Community‘s always had a good-sized heart, and it’s never been particularly reluctant to show it to us, but I believe tonight’s episode rivals “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (arguably the show’s most nakedly sentimental episode– and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible) for impact.
It’s a testament to the Community crew’s skills that Jeff’s borderline panic over Neil’s suicide ideation doesn’t come off as false or contrived. You can see Jeff’s genuine guilt, hear the anger at both himself and Pierce in those roaring threats. Jeff Winger may be a smug douche, but he does have a line. Maybe his lessons with Doctor Do-No-Wrong are progressing nicely (I’m assuming that’s happening off-screen, because I like to think a deliciously warped My Fair Lady episode is in the offing), or maybe Jeff’s just never had to deal with the consequences of a seemingly inconsequential epithet, but to me it’s entirely believable that he’d feel remorse over being the root of all that evil and, what’s more, would take steps to rectify the situation. Also, I believe this is actually the first time we’ve seen anyone in the group do something kind of extraordinary for someone who isn’t in the group. Growth! I love it!
(Side note: Can you not say “suicide”– or any morphological iteration thereof –on TV at 8? I’m assuming there was some sort of network interference here, because I found it odd the show almost went out of its way not to say it directly; it’s all implied. Like “an escape of which we do not speak.” And Jeff says,”That kid is severely depressed” to Pierce, rather than the perhaps-more-alarming “That kid is going to kill himself.” I mean, if I were trying to convince someone not to be a dick because a kid’s life may be at stake, I’d lay that shit out as clearly as possible. Or maybe I’m just overly dramatic that way.)
Even better, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” is an episode that