In Slate’s Community TV Club, Aisha Harris will IM about each post-Dan Harmon episode with another Community fan. This week, she discusses “Paranormal Parentage” with Gene Demby, who blogs about race, ethnicity and culture for NPR and PostBourgie.
Aisha Harris: Happy Valloween, Gene!
Gene Demby: Happy Valloween, Aisha!
Harris: As we know, because the show was pushed back from last fall to now, the producers had to get a little creative with the scheduled airings for this season. In Community-like zany fashion, the Halloween episode was chosen to air on Valentine's Day. Here, everyone in the study group except for Pierce gets invited to a Halloween party, and just before they’re about to head over there, their eldest member needs their help: Pierce has locked himself in his “Panic Room,” and everyone (except Jeff, of course) is worried about his emotional state. They go to help him, and spooky chaos ensues.
You’ve told me you were as disappointed in last week's episode as I was—did this week's Valloween episode feel like an improvement to you? Or is a Community made while Dan Harmon drives around the Pacific Northwest just as scary as the hands and faces protruding out of the walls of a haunted mansion?
Demby: It did seem like an improvement. But I've been thinking about the Harmon-less thing. The humor in this episode felt broader than Community usually feels—"Can it, ham!" This could be any show. But I also wonder how much of that's psychosomatic. That is: does it seem broader because it's actually broader, or because we think of Harmon's sense of humor as quirky and prickly and we're just imposing his absence onto the way we experience it?
Harris: That was exactly my concern as well. But the reveal that Pierce was faking it all along is one of the oldest tropes in the book. Even when, in other Halloween episodes, they played with obvious clichés, the stories didn't end so transparently. Look at Chang and Shirley’s bathroom tryst in Season 2’s zombie episode, for instance. Also: “Remember when this show was about a community college?”
Demby: Right. Part of what the show does (did?) really well was not hold the meta stuff at arm’s length; it wasn't punched up in a way that drew attention to itself, if that makes sense. The study group was just all in, regardless of the premise of that ep. And it's funny you mentioned the Shirley/Chang thing—their bathroom tryst had repercussions for the rest of the season. Nothing that's happened so far this season feels like it will really matter down the line.
Harris: I agree with you on that point, except obviously in regards to Jeff’s daddy issues, which seems like they’ll be a big part of upcoming episodes. What do you think about Troy and the way he was portrayed in this episode?
Demby: I don't know what to make of Troy. He started off as kind of a himbo—typing that word is a personal nadir, by the way—but that morphed into a kind of earnest guilelessness. I enjoyed the sex swing moment and the look on Shirley's face, even if that was probably the broadest joke in the episode. (Yvette Nicole Brown is everything.) If the show stays at this level of passable-ness, it will be this always-game cast that gives it even that buoyancy.
Harris: That sex swing was actually the one part of the show that I had a visceral, laugh-out-loud reaction to. But I’m a bit confused by Troy’s sudden re-infantilization. Maybe it’s because he’s never truly had a love interest before (even though there were hints that he and Annie might hook up in Season 1), but after maturing so much last season, he seems to have been completely emasculated here once again. Shirley, in her typically matronly way, cautions him against Britta’s potential to “corrupt” him. She seems to assume that he’s an innocent, non-sexual being, and this episode really stressed that point to the fullest.
Demby: The last few minutes of this show, including Jeff's phone call to his father, felt like something from a much sappier show. Community is a sappy show, but it's an off-center, kind of dark sappiness. This felt a little too "awww."
Harris: Really? I agree with you regarding Pierce and Gilbert, for sure, but as far as Jeff is concerned, I think it echoed the end of last season for me in a good way. I actually kind of like that he's finally taking that leap to deal with his daddy issues. Let's just hope he deals with them in the same way Pierce and Gilbert did in the great video game episode.
Demby: Speaking of Pierce—what the hell is up with him? It's gotten harder to believe that any of the crew would rock with him too tough. He's either the foil or the boor all the time. Maybe Chevy Chase had a legitimate beef. I'm really, really interested to see how they handle Pierce's exit.
Harris: Me too. But I did really appreciate that Do the Right Thing reference and any chance to see Giancarlo Esposito, if only for a very quick and lamely sewn-together ending, I'll take. Maybe he can replace Pierce once he disappears from the rest of the season?
Demby: Yeah: Gus over everything.