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Returning from last week’s mediocre episode, Community returned to form last night. Feeling sorry for one of their classmates and his unfortunate nickname, the study group takes Fat Neil under their wings and attempt to cheer him up. They do this by partaking in one of Fat Neil’s favorite games: The infamous Dungeons and Dragons. Feeling left out, Pierce soon takes over the game and takes it quite a few steps too far.
Don’t be fooled, though, into thinking that the plot was only slapped together to give the writers a chance to make fun of Dungeons and Dragons. While the show does joyfully play with the notion of role-playing, the plot itself is sound and important to the overall success of the episode. This is one of the things that is most enthralling about the NBC show. Community successfully ingrains its pop culture references into the plot in such an intrinsic way. Never do the characters simply name-drop an idea, or a reference, to get a laugh. They earn the joke, again and again, and give each situation a reason to exist. And they get these laughs, while also making us care for the characters sharing the experience.
This week, the spotlight was on a few characters. While in the past, the writers have given the biggest laughs to Abed or Troy and let the other characters generally play it straight; this week this is not the case. Annie’s silent description of making well-endowed love to an elf maiden was a highlight of the episode. Shirley’s admission that she’s been waiting for Pierce’s bloodied body to show up was funny. Even Britta, a character who I often find grating had a few good lines in her. Her empathy to a servant gnome and her plight for equality in the D&D world left me chuckling. As said before, we all know Abed and Troy can steal any episode. Specifically this week, Abed’s role as Dungeon Master is the true standout performance of the night and a perfect fit for the character.
Fat Neil, played by Charley Koontz, was precious to this episode. Unlike Jack Black’s previous guest appearance, Koontz feels like he belongs in the Community universe. Koontz, despite being an entirely unknown actor, seems comfortable in front of the camera, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if he appeared again on the show. The only character who I feel was not written at their best was Pierce.
When we have Pierce as a protagonist in some episodes, he is annoying, but endearing, and I find it quite easy to be sympathetic to the aging man. However, as he is the main antagonist in this episode, it appears as though the writers did away with any of his redeeming qualities and simply made him a jackass. Pierce is pure evil in this episode, in a way unseen before in Community. This is slightly frustrating as we spent a whole half-hour last week learning to understand why Pierce is an accepted part of the group at all. Last week, Pierce’s negative behavior pays off in the end, where as no such conclusion exists in “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.”
The other seemingly out of character was Jeff, who is the first to invite Neil into the group. However, this character’s abnormality pays off in the end in an entirely obvious twist that still sufficiently works to keep the episode moving.
“Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” feels much more like a bottle episode than even “Cooperative Calligraphy” did (which was self-referentially by definition, a bottle episode). We see no Dean, no Star-Burns or no Dr. Ian Duncan. However, there is one cameo: the always funny Señor Chang. I’ve never been sold on that character completely, but the past few episodes have really given him some great material to play with. Again, I wouldn’t be too sad if the group eventually did invite him to be a permanent member of the Community family.
Finally, as a real-life weekly Dungeons and Dragons player, this episode holds a special place in my heart. One of my favorite shows tackled one of my favorite games. While some might complain that the only two D&D players shown are overweight, I had no problem with the way Community handled the game. They accurately portrayed the sarcastic and witty way that my friends and I play Dungeons and Dragons. Yet, just like Community always does, they did it with respect to the source material. Fat Neil is not a caricature of a nerd who is free of emotion, but in fact a well-rounded character, surprisingly developed for the amount of screen time he has had. This episode was a great installment for the increasingly strong season of Community, and I’m excited to see what idea this sitcom will make fun of next.