Community "Paranormal Parentage" Review: The Haunting

By Cory Barker

Feb 15, 2013

Community S04E02: "Paranormal Parentage

Because reviewing any early Season 4 episode of Community requires one to spend at least a few sentences describing their feelings on the show post-Harmon, let me just get this out there: Yes, it’s a real, big bummer that Community creator Dan Harmon is no longer employed as the showrunner of the NBC sitcom. And yes, the show is going to miss him and might not ever remotely reach the insane, yet moving heights we saw in Seasons 2 and 3 (but mostly Season 2; no shots fired, but Season 3 was kind of a mess). But you know what? I love these characters and I love these actors and I can imagine a world where they make a good version of the show happen, so I’m just going to let this play out. It might all suck (though it’s hard to imagine anything being worse than Troy and Britta in the fountain again because oh my spirits was that dreadful), but it might not.

And this week’s episode, scripted by fan favorite and Team Harmon holdover/survivor Megan Ganz (who did just leave the show but only after Season 4 was complete), suggests exactly that. Community still has some life left, especially when it concentrates on the characters’ fundamental fears and hang-ups instead of shouting and half-baked meta-baiting. “Paranormal Parentage” wasn’t as innovative as the show's last two Halloween episodes, but it was mostly on a par with the Season 1’s “Introduction to Statistics.” Though it was fairly simple, it was effective, and led the way for the show moving forward. Meaning, the new showrunners don’t have any business trying to match Harmon’s creativity, but something they can do is go easy on the gimmicks and tell warm, maybe slightly softened stories about who these characters are as they approach graduation. And even though this is all happening by accident, moving back toward a Season 1 vibe feels like the perfect way to wrap up their time at Greendale. It sort of mirrors college in that way: You start slow, go HAM for a couple of years, and then (hopefully) realize it’s time grow up.

“Paranormal Parentage” moved a few characters toward big realizations, even if some of the beats were slightly repetitive. The haunted Hawthorne mansion setup provided a few random gags that worked (the sex room; the scene that's appeared in several show promos with Abed making reference to how Community "used to be about a community college”), but it mostly served to tell a nice little story about Jeff and Pierce’s respective daddy issues. While at the end of last season, Pierce kinda-sorta moved past his problems and Jeff mustered up the courage to Google his con-man father (and apparently Jeff referring to him as a terrible con-man was accurate, if he was easy to find on Google), those momentous events only temporarily solved their problems.

Without his father—or Troy, for that matter—hanging around, Pierce’s mansion has gone to hell and he kind of has, too. He set up the haunted house gambit solely to bring the study group to his home, and even when Jeff called him on it before the performance even began, the group got suckered in. It was kind of like the sadder, kinder version of the bequeathing Pierce performed in “Introduction to Documentary Filmmmaking,” and I think it served this version of the character better. The group has moved past its real hatred for Pierce; now they just feel bad for him. It’s not vitriolic pity, they’re just sad.

But it turns out Pierce isn’t the only sad-sack in his family. As the end of the episode revealed, Giancarlo Esposito’s Gilbert, Pierce’s half-brother, has been even more aimless since learning that he'd been left in charge of the Hawthorne estate when Daddy Cornelius died. He has no one to serve, nothing to really worry about—except himself, and that’s what makes him sad. He and Pierce have nothing in common other than that they’re alone, but for one middle-aged dweeb and one racist senior citizen, that’s probably enough to start a real bond. I know Pierce is easy to hate (and Chevy Chase is really easy to hate, but it’s nice to have the show ask us to feel something other than disgust or pure pity for the character. All Pierce ever wanted is a friend. Maybe Gilbert can be that friend. Chevy’s pretty good at making the character just sympathetic enough, and that was on display in this episode.

The strongest part of "Paranormal Parentage," however, involved Jeff and his daddy issues. Yet again, Britta’s terrible armchair psychology worked its backwards magic, pushing Jeff to talk about how all he ever wanted to do was move on from his dad and getting him to acknowledge that he'd found his father’s phone number online and had been carrying it around, even in his Halloween costume. Joel McHale nicely mixed Jeff’s resistance to Britta’s unprofessional and unsolicited advice with his vulnerability once he realized (for like the hundredth time) that he didn’t want to end up like Pierce, angry and alone.

