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I love a good Halloween episode. Because of the nature of the holiday – which is primarily known for its horror elements – sitcom writers have an opportunity to get creative and put their characters in situations that they otherwise would normally never be in. Lucky for us, tonight’s NBC Thursday night comedy lineup is backed to the gills with Halloween episodes of Community, Parks and Recreation and The Office. But which show does it better?
Just to briefly touch on what each episode is about, on Community Britta has received the results from the psych test she gave the group and it turns out that one of the friends may have homicidal tendencies. On Parks and Recreation, Leslie and Tom organize a political luncheon for local business owners and Andy and April throw a party at their house. Finally, The Office has Erin trying to throw the perfect Halloween themed office get-together ever, but has a hard time getting the approval of her co-workers.
Earlier this week I had the chance to preview all three new episodes and have scientifically determined which show uses the holiday best (and by “scientific” I mean that I graded each one on a scale of 1-10 and then used arithmetic to figure out which one got the most points). Let the challenge begin!
Community: In any other year Community would get an instant 10 out of 10 in this category. In the last two seasons the show has given us some true greatness in the form of Pierce’s Beastman and Troy and Abed’s Alien vs. Ripley costumes. But not this year. Out of the entire study group, only Troy and Abed actually show up dressed as something other than their normal clothes (I’m not going to spoil the awesomeness here), but they admit that they’re actually not dressed up for Halloween. I will award some points because while the character’s themselves don’t show up in any fun costumes, the characters they create in their scary stories do. Score: 4/10
Parks and Recreation: Unlike Community, Parks and Rec doesn’t have a long history of Halloween episodes (in three seasons they’ve only done it once), but this year they committed to the holiday theme. While half of the plot isn’t actually Halloween related, most of the episode is spent at Andy and April’s party, which features a good number of government employees donning unusual threads. Chris’ Sherlock Holmes and April’s skinny sumo wrestler costumes were my personal favorites, but there are some other great ones as well. It’s just a shame Leslie doesn’t get in on the action. Score: 6/10
The Office: Let’s put it this way: the episode begins with Andy approving the costumes of the various Dunder Mifflin employees. While The Office doesn’t always fully commit to the idea of a Halloween episode (it used to be that they would dedicate the cold open to the holiday and that’s it) but this year they’ve gone all out. Personal favorites include Erin’s take on Wendy – which is picture perfect – Ryan’s version of Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad and Creed’s Osama bin Laden costume. Score: 10/10
Community: Though it was all very tongue-in-cheek, the “zombie invasion” Halloween episode from last year really did do an effective job of creating a horror atmosphere (which was aided by the running ABBA playlist). This year the study group is dealing with a different kind of monster: a potential serial killer. While there aren’t any moments that will give the audience nightmares – it is still a comedy show – they do embrace the eeriness of the season and create some pretty great scary stories. Score: 8/10
Parks and Recreation: Unless you’re absolutely terrified of political luncheons or groups of friends having fun, you’re not going to be at all creeped out by the new episode of Parks and Rec. Focusing more on the camaraderie, friendship and fun aspects of All Hallows Eve instead of the horrific parts, the new episode is more funny than spooky. I will say that it does have one scary aspect: it marks the return of Orin, April’s creepy, weird friend who manages to totally freak out Ben again. Score: 3/10
The Office: Much like Parks and Rec, the new Halloween episode of The Office doesn’t really make any true blue effort to be scarier than any other in the series. In fact, Erin, who is put in charge of organizing the party, is accused of making the shindig a bit too family-friendly. Helping it trump its lead in, however, are two fairly disturbing scenes, one featuring Gabe (who we all know is a horror fanatic) and another with Robert California. Score: 6/10
Community: It may be Halloween, but, as I mentioned before, these are still comedy shows that need to bring the funny. For Community that has never ever been a problem and this week’s episode doesn’t buck the trend. All of the stories told by the group are hilarious, from Abed’s more realistic take to Pierce’s fantasy. The show didn’t decide to take a holiday from making your laugh (this is why I’m not a writing staff member on the series). Score: 9/10
Parks and Recreation: There’s a lot that works in this new episode and a lot that doesn’t, and that line is split by the storylines. While Leslie and Tom’s time at the political luncheon does a good job moving the season plotline forward, it’s short on any real laughs and mostly consists of Tom acting incredibly annoying. April and Andy’s party, on the other hand, is fantastic. There’s a silent beef between Andy and Ben that gets funnier and funnier as the episode goes on and Ron, who has never been much of a party guy, finds a mission perfectly suited to his set of skills. Score: 6/10
The Office: While this week’s episode of The Office had some interesting moments and good ideas, as a whole it was fairly weak, particularly in the comedy department. While I continue to enjoy James Spader’s presence, the B-plot once again sees Dwight involved in a conflict with a child, which is somewhat recycled from season 2’s “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” It’s not a terrible episode, but not one that’s filled with tons of chuckles either. Score: 3/10
Community, Parks and Recreation and The Office: I hate to say it, but there is a truly disappointing lack of candy in this year’s Halloween episodes. I understand that all of the characters are adults that can eat the sweet stuff whenever they goddamn well please, but seriously, we’re talking about a Halloween staple here. Score: 1/10
Progression of Characters
Community: Scripting a Halloween episode is like getting a prompt-based creative writing assignment in school: you have to work within the guidelines, but the more inventive you can get with it the better. The new episode of Community manages to not only maintain its clever “scary stories” plot, but also keep up with continuity. Britta’s new major plays a vital part in the plot and the relationships between the characters – particularly Jeff and Annie – are further explored. Score: 7/10
Parks and Recreation: It may be the less-funny half of the episode, but the luncheon organized by Tom for Leslie’s campaign works perfectly to advance both big early-season plots: the future of Entertainment 720 and Leslie’s governmental aspirations. It also further develops the relationship between Ron and Ann, which has been building in the last couple episodes. Score: 9/10
The Office:As there isn’t any real over-arching plot being developed in this season of The Office - with the exception of Andy getting comfortable as the new head of the branch – it’s hard to say how this episode is keeping up with continuity, but it does spark a few things. For one, the tension between Andy and Erin, who still aren’t back together for some reason, is growing and becoming more and more of an issue. Robert is also back and continues to confirm what we already know: he’s one seriously interesting bastard. Score: 6/10
And The King Of Halloween Is…
Community with a solid score of 30!