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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No "Dungeons" for COMMUNITY

Article first published as No "Dungeons" for COMMUNITY on TheTVKing.

This week's installment of NBC's Community, "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," is an excellent entry for the series. While avoiding many of the fantasy-heavy elements other, similar episodes show us, in some stellar acting (with choice sound effects tossed in), the cast paints a picture of a tale as personal as it is made up, luxuriating in the relationships between the players. Plus, there are oodles of the stuff that makes Community so charming.

The little touches that season five lacked are in almost every scene of "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons." It begins right off the bat as Jeff (Joel McHale) mentions Neil (Charley Koontz) as a background character - while Neil strolls through the background. The Dean (Jim Rash) says the school doesn't have insurance, Abed (Danny Pudi) is excited to tackle the challenge of making a good sequel, and Hickey (Jonthan Banks) doesn't know the game his son loves involving dungeons and dragons is called Dungeons & Dragons. All of these things kick the writing up a notch.

Also, there are little references for Community fans to pick up. The names Abed comes up with for the characters within the game, from Joseph Gordon and Riggs Diehard to the troll, all mean something. And the Hawthorne Mountains are a clear tribute to Pierce.

There are also brilliant lines of dialogue sprinkled within. Hickey's son, Hank (David Cross, Arrested Development), whom the gang plans this activity to help Hickey reconnect with, calls Abed 'Aziz,' which sounds a little racist, but is a wonderful shout out to Aziz Ansari. When Hickey is asked what drew him to this game at age sixty, he responds with "Dungeons. It'd be the dungeons," delivered just beautifully. Chang wondering if Hank means Times Square when saying his father missed birthdays because he was somewhere rhyming with no there is so earnest it evokes a smile. Everything Abed says as a troll, either troll, is gold. And Shirley's (Yvette Nicole Brown) parting shot after dying in the game, "Just remember, whenever the wind whispers through the woods, you got me killed," is classic wit.

But beyond all of this, as usual, it's the character development that makes the installment a winner. Jeff's own relationship with his father colors his desire to help Hickey and Hank reconnect, and the tenuous bond, which a proud Hickey is willingly to do just about anything to heal, it very moving. This parent-child connection is one the show has explored before, and it really works well here.

Of course, Abed is outside of this, not being one who relates well to others. His role in "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" is to take the game completely seriously, at the expense of all else. He even gets mad that Hickey treats some of the proceedings as a joke. We're reminded once more why Abed isn't normal, but there's also a vulnerability here that informs on who he is and still makes him sympathetic, and his detachment is what drives the great scenario.

Other, small moments are also worth noting. Hickey's instincts is to punch things in the heart, but that's because he's interested in setting his own rules and not feeling helpless, not because he's overly violent. Annie (Alison Brie) mourns Shirley for only a moment before rooting around in her gear, showing how she presents a nice facade to the world, but is ruthless enough to be a competitor. And the Dean's commitment to playing Jeff's son in the D&D world is not only sweet, but integral to who he is.

The ending of all this is great and realistic. Hank and Hickey aren't all smiles and hugs, but a door has been opened between them as efforts are made. They cannot repair such a broken relationship in one afternoon, but thanks to the Save Greendale organization, they have the opportunity to find common ground to start from. It may be just about the most perfectly constructed conclusion of a Community episode yet.

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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