PERSONAL CONFESSION ALERT: I’m a pretty nerdy fellow, but I don’t get Dungeons & Dragons. This puts me rather at odds with Dan Harmon, who fucking loves him some Dungeons & Dragons. He put the role-playing game at the center of the season two Community episode “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” and plays a round of it on pretty much every episode of his Harmontown podcast. I usually fast-forward through that part of the show, because for all of the subversion and dick jokes, it’s basically a bunch of people in a self-perpetuating fantasy, awkwardly announcing “I cast the spell of the Sacred Funyon” or whatever, and I got a lotta podcasts to listen to, dude.
Yet “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” was a successful Community episode because it wasn’t just about playing Dungeons & Dragons, but about a Greendale story with real human stakes—namely, the fate of the potentially suicidal “Fat Neil.” The game did, in fact, save him, and in the opening sequence of this week’s “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” Jeff remarks that our Neil is “still out there doing this and that in the background,” as Neil does this and that in the background. It’s a simple but very funny visual gag in an episode that is, as before, mostly about characters talking.
Director Joe Russo (who also did the original D&D episode—oh yes, and co-directed that new Captain America moving picture) packs his frames with those types of visual gags whenever possible, and I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t get the feeling he’s much of a Dungeons player either. This is for the best—he keeps the pace clipped and the camera moving, whizzing around Abed and Annie’s apartment (a wise change in location from the earlier study room setting), and throwing in dramatic push-ins by the handful. He also tries out a lyrical, soft focus montage, concluding with the hilariously filthy image of Dean Pelton “rubbing his sword” to a picture of Jeff. Well played, censor-dodgers.
Still, it’s an episode about dialogue, character, and performance, and everybody gets a good moment or two. Jim Rash really goes for it in that sword-hugging bit (“Worth it!”), while we again see, after last week’s round of “Pile of Bullets,” that game-playing really does allow Alison Brie to bring out Annie’s delightful intensity. David Cross is terrific as Hickey’s estranged son, all bile and bitterness (how is it possible that he hasn’t guested before?), while Jonathan Banks allows just enough pain to peek out from under Hickey’s gruff exterior. And it’s kinda lovely how they get away with that non-ending ending.
Once again, the job of dungeon master proves ideal for Abed, and Danny Pudi really shines, whether in his matter-of-fact announcement of the characters named after his favorite actors and movies (“Joseph Gordon Diehard” and “Riggs Diehard”) or doing a late-night game with a table of stuffed animals. “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” is one of the season’s lesser episodes in terms of sheer laughs-per-minute, but any episode that ends with Annie announcing “I can’t sleep without my stuffies” is pretty much golden any way you slice it.