TV Review: Community S4E02 – Paranormal Parentage
Note: This review contains significant spoilers and is meant to be read after viewing the episode.
In classic Community style they’ve turned expectations on their head and given us a Halloween episode on Valentine’s Day. Sure, it was in large part due to the show’s four month postponement, but I can’t imagine the specific timing was a coincidence. Halloween episodes have been a strong suit of the show from the beginning, and this one does not disappoint. While certainly not surpassing the excellence of season two’s “Epidemiology”, “Paranormal Parentage” compares favorably to the other Halloween offerings Community has put out. The costumes are as great as ever, with Jeff, bare-chested as usual, as a boxer (though as we’ll see, there’s more to it than vanity this time around), Shirely as Princess Leia and Annie dressed as the “Ring Girl” and giving us the creepiest moment of the episode as she makes her appearance. Britta’s costume is, of course, as unsexy as possible and is summed up perfectly by my fiancée’s rhetorical question, “Why is Britta dressed like a ham?” Exactly. Somehow Gillian Jacobs manages to make being a ham as adorable as her Squirrel costume ever was. Abed and Troy are Calvin and Hobbes, which couldn’t be more apt, though at first I thought Abed was a strangely-haired Freddie Krueger to Troy’s Tigger. Jim Rash as Dean Pelton (sadly absent from most of the episode) shows up as an actual “Ring Girl”, replete with blonde wig, sparkly short-shorts and a “Round 1” sign to save the day after Jeff and Annie’s miscommunication about their costumes. Is this sign of the chemistry been Jeff and the Dean or simply more evidence of Dean Pelton’s obsessive pursuit of Jeff? We’re left to wonder, as this serves as the catalyst that convinces Jeff to head to Hawthorne Manor.
The general plot outline is simple, but effective. The episode opens in the study room with the group discussing Vicky’s Halloween party. Absent is Pierce, who has not been invited given their history (read: pencil feud). That quickly changes after Troy gets a call from Pierce, with a sob story about trapping himself in his panic room. Jeff doesn’t believe it for a minute, and the rest of the group doesn’t seem to either, but nonetheless, feel it their duty to go to Pierce’s rescue, if only from his own loneliness. The viewer is never given much reason for believing that Pierce is being sincere, even when he tells the others that he’s seen the ghost of his deceased father, Cornelius Hawthorne, the ivory-haired phrenology enthusiast. There is some mystery over what is actually going on in the Hawrthorne Manor and a series of dark figures looming in the background, but the writer’s never really try to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes. Soon enough we discover what we already knew: that Pierce had concocted the whole thing to get the group to spend time with him rather than go to a party he wasn’t invited to. Except, we learn, that Pierce knows nothing about Abed’s discovery of a shadowy figure who has been watching him sleep. It was a classic moment of the antagonist copping to being behind everything save one important detail, of which he knows nothing, and while certainly not a surprising development, it was one I enjoyed. However, I was a bit disappointed when we learn that the shadow was simply a lonely Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito), who, after coming to look in on Pierce, had been living in the mansion for six weeks. I have no idea who or what I was hoping would come through the door, but I wanted to be surprised and this episode provided almost no startling moments. The most glaring flaw was that the whole episode felt a little too safe and predictable.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the return of Pierce’s modus operandi when feeling abandoned by the group: to force them (someway, anyway) to acknowledge him. But, humans are nothing if not creatures of habit and it was a believable premise. While his motives and actions may have been clichéd, the plot device worked well enough as a vehicle for some great jokes, much appreciated continuity and enjoyable chemistry and interactions between the characters. Despite my complaints about Gilbert’s appearance, he is one of my favorite secondary characters and it was nice to see the further development of his and Pierce’s relationship.
The story arcs unfold slowly, but we’re given more clues to where the season is heading. Annie and Jeff’s relationship is still an uncertainty, hinted at only subtly except for Britta’s quip about leaving couples costumes to the couples. We also get some insight as to Troy and Britta’s troubles: they seem to be having some difficulty connecting. Yet, despite any difficulties that may be surfacing, their relationship has a genuineness that is rare to see on TV. This is in large part, I believe, because of how Donald Glover has portrayed Troy for at least the latter half of the shows run: vulnerable, naïve, and at times aggressively defensive, but ultimately with an honesty and earnestness that has turned him into perhaps the most likeable character on television. But it’s Britta who is making the effort here, suggesting they watch Inspector Spacetime together rather than head to the Halloween party.
The biggest development comes with Jeff’s daddy issues. First, we get Jeff’s unintentional admission to Britta of how much his father’s abandonment had affected him and the implication that he is still struggling to move past it. Then, in the penultimate scene it is revealed that Jeff’s boxing gloves were actually his father’s and that this costume has more meaning than anyone suspected, especially when coupled with the fact that Jeff has had his father’s phone number for three weeks, but has yet to call him. The scene ends with Jeff dialing his father’s number and waiting as the phone rings and the screen fades to black.
All in all a solid and funny episode that recovered well a rather weak season premiere. It certainly didn’t blaze new ground, but perhaps there is still hope that this season still has a few surprises left for us.
Not being a big horror movie aficionado, I’m sure I missed a bunch of references that would’ve made the episode even better.
The map was a great touch, and though I’m not sure where it was taken from, it reminded me of Resident Evil 4.
Annie’s “I hate reference humor” and Abed’s “I remember when this show was about a Community College” were both wonderfully self-deprecating jabs by the writers.
Pierce reversing Chang’s line from the season three finale: “Ghost’s can’t go through doors, stupid, they’re not fire”, while not as great as the original, was good for a laugh.
It’s a shame that we’re two episodes into the season and we’ve only had a few seconds of Ken Jeong, but I have a feeling he’ll be bursting onto the scene soon.