14
Feb
2013
Community: Season 4, Episode 2
Paranormal Parentage
Jordan
Before writing this review, I went back and read my thoughts on Community's pilot. While the review isn't very good (this was early days for RTBN, and I at least hope I've gotten better), I talked about how a show rarely puts its best foot forward in a pilot. I gave that episode a "B-", partially because I think that grade fits and partially because in that, our first pilot season, I committed to review weekly any show whose pilot I gave a B- or higher. I thought Community was just ok, but that it might get better, and I wanted to be around for that. It did/i> get better, and in fact became my favorite comedy on television for a time. But it didn't start that way out of the gate.

When I gave last week's episode a "C+," that "B-" was definitely in my mind. I thought back on the show's pilot, and thought it was better than that episode. But if I had been operating on some stupid, arbitrary grade minimum to determine whether I would continue to review the show, I would probably have bumped it up. Last week wasn't very good, but it was also basically a second pilot for the series. It wasn't likely to put the new creative team's best foot forward, and its only fair to assume that this show will take a while to find its feet.

In that regard, "Paranormal Parentage" was definitely a step up from last week's episode in a lot of important ways. This week, the show openly engaged with its own history and acknowledged its developing characters. And while it was a bit ham-fisted in places and never landed as fully as I would have liked, I certainly appreciated the effort. I laughed more this week than last, and I felt more emotionally connected to the story being told. So while this was far from a perfect episode of Community it gave me more hope in the new team than I had previously.

The show is going to take a while to find its footing, but I am heartened by the idea that what it is looking for is similar in tone and structure to what came before. This episode tried to mix pop culture parody with a deeper, more resonant story. It tried to thematically tie haunted house tropes into the idea that people are often haunted by their pasts. I don't think it did either of these things excellently, by any stretch, but I am happy to see the show isn't content to skate by on parodies. It wants to be as good as it was under Dan Harmon, and that does a lot of the work of getting me on board with the new team.

The episode's plot is fairly straight forward. The gang is going to a Halloween party Pierce was not invited to, and Pierce derails these plans by locking himself in his panic room. As the group looks for the codes, they get involved in various haunted house chicanery. Perhaps the most rewarding part of all of this is the opportunity it provides for the show to comment on the incredibly convoluted and deeply fucked up plot machinations that have confronted Pierce in the last two seasons. I always love references to the fact that Jeff basically killed Pierce's dad, and I also enjoyed Annie's recap of Pierce losing his inheritance to the half-brother he was never aware of in a video game battle, only to discover how weird that is once she said it aloud.

The return of Gilbert, complete with a "#Gilbertreturns" hashtag notification in the bottom corner of the screen felt a bit gimmicky to me, like the show is trying too hard to get its fans excited about it, but it also felt like an emotional beat that was realistic to Pierce as a character. Pierce is actually desperately lonely, and it felt like a well-structured ending to give him a family member to replace his father and to build a better relationship with, even if Giancarlo Esposito's return felt a bit constructed. Plus, I will never complain about getting the chance to see Esposito again, so the show gets a bit of a pass from me on that front.

I also enjoyed some, if not all, of the Jeff's dad developments. This is a plotline that needed to come up again, and knowing that James Brolin will play Jeff's father later in the season gets me excited for the way the show will handle it. I didn't always love the Britta-Jeff conversation, as again it occasionally felt a bit forced. But I do love that the show is grounding Jeff's emotional journey in an area that feels true to his character. His father issues have come up again and again over the course of the series, and I appreciate the new team tackling them head on instead of inventing a new problem and trying to give it stakes.

Comedically speaking, this episode was also a nice step up. While there were still some groaners sprinkled throughout, there were actually a lot of jokes that both worked and felt distinctly like the kind of humor this show usually goes for. This was absolutely an episode of Community, and not just "New Community" either. I am probably grading this episode higher because it comes from the new team so early in their tenure, but I think this could have been a Harmon-era episode. I would be harder on it if it were, yes, but the fact that it resonated emotionally and comedically with me the way the old show did means it feels of a piece with the series as a whole in the way that last week did not. If the new version of the show is sort of a cover version of what Harmon was doing, this week's cover was a whole lot better than last. Do I miss the original? Of course. But I'm glad this new creature is getting better at mimicking its predecessor. If I'm going to watch a clone of Community, I want to watch the best possible clone.