Though we didn't get a big pronouncement about it, this was a major development for Jeff. He’s been outwardly in denial about his father for years, but acknowledging his search to someone else—and if you want to read something important into the fact that Britta knows first, go ahead—signals that New Jeff is actually a real thing. He’s still a selfish prick, but he knows he doesn’t always have to keep the guard up with the study group. He still didn’t tell everyone about having his father’s number, nor did he say anything about the boxing gloves belonging to his father, but this is still Jeff Winger, after all.

And now he’s made that phone call. Choosing Greendale in last season’s finale helped Jeff accept himself and his circumstances; reconnecting with his father, in any fashion, will only help him further. The journey toward Not Pierce is on.

“Paranormal Parentage” didn't light the world on fire, but it was a stabilizing, promising episode for this new season of Community. Though I’ve heard some questionable things about next week’s Inspector Spacetime-centric episode (pro tip: Don’t workshop ideas at Comic-Con, writers), I think this one served up a good model for the show from here on out. These are likable characters who we all have rooting interest in. Getting them to graduation, ready for the world, is a worthwhile story to tell, and one that doesn’t need all the pop-culture riffs or yelling. More like this, please.


– To further the “Season 1 redux” point, it’s worth noting that this episode focused almost entirely on Jeff, Pierce, and Britta. Oh, and Troy is just not in a good place right now. The writers are struggling to: 1.) Find traction between him and Britta, and 2.) Remember that he’s not a full-blown imbecile. We're getting girly sneeze Troy. Don’t do that anymore, show. Donald Glover’s still doin’ work though; his line delivery in the moment Troy broke the remote was great.

– Shirley’s judgment of Britta seemed somewhat out of place, but also not. She acted that way in “Remedial Chaos Theory” as well, and I understand her desire to protect Troy.

– No Chang and very little Dean this week, which makes sense, but was a little disappointing. The show has the tendency to introduce these big Chang stories early on and then just completely lose the thread. I'm hoping that doesn’t happen again.

– Whose costume was your favorite?

– Annie and Jeff are certainly in a different place now, aren’t they? They’re texting about matching Halloween costumes? Shipper hearts be a-flutterin’ this Valentine’s Day.

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  • nadiakotyakov Feb 19, 2013

    Can't believe this show went from being my favourite to something I waist my time on again. Sad :(

  • Kumaguro Feb 18, 2013

    The irony of me finding this page is that I found it earlier when I went looking for Abed's costume (since I didn't get it. Troy looked like Tony the Tiger and Abed did not resemble a Cereal Mascot) I'm glad the review reflects my sentiments on the episode as well.

  • gilbz Mar 04, 2013

    i'm a big Calvin and Hobbes fan, so I'm happy i recognized them right away!

  • keithsharp58 Feb 18, 2013

    I think my biggest problem with the show now is just how drastically the humour has changed. It's not smart anymore. It's really dumbed down. That sex swing thing was funny but also felt like something you'd expect from a show like Two and a Half Men not Community. I know that watching Community 2.0, you have to prepare yourself for a change. It's never going to be as good and that's okay but I just wish it was an smarter show.

  • nadiakotyakov Feb 19, 2013

    I totally agree with you. Crazy drastic change in humour.

  • rasa_radz Feb 18, 2013

    Judging by the promo pictures, I thought Troy would be Tigger and Abed would be Warhol. This makes much more sense for them, but I think Abed as Warhol would've been a fitting costume for the character.

  • Anonymous_A Feb 17, 2013

    I think that Shirley felt the need to protect Troy because he's so innocent and in way, naive of the adult ways of the world. And since Troy is so child-like in a lot of ways, she has a maternal instinct to take care of him.

  • JT_Kirk Feb 17, 2013

    I didn't care for this episode that much, it was very gimmicky and barely had a personality. These characters didn't feel true to who they were, they felt like a shallow reflection. Even the choices of costumes didn't resonate well (although Jeff's at least had a reason by the end). There was a lot of beats put in like a checklist of Community requirements, but very little of them served the heart of the episode. Pierce's house also felt completely wrong, it just stank of bad set ideas rather than something cohesive considering his background. And that Cougar Town reference was a huge miss, that was outright clumsy.

