The Season Two episode “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” has the arbitrary honor of being the first Community episode I watched. That made me both excited and dubious about this episode, as Community’s track record on remakes is filled with hits and misses.
If forced to pick a side, I’d call “Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” a miss, but it’s a near miss, and one that was pleasant to watch. It’s hard to go wrong with David Cross (Arrested Development), and Hickey is still marked in my books as pure fun.
Their father/son conflict was perhaps most interesting in what it didn’t reveal: according to Hank, Hickey treats grandchildren as trophies. But don’t all grandparents do that? What’s the real root of the conflict? Hickey not being around much is a silly reason for Hank to not let him be around at all, so Community doesn’t even pretend that the decades-long conflict between these two matters, or can be resolved. What does matter is finding some sort of equilibrium, regardless of the causes. The solution, to get Hickey and Hickey Jr. inured to being in a room together, is the sort of compromise at which this show excels.
However, that father/son conflict also emphasized the weirdness of Season Five, because it was Jeff who pointed out how to solve it. After all, Jeff has gone through his own father/son drama and come out the other side. Now, instead of learning a Valuable Life Lesson©, Jeff can pass those life lessons on to others. Although that may sound like progress—and it is, for Jeff—the sort of emotional development Jeff displayed in this episode reminds us how weird it is that he, and the rest of the group, are still stuck at Greendale, attempting to save it through the magic of tabletop games. And, in Jeff’s case, attempting to manage the Dean’s increasingly physical advances.
Jeff and the Dean, as Sir Riggs Diehard and Joseph Gordon Diehard (a great Looper Bruce Willis/Joseph Gordon-Levitt joke) were interesting, although I prefer it when jokes about the Dean’s sexuality focus on his sexual confusion and Dalmatian lust; the straight-up gay jokes are rather reductive. But perhaps they are worth it for the Dean’s wholehearted willingness to slay the sky spiders. He will not scoop them up with a catalog this time!
Indeed, this episode’s greatest success came from the characters’ willingness to take this game seriously. Abed, as the gamemaster forced to impersonate two different hobgoblins, is the obvious choice for a Best of Seriousness award, but Hank Hickey’s elvish song and Annie backing up Hickey during the interrogation are dark horses in the running.
It wasn’t just the characters who took the game seriously; director Joe Russo did an excellent job of emphasizing the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit parodies, like that elvish song shot in a Vaseline-coated lens, and the shots of Abed-as-hobgoblin (Hobed?) from both sides, like Gollum struggling with his good and bad selves. Throughout, the camera zoomed and panned in a way that made the utter lack of action exciting: on the page, this episode is just people talking nonsense. On screen, it felt dynamic.
So why did it feel a little underwhelming? Maybe because the conflict came from a guest star and a new character. Maybe because a Hobbit: The One Where the Dwarves Do Dishes parody seems too easy. But maybe it’s because we’re not owed an ending. As Abed said, his role is to build a boundless world and constrain it by rules. That’s what Dan Harmon has done with this show: a boundless world of failures, freaks, and losers bound by the rules of a 24-minute sitcom constantly on the verge of cancelation. One of the rules is that we don’t get an epic emotional journey or perfectly delightful episode of awesomeness each week. At least we still get to spend time trapped in a room with these unlikeable, shouting characters, just like Hickey and his son.
Cool Cool Cool:
• I enjoyed all the hobgoblin, hobguarding, and hob-added-to-some-other-noun jokes.
• Annie and Abed’s apartment had all the windows blocked and lots of candles. Because that’s the appropriate interior design for a game of D&D.
• I loved Abed playing D&D with the stuffed animals. Hilary Rodham Kitten has a lot of potential as a future orc-slayer.
Three out of four