Feb 15, 2013

Community: "Paranormal Parentage"

By Nico Danilovich

Happy Halloween, fellow Greendale enthusiasts! Thanks to the significant delay of October 19th this year, we got to spend this Valentine’s Day celebrating Halloween with our favorite study group. Unfortunately, this episode was a little less like Season 2’s hilarious “Epidemiology” and a little more like Season 3’s fairly forgettable “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”.  That’s not to say that the episode was bad, just fairly average. There were interesting storylines specific to individual characters and a good amount of funny jokes, but the overall plot was definitely lacking Community’s usual flair.

My main gripe with this episode is that the central plot felt like it was ripped straight out of a book of classic sitcom storylines. The plot has definitely been used in other shows before (quite recently, Adventure Time) and didn’t feel unique to Community at all. The main cast of characters went to a haunted house and split up into pairs to explore it. They talked about their feelings, got a little spooked and, in the end, all the spookiness was revealed to be part of a prank. BUT WAIT, what about the one scary thing that the orchestrator of the prank wasn’t behind?! Uh oh! Must be something legitimately paranormal! Oh wait… it’s just INSERT RANDOM CHARACTER HERE (in this case it was Gilbert, Pierce’s illegitimate half brother). Very clever Community! Except… not very much at all. That old trick, like the rest of this plot, has been used many times before. The problem is, unlike the episodes where Community is at its finest, there was no original take on this worn out plotline. And how about Troy inexplicably telling Annie that he felt like she was easy to talk to? Such an unmotivated setup for a cheap and hardly believable haunted house themed joke was very beneath the usual standard of Community humor. All of this resulted in an overall plotline that felt very stale. And for a show like Community (a show known for breaking tradition and pushing the envelope), that’s not a very good thing at all. If someone wanted to make the case that Community is going to suffer this season because of the lack of Dan Harmon, the overarching plot of this episode would probably be a good example to use.

The most interesting part of this episode, on the other hand, was the further development of Troy and Britta’s relationship. Troy’s attempt to appease everyone with the correct usage of “things” was definitely the best part of the cold opening (however, the Dean’s ring girl costume did come in a close second). Later on, Shirley’s concern about the newfound relationship brought up an interesting issue. Compared to Troy, Britta is streets ahead in terms of mental maturity and sexual experience. It was definitely entertaining to watch Troy freak out about this and it provided us with some good laughs. Eventually, Britta unknowingly reassured him that it wasn’t going to be a problem anytime soon and the couple got another happy ending. Seeing as this is the second fairly convenient happy ending the couple has gotten this season, my guess is that they’re probably destined to work out. Maybe they’ll even fall in love and get married! Wedding finale, anyone?

I was also glad to see that more importance was placed on Shirley and Pierce in this episode. Shirley once again partnered up with another character (Troy) for the purpose of revealing something about that other character. However, this time, her inclusion seemed a lot more warranted. It makes sense for her character to be concerned about Britta potentially shattering Troy’s innocence. And the dynamic between the wise and wholesome Shirley and the child-like Troy worked great for the secret sex room bit. Pierce, on the other hand, actually received a full-blown storyline this time around. Imagine that! After attempting to teach his “friends” a lesson, Pierce ultimately revealed how lonely he had become since his father’s death and was then able to find comfort in the reappearance of his illegitimate half brother, Gilbert. It was unfortunate that his storyline had to be placed within the frame of such an uninspired overarching plot, but the fact that we got a Pierce-centric storyline at all is still something to be happy about.

This episode also provided Jeff with a particularly important stepping stone in his character’s development. At first, the way that Jeff was acting in this episode seemed to me like sloppy writing. In the past two episodes especially, a focus on Jeff’s transformation from a selfish jerk to a good friend has been fairly prominent. However, in this episode, he was a straight-up jerk. He may have been right about Pierce, but he was definitely a huge jerk about being right. He also seemed to constantly criticize and belittle the other members of the study group. For a while, I thought he had simply and inexplicably reverted back to a Season 2 version of Jeff, but eventually we found out that Jeff had recently been dealing with some daddy issues. Although he would have liked Dr. Britta to believe otherwise, his discovery of his dad’s phone number and the dilemma of whether or not to contact his dad had been weighing on Jeff’s psyche as of late. Presumably because of this, Jeff took his frustrations out on everyone around him, especially Pierce. And despite the fact that Jeff dismissed Britta during her attempts to get him to open up, Jeff did end the episode by picking up the phone to contact his dad. Hopefully the writers will allow Jeff to further explore that aspect of his character in the near future and provide a strong conclusion to that part of his life by the series’ end.

Meanwhile, Annie and Abed both took a bit of backseat in this episode, but were still present enough to make me chuckle from time to time. Most notable were Annie’s declaration that she did not watch scary movies and thus could not understand any potential references that Abed might make and Abed’s natural obsession with a security room full of live broadcasting TVs. Britta, in a storyline unrelated to Troy, also provided a number of laughs through her further attempts to act as a study group therapist.

As I said before, the overarching plot of this episode was basically a huge let down. Community is and always will be remembered for its greatest episodes, such as “Remedial Chaos Theory”, “Paradigms of Human Memory” and “Critical Film Studies”.  What these episodes all have in common is that they employ unique spins on storytelling that you won’t see elsewhere in sitcoms. So when you get an episode of Community like “Paranormal Parentage”, where the overarching plot is cliché and lacks any unique spin, it’s hard not to be disappointed. Despite this letdown, the writing, in terms of dialogue and character, was still pretty solid and the humor was there. Overall, this episode was just average, which is something Community simply can’t afford to be with so few episodes left in its lifespan.  Hopefully next week’s Dr. Who inspired episode will raise the bar back to the level of excellence we all have come to expect from Community.

Grade: C

Nico Danilovich is a television enthusiast and amateur filmmaker. His work can be seen at www.youtube.com/lazyneighbors

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