    All that said, this wasn't the faceplant that was the season premiere, there wasn't a huge groan-inducing moment between any of the characters, the Dean reeled it back some, and it didn't swing for the fences - instead happy to play with a Scooby Doo idea. Some was funny on its own, some wasn't, and some just felt forced... Gilbert.

    Jeez is the dean in great shape though, it's almost distracting at this point.

    Good point on Troy being way off mark, all are apt, his figuring out the significance of the panic room being built the day "Do the Right Thing" came out and his disappointment in that was good work.

    Shirley is stuck in the "Velma" role, nobody really to talk to, nothing to do, and it shows badly.

    No Chang is fine, they overplayed that hand last year, I liked it better when he was a weird Spanish teacher (and actually knew Spanish).

    Every costume sucked IMO, but Shirley's was accurate and recognizable.

  • bkto Feb 16, 2013

    i am still confused why we had a halloweed episode in february.. ?

  • janet444 Feb 16, 2013

    Because they were supposed to start airing in October. By the time NBC had pushed them to February, that episode had already been made.

  • bkto Feb 17, 2013

    ah, this of course makes perfect sense, thanks :)

  • DavidJackson8 Feb 16, 2013

    <-------- My little avatar to the left here should tell people what my favorite costume was. Calvin and Hobbes is ALWAYS welcome, even in a less-than-stellar episode like this. Annie's ring girl was pretty great too.

    While this episode was better than last week's premiere, it still wasn't great. Remember when Community's holiday episodes were amazing? Like, must see TV. Like, possibly the best episodes in the shows existence type of good? Creativity falling out of its butt? While this episode wasn't particularly bad, it also wasn't particularly good. Also, I still don't like seeing Britta/Troy as a couple... it feels awkward and pretty poorly written.

    After watching these two episodes, I think the writers and showrunners would be better off writing with a more early-season-1 type of approach -- before the big concept episodes took off. While I don't consider Harmon the end-all-be-all, I figure he AND Chris McKenna, the Russo Brothers, Goldman & Donovan, and Dino (Star-Burns) had a huge influence on the creativity and magic of the concept episodes in particular, things that I'm just not seeing with the Hunger-Games-premiere and now this Halloween episode. They're kind of close, but no cigar. So uh, yeah, I think they might be better off with simpler aspirations and concepts.

  • Gilda Feb 16, 2013

    I totally agree with you. I guess it would be better for them to do more season 1 type episodes because this group of writers are essentially working from ground up and should probrably establish their writing styles before doing concept episodes.
    And I do agree that although this episode was a bit better than last weeks episode is didnt have the magic of early holiday episodes (and season 2s halloween episode is by far the best).
    I have also noticed something that kind of bugs me is that between these two episodes the characters keep making alot of references to past episodes (like more than usual ). or maybe its just me. idk the writting has been kind of off
    but i will say that it did move more towards the direction of what community episodes should be

  • janet444 Feb 16, 2013

    Yeah, but would you really want the new guys trying to pull off the zombie episode? I say give them time to get their bearings. Loved Calvin & Hobbes too once I knew that's what they were. I thought Troy was Tigger. And Britta and Troy does NOT make sense to me, but I sense this is a way to get Jeff jealous. I hope so.

  • DavidJackson8 Feb 16, 2013

    No, I wouldn't want the new guys trying to pull off the zombie episode, which is basically what I said in my comment. They should have started off with simpler early-season-1-like episodes filled with heart and humor, then moved on to the concept episodes after they found a groove of some sort. This episode, while not done extravagantly, was still a concept episode.

    As for Calvin and Hobbes, yes, despite my love for C&H;, it took me a while, as well, to realize what Troy and Abed were dressed as. Abed didn't look like Calvin much at all, and Troy's costume was certainly more Tigger than Hobbes.

    I think it might have been better off if Troy was Calvin and Abed was Hobbes, not only because of similarities in physical size, but also because Troy's more kid-like and Abed is more out-of-touch with other human beings.

