Film and TV

Community: "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"

I've never played Dungeons & Dragons in my life -- my nerddom takes many forms, but I've never been into RPGs -- but that didn't stop me from enjoying every blistering minute of Community's "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons." The strength of the episode was that it took a stock aspect of geek pop culture and wove it seamlessly into a brutal and moving story about the characters we've come to know and love, and even people who don't play the game or know the rules could follow the simple script and get pulled into the action. The characters also played slightly heightened versions of themselves in line with the satirical take on high fantasy forwarded by the episode and the notion of men and women rolling dice to slay dragons. Jeff was both more brash and more heroic than his usual self, and Pierce went from reliable dick to total fucking asshole with almost no provocation. But the episode pulled it off, and it did so with speed, wit, and genuine emotion. It was, in the best way, a predictably great episode of one of the best comedies in the game today.

The voice-over narration worked on multiple levels: It fit with the fantasy-movie and role-playing-game vibe, and it also allowed for rapid plot summary and exposition. A whole lot has to happen very quickly to set this episode in motion, including the description of the depression that's plaguing Fat Neil, who's only ever shown up once before. (Maybe more, though, if someone wants to check me on that.) Before we even get to the credits, which were also cute and in-theme, we get a rapid rundown of Neil's obsession with D&D and Jeff's sudden interest in the quiet guy with low esteem, culminating in a specially organized game to boost Neil's confidence by playing with everyone in the study group minus Pierce, who's omitted because he's a tool. More happens by the end of the first act than some shows try all night, but again, the precision of the writing and the brilliant mix of humor and character make it fly.

"Pierce the Dickish" is indeed a huge dick in the episode, too. It's important to note, though, that this isn't new for him: Despite moments of humanity, he's remained pretty churlish throughout the series, as evidenced by his insane behavior last week in "Celebrity Pharmacology." But the dickishness works better here than it did last week because it becomes a way to see the character through his relationship to others, and to let him play off them like the wild card he's always been. Plus it raises everyone else's game, especially Jeff's.

As a result, the triumphant ending totally clicks, right down to the corny but uplifting decision by the group to use their turns in the game pitying Pierce, who's grown from their enemy in the fictional world to an obstacle in the real one. His relentless badgering of Neil for being fat and stealing Pierce's chair goes so far that it ceases to have meaning, and Neil and the rest know it. Shirley even wisely points out that Neil's gonna be fine, but Pierce has some serious issues. He's a lonely old man stuck in a feedback loop: He tries too hard to make friends, turns them off, doesn't know what to do, tries even harder, and so on. The group battles him to a win, but it's really a draw. He knows he's been rejected, but he still can't figure out why. It's an ending that's rousing for the heroes but still perceptive enough to know that the villain isn't going away. Really, one hell of a 22 minutes.

Scattered thoughts:

• As always, wonderful jokes with great pacing. The editing always makes room for little grace notes like Troy's "This is why I wanted to play Chutes & Ladders." Even when dealing with heavier emotional stuff, the episode never forgot to bring the funny.

• "You're the AT&T of people."

• "I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask for your character sheet." Awesome "death" for Chang's elf, and great use of the fantasy music cues scattered throughout the episode. Also consistently great: the sound effects to underscore the battles and exploration scenes. A very nice detail.

• Annie and Abed's muted-out description of their characters' love scene: amazing.

• "What am I not good at?" "Sex." Nice to see the writers keeping the fun tension between Jeff and Britta, with Britta not afraid to knock him down a peg.

• "You have successfully rubbed your balls on his sword."

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Daniel Carlson
Contact: Daniel Carlson