paranormal Parentage” feel so lame. We knew that there would be pop-culture spoofing, since that’s the part of Community’s DNA that its new showrunners seem most obsessed with, and once it’s clear what the spoof is it’s easy to fill in the rest of the story. There’s no twist from there, it’s just by-the-numbers Scooby Doo or Clue or whatever else you’d like that follows that formula. Unlike, say, My Dinner with Andre, it’s also a spoof that’s been done to death elsewhere, to the point that Clue and Murder By Death were released decades ago. The storyline is rote, meaning that humor surrounding it falls limp.

That leaves us with character-based humor. Unfortunately, the cast seems stuck in the same place they were last season (or even season two), and it feels like we’ve already seen most of these discussions before. Britta is trying to diagnose everyone (particularly Jeff), and Jeff is still trying to deal with his daddy issues, etc. And Pierce, who was frequently the wildcard in previous seasons, was literally cordoned off from the rest of the cast for most of the episode. When he wasn’t, though, it was just to reveal that he’s still bitter about being left out from the rest of the group. We know these stories before because, with the exception of Britta and Troy’s relationship (and isn’t it odd how they weren’t paired off together?), we’ve seen them before. They were little more unexpected than the spoof.

No show can be unpredictable all the time, and as you learn what the rules of a show are, it becomes less fresh. But as with last week’s episode, Community’s ambition seemed to be maintaining a standard rather than doing something new. When perfectly executed like the season’s premiere, that’s acceptable. This time, when that wasn’t the case, the result was disappointing, bordering on dreadful. It may not have been the worst episode of Community that’s ever aired, but it definitely felt hollow.

Stray observations:
•”Calling for help, a classic call for help.”
•”I, too, like the adjectives.”
•Abed’s Calvin mostly just reminded me of Freddy Krueger.
•So it’s no longer Cougarton Abbey, now it’s back to weirdly out-of-date Cougar Town references?
•I’m guessing the reason why Britta was a ham was just because it’s funny to watch her run as a ham? No To Kill a Mockingbird references that I caught, at least.
•Babysitting defined perfectly: “Paying a teenager by the hour to care about my children.”
•On this plus side, it’s always nice to see more of Giancarlo Esposito. I miss Gus.

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