‘Community’ Recap: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

S2E14: I’ll admit my only contact with the world of Dungeons and Dragons was a few years ago when I finally saw the episode of Freaks and Geeks where the nerds convince James Franco’s bad boy to play the fantasy game with them. I may or may not have harbored interest in the game specifically because James Franco was indirectly involved through television magic, but I never followed that through to fruition. Even with a complete lack of knowledge as to how these elves and mages navigate what looks like a bunch of books and some dice, Community’s homage to the game reached levels of epicness that cannot be denied. Dan Harmon and friends have done it again. They revved us up all week with long promos and sneak peeks of “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” and while many may have feared a letdown, the staunch Community fans knew that this show never under-delivers on a promise. When they’ve got a great episode on their hands they shout it from the rooftops, but when it’s a run of the mill one they simply politely ask us to watch. This was one of the great ones.

“I’m an elf, not a nerd.” – Chang

Keeping with their Lord of the Rings-inspired representation of the most epic Dungeons and Dragons game ever, the cold open introduced us to the back story of the episode like the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring complete with a Cate Blanchett sound-alike. Besides the hilarity of the presentation itself, this list of old timey names for the study group was an easy shot that went off without a hitch: Jeff the Liar, Annie the Day Planner, Troy the Obtuse, Shirley the Cloying, Abed the Undiagnosable, Britta the Needlessly Defiant, and Pierce the Insensitive. This list also set it up for each of the characters to depart from their set character traits once the game began. Jeff obviously can’t be uncool for a second, even when playing DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, and Britta brings her political outrage to everything, but in this episode we get to see Annie depart from her prescribed role and Abed transform his into a whole new level of nerdery. Of course this is a chance for Chang to go completely off the deep-end, dressing as a dark elf but looking more like Al Jolson as Pierce, who’s the only one old enough to have seen Jolson in his hay day, so aptly pointed out. That’s another thing about this show; they’ll put outrageous gags into play but not without immediately holding themselves accountable.

“When you play, it makes you happy…like a dragon.” –Troy

Of course, the game begins as a way of helping out Fat Neil who has become suicidal over the constant teasing he receives at Greendale. Let’s pause a minute here to recognize how incredibly dark this episode got. I’m not going to say that I got scared because we all know it’s a sitcom and no one’s going to be following through on something like that, but damn. It was a risky move on the writers’ part, but I think it paid off. It created an instant investment in a stereotypical nerd character that could have otherwise been more annoying than Pierce.

On the funny side of things, I like that Abed’s made-up character names were so terrible. It made it easier for someone like me to get into a game that I know nothing about, plus aren’t funny sounding words fun? Zippidee Doo the Dwarf, Maaahhhhrrrr, Bing Bong the Archer, Lavernica, and my all-time favorite, Annie as Hector the Well-endowed (no wonder she was able to convince Abed’s elf maiden to give up a flock of Pegasus).

Handing the title of Dungeon Master to Abed let us experience another imaginary adventure similar to his Uncontrollable Christmas. While visually, we never leave the study room, the soundtrack and sound effects of clashing swords and dragon cries are present throughout, landing the episode firmly outside of the reality of Greendale. It’s how I imagine playing D&D would be – it feels a little silly because while everyone is describing themselves walking and fighting and traveling, they’re all just sitting in a room probably a lot like the one at Greendale. It’s this element that simultaneously allows the episode to be epic while still grounding it in reality – a technique Community practically invented in the realm of sitcoms.

“I can’t hear you over the sound of me rubbing his sword on my balls.” –Pierce

The obvious “That’s What She Said” quality of this statement aside, it’s this sentiment that carries a disturbingly awful version of Pierce through the episode. After last week, we witnessed his ability to be downright cruel and a bit scary, but he reaches new levels in this episode. Unaware that Neil is suicidal (and unwilling to acknowledge it later), Pierce brings his usual crassness to the table with an extra dose of evil because he’s upset that no one included him in the game.

Like last week’s private screening scene, Pierce runs off after inserting himself into the game and stealing all of Neil’s neato weapons, sequestering himself in one of the dark, cavernous rooms in what I assume is the basement at Greendale. This furthers the mythical feel of the episode and leads to a little tribute to the Dungeons and Dragons movie when Abed visits Pierce in his traffic-cone lair. As uncomfortable as it was to watch Pierce badger a severely depressed kid, there is a method to all this madness. Pierce has often played the annoyance to the group, but the show is allowing him to be the catalyst for the action more and more which really puts that previously displaced obnoxious quality to good use.

Of course, his insanity makes for the most epic, best round of D&D that Neil has ever played and in a strange twist of events, the evil Pierce inadvertently saves his life, and that was probably the best kicker they could have ended on.

“The group began to describe themselves walking.” –The Narrator

I’d just like to make a quick note on the ladies this episode. Most importantly, Annie once again puts that crazy streak to good use, miming as she tells in crazy detail how her character, Hector the Well Endowed, would sex up Abed’s Elf Maiden. (I love that Troy is taking notes.) Britta also puts her brand of crazy into play when she goes all Hermione Granger on the game, rising up for the humanization of dwarfs after Abed’s characterization paints them as subservient (like the house elves Hermione tries to free – hello, nerd attack).

“If you had a tail, people could always tell when you’re happy.” –Troy

The tag was back to time with Troy and Abed, this time debating the benefits of giant ears versus having a tail, and they find a bit of a surprise in the study room. And so it was that one of the most epic episodes of Community ever came to a close. (I couldn’t resist.)