Only one week after making Pierce a more well-rounded character, Community hits back with another genre-episode that throws Chevy Chase into the older, bitter, villainous characterization that gives Pierce a somehow befitting undercurrent of darkness. “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” isn’t as pitch-perfect of a genre parody as “Modern Warfare” or “Epidemiology,” but in a season that has had its fair share of location-heavy, expensive episodes, tonight’s installment was an insanely inventive way to execute a fantasy plot without needing anything fancy.
I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about how to actually play Dungeons & Dragons, but this episode executes the game in a way that works in such an effective comedic fashion that the actual rules don’t even enter the discussion. Almost the entire episode takes place around the study group table, and instead of fanciful cutaways, relies on the characters to riff off each other in storytelling.
From the opening scene imitating Cate Blanchett’s voice-over in Lord of the Rings, it’s revealed that a student outside the study group, unfortunately nicknamed Fat Neil, gives Jeff all of his Dungeons & Dragons manuals, saying he won’t need them anymore. Jeff then rounds up the rest of the study group, minus Pierce, in order to play a game of D&D to lift his spirits and prevent a possible suicide. Of course, Pierce feels horribly left out, and exacts revenge by repeatedly ruining the game and maliciously going after Neil, stealing his sword, insulting his family, and in essence accomplishing the exact opposite goal that Jeff envisions for the game.
The most accomplished parts of the episode just allow for the characters to bounce off each other as Pierce wreaks havoc on the D&D game. Abed acts as dungeon master and drafts character packets for the rest of the group, leading to the hilarious names Marrrrrrr, Bing-Bong, and Hector the Well-Endowed (Jeff, Troy and Annie respectively). Chang dresses up for the game, Shirley plays along, Annie takes her character name to its logical sexual conclusion to help the group obtain a Pegasus from Abed to journey faster in their mission. Also, Britta debates the equality of fantastical species when Abed pretends to be a gnome at an inn, while the others are provided with some great one-liners that add to a great joke pileup.
As far as Community plots go, this particular one is very dark. Pierce piles insults on an overweight student in the name of pure revenge. Again, the show manages to advance the characters in very small increments, this time showing Jeff being a caring student to Neil, but then stays true to Jeff’s selfish characteristics when Pierce reveals that it was Jeff who coined the name “Fat Neil.” It’s not happy, but handled well, and the way in which Neil thwarts Pierce to complete the game is so deftly simple and satisfying.
Sure, Pierce is reduced to a simplistic villain, Chang is removed from the game in a very flippant fashion, and Britta’s jokes are a bit too centered on her annoying obsession with political correctness, but this episode has a narrow focus and lets the actors breathe and interact with each other in a wonderful way. This ensemble cast has grown a lot in the past one and a half seasons, and now they operate as a well-oiled machine. “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” isn’t perfect, but it goes a long way to show that the strength of Community is not its flashy and expensive genre parody episodes, but the ones in which the connectivity of the ensemble cast fleshes out a story and uses the comic possibilities in the most advantageous way possible.
Final Grade: A-
“What am I not good at?” “Sex.”
“Britta, he was an imaginary waiter.” “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“This is why I wanted to play Chutes and Ladders.”
Annie’s seduction of Abed’s country maiden in order to get a Pegasus was so artfully done that Troy starts taking notes, even asking how long to cuddle afterward.
“And as they described themselves walking, so did Abed confirm that they walked.”