My wife and I have recently been going back through Community in our downtime. It’s am amazing show. Our group of friends watched is all the time in college, and it’s really one of my favorite shows of all time. The writing and acting match each other effortlessly, and it was really one of the funniest shows on TV when it was going. Yeah, it hit some rough patches, and hit the classic problem of “geeks can’t have nice things,” because even though it’s super beloved and has a devoted cult following, it never really got any ratings or made much money. It really spoke to people like me, people obsessed with pop culture. I could probably ramble on for days about how much I hate the Big Bang Theory, and how mad it makes me that people call it a show for geeks, especially when a show like this exists. It spoke directly to the geek masses in a way that pretty much guaranteed it would never be successful to a mainstream audience, but beloved to those who got it and it’s sense of humor.
Community had one of the best batting averages of any show I’ve ever seen, pretty much all of their episodes are great, but there’s some that are masterpieces. I’ll probably talk later about the amazing “Critical Film Studies” episode, the crazy one that’s somehow a reference to both My Dinner with Andre and Pulp Fiction. But the one that we watched last night, and the one I want to talk about now was called “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.”
This episode was from the later half of season 2, when the show as really hitting it’s groove. We were familiar with the characters and the strange humor, and the show was really clicking at this point. And because this show loved to tackle the unexpected, they decided to do a whole episode about Dungeons & Dragons. Now, Dungeons & Dragons is a huge blindspot in my geek/nerd knowledge. It’s right up there with Star Trek as one of those quintessential geeky things that I feel like I should know about, but I really don’t. I know the trappings of it, and I pretty much knows the rules, so I can understand a D&D reference pretty easily, but I’ve never played a minute of it in my life. But I think it’s fascinating. I’m not much of a video game guy, but the ones that I do love are typically Role Playing games, strategy, and Adventure, all of which really seem to have their roots in D&D. I also really enjoy listening to D&D podcasts, things like Nerd Poker or the Adventure Zone are really interesting and fun to me, even though they’re literally just recordings of people sitting around playing an RPG. So, while I love this episode, I don’t know if it’s at all accurate. I assume that if the showrunners felt like they needed to make an episode about D&D they must have some familiarity with the property, so I’m just going to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The episode is pretty simple, there’s a character that’s popped up previously in the season that everyone calls Fat Neil, and after Jeff hears him make a cryptic remark that hints at depression, and the possibility that he’s suicidal, he decides to invite Fat Neil to the study group to play his favorite game, Dungeons & Dragons. Of course, they don’t invite the insensitive and rude Pierce, and when he finds out, he ruins the game and tries his best to humiliate Fat Neil, and the rest of the group.
Now, I could sit here and type out a bunch of great jokes from the episode, but Community is one of those shows that’s kind of hard to make a synopsis for, it relies so much on the jokes. So instead, I want to talk about the way this episode was constructed. Already the show had broken it’s usual sitcom formula to have an insane action movie episode, a claymation Christmas episode, and a crazy horror Zombie parody. So when the episode starts and lays the concept on us, I was assuming we were going to get a fantasy episode. The characters dressed up in medieval outfits out in the woods, acting out the things they were doing. Not like they were LARPing or anything, more like we were looking into the fantasy world. Or maybe even having the fantasy part be animated or something. But no, this episode is pretty much all spent around a table, with a lot of dice rolling and looking through papers. They didn’t make the episode a straight up parody with costumes and stuff, even though that may have been more acceptable to the general audience. With costumes and special effects, the mainstream people may have looked at it like a parody of Lord of the Rings or something, and rolled with it. But instead they replicated what it’s actually like to play D&D. All the fantasy action was in our heads, it was just the cast at a table, letting both the fictional and “real” drama play out. That’s such a clever way to handle a topic like this, and it’s a perfect example of why this show was so amazing.
“Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” was written by Andrew Guest and directed by Joe Russo.
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