Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (Community)

When heavy mockery depresses Neill to the point of contemplating suicide, it’s up to the study group to have a Dungeons and Dragons session and make him feel good about himself again.  Unfortunately, Pierce, feeling a little angry that the group left him out, barges in and ruins their fun. Can the group keep Neil from suicidal depression while trying to manage a vengeful Pierce?

First thing I want to tell you is that this review has heavy spoilers, so read with caution. I have to say that, as someone who grew up in the 90s, I found this episode refreshing.  For those of you not familiar with 90s culture, they often put geeks down.  For instance, television shows, particularly those directed at pre-teens, would portray Star Trek fans as weirdos who couldn’t function in the real world.  D&D is no exception, as TV Shows often used the famous tabletop RPG as a metaphor for drugs. The show, Lizzie McGuire, had an episode where Gordo found himself drawn into a fictitious game like D&D called Dwarflord. Not only did the girls stick their nose up at the game, but they also grew concerned as Gordo sunk deeper and deeper into it, ignoring life around him and spending all his money on Dwarflord cards as if he just got addicted to meth. In the end, Lizzie and Miranda save Gordo with an intervention and are happy that he’s focusing on what they consider normal stuff.  Needless to say, portrayals like this are why I stayed in the geek closet for most of my life.

Community, on the other hand, chose to portray D&D as a healthy escape from reality that can help someone get over their depression. For those of you who watch Community, let me explain that Neil is not a regular member of the study group, but a guest character the story revolves around. Which can be a risky premise, but Community manages to make it work. The first thing they do is explain who Neil is through a Lord of the Rings style narration. In high school, his fellow students mocked him for being overweight by using the nickname, Fat Neill. He often used D&D as an escape from the constant mockery. When he got to Greendale Community College, he heard someone call him that name and the mocking began again except, this time, Neill contemplated suicide.

This scene explains the episode’s premise better than I ever could.

If you’re wondering how the study group fits into this, it’s because Jeff is the one who organized the game session.  He’s the one who started talking to Neill and pretended to be interested in D&D so that Neill will feel better about himself.  Some of you may feel that this is a bit out of character for Jeff, but he is the one who started the mocking by accident. Jeff, in his insensitivity, called him Fat Neill while explaining to someone else where the bathroom was. For those of you unfamiliar with Community, Jeff appears to be the stereotypical muscle-bound narcissistic oaf with enough charm and good looks to distract people from the fact that he’s pure evil.  He’s the type of character presented as the villain and the romantic false lead the nerdy hero must overcome to win the hot girl, which in itself is a sexist double standard that I won’t talk about here.  Jeff, on the other hand, can be a bit of a jerk but he’s not a complete monster.  Jeff genuinely feels bad that he indirectly caused cruel mockery and wants to make it right. Jeff does this by getting the group together for D&D, apart from Pierce, which I’ll explain later, and Chang becomes an unwanted addition to their game.

I’ll admit that I’ve only played D&D a few times, so I get the gist of it.  You create characters to go on fantasy adventures with your only guide being the dungeon master. Not surprisingly, the Dungeon Master of this adventure is Abed.

Abed introducing the study group to Dungeons and Dragons.

He’s the one who creates characters for everyone, something my short-lived group had to do themselves. He also takes the role of minor characters for the other characters to interact with, which has some funny results. Particularly when Abed and Annie act out a sex scene in explicit detail between her character, Hector the Well-Endowed, and the elf maiden Abed creates. You never hear the scene but, judging from the looks on everyone else’s faces, the scene was rather disturbing which added to the hilarity.  Shirley and Troy don’t get to do much in this episode except make a few remarks suited to their characters.  Shirley makes a comment that is either slightly homophobic, an accusation of racism, or slightly both when Abed admits that he created the character of Hector the Well-Endowed with Troy in mind. Then she makes a disapproving acknowledgement about Chang’s obvious racist act. Something he conducted by coloring his skin black and wearing pointed ears to cosplay his dark elf character, making it look like he’s black facing.  Unfortunately, this very scene got the episode removed from both Netflix and Hulu.

And this is why you can’t watch the episode on Netflix and Hulu anymore.

