Episode Title: "Paranormal Parentage"
Writer: Megan Ganz
Director: Tristram Shapeero
After last week’s somewhat disappointing fourth season premiere of “Community,” it was a bit of a relief to see that "Paranormal Parentage" was more like the “Community” of old. This episode was essentially the sequel/follow-up to "Digital Estate Planning;" one of the best episodes that “Community” has ever done.
The emotional beats near the end of this episode resonated and they helped elevate the story. And yet a lot of the jokes were flat and not nearly as funny as they should have been. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around that, because the cast is still the best comedy ensemble on TV and the writer, Megan Ganz has been on “Community” since the second season. This lower laugh threshold can’t be happening just because Dan Harmon is off the show...
To be sure, there are some funny moments. Annie’s (Alison Brie) entrance as Samara from The Ring was hysterical and I loved the Halloween costume choices: Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) as classic Princess Leia, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) as a Ham, Abed (Danny Pudi) and Troy (Donald Glover) as Calvin and Hobbes. Jeff’s boxer costume was kind of “eh,” but the reasoning behind it made sense when we learned who the boxing gloves belonged too.
Although, I believe that Jeff’s choice of costumes may have been a not so subtle way of getting Annie into a bikini. But because Jeff apparently made the arrangements via text, Annie just assumed that he meant the horror movie, The Ring; which she claims to have never seen. But I call B.S. on that! Annie had the Samara movements so perfectly that she had to have seen the movie just to get that right.
Surprisingly, “Community” has never done an episode set at Pierce’s (Chevy Chase) mansion before. But "Paranormal Parentage" changes that when the lonely millionaire summons his friends to help him get out of his panic room by finding the security code that he lost. The map of the Hawthorne mansion that tracked the character movements was a brilliant touch that reminded me of the Marauder's Map from Harry Potter... or an old board game.
And just to set things up, Pierce claims to have seen the ghost of his late father, Cornelius Hawthorne (Larry Cedar); whom Jeff kind of killed in the third season. Well... “killed” is a strong word. Jeff yelled at Cornelius with some intensity over his own father issues and Cornelius died soon after.
But being in the mansion and surrounded by reminders of Pierce’s relationship with Cornelius seems to anger Jeff by evoking his own non-existent relationship with his father. McHale and Jacobs had some good scenes together as Britta took some joy in the way that she was getting Jeff to unload his pent up feelings for his father. It was probably the most successful “therapy” that Britta has ever performed, even though Jeff ended up getting away from her and locking her out of the room.
The rest of the haunted mansion antics had a few good moments, but mostly the Scooby Doo style humor seemed flat. Normally Abed’s meta humor is really funny, but his commentary from the control room just didn’t have much life to it. I hate to say it, but a lot of this episode felt like it was coasting on the talent of the cast to make it work as opposed to the written words of the script.
The reveal that Pierce was behinding the hauntings was fairly predictable, but the episode did pull off a surprise coup when Giancarlo Esposito cameoed as Gilbert Lawson, Pierce’s illegitimate half brother who won the Hawthorne inheritance back in “Digital Estate Planning.” It was difficult to buy that Gilbert was so lonely that he secretly acted as Pierce’s hidden butler for weeks. That doesn’t seem to track with the way Gilbert was portrayed at the end of his previous appearance.
But I’m a sucker for a good emotional turn, so I enjoyed the way that Pierce once again reached out to his sibling and asked him to be his roommate as a way to help alleviate their mutual loneliness. This in turn motivates Jeff to finally reconnect with his father; which is a moment that’s been a long time coming.
It feels like this episode was a few drafts away from being one of the classic “Community” stories. As produced, it’s easily the best of the two episodes that have been broadcast this season. But if the quality of this season doesn’t get any better than this, I’ll be very worried about this show’s creative future.