COMMUNITY; “History 101” & “Paranormal Parentage” Episode Recaps
What makes Airplane! better than Meet the Spartans or Detention better than Scary Movie 2000??? Well this the question I pose to myself as I try to reconcile what was the first two episodes of this season of Community, “History 101” and “Paranormal Parentage”, against what was a spectacular third season in 2012.
I want to try and view this show without being too nostalgic (not even sure if that word applies as it’s only been a year) for the Dan Harmon era of Community, but it’s difficult. It’s difficult to look at what David Guarascio (Co-producer of Just Shoot Me) is doing with the show and only wanting to talk about what he’s missing out on the idea of the show.
In “History 101” we see all of our gang return to school for what is their final year of education (“I thought Community College was only to take 2-3 years?” says the John Hodgeman cameo in Season 3) and Jeff so desperately seeking an in for him, as well as the rest of the study group, into the only History credit available for the semester. However, just as the semester begins the Dean presents the task of people who want to take the history course (something about ice-cream) must ascertain a rubber ball via his game of challenges “The Hunger Deans”, a not so clever play on The Hunger Games.
At the same time this finality is bringing upon a new stressful experience to Abed, who I thought came to terms with this at the end of last season with the episode “Introduction to Finality”, and taking Britta’s psychological advice (why would you do that?) retreats to an “happy place”. Being Abed however, this happy place is none other than a multi-camera sitcom where every episode begins with hijinks (a sub topic in Antics 101 apparently), and ends with smiles as our characters discovers what we feared is perfectly fine.
Let me not be all hum and drum about this episode, there were things to like. While it was overpacked with plot and character moments that by themselves are wonderfully constructed as each is layered on top of one another they end up distracting from one another. I haven’t even yet mentioned the other two side plots of Shirley and Annie wanting to play pranks and Troy and Britta (now a couple) are going to partake in Troy and Abed’s start of year tradition of making wishes in the well. Once again a series of jokes which work – Troy pointing out how ending all wars is a bad thing and Annie’s ridiculous notion of what a prank is – but aren’t we supposed to be paying attention to Abed and Jeff???
Jeff’s plot is simple enough and the show tries so hard to make the parody be the joke but it fails. While the constant pull and push of Jeff and the Dean over the years has had its fair share of awkwardness and usefulness here it devolves into a one off gag that never means anything (once again the point of Community which is why it makes it such a great show, jokes are funny while at the same time meaning something deeper – just think of the darker timeline stuff from season 3).
Where this episode tries it’s hardest is with Abed’s internal television tale of the same plot we see before us. Plagued with the idea of ending this period of his life and possibly not being in contact with this group of people constantly he is left to have the fantasy of that being removed from the equation (via a Microsoft Paint joke). When in that fantasy he’s forced to face the reality again he goes even further into an animated version (very much a riff on Muppet Babies) of that same fantasy with the worry being leaving the play pen (house or whatever). We’re not so much given hope by the end of this story but rather just forced to leave the fantasy knowing Abed has worked it all out and come to terms with it. He now understands that his desire couldn’t be true as opposed to it already existing in his memories and more happy that those exist than the potential of being at the beginning point of this idea all over again.
Where this season premiere attempted at depth it feels like it tried too hard.
Moving to the second episode, “Paranormal Parentage” – the yearly Halloween episode (airing on Valentine’s Day), the study group show up at Pierce’s mansion to help him out of his panic room having forgotten the code and end up on a scary evening in Pierce’s mansion.
I appreciate the show’s own love of the costumes, Shirley as Princess Leia, Jeff as random boxer and Annie mistaking his text for her to be his ring girl comes as the girl from The Ring (then the Dean shows up as Jeff’s ring girl – more awkwardness from Jim Rash), Britta coming as ham, and Abed and Troy being paired as Calvin and Hobbes (makes me think of Troy’s comment in Season 2 of Calvin having “dope adventures” with his tiger).
Unlike the premiere the writers left this own as a simple haunted mansion plot. The reveals all being obvious in themselves, but regardless the show shows promise of being a mediocre Season 1 style episode (very much like that year’s Halloween episode) that doesn’t bother or ingratiate to the new season easily.
A few liners left me happily smiling (near laughing I dare say) in this episode. Jeff’s thowaway “What in the Scooby-Doo is happening here?” and Troy’s “I have no idea what to Google”as he refers to the sex room that he only sees as that room with awesome swings that he’s not allowed to use were pretty great.
More curious is Abed’s comment “I remember when this show was about Community College” as he takes the role of director (figuratively) after finding Pierce’s video control center behind the bookcase. It is odd how in Season 1 this was a show all about community college, and kind of still is, but somehow the best episodes are the ones which barely have anything to do with that idea.
I will claim ignorant to other references going on in this episode as horror cinema being a major blindspot of mine which leaves me feeling very much like Annie (unable to appreciate the homage) here.