Community: “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” Season 5 Episode 10 Review

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The gang heads back into the fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons to mostly successful results.

Season 2 of Community was a time when the show was at its peak, and the original “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” is a shining example of everything that can come from its whipsmart writing and wonderfully gelled cast. An attempt to make a sequel to this, as Abed points out in the beginning this week’s episode, is risky at best. Unfortunately, I don’t think the writers were able to cast the same spell as last time. There was just something in the underlying reasons behind the game–Hickey’s estranged relationship with his son–that didn’t feel as urgent.

The sense of fun was not lost on me, though. The entire cast was put to good use for some truly hilarious moments. Even more compelling was the decision to have them separated, but together at the same time. Having so many conflicts going on at once could have been overwhelming, but for a show like Community it’s often a piece of cake. Sure, this episode didn’t live up to the heights of its predecessor, but it was still a purely entertaining half-hour.

The game gets started almost immediately when Hickey realizes he wasn’t invited to his grandson’s birthday. The gang learns that his son Hank (Arrested Development‘s David Cross) is a huge D&D fan, and so they hatch a plan to play a game to bond them back together. Hank isn’t dumb, though, and so the game quickly turns into a competition when everyone is split into two groups by a raging river. This is where things really got interesting.

I appreciated the fact that the show didn’t try to use this episode as a retread on old jokes. Sure, Annie once again played Hector the Well-Endowed, and there was a throwaway reference to the “Hawthorne Mountains,” but most of the humor came from some new territory. Hickey interrogating the two elves at a tavern–both played by Abed–was a brilliant moment that made me love his character even more. Cross fit right in with the rest of the characters, especially when he sang a strange song in a made-up language. All of the action was highlighted by some nifty sound effects and swooping camera angles that really helped to sell the adventure.

The person who gets the biggest props, however, is Dean Pelton, who awkwardly invites himself into the game at the episode’s beginning. After everyone draws character sheets, he realizes that he is playing Jeff’s son, Joseph Gordon Diehard. The role was originally meant for Hank, but the Dean takes it and runs with it, and it’s a pleasure to watch him go all-in. The ending sequence of him impaling himself on Jeff’s sword was probably the biggest laugh-out-loud moment in the entire episode.

Meanwhile, the one place “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” fell short is at its core. Using the game to work out father-son issues just felt like a cop out. It’s a typical sitcom trope, and one that Community has already explored in great detail through Jeff.

In the original D&D episode, the gang bands together to help Neil through his depression. To be honest, it was probably one of the darkest things the show has ever dealt with. Still, it worked so well in that it allowed you to really root for these characters and their quest to lift a friend’s spirits. The fact that the tables were eventually turned on the villainous Pierce made it even more emotionally satisfying. Here, the stakes weren’t high enough. I liked the idea of Hicky and Hank both not being able to be in the same room and not being able to leave each other alone, but I was never really invested in their conflict to begin with.

Overall, this didn’t do much to detract from the joy this episode brought when everyone was playing the game. The all-out battle scene at the end was still very engaging, and Abed of course made for the perfect game master. This concept for this episode was ambitious in and of itself. For what it was, I think it was very well-played. Grade: B+

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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