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.
– 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.
AIRED ON 3/24/2015
Season 6 : Episode 3