Remember “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” that beautiful episode from season 2 that mixed the idea of a theme episode with phenomenal character development and humanistic storytelling? The theme was brilliant and fleshed out, but entirely subsidiary to the characters, creating not only a great episode of Community, but a memorable story with some hilarious and clever dialogue. The decision to revisit the tabletop role-playing game is a bit nerve-wracking in that light. Theme episodes have all too often been used as ways to tell cliché stories with familiar characters. They’re fun diversions, but the people behind the show forgot in several cases that the reason these kinds of episodes ever worked was because they were necessary to get at the human heart of the story. So, is “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” a lazy rehash, or something that taps into an emotional core as successfully as its predecessor? Well, let’s recap.
Buzz Hickey learns that his grandson’s third birthday is approaching, and his son, Hank Hickey (David Cross!) has asked for a present. Buzz is not invited to the party, however, and this causes contention; Hank hasn’t let Buzz see his son outside of major holidays, and instead spends most of his time playing Dungeons and Dragons, which the group recalls from their play-through with “Fat Neil,” one of the more complexly developed secondary characters. Recalling the success of their last play-through, the group decides to attempt a sequel in order to save Buzz and Hank’s relationship.
Abed, reprising his role as dungeon master, lays out the basic story and characters, but Hank sees right through the plan to force him and his father to reconcile through a tightly controlled game. He mixes up the characters, and, to Jeff’s chagrin, he has taken Buzz’s character, while the Dean has taken Hank’s. Thus, in game, Jeff and the Dean are father and son. As the group tries to move forward, Hank resists the contrived attempts, and creates discord by burning an in-game bridge and causing chaos. Everyone is upset that the plan isn’t working out as well as it did with Neil, causing Hank and Buzz to address outright the root of their problems: Buzz’s inability to communicate his emotions.
Abed pushes the game forward, but when Hank attempts to disband the game, Buzz offers an alternative: finish the game, and if Buzz can complete the goal of defeating the Necromancer before his son, then he gets to attend the birthday party. If he loses, then he cannot go to any major events, like Christmas. Jeff, Hickey, Shirley, and Annie, have been separated in-game from the Dean, Chang, Hank, and Britta, and thus the two groups enter different rooms. The Hickey bunch must work together to achieve the game’s goal before his son.
After a frightening run-in with hobgoblins, Shirley’s character dies, and she exits with a characteristic guilt trip. Abed returns to the Hank group, and despite no information for the Dean about his “father” character, the group moves forward steadily thanks to Hank’s lead. Both groups are now fully into the game, since the stakes are so high, and Abed goes between the rooms as everyone progresses. Hickey proves to be rather brilliant, interrogating goblins and incorporating other wartime skills. After days apart, the groups learn that they are both ten miles from the Necromancer’s tower. War is imminent.
Both groups have fallen under the sway of their respective Hickey leader; Buzz wants his son and family back, of course, but Hank believes that the access to family is unearned due to years of neglect. In a stand-off, the Dean tries to hug his father, Jeff, but walks into a drawn sword, causing a battle. Only Buzz and Hickey survive, and both search the tower. However, the Necromancer has gone, and while Jeff suggests calling it quits. The two, however, won’t leave the game, and bicker over ways to go forward in the game—however, they’re going forward together. The relationship is, to the best of its ability, mended, and the gang goes home.
Kind of a disappointing ending, but not a bad episode overall. The return of the game is fun but I don’t know that it was terribly necessary; while the initial setup did suggest new ground to cover, by the end, not much felt stand-out new. “Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” is pretty good, but it’s not phenomenal, and putting it up to the standard of the previous one might have been a misstep. Still, no harm no foul, as the character development took precedent, and Buzz Hickey reveals himself once more to be a great member of the cast.