This is not the first time “Community” did a sequel. The season two finale did a reboot of paintball, and season three brought back the blanket fort. The thing is, those sequels had an emotional backbone that allowed the characters to shift dynamics and further develop relationships within the Study Group.
No such luck with “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.”
Hickey is our newest character on “Community,” replacing the ever racist, misogynist, homophobic Pierce Hawthorne. But the first four seasons of “Community” gave Pierce the room to grow. He shifted from “crazy old man” to “villain of the Group” to “the guy we deal with because sometimes he’s not so bad.” With Professor Hickey, we still haven’t got that emotional investment. We know a little about his past and current life situation: fought in a war, strained relationship with his son, used to do police work, and now he draws cartoons of a duck in his spare time. But these little character quirks are still just character quirks.
So, having a sequel episode of Dungeons and Dragons by framing the plot around Hickey and his son, Hank (guest star David Cross), doesn’t make great television. Sure, there are some good bits but the majority of the original Study Group lacks that bubbling chemistry in the presence of “outsiders”—Dean Pelton, Ben Chang, Buzz Hickey, Hank Hickey. It doesn’t help that the group gets split into two during the game. With no one to play off of, Britta is just sitting around a bunch of weird guys. Shirley gets killed early on and just leaves instead of hanging out to see how everything turns out. And pretty much everyone has already played the game before, so there’s none of those “types” of friends in the original “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode: Troy as the guy who has no idea what’s going on; Britta as the elf activist; Pierce as the villain.
There’s also no real emotional stakes. In the original, “Fat” Neil was suicidal because of the nickname Jeff coined, and the game was to give Neil a group of people who cared about him. This time around, Hickey wasn’t invited to his grandson’s birthday party because of a strained relationship with Hank. But we never find out what turned the relationship sour. Hank mentions Hickey was never around, but the details are vague. Dungeons and Dragons turns into a competitive game between father and son, so it’s difficult to know who to root for and even why.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t great bits. Hickey interrogating Abed’s two hobgoblins, with the different camera angles and cuts, was creative genius primarily for Danny Pudi’s superb facial expressions. Between the hobgoblins & his Nicolas Cage breakdown, Pudi continues to prove his versatile acting chops this season.
But really, when you have a guest star like David Cross, go big and don’t go home. I don’t know if it was improvised or what, but that line about the popcorn kernel stuck in his teeth felt so different compared to the rest of the episode, and I mean that for the better. This is isn’t the first time “Community” didn’t use its guest stars to their full potential (Nathan Fillion, anyone?).
Maybe there were just too many characters in that little apartment. Chang has been underused and ineffective all season. Dean Pelton, while he did have a great death scene (impaling himself on Jeff’s sword…EUPHEMISM), invited himself to the little party but no one seems bothered by it.
“Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” was just a weak episode compared to the rest of the season, and definitely when put against the whole of the show. The conclusion was lukewarm, the characters were so-so, and I missed Troy Barnes even more when they all started exclaiming “Huzzah!”
Other observations & highlights:
- When Jeff talks about Fa…bulous Neil “doing this and that in the background,” Neil is, in fact, doing this and that in the background of that shot. I probably laughed harder than I should.
- Abed moved into Troy’s old room, meaning no more blanket fort in the den! But if there’s only two rooms, where would a third roommate sleep?
- I’m still disappointed that Britta and Shirley still get sidelined for Abed, Annie, & Jeff. Count the lines, people.