Community Season 5, Episode 10 “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”
Written by Matt Roller
Directed by Joe Russo
Airs Thursday nights at 8pm ET on NBC
Community‘s self-contained ‘sequels’ are often a mixed bag – compare “A Fistful of Paintballs” to something like “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” – a point Abed makes very clear in “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” opening moments. And with that warning prefacing the action and drama of the episode, it almost feels like the writers of Community know they aren’t on the top of their game, despite a strong central story and some of the best directing (welcome back, Joe Russo) in the entire run of the series.
Past that, however? At its heart, “Advanced Advanced” is about Buzz Hickey and his son, Hank, trying to repair a broken father/son relationship through the healing powers of a pre-constructed game of D&D. It’s a fairly simple story, one that pits father against son in the kind of bitter arguments that only people who’ve disliked each other for a long, long time could have – and just as simple is its resolution, with Abed the Dungeon Master detailing the long, bitter adventure the male hierarchy of the Hickey family can go on together. What’s problematic is what comes between that: none of it really builds up this Hank and Buzz conflict in any interesting way – even though it really can’t, because the episode is trying to paint both Buzz and Hank as two men making great points about each other.
For “Dungeons” to have a villain, it has to have a character acting out in a way that just feels wrong: in season two’s episode, Pierce got mad at the group for not including him, and took his anger out on suicidal Fat Neil, torturing him and the rest of the group to no end, attempting to break the game through chaos. There’s really no attempt at any of that kind of drama in this episode, which leaves most of the ‘dramatic’ progression up to the Dungeons and Dragons game… which, despite some hilarious scenes with Buzz interrogating two hobgoblins (played by Abed, of course) the return of Hector the Well-Endowed (complete with oversized cod piece), and the ‘father/son’ dynamic between Jeff “Riggs Diehard” Winger and his son, Craig “Joseph Gordon Diehard”, never really has any stakes, beyond “Let’s get these two people who hate each to like each other!”
Smartly, the episode concludes without trying to resolve that central drama, instead pointing out that sometimes a broken relationship is a good thing, if only because it’s still some sort of relationship. There’s almost a little bitterness, here: in a way, it feels like Jeff addressing his father is Harmon trying to put a band-aid on the horrible, horrible season four episodes that crumbled the most important part of Jeff Winger’s foundation as a character (that is, his conflict with his father, which drives and humiliates him at nearly every important moment in his life seasons one through three). Putting the focus on a minor character, that long-standing, parental conflict (the most important relationship conflict in a man’s life, in reality) feels incidental: there’s no winner or loser in this battle, just a sad resolution that shows two stubborn people refusing to let go of the past. It has its heart in the right place, but “Advanced Advanced” is never really able to get off the ground, sputtering along with a perfectly competent, unexciting return to the fantastical, dice-laden world of Dungeons & Dragons.