Community "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" Review: We Did This Adventure Already

By Tim Surette

Mar 21, 2014

Community S05E10: "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"


There was no avoiding it. Because Season 2's "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" is still my favorite Community episode to date (review here), the bar for the show's return to the realm of dice and Abed's imagineering, "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," was set pretty high; to count as a successful follow-up to its excellent predecessor, the episode would need to make a clutch savings throw. Did it triumph? In a word, no; it was fine, not amazing. But even if I'd never seen the O.G. version, I'd still be saying that "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" was an okay-but-not-great episode of Community, as it relied on gimmick over substance.

The main problem for me was that all "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" really did was remind us of how much better its forerunner was. It sucks to have to compare the two, but c'mon, if a show is going to do TWO Dungeons & Dragons episodes, we can't not put them side-by-side. The Season 2 masterpiece that was "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" captured the essence of the game's pen-and-paper-and-Mt.-Dew-and-why-didn't-anyone-ask-me-to-prom? existence with an extra layer of sound effects and camera movement that was enhanced by a simple environment; it also made each character's character uniquely important to the adventure (and yes, it really felt like an adventure), and gave them all a moment in the spotlight. Britta communicated with gnome waiters, Annie seduced an elf maiden, and so on. "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" sucked viewers into the game itself because it made D&D feel participatory and fresh, which was critical to making it work. 

"Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" made me feel like I was watching other people play Dungeons & Dragons, which is one of the most boring things a person can be subject to in real life (being part of the game is an entirely different thing). And many characters (and their characters) seemed like they were just tagging along rather than actually contributing to the quest. Did Chang do anything, really? Did Annie do anything, really? Did Britta anything beyond having the ranger skill required to translate a sky spider's submission behavior? Seriously, I'm asking. I can't remember. But I don't think they had much to do, which put the episode's focus more on the game itself than on the characters.

And the purpose of the game, and therefore the episode, just didn't carry the same stakes. Yes, it's odd to say a D&D game has stakes, but in "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," Fat Neil's IRL life was potentially on the line—and Jeff was to blame, because he was the one who'd coined the "Fat Neil" nickname that threw Neil into suicidal depression. In "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," Hickey was upset that his son (guest-star David Cross) hadn't invited Hickey to Hickey's grandson's birthday party. That's not cool, but the situation didn't have the weight or importance of role-playing to save Neil. In "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," Neil's situation provided the emotional core that gave the game a greater sense of purpose; in "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," the game was just a gimmick.  

And while we're at it, I'm just going to come right out and say that I'm not a fan of Hickey's character so far; I'm especially not thrilled with the way Season 5 is trying to make him an equally important member of the study group. Maybe it's because I feel so connected to the original gang and I'm overly protective of the Greendale 7, maybe it's because Hickey isn't as funny as everyone else. Maybe I just miss Troy and Pierce and I don't think Hickey is doing a good job of replacing them. I had a similar problem with the way Community pushed Hickey on us in "Bondage and Male Sexuality," when he and Abed were cordoned off in his office. It isn't Jonathan Banks, because I love that dude. Maybe I don't like old people? No, I liked Pierce. There's just something missing with Hickey, and to hinge the game on his happiness when he clearly wasn't the best dad himself took a lot of oomph out of the game.

But "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" did have some fantastic moments, the best one being Hickey's interrogation of the two hobgoblins. Abed's dual performance was great, and that's when this episode felt most like the one that came before it (one hobgoblin did not like the other's best man speech!). It also happened to be the only time I really laughed out loud. 


Other than that, the Dean and Jeff's relationship as father and son was a good joke that recurred throughout most of the episode and culminated in a vaguely homoerotic impaling on Jeff's blade. The Dean did not mind. And Annie as Hector the Well-Endowed "spraying" everyone was hilarious. Someone give Annie a penis already, because she obviously knows how to use it better than I know how to use mine.  

Community's strength is in its originality, so any time it revisits an idea, it'd better do a damn good job because the element of surprise is no longer there, but extra scrutiny is. I liked the first paintball episode better than the others, I liked the first clip show more than the second, and I liked the original D&D outing better than this one. That's not to say that the second rounds weren't good, but the first times are almost always better. 


