Community tries to recreate the magic of Season 2’s Dungeons and Dragons episode, and Leslie Knope tries to recreate the magic of Ann’s friendship.
COMMUNITY: “Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”
Yeah, you’d better run — go find a name that’s not another name plus hob!
As part of a “Mega” interview over at Hitfix (which you should read, it’s great), Dan Harmon has already gone on record admitting that “Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” will probably be seen as the weak link in a season that has largely been an improbable return to form for the show. The reason for that is twofold: first, as Abed says, sequels are rarely that satisfying. How can you make something that you’ve done before feel fresh? Secondly, Harmon knew he wanted to do another D&D episode from the beginning of his re-hiring, and took so long making it “perfect” they essentially ran out of time. The actors were shooting only a page behind what was being written. No one had settled on the ending until they actually got to it. This accounts for the abrupt, anticlimactic ending we got last night, a head-scratching capper to what had been to that point an extremely funny (if familiar) episode.
And make no mistake, it was incredibly funny. I could have watched this group play D&D for episode upon episode. I had a big stupid grin on my face the entire time, and never wanted it to end. And David Cross makes yet another bit of inspired casting, as Buzz’s estranged son Hank. It’s also somewhat fascinating that Buzz wants to achieve the same kind of familial reconciliation that Pierce never got, and it takes another rowdy game of “the crap with the dungeons and the dragons” to make it happen. Well, sort of. I mean, I get it — it’s not realistic for Buzz and Hank’s issues to be solved in a half hour, but it didn’t make the episode’s sudden ending feel any less…sudden. I could see what Harmon and co. were going for, and Abed’s meta argument that we’re not “owed an ending” is valid, but you definitely got the sense that they had tried to cram so much into the game play that they left themselves with only about 45 seconds of emotional resolution.
But what do you cut? Certainly not anything with Jim Rash, whose doomed quest to reunite with his “father” (and get a hug from Jeff) provided many of the episode’s most bizarre moments. Sending messages from across the hall? Brilliant. Actually, the first decision to split the group in half, once Hank and Buzz have made their bet, was a great one, as the shift in dynamics helped keep the episode from feeling too much like the original. My favorite scene was the extended interrogation between Buzz and Abed’s hobgoblins (“Wait, these things can talk?”), showing off Hickey’s well-worn police skills, with Annie posing in the background like it’s another scene from “Lupine Urology.” Chang, as brave, sweet, Dingleberry. Hank’s spontaneous, subtitled song in some made-up language. The return of Hector the Well-Endowed. The tropes of D&D are so well known that other series would use a plot like this to mock it mercilessly, but on Community everyone is all-in, no matter how weird and nonsensical it gets. The episode was expertly directed by Joe Russo, whose swooping camera moves and clever use of sound effects elevated the script even further, especially considering the constraints Russo and the cast must have been under. And when the two teams face off in front of the Necromancer’s tower, getting everyone killed but father and son (Nerd Hat: the Dungeon Master shouldn’t be the one rolling all those dice for combat, but whatever, it’s more cinematic with the shouting), we’ve built to a terrific climax with clear emotional stakes, and then it just…ends. Ah well.
So, no, it’s not as good as the original “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” but it’s not the tire fire Harmon thinks it is. It’s consistently entertaining and funny, and the series has by now rebuilt enough of its pre-Season 4 goodwill that Community still works just as a “hangout show,” just to see how the characters bounce off each other in different settings and combinations. I will now be pretty sad to see Jonathan Banks leave, whose involvement with AMC’s Better Call Saul will make this a one-and-done season for Buzz Hickey. But the story of Community’s continued survival — we’re still on track for #sixseasonandamovie — and creative turnaround is a minor miracle in and of itself, so hey, let’s just enjoy the ride.
PARKS AND RECREATION: “Galentine’s Day”
There is no silence anymore. There is only Doc McStuffins.
Speaking of hangout shows on the verge of their final season, let’s talk Parks! While there is still no official announcement yet one way or another, the rest of NBC’s comedy lineup is such an unmitigated disaster that this and Community keep getting renewed almost by default. But because the network’s upcoming slate of pilots genuinely sound better than usual, conventional wisdom is that both low-rated, dearly-beloved series will get one final round of 13 episodes next year. And as I lamented last week, this has been something of a minor season for Parks, as the emphasis of the terribleness of Pawnee only throws Leslie’s need to leave it into starker relief. Mercifully, however, this week takes a step back from the Pawnee-Eagleton merger and has Leslie solving another, more personal problem: finding a best friend replacement for Ann. (By the way: was Amy Poehler sick while filming? Her voice was distractingly low.)
But in true Leslie fashion, she overplays her hand, as an “impromptu Galentine’s Day brunch” turns sour when the girls she’s invited — April, Donna, Ethel Beavers, the beautifully fragile Shauna Malwae-Tweep, and Eagleton’s own Ann analogue Evelyn — realize Leslie has been secretly ranking them as they answer her invasive questions. Leslie’s embarrassment is only salvaged by a call from Ann herself, who just had her baby — which means we get a welcome guest appearance from Rashida Jones, though not Rob Lowe — and takes the opportunity to remind her that 1) she doesn’t have to replace Ann, and 2) Leslie and Ann don’t agree on everything, despite Leslie’s repeated paens to Ann’s perfection. (Leslie is anti-Tim Riggins, for one thing. How can anyone be anti-Riggins??) Besides, as April and Donna show her, Leslie already has other friends who love her and would do anything for her, except perhaps be open to a hug.
The B- and C- plots were excellently developed, beginning with Ben and Tom’s betrayal by the new, self-anointed Tent King of Southern Indiana (Rob Huebel, delightfully smarmy), who has bought up all the franchises in the area — including The Tent Offensive, the Tentagon, and Ace Ventura: Tent Detective, to name a few — the better to screw over Ben on the contract to provide tents for the Unity Concert. (So much for Tom’s Straightforward Deal Hat.) But because Ben let Larry tag along, Larry proves his usefulness when he discovers all of Rent Tent Tent’s looming code violations. Ben feels vindicated because he actually likes Larry, though it’s practically an office crime to admit it. But in a subtly effective scene, we learn that Larry’s repeated social embarrassments — which have made him the office punching bag almost to the point of cruelty — are just something Larry’s accepted, because he knows that end of the day, he goes home to an impossibly beautiful family. He’s such a nice guy, in fact, he doesn’t let Ben compliment him in front of Tom, and when Ben finally stands up in an actual “O Captain My Captain” moment (causing consternation amongst the rest of the staff), Larry is deeply moved by the show of friendship. Until he runs into a table and farts. I’m undecided on whether that was a bridge too far, and everyone seems to have forgotten that he — JERRY — also kind of retired last season. But it was great moment for Ben, regardless.
And Ron and Andy together are always good for a laugh or three, especially now that Ron is a father, and Andy is still an overgrown kindergartner who occasionally seems too stupid to even function on his own. Ron takes Andy to the dentist’s office when Andy accidentally knocks out one of his teeth, and after Andy has filled in all the mazes and done all the Goofus & Gallant quizzes and still hasn’t been seen, Ron says Andy is his own man and can leave if he wants. But it’s not long before Ron’s new paternal instincts kick into high gear, and Andy affirms him as an actual father figure — or, uncle figure. Or older brother figure. Relationships change, circumstances and careers change, but the characters have never lost sight of who they are. That’s just great writing.