2.14 Advanced Dungeons And Dragons
After having a few weeks off from the movie pastiches, Community once again returned to its tongue in cheek roots with Advanced Dungeons And Dragons, and it was everything you hoped it could be. Using the game to give fantasy movies and, more specifically, Lord Of The Rings the Harmon treatment, our favourite study group immerse themselves in a D&D spectacular, all in the hope of righting one of Jeff’s many, many wrongs.
Opening with a voiceover that would make Cate Blanchett think twice about ever speaking again, this week’s tale of college shenanigans, also known as the Ballad of Fat Neil, sees the gang join forces to help said weight-challenged fellow student and D&D fanatic overcome his soul-destroying depression, all kicked off by Jeff’s unusual interest in a fellow human being he doesn’t want to see naked.
The night of fantasy role play with the added spice of a hidden agenda is set, but for reasons that are obvious to all but Pierce, the OAP is left out of the discussion and subsequent game. He, however, insists on joining in, destroying the carefully set up lets-keep-Neil-alive structure of the game.
As with all things Pierce, in order to feel better about his pathetic existence, the lonely millionaire cheats his way through and, during one particularly heated spell casting session, brings Neil to tears by revealing that Jeff is the cause of his nickname-themed misery. He also steals his prized sword.
This being Community and a fantasy spoof, everything is, of course, all right by the end, with Pierce’s unfathomably obnoxious depths being the means by which Neil realises that being known as Fat Neil is infinitely better than being Pierce. Teen suicide averted, and the cantankerous retiree is none the wiser.
As fantasy spoofs go, using D&D as a catch-all representative is a superb way of, not only keeping the budget down (it doesn’t get any more lo-fi than a group of people sitting round a table describing how they walk), it also allows the writers to take the show anywhere they want, limited only by time and the need to make sure Neil happy by the end.
It’s a beautifully worked episode, and actually quite brave for a prime time show. There’s little to no ‘action’ and it’s ninety-nine percent dialogue, the other one percent being Chang’s visual gag, and the use of an interesting array of wipes and dissolves as punctuation. It’s the sort of episode that would be considered TV suicide for many big shows, but in Team Community’s hands, it’s genius.
It’s also the perfect vehicle for the not inconsiderable talents of one Danny Pudi, who, as Abed the Dungeon Master is once again able to spend 20 minutes playing everyone from a dying gnome to an elf maiden deflowered by Annie’s well endowed warrior. (This scene, while told through the magic of lip reading and mime is probably the funniest in the episode.) How they got that past the censors will forever remain a mystery.
As has been said many times in these reviews, Abed is a fantastic creation, and any excuse to show his multiple personality-like penchant for slipping in and out of reality is welcomed.
Despite the movie ripping, Community is at its heart a comedy, and thankfully, the gags are still there. From the Middle Earth-style monikers, in particular, Troy the Obtuse, and Shirley the Cloying, to Britta the Needlessly Defiant’s insistence on PCing up the D&D-verse, Advanced Dungeons And Dragons isn’t short of a laugh or two. It does, after all, contain ex-Senor Chang.
But, what’s most striking about this episode is that, while poking fun at D&D, which could be considered something of a soft target, the fun-making doesn’t really extend to the game itself. Jeff’s one sly comment aside, Dungeons and Dragons is treated with affection and an unusual amount of respect. It’s pretty safe to assume that somewhere in the Community writer’s room lurks a committed D&Der.
With Advanced Dungeons And Dragons, Community has once again shown the big boys how it’s done. From the literally fantastic script, to the spot-on score, where at least one of the tracks contains lyrics that are deliberately (please, TV god) nonsense, and the utterly enjoyable performances, it’s an instant Top Five Classic episode.
An affectionate spoof, a love letter to role playing and a master class in the art of the sitcom all rolled into one, this is TV you should not be missing.
Read our review of episode 13, Celebrity Pharmacology, here.
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