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‘Community’ Review: “Paranormal Parentage”

Community Paranormal Parentage Preview
NBC

It’s Valentine’s Day, which means it’s time for the ‘Community‘ Halloween episode…? Yup, it’s Halloween and the gang pay their first visit to Pierce’s house, which may or may not be haunted.

Pierce has locked himself in the panic room of his mansion and forgotten the code, so he derails the study group from their party plans to go save him. The gang split up, ‘Scooby-Doo’-style, and head off to find the notebook that holds the code to open the panic room, encountering some pretty spooky occurrences along the way — all of which turn out to be an elaborate prank constructed by Pierce for attention, just as Jeff assumed and no one wanted to believe.

We all know Jeff is the cynical skeptic, and there’s always that moment in episodes like this when he opens up about himself and learns a lesson only to quickly dismiss it. It’s one of the many ways that ‘Community’ balances beautifully on the line between parodying and honoring sitcom tropes. Jeff goes back to being Jeff because in sitcom-world, you need the soft reset for new plots. But this time, Britta’s psychology tricks work, and Jeff opens up and reveals that he has his absentee dad’s phone number. And while Jeff fakes going back to usual Jeff-mode, what Britta doesn’t see is that he actually decides to call his dad at episode’s end. Progress! If this truly is the final season of the show, then they’re going to need to start bringing these arcs to a close.

Meanwhile, Shirley and Troy are off on their own, where they encounter Pierce’s BDSM sex room (of course), and poor, naive Troy has no idea what any of that stuff is, leading Shirley to imply that maybe he’s not cruising at Britta’s speed in their relationship. She’s probably right, and for as naive as Annie is, Troy is twice as bad. But it was delightful to watch him in his Hobbes tiger costume, swinging on a sex swing like it was a regular swing.

Annie doesn’t get much to do this week, and neither does Abed, who wanders into Pierce’s surveillance room to watch ‘Cougar Town’ and help uncover a secret: Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito) has been living in Pierce’s house for six weeks — he’s lonely without their father around and misses having someone to care for, so he’s been taking care of things for an oblivious Pierce. Pierce tells him he can stick around, and I hope this means we get to see more of Esposito this season.

And speaking of Pierce, did anyone else find Chevy Chase’s line delivery to be incredibly lacking? The man’s a comedic legend, but his voice was slurring like he was performing with a massive hangover or like he’d just had a minor stroke, and the delivery was stilted and flat, and sounded almost like he didn’t understand what he was saying. I mean that in the sense that he sounded like he wasn’t “in” on the comedic tone of the show. Perhaps this is indicative of the trouble behind the scenes with Chase, or maybe I’m totally off.

Overall, I’m not sure that this week is an improvement over the season premiere. Having Troy and Abed dress as Calvin and Hobbes for Halloween was a little too on the nose, but that’s a minor observation. The real issue is that between last week and this week, it’s clear that the number of jokes-per-minute have decreased since the previous season. I’m still giving this another week or two before I make any more pronounced judgments on whether Dan Harmon’s exit had that much of an impact, but as of tonight’s episode, I’m leaning toward yes. It’s not a bad episode by any stretch, but it definitely seems to be lacking… something.

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