  • CoryBarker1 Staff Feb 16, 2013

    I mean this wasn't really a big concept episode, was it? Pretty straightforward.

  • DavidJackson8 Feb 16, 2013

    I consider it a concept episode because the focus was still seemingly their take on the haunted house horror genre -- like Horror Fiction (scary stories) and Epidemiology (zombies) being concept episodes -- but you're right that it wasn't a BIG concept episode. Admittedly, the haunted house scenes didn't particularly last very long and there was certainly a pointed focus on both Jeff's daddy issues and Britta and Troy's relationship.

    But I think that kinda leads to what I'm alluding to: essentially, the haunted house and Hunger Games concepts were wasted. Neither of them did enough with the concepts to make the episodes seem like big concept episodes. So if you're to consider it a non-concept episode, Community has typically had the story directly impact the growth or change in one or some members of the gang (usually Jeff, but others too).

    I don't really see how the haunted house here directly influenced or impacted the change or growth in character. Pierce being nice to Gilbert wasn't any different than when we last saw those two together (end of Digital Estate Planning). I don't see how the story itself effected the relationship between Troy and Britta -- it just so happened Britta acted differently than what Shirley expected... Troy was barely involved. I know the writers tried to have it directly impact Jeff's daddy issues, but I'll quote Jeff: "Using ghosts to trick me into opening up. Too bad it didn't work." Jeff decided to call his dad not because of anything involving the A plot, but rather the out-of-nowhere C or D plot at the end with Gilbert showing up and stating how important his dad's absence is to him. Any growth in character or lesson/moral taught didn't come from the haunted house concept, it came from dialogue that could have been used in almost any situation, like the simple plots we saw in early season 1. So if the episode isn't focused on the concept and the concept doesn't impact the characters, why waste the concept? The showrunners may as well save these concepts until later in the season when they've found some sort of groove and comfort, and like I said in my first post, should have gone with simpler aspirations to start the season.

  • mad-pac Feb 16, 2013

    Abed was right... Remember when this show used to be about a community college? I mean in the good old times, even when things were completely crazy and unrelated to studies, they managed to find some connection with Greendale. Like the unforgettable Professor Professorson an his hilarious conspiracy theories. I also remember I usually had to watch the show at least once more to catch the subtext or hidden jokes. This time I I watched, interrupted, watched the rest, and then was fine with deleting the show from my memory (computer and otherwise).

    By the way, wouldn't it be so cool if they showed Once Upon a Time, Breaking Bad, Community, Revolution and Criminal Minds on different channels at the same time and you'd stumble on Giancarlo Esposito every time? That guy is amazing! Besides doing excellent work, he's everywhere!

  • JamieHaxby Feb 16, 2013

    "If you want to read anything into the fact that Britta knew first" Read what into it? It's the usual dynamic between the two- snarky and competitive. Absolutely nothing to read there. It's not like Jeff cared about Britta and told her, he told her as a way to try to one-up her in an argument.

    If you want to read into things, how about Jeff and Annie's attempt at a couples costume, which was even called as much, or Annie standing up to Jeff on far more equal terms, or Jeff getting a ride with her in her car, or the ending where Annie is flirty and trying to tempt Jeff to still go to the party with her, and Jeff is apologetic (by Jeff's standards). Those two are a couple who just haven't admitted it or started sleeping together yet.

  • CoryBarker1 Staff Feb 16, 2013

    No, I agree with the Jeff and Annie stuff. But he'd never, ever have that conversation with her. It's a different bond and that will matter to certain sectors of the fandom.

  • janet444 Feb 16, 2013

    Yeah, Annie wants Jeff, but there's tension between Jeff & Britta.

  • JamieHaxby Feb 25, 2013

    Jeff wants Annie too. Those two care about one another and can easily reach the point of love in the future, but they are sort of tiptoeing towards that conclusion.
    Jeff and Britta may have slept together, but they bicker, joke, and argue more like a brother and sister than anything else. There was some romantic chemistry between them in season 1, but it burned out at the end of that season, just as Jeff and Annie started to pick up.

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