Badass Drama: Community

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
Written by Andrew Guest
2011

CONTEXT:
The study group learns that “Fat Neil” is suicidal. Jeff (Joel McHale) rallies everyone together to play a game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, rigged so Fat Neil will win and regain his self-confidence. The game commences in the study room, complete with sound effects to fully engage the viewer in the imaginary action.

But there’s more.

For the last several episodes, Pierce (Chevy Chase) has been popping pills, alienating his friends, and subtly transforming into a villain. His addiction has gotten so bad that the study group is making plans behind his back. When he learns that they organized a game of Dungeons and Dragons without him, he’s pissed.

Jeff takes Pierce aside and explains that Fat Neil is suicidal and that the game could save his life. Pierce doesn’t care. When he discovers a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons handbook, he learns every secret to the game and uses his knowledge to take Fat Neil down.

WHY IT’S BADASS:
To explain the brilliance of NBC’s Community in a single blog post would be like explaining the punch-line to a great joke. If you’re already a fan of this show, you don’t need an explanation. If you haven’t seen it (or gave up in season one), go watch it. Now.

There’s one phrase that sums up the genius of this particular episode; one phrase that writers hear again and again and again; one phrase that is fundamental to good drama: raising the stakes.

It’s nearly impossible to find high stakes in a primetime comedy on network TV. Usually one friend wants to sleep with another… or a father won’t let his daughter date a certain boy… or Uncle Jesse needs to make it to his wedding on time so Becky knows he’s the right man… and comedy ensues. In this episode, however, Dan Harmon and his team decided to make an impact. I imagine they began with an idea for a Lord of the Rings parody, then searched for a way to bestow the episode an epic quality without recreating Mt. Doom.

They succeeded by raising the stakes. Fat Neil is genuinely suicidal. If this game goes poorly, we know he could end his life. Despite the silly pretense of a dated roll-playing game and a comedy about community college, these are stakes we understand, identify with, and fear.

Enter Pierce Hawthorn. Just when it seems like the study group will save Fat Neil’s life, Pierce returns to the game. He knows the stakes, but he doesn’t care. Normally, his insults are lame and childish. But not tonight. To underscore his true transformation as the villain of season two, the writers give Pierce an unrelenting string of hurtful taunts that push Fat Neil to the edge. Nothing is watered down for the sake of accessible primetime comedy.

As if the insults weren’t enough, Pierce takes his villainy one step further: he destroys Fat Neil’s faith in his new (and only) friends.

The camera movement, sound effects, and music all play their part in giving this “parody” an epic feeling, but none of it would work if the game was “just for fun.” Because the writers raised the stakes and created a believable, heartless villain, this game of Dungeons and Dragons feels more epic than Lord of the Rings itself.

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