“You’re like the dark cloud that unites us, or the anti-Winger. You’re the heart of this group. I don’t have a real handle on all this mushy stuff. If I did, then we wouldn’t need you,” Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) told Britta (Gillian Jacobs) when she became recognized as the buzzkill of the group. It turns out Dan Harmon, the original show runner of Community who fired after last season, was just as irreplaceable. Harmon was the cloud of alcohol vapors that held Community’s writing together. The jokes were disciplined, fresh and well-timed. Story arcs were usually well-thought out. Now, without Harmon, Community is searching for its voice, its soul. Season four’s debacle of a premiere was a clustercuss of storylines, and while last night’s episode, "Paranormal Parentage," was a few steps in the right direction, it's stil a far cry from the Community I once loved.

In "Paranormal Parentage," the study group minus Pierce (Chevy Chase) is all dressed up to go to Vicki’s Halloween party. Like usual, most of the characters have great costumes. Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) are Calvin and Hobbes! Before they leave though, Pierce calls Troy and informs the group that he is trapped in his panic room and cannot remember the code. In a Scooby Doo-like fashion, the group has to find the code in his mansion.

Community used to be special because it made wacky and weird adventures seem normal through disciplined story-telling with unique and fresh jokes. This was not the case with "Paranormal Parentage," and even though the episode had what should have been a classic Scooby Doo capers mystery, it fell flat. Many of the jokes were recycled references from earlier episodes. Even Annie (Alison Brie), dressed as the girl from The Ring, poked fun at the practice by saying, “I hate reference humor.”

A variant of Troy’s phone joke from season three, “Hello, hello rich people? Troy's joining you, yes I'll hold,” just doesn’t work as well with Britta saying it. Not to mention, it is used twice in this episode. Other past jokes like“No sweat, Bobba Fett,” and Ben Chang's (Ken Jeong) classic “Fire can’t go through walls, it’s not a ghost,” only cheapened the novelty of the originals. All too often the jokes felt forced at times and did not come up organically; like that time I banged Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom (cue the laugh track for die-hard Community fans with that one).

With the small sample of from season four it looks as though the characters have become simplified caricatures of themselves. While Troy’s sex swing naivety was great, the ensuing conservation with Shirley made him out to be an innocent child who had never had sex before. Troy was a jock before Greendale and, while he has since embraced his inner nerd, we know he is not a child. Also, whatever happened to Pierce? He’s now just an old man who is on the fence of Alzheimer’s disease.

It seems as if the show runners and writers are trying too hard to be creative and are over-compensating for the loss of Harmon with wild adventures and parodies. Maybe they should take a page out of Abed’s book at the end of the Season — “Speaking of bad development strategies, I owe you all an apology. I was trying so hard to make our first week a great one, I didn’t realize there was something great in front of us the whole time…”

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