Yea verily, Community returns to the world of D&D with “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” The show is in good hands again, because Abed’s notes on the surrounding countryside look more extensive than The Silmarillion.
- Director: Joe Russo
- Writer: Matt Roller
- Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Bree, Ken Jeong, Jim Rash, Jonathan Banks
Episode Title: “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”
The group puts together another game of D&D to facilitate a reconciliation between Hickey and his son Hank. Unfortunately, Hank doesn’t want to step into the fictional relationship between warriors Joseph Gordon and Riggs Diehard. He switches up the character sheets Abed prepared, and burns the bridge the party is standing on. Jeff, Annie and Shirley end up with Hickey, while Britta, Chang and the Dean go with Hank. Father and son fight and decide whichever group reaches and kills the necromancer wins something in real life. Hank will have to invite his dad to his son’s parties, or Hickey will have to stop going to his sister’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Initially unaware he’s playing a tiny gnome rogue, Hickey tries to steamroll through some hobgoblins and gets Shirley’s character killed. Hank, on the other hand, charms some sky-spiders and other members of his group. The Dean pines for Jeff, now stuck with the father/son combo, while Hickey interrogates some of the hobgoblins. The two parties reach the necromancer’s tower at the same time, and the Dean impales himself on Jeff’s sword trying to get a hug. This sets off a huge fight, which gets everybody killed save Hank and Hickey. Still bickering, they attack the necromancer together but find he’s fled in the confusion. The group realizes that D&D has become a constructive forum for the two to argue, and leave them to quest. In the episode tag, Abed role-plays a tea party with Annie’s stuffed animals, including Hilary Rodham Kitten.
- Waterboarder of Hobgoblins: As usual, director Joe Russo does a great job of finding the right camera angles and moves to evoke the sense of imagining a fantasy world. This is one of those times where a cinematic device can really contribute to the humor. The different angles used as Hickey interrogates the hobgoblins (both played by Abed by oddly splitting his lip) are one such. Other neat tricks were the soundtrack-sorrow coverage of David Cross’ Hank singing in a fantasy language, and the fire that catches in his glasses when he burns the bridge.
- Splitting the Party: It was a great storytelling move to find another reason to split up the group. It facilitated the competition, but also the ability for them to hone in on the father/son motivations and issues for that race. This also allowed space for us to appreciate the ingenious character names – the MVP is Fibrosis the Ranger, although Crouton the Druid and Dingleberry the Troll are close seconds.
- Diehard and Son: Can we appreciate the loveliness of Riggs Diehard and Joseph Gordon Diehard? It was pretty inevitable that Jeff and the Dean would end up with the father/son characters. We loved how completely Jim Rash committed to his filial devotion, and his dreamy sequence of trying to contact his lost father via sparrow was a great interlude. The pile of failed notes sitting in Abed’s trashcan made the gag too.
- Hawthorne Mountains: Piece getting name-checked obviously brings up the first D&D episode, probably one of Community’s finest (half) hours. Abed also makes mention that this conceptual sequel shouldn’t be as satisfying, and in comparison it is indeed not. The stakes for the first D&D episode were much higher and more emotionally resonant. But this outing, taking place as it does in Annie and Abed’s apartment, feels much more like a group of friends hanging out. So it does carve (cleave!) out its own territory.
- Hector the Well-Endowed: In one respect we think it’s appropriate to compare the two episodes, and this one comes up a little short. That’s the long silent sequence, the slow-mo miming of character actions all our actors get to do. Here, it’s really ramped up with the showdown between the two parties covered in slow-motion and barely audible sound. Everyone’s game and wonderful, especially Chang! But it’s just not as strong as the first episode, where Annie seduced an elf-maid.
- Cross Purposes: David Cross is inspired casting for Hank, and fit in well with the cast. Although we felt the ending was abrupt and somewhat unresolved, we were pretty satisfied with Abed’s explanation of why. The one thing that keeps this episode down is that Hickey and his son’s issues are pretty generic. They weren’t expanded on or exploited by the episode’s conceits. Cross is an actor who can carry that emotional load and be as funny. It was a shame he didn’t get to do both.
While it’s not a heart-puncher and ended in a rush. Community put together another convivial roleplaying quest. The tag (“You make an attempt to pass the crumpets. YOU FAIL.”) was uproarious as well.
Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Does the show crit hit or does it need to reroll initiative? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.