Mar 20, 2014

Thom Bitches About Community: "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"

Left to right: Jonathan Banks and David Cross
In the ashes of a failed column comes the reformed birth of Thom Bitches About Community: a weekly look at the beloved Dan Harmon sitcom that chooses to push boundaries and throw a meta cocktail into the face of every sitcom currently out there. With the return of the show's creator after a rocky, disastrous season four, we take a look at the show and try and capture what exactly makes the show worth checking out all these years later. Keep an eye out for it every Thursday night following the episode unless otherwise specified.

It seems like a premise that was bound to be repeated again. In "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," the gang returns for another game as helmed by Abed (Danny Pudi). With references to the previous version of the show in the first act, the episode is highly aware of its repetitive nature and much like the paintball extravaganza that was in the first two seasons, this one feels slightly aloof. It is strange that this is such an issue as creator Dan Harmon's turn into doing the game weekly on his delightful podcast Harmontown should have made the content richer and far more entertaining.
At its core, there isn't much to complain about. The metaphorical motivation is simple: Hickey (Jonathan Banks) needs to bond with his son (brilliant casting with David Cross). In a game lead by Abed, the group plays through a game that is even more complicated with people that may be even more stubborn. They aren't out to ensue chaos, but to not even participate. Hickey doesn't get the appeal of the game, but plays it simply so that he can talk to his son, whose life he was absent in for a good portion of his childhood.
The production values are higher as well. With entire scenes feeling like parodies of Lord of the Rings, there are moments where it feels like an apartment version of the game spread across two rooms. There are blurry cameras, special songs, and even a barrage of sound effects. It feels higher stakes, yet all of it feels too goofy to really make the Community episode feel special. The show has always benefited from characters first, but at times the visual appeal interferes and that causes problems. It feels like it is trying to be too reverent towards its subject matter. Not necessarily a bad thing, but when things go awry, the tone becomes a little distracting.
The conflict itself is resolved in an interesting if predictable enough way. It has the two arguing against each other, literally saying how stubborn they are through actions in the game. It isn't so much funny, but it does manage to capture a sense of who these characters are. However, there is still the sense that the game was largely done to capture the magic of the first Dungeons & Dragons episode. It is too much in conversation not to be.
It also doesn't help that last week's excellent episode involved emotional metaphors through gaming as well, if possibly better. I do enjoy when the show becomes kitschy and goes off in weird tangents. Playing old VHS video games was the logical next approach. This feels regressive in a lot of ways. More than anything, it feels monotonous and only gives off the impression that next week will be another emotional resolution through gaming. If that does happen, it will feel too much like pandering to an audience. Not necessarily the worst thing to pander about, especially on a network that has kept the show alive for five seasons now, but in terms of creativity, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Without sounding too redundant, the closing credits scene only made me feel worse for Abed. As many know, I am very disappointed that Troy had to leave, but it made sense. However, since then, Abed has wandered the show aimlessly and has only felt useful in a novelty sense, save for last week's episode. Here, he was going strong, even if it felt too desperate. The closing credits scene shows him playing a game with Annie's (Allison Brie) stuffed animals. It reminded me of how lonely he is and that it almost feels too sad to see him without a companion on the show who is equally as bizarre or quirky. 

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