STUDY NOTES

– Once again, Community shoves Shirley away as fast as it can. R.I.P. Crouton.

– "Lightning bolt, lightning bolt, lightning bolt!" Viral video LARPer, you've been immortalized again! 

– I give the end tag a grade of "Meh." Abed hosting D&D tea parties with stuffed animals is what happens when Troy isn't around. 

– Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall interviewed Dan Harmon recently, and Harmon mentioned that he and his fellow writers struggled with the script for this episode, so much so that they were shooting pages that'd just been written. 


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  • numberonecubsfa Apr 25, 2014

    Not a great episode, but not terrible. You're being too hard on Jonathan Banks, though. He's been a fine addition because he's so different from the rest of the gang. It's a nice clashing of personalities. Like when he called Abed on his bullcrap a couple episodes ago.

  • tobsh Mar 30, 2014

    "I shove Britta's face in a puddle." So great!

  • rumbles Mar 25, 2014

    dan harmon proves he is unfunny again.
    season 4 had same level of quality

  • Romano338 Mar 23, 2014

    Meh.
    It had a feeling of Community, and also it didn't. Kind of weird. Was not like the first D&D.;
    Hickey is just not right for Community. He is not a character that should be in that show. As a result, he is kinda useless.
    Chang is still limited to nothing. Usually characters come from "background" to "having stories". He did the oposite. From a teacher with an actual role, to student with still a role, to now being here to say a couple of funny lines per episode.
    Community lost too much comic this year. Pierce and Troy, only replaced by a not funny Hickey, and leaving Abed absolutely not funny because Troy is not here anymore.

  • Romano338 Mar 23, 2014

    And by the way, I agree 100% on the part between the dean's picture and the poll. Except than I think that the Neil thing in season 2 was better than Hickey's not because it had more stakes, but because it felt more Community. It felt lighter despited not really being lighter. Hickey's was just a sentimental and emotional reason, a thing you could see in a lot of TV shows and you don't want in Community.

    Other than that, Hickey being useless in this show, a lot of characters having nothing to do, the feeling to watch people play and not feeling caught into an adventure and all that, I completely agree.

  • Sanity_Bleeds Mar 22, 2014

    Call me crazy, but I thought Abed's tea party D&D; at the end was about the funniest part of the whole episode.

  • bluemorphotat Mar 22, 2014

    Mmm found it a bit funny but also... a lot boring :-( Next ep please?

  • AdriaanOoster Mar 22, 2014

    N/o, but every review I read here is so pessimistic. It's like you don't even want to give it a chance anymore, it's not the same as community in the beginning so it sucks.

  • JT_Kirk Mar 22, 2014

    Community does GI Joe: A Real American Hero, the classic '80s cartoon, and here are pics!
    http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/03/21/new-images-from-communitys-gi-joe-episode

    I think I need to change my pants!

  • JT_Kirk Mar 22, 2014

    "It was fine, not amazing", so so very true. Ok, not great. I dunno that it relied on gimmick over substance though, I'd say they were on even footing, but that's not really a great place to be for quality.
    That said, your review is right on target, but I don't agree with your take on Buzz Hickey. Prof Hickey is a different dynamic, but no less important. This episode did a poor job delving into the character, but that doesn't mean the character himself is wrong, even the episode you felt should be wiped from canon had some interesting and unique character beats for him. What's missing from Hickey is that he just stays with this group despite common sense telling him not to, but that's the same thing that brought him to Greendale in the first place.

    As for David Cross, not only was that an element of total miscast for Buzz's kid, but he just was written so flat and shallow, expecting Cross to carry the weight of the character entirely. Waste of talents.

  • colbyfromage Mar 22, 2014

    Abed is extremely interesting since Troy left. It's like he got forced out of a bubble. It's subtle, but there's something going on there.

    I always like Dan Harmon Community episodes even when they're not the best of the best, like this one. I agree with whoever said Chang was great, even though he had almost no lines.

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