Community has continually won us over with their genre episode exploits, from the Right Stuff space spoof to the action flick parody in "Modern Warfare." So when the students of Greendale revealed that their next episode was taking on the world of Dungeons & Dragons, we readied ourselves for a full alternate universe. We expected giant winged Abed monsters, or Jeff sporting a tunic while fighting off sex-starved elf maidens. Thankfully, we were wrong. Once again Community flipped the scales and delivered a stripped down, but glorious, game of D&D. And by doing so exposed a mainstream audience of non-gamers to the lush and deeply imaginative world of role playing.
By refusing to dress the main characters in costumes or translate each D&D action scene into a claymation or fuzzy dream reality gimimck, Community forced us to use our imaginations. They forced you to role play.
The episode cunningly lured the audience in with an epic Lord Of The Rings style intro, complete with thundering Orc drums and a female narrator. The honeyed voice told the tale of Fat Neil, a dejected soul who found solace in the world of fantasy. Which Community demonstrated by scattering geeky delights across the screen (did you catch the Dalek in the left hand corner?).
Humiliated that the ridicule he faced all his life has now followed him to community college, "Fat Neil" appears to be giving up. When he hands "Jeff the liar" his entire collection of D&D books, explaining that he "won't need them any more," the red flag is raised. Assuming the worst, Jeff rallies the study group of "Annie The Day Planner", "Troy the Obtuse", "Shirley the Cloying", "Britta the Needlessly Defiant", and "Abed the Undiagnosable." Together they construct a D&D game just for Neil, to help him reclaim his confidence. Partly out of guilt (from Jeff) but mainly out of concern. "Pierce the Insensitive" aka "Pierce the Dickish" gets left in the dark for "obvious reasons." But by isolating Pierce, the group inadvertently creates one of the most vile role playing villains we've ever seen.
Pissed off by being ostracized from the study group, yet again, Pierce crashes the party and almost beats Neil at his own game. He cruelly hurls fat insults Neil's way at every turn. These moments are almost difficult to watch, Pierce is such a dick. We're still divided on whether or not it was necessary for Pierce to tease Neil in such a manner, but his actions help to demonstrate exactly how noble Neil truly is, both inside the game and out (more on that later).
The rest of the episode is simply a D&D game. And because the show keeps it simple, the viewer can't help but get caught up in the mental spectacle of it all. The only tricks used are a few choice sound effects and a stunning soundtrack (things you could easily add to your own D&D night). Granted, it certainly helps having Abed at the Dungeon Master helm. We would pay top dollar for Abed to host a D&D night at our house. There were plenty of amazing moments, specifically when Annie seduces an elf for a flock of winged horses (clip above).
When all's said and done, the group bests the nefarious Pierce (with kindness and cunning, naturally). Community brought the emotional character arc of Neil full circle, without getting all Hallmark movie of the week. Neil recognized Pierce's pain. Even though the old man was horribly cruel to him, Pierce was also an shunned member of society, and of his own group of (alleged) friends! In a move of infinite kindness Neil tells Pierce that this was the best game he'd ever played and asks him to play again next week. Pierce says yes, and the two outcasts are now united.
The only thing that irked me with this episode was the depiction of current D&D players. Two fat kids. Not all D&D players are fat and lonely. They could have easily avoided this by replacing Pierce's errand runner with someone else, anyone else. Was Star Burns busy?
But, in the end, it was Neil's compassion that allowed him to be more than just "Fat Neil." In fact he's far and away the kindest (and most sane) collegiate at Greendale. So we'll cling to that fact — and enjoy the fact that last night we watched an incredibly popular network sitcom take a huge risk by keeping it simple and championing something many mainstream folks deem beneath them. And all without pulling any punches on the game itself. D&D is fucking cool, and this show now has the acclaim and numbers to prove it.