Surprisingly, Chang is not the villain of the story, and they kill his character off early in the game. The villain is Pierce, but I’ll talk more about that later.  As for Troy, all he does is act stupid by thinking additional notes is an attack and makes mentions to chutes and ladders, which are cute moments. The highlight of the show is Britta, who decides to bring her political views into the game. It’s Britta who questions why enemies attacked, claiming that the players themselves are invading their territory.  Then, when it’s time to question a gnome waiter, Britta makes it clear that all species are equal and wants to help the oppressed gnomes, to Jeff’s chagrin, which was a total LOL moment for my mom and me.  Jeff himself only makes sarcastic comments and acts as the group’s sane man, having no imagination to get into the game.

Now I’ll talk about Pierce, who the group excludes from the game due to his incredibly insensitive nature.  The only reason they invited Chang is because he happened to be in earshot of the study group while they were planning it. Pierce is upset that they excluded him, but that doesn’t excuse him for being at his absolute worst in the whole episode.  Jeff tries to explain that Neill is close to suicidal; something Pierce doesn’t get due to his own jealousy that Neill’s replacing him clouding his mind.  Even when Neill is nice to Pierce, he repays him by stealing Neill’s treasured sword and then running off with the cloak Neill gave him. Unbelievably, this is only the beginning of Pierce’s transformation into the sinister one-dimensional villain of the game. He separates from the group for a while, studying up on Dungeons and Dragon in the closet while drinking brandy on a throne he made of boxes like an old-school James Bond villain.

The villain on his “throne.”

Pierce is determined to win the game by any means necessary, which is anyone who’s played D&D knows that’s not really the point of the game.  Then comes back riding a dragon, steals Neill’s sword, freezes them all and rubs his ***** on the sword. It’s something that’s impossible in real life without suffering serious injury, but Pierce does that successfully in D&D world.  If that wasn’t enough, Pierce turns into a Grade A ******* by mocking Neill for being fat in his own imaginary world.  While it does make Neill cry, instead of getting angry and wanting to kill Pierce, like how I felt, he instead sees that Pierce is a pathetic and insecure man-child and chooses to pity him. The rest of the group follows suit and then attacks Pierce after he unfreezes them.

As I said earlier, Abed is the Dungeon Master, so his job is to narrate the adventure, play the minor characters and roll the dice. The episode claims that the Dungeon Master is the only one allowed to roll the dice but, when I played, we all got to roll the dice. It’s something I was happy about, because I love the feel of dice in my hands as I shake them.  Abed feels that, because he’s the Dungeon Master, it’s his job to remain impartial.  Something Abed still feels strongly about, even when Jeff tells him to break the rules in Neill’s favor. Abad’s the one who separates Pierce from the group, narrating both of their adventures simultaneously until they meet up. In the end, Abad’s decision to remain impartial helps Neill overcome his depression. I don’t know if it’s because seeing Pierce made Neill realize just how pathetic bullies are, or the situation gave him a much-needed cry.  Perhaps Abed knew that things would go down this way, or maybe Abed takes his job as Dungeon Master a little too seriously.

Despite the serious subject matter, Community keeps its hilarity. Most shows can’t do special episodes like this without erasing the humor and reducing their characters to public service announcements.  While the episode is about how having a healthy fantasy life is a good thing, they manage to give this message without destroying the aspects that make the show special. Jeff’s still the only sane man of the group while being the leader. Troy’s still the stupid jock intrigued by this new world Abed’s showing him. Abed’s still the go to expert who does the real organizing. Shirley’s still the self-righteous mother figure pointing out immorality. Britta’s the bleeding-heart liberal, or Social Justice Warrior as some people on the internet like to call them, shoehorning in her views. Annie’s still the lovable crazy girl who gets a little too into the game. Chang’s the crazy guy who takes things too far. Pierce is the villain who ruins things for everyone out of childish jealousy. The credits scene at the end also ties into the story, due to Troy and Abed talking about whether they’d rather have abnormally large ears or a tail.  Both are fantasy elements you can put on D&D characters, so it fits. This episode is hilarious. I give it 9 out of 10, a brilliant tribute to a popular tabletop RPG.  It’s a real shame that you can no longer find it on streaming.

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