COMMUNITY 5.10 ‘Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’
Episode: "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"
Writer: Matt Roller
Director: Joe Russo
Previously on "Community":
In a recent interview, “Community” creator Dan Harmon cited “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” as a mistake and added that it was the most difficult episode of “Community” to produce during the fifth season. That may be the case, but it’s hard to tell from the episode itself. It’s actually one of the strongest episodes of the season.
This episode is a sequel of sorts to the season two installment, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons;” in which the study group played D&D when they were worried that Neil (Charley Koontz) was on the verge of suicide. Neil even briefly appears in the background, but the only thematic connection is that Harmon and his team of writers wanted to revisit Dungeons & Dragons by giving the Save Greendale committee members a lingering fondness for the game.
"Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" is essentially a story of fathers and sons: Professor Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks) and his son, Hank (David Cross). The other pair is Jeff (Joel McHale) and the Dean (Jim Rash) as father and son characters, Sir Riggs Diehard and Joseph Gordon Diehard.
Of the two father/son duos, there was more comedy in the Jeff and Dean subplot. The Dean is so desperate for any kind of relationship with Jeff that he throws himself into the role of the loyal son. Rash’s Dean wasn’t a major part of the original D&D episode, but his presence here made the episode. "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" also made good use of Chang (Ken Jeong); although Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) was out of the game way too early.
I’m sure it was someone’s ambition to one day film a scene of the Dean stroking a sword while staring longingly at a picture of Jeff. Well played, “Community.” It’s worth noting that while all of the other characters turn on each other, Joseph Gordon Diehard remains true to his father… even when he impales himself on Jeff’s imaginary sword just to get a hug.
Buzz and his son had the emotional stakes of the episode, as they clashed over whether Buzz would be allowed to spend time with his grandson at his birthday party. Banks gives Buzz so much humanity that it’s hard not to instantly side with him over his dickish son. But the truth is that we don’t really know Buzz or his son that well. Buzz has previously offered some tantalizing glimpses of his life (including a bulletin board of his failures), but this is our first indication that he wasn’t exactly a great father.
As much as I didn’t like Hank as a character, Cross was very funny in the role. His “musical number” in the episode was very amusing, as was the way he won the loyalty of Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Chang. Hank’s extensive knowledge of the game also gave him a distinct edge in the hunt for the Necromancer, a villainous character created by returning Dungeon Master Abed (Danny Pudi) as goal for the game. The first team to kill the Necromancer will settle a bet between Buzz and his son. If Buzz wins, he gets to come to the birthday party. If he loses, Buzz has to skip his family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.
Hank may be a skilled role player, but Buzz was apparently a great cop. Buzz’s interrogation skills are masterfully utilized in the sequence where he “questions” two Hobgoblins (both played by Abed) before wearing them down and turning them against each other. It was an instant classic.
Former “Community” director (and one of the co-directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Joe Russo made his return to the show here and he gave the episode some much needed visual flare. The use of sound and limited special effects was also very impressive. Keep in mind, almost the entire episode takes place in two rooms of Abed and Annie’s apartment. And it doesn’t matter because the story and the performances were so engrossing.
Eventually, the two competing teams slaughter each other outside of the Necromancer’s Black Tower until only Hank and Buzz are left in the game. Much to their dismay, they discover that the Necromancer has made his escape while they were fighting. Abed may be kind of a dick as the Dungeon Master, but he is correct about one thing. The Dungeon Master doesn’t owe anyone within the story of the game. It’s his job to create a fantasy world that operates on its own consistent set or rules and logic.
Fortunately, there’s no “hug it out” moment between Buzz and his son. That would have been too easy. Instead, Buzz and Hank are so dissatisfied with the outcome of their chase that they keep playing the game after the remaining characters slink out of the apartment. It’s a happy ending of sorts, as Buzz and Hank are probably playing together for the first time in their lives. It’s not perfect, but it’s a better dynamic than they had at the beginning of the night.
The tag scene fell a little flat, as Abed used Annie’s stuffed animals for a frustrating solo role playing game. That was more disturbing than funny. If ever a scene needed a great joke to close it out, this was it. But it never came.
Regardless, "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" was a very good episode. Magic happens when this cast is paired with sharp and funny writing. Harmon may not think it’s a good idea, but I’d watch more episodes just like this.