After last week's worrying premiere, Megan Ganz's "Paranormal Parentage" was a very good return to form that has me more optimistic about Community's future without Dan Harmon around—well, creatively, as this episode registered a drop in overnight ratings from 3.8m to 2.75m. But if the show's on its way out, hopefully the majority of episodes will be of this one's quality.
In the traditional Halloween special (which now airs in a discordant Valentine's Day timeslot because of the show's delayed return), the study group were essentially participants in a haunted house story after becoming trapped in Hawthorne Mansion while trying to release Pierce (Chevy Chase) from his own panic room. There followed a series of hijinks with the characters in full Halloween costume—most memorably Annie (Alison Brie) as The Ring's Samara, after confusing Jeff's (Joel McHale) desire for a "ring girl" to supplement his boxer costume. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) got to use her rubbish therapy tactics on Jeff about the missing father he's since tracked down; Abed (Danny Pudi) fulfilled a lifelong dream of finding a secret revolving bookcase; and in one of the funniest moments Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) was mortified when Troy (Donald Glover) discovered Pierce's "indoor gym" which was actually a sex dungeon.
I could imagine this episode being a great deal funnier with various improvements here and there, but the characters and their interactions felt more credible and easy-going. In some ways it's easier to do a Community episode that offers so much potential for geek referencing (we had nods to Scooby Doo, The Frighteners and House on Haunted Hill), and it even served up a surprise return for Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito as Pierce's half-brother Gilbert, but I can't complain too much. "Paranormal Parentage" felt like the show I know and love, far more so than last week, so at least we know it's possible for a Harmon-less version of Community to work pretty well. The moment when we realised Jeff was wearing a boxing costume as a tribute to his father was also surprisingly touching, so I hope this episode is more indicative of season 4 as a whole.
written by Megan Ganz / directed by Tristram Shapeero / 14 February 2012 / NBC