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There are just some episodes of Community that shouldn’t be touched, as they were done perfectly the first time. “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” from the series’ second season is one of those episodes. While “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” certainly has some excellent elements, it just doesn’t quite measure up to Greendale’s first outing into the world of trolls, goblins, and necromancers.
While the first Dungeons and Dragons episode came about as Jeff attempted to help cure Neil’s depression (referenced in the opening moments of this week’s episode, with characters arguing over how successful the gang was in accomplishing their mission), this game of Dungeons and Dragons is once again played for charitable reasons with the goal of reuniting Hickey with his son, Hank. It turns out that Hickey wasn’t a great father (although he thinks differently, of course), and Hank didn’t invite Hickey to his son’s third birthday.
Once again, we have Abed (or, as Hank refers to him, Aziz) as the Dungeon Master, while the entire group (including Dean Pelton and Chang) take on various mythical creature identities (which is the most successful part of the episode, seeing the characters begin to inhabit their characters as the episode progresses). My main issue with the episode is that it centers on the relationship between a secondary character and his son (who we have just met), rather than bringing the relationships between our main characters into play. Sure, it’s a lovely tale of a father and son finding common ground (and, the lovely heartfelt message of the power of family- dysfunctional or normal- at the episode’s close is a great sentiment). But it misses on giving us what we want, which is more time spent with the Greendale gang. I don’t care enough about Hickey (despite how well he has stepped into his place in the group), and I certainly don’t care at all about Hank enough to make any resolution in their relationship really resonate.
However, there were some fun spots amidst the missteps. After a season of being relegated to the background or used in the occasional gag, the Dean is finally given some fun things to play. Jim Rash is one of the biggest assets of the series, and it’s criminal that he isn’t given more to do, but he more than makes up for it with his work this week. In fact, most of the night’s funniest lines were reserved for the Dean, as he laments being separated from his father (Jeff), vowing to return to him and hug him- which in turn leads to Jeff stabbing him to death during the hug (a small price to pay for the chance to touch Jeff).
Abed also gets to appear as the voice of reason amid the copious fighting. It’s always interested when Abed is presented as the “normal” one, as he is so often the outsider of the group. Here, Abed watches as the two teams’ infighting destroys the game, killing off all the characters save Hickey and Hank, who are then left without the evil necromancer to fight. The role of Dungeon Master really is appropriate for Abed, as his character has, throughout the series, attempted to live and interact with others from within the rules and fantasies he has concocted to help accept the world around him. Perhaps this is why he comes across as the most well-adjusted character within this episode- he has plenty of experience living in pretend worlds that they don’t phase him as much.
While “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” is certainly more successful than last season’s return trip to the darkest timeline, it still falls short of the magic of “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” I understand Dan Harmon and Co.’s desire to once again try to capitalize on a fan favorite, but at this point, I’d rather see the characters move forward as a group than try to help restore the relationship between a new character and his never before seen son.
— Dan Harmon recently did a long candid interview with HitFix’s Alan Sepinwell, wherein he mentions he wishes they hadn’t done another Dungeons and Dragons episode. He also admits that he isn’t sure what to do with Chang. I agree on both points (although having less Chang the past two episodes has worked quite well), and I commend him for being open and honest about what works on the show and what doesn’t. Far too few showrunners are willing to admit making mistakes.
— The end button with Abed and the stuffed animals playing D&D was just plain odd.
— The final interaction between Dean and Jeff was priceless- gotta love the bicep grab.
— After some good Shirley episodes, she once again is gone from the canvass too soon. But not before hitting home the point that Shirley can be mean when she wants to be.
— While I would say the Dean turned out to be the MVP of the episode, Hickey’s interrogation of Abed (portraying two hobgoblins) wins for scene of the night.