Community Watch: Advanced Dungeons And Dragons, Anybody Here Speak Gnome?

Could it be that Pierce Hawthorne has become the most malevolent TV villain since LOST’s Benjamin Linus?

I’m not ruling it out. In recent weeks, the aptly nicknamed “Pierce the Dickish” has earned his title.

Let’s recap this season’s events: so far, Grandpa the Flatulent has ruined the secret of the garden trampoline, bribed Annie to go against her morals, almost turned a few dozen kids into crystal meth users, and entertained the notion of hunting men on an island in Indonesia.

He’s even got the perfect back-story. Despite his lashing out, all he truly yearns for is the love of his father (or an equivalent father-figure), which stems from his failure to be cast as the part of himself in his father’s moist towelette commercial.

This week, Pierce is at his most sociopathic as he attempts to ruin the last positive thing in the life of an overweight, clinically depressed college student. Why? Because he felt left out. Once again, Pierce is shunned and scolded by Jeff, whom Pierce views as a surrogate father (despite Jeff being 30+ years his junior).

This conflict is created when Jeff notices that his rotund classmate, Fat Neil, has grown more despondent since his moniker was coined. Jeff calls the study “council” together, who decide to lift the spirits of Fat Neil by involving him in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. The council also decides to not invite Pierce to the game, as his lack of sensitivity would no doubt sully the welcoming environment they are trying to create for their new friend. This is all explained at the beginning of the episode in a sequence none-too-subtlety reminiscent of Lord of the Rings.

The study buddies each take a character sheet and play their roles admirably. And yes, I realize what a terrible pun that is, but I really mean it. Though some fans may not like the gimmicky episodes of Community as much as the series’ other offerings, I adore them. It’s not because they make nerdy references toward the same franchises that I do. It because by now, these characters (while somewhat one-note) are already so established that it’s fun to see how they adapt to different roles, how much of their identity they can bring to these roles, and how much of the overall parody is changed because of it.

I mean, without the prior 38 episodes of set-up, would it really be as funny to see Abed and Annie soundlessly act out a gender-reversal sexual role play while an attentive Troy takes notes? …yeah, probably. Bad example. But it wouldn’t be as funny to see Britta defend a downtrodden-but-imaginary gnome waiter named Kyle, or hear the agonized death-rattle of the black-faced Elvin magician Brutalitops.

Back to the episode. Pierce stumbles upon the D&D game in progress and demands to be allowed to play. While the other group members are content to see him killed off early, Fat Neil shows Pierce kindness by offering his cloak and letting him into his clan. Pierce repays this kindness by insulting Fat Neil, stealing Neil’s legendary sword forged by his ancestors, rubbing said sword against his balls, and fleeing into the woods. Jeff calls Pierce and Abed away for a quick meeting and attempts to reason with Pierce. A defensive Pierce refuses to be swayed and leaves the group to plot his next move.

After a quick cram session, Pierce evidently becomes a D&D expert and learns about a game-breaking ultimate weapon: the renowned beast Draconus. Pierce baits the party into a trap with Fat Neil’s sword, and proceeds to freeze them all with a Time Stop spell. The party is at its lowest point, unable to move or act, when Pierce decides to crush Fat Neil; he tells Neil that the only reason Jeff invited him to play D&D is because he felt guilty. Jeff was the one who first came up with Fat Neil’s nickname. (Come on, like no one had thought about that combination of words before? He’s fat. He’s named Neil.)

Neil, though visibly dejected, decides to tell Pierce in his next turn that he feels sorry for Pierce. The rest of the party does the same. In a fit of rage, Pierce unfreezes the party and plans to attack. Before he can do so, Neil regains his honor by releasing Draconus from Pierce’s control. Draconus eats Pierce and the party completes its quest.

As Neil leaves the study room, he tells Pierce that this was the best game of D&D he had ever played, and invited him to play again next week. An apathetic Pierce says maybe. And the narrator/cleaning lady explains how this small gesture saved Fat Neil’s life that day, despite Pierce learning very little in the process.

Community Dugeons & Dragons episode

Extra Credit:

* I find it a bit ironic that this episode, in its homage to the fantasy genre and the high-production-value epic movie, was essentially shot on a bottle episode budget. Sure, there’s a resounding score and plenty of slow dissolves to give it a more Hollywood feel, but the vast majority of the episode takes place in the study room, and very little happens in terms of action. The most expensive addition was probably Ken Jeong’s makeup (worth it!).

* Despite being a huge nerd, I’ve never actually played D&D. But I can say that this episode stands toe-to-toe with my previous favorite D&D-themed episode in TV -- the series finale of Freaks and Geeks, which was another fine NBC comedy that didn’t get the love it so richly deserved.

* My Quote of the Week is more of a Moment of the Week. It goes to Abed’s portrayal of Kyle the Gnome Waiter, which had me literally wiping the spittle off my chin from guffawing like an inbred mountain boy.

* Two other great quotes that deserve mention:

- “And so it was that the group began to describe themselves walking… and as they described themselves walking, so did Abed confirm they walked.”

- Abed: "This is a local elf tavern… but all races are welcome.”

Shirley/Annie: “Awwwwww!”