Basically, "Paranormal Parentage" isn't perfect, but it gets a lot of points from me for trying. A lot of the emotional stuff feels forced, but I like what the show is going for with each bit in theory, and I'm willing to assume they will work out the kinks. The same goes for the humor, which is already leagues above last week's, and which will probably get even better as the new team figures out what works and what doesn't.

The character work is still inconsistent, and that is the biggest thing I hope the show improves on in future weeks. Last week, I complained that Jeff was acting more like a season one version of himself than the character as he has developed over the course of the series. This week, he still feels like season one Jeff in some scenes, but he also feels like a plausible season four version of himself at some points, which is encouraging. Similarly, Shirley was incredibly underserved last week, but feels more lived-in this week. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any evidence yet that the show isn't planning to just treat Annie as season one Annie from here on out. She is a character that has given the show a lot of problems over its run, and I am willing to assume the new showrunners may take longer to figure her out than the others, but I do hope that she isn't reduced to a former version of herself permanently. In the Harmon era of the show, Annie was often backgrounded and treated as a character that wasn't developing as quickly, or as well, as the rest of the cast. But the back half of season three did a lot to change that, I think, and I hope the new showrunners figure her out rather than just forcing Alison Brie to play cute, naive, and uptight beats over and over. Brie is quite talented, and she plays these things well, but she is capable of more and I'd like the show to let her grow. This may sound like a minor quibble, or like I am being unfairly critical, but I think its an important point. Again, "Paranormal Parentage" did it better than the premiere, but it still has a ways to go on this front.

So this episode is better. Not perfect, but better. And it gives me a lot of faith that the show may continue to get better in weeks to come, may solve these problems and become not just a version of Community I will keep watching, but a version I can get excited about again. I hear rumors next week is a train wreck of an episode, so get prepared for that. But its to be expected that the show will improve in fits and starts. I am approaching this as I approach any comedy in its early going, allowing it some leeway to figure things out, but also pointing out the ways it is failing. I am trying to give this show some room to breathe, and its creators some credit for what they do well, but I am also not well-equipped to ignore the fact that this is Community a show that has been great before and that isn't at the moment. Someday, I may write a review of this new version that isn't a jumbled up mess of feelings. But for now, that's all I've got, folks.

Grade: B

Notes:

-"THIS is why we can't just text about it, Jeff!"

-"We do somethings. We do a lot of things! Not ALL the things!"

-"Don't worry, I've been locked in way worse places than this. Oh, not against my will...Been in there long?"

-"More of a burnt umber, but I won't hold that against him."

-"It's Pierce's special gym. He never let me use it 'cause he thinks I'm a child. He's hiding the indoor swing, and he thinks I'm a child!"

-"Why does he have so many collars? Secret dogs!" Seriously, the whole "Sex room" scene was amazing, even if I think the show is playing Troy as a bit more juvenile than I'd like. Maybe he hasn't had sex before, and maybe Britta makes him nervous because she is more experienced, but this was a tad much. Great and funny, yes, but a tad much.

-"That's hallo-wine in Cougar Town for ya!" I enjoy that the show is making reference to Cougar Town (I am firmly in favor of stuff I like referencing other stuff I like, obviously), but this is not what that show sounds like even remotely. The references the show used to make were in a "this is another great comedy no one is watching and we want to shout it out" sort of way. The references tonight felt a little mean.

-"I remember when this show was about a Community College." I will never mind the show pointing out its plot convolutions. In fact, I will always enjoy it.

-"Help me heal your heart hole!"

-"Please, Pierce! Please don't die...slightly before your time!" "This means we're next, and I care about us!"

-"The first inspector couldn't even time travel!" As someone currently watching the first season of classic Doctor Who (he can time travel, don't worry), I enjoyed this.
Tags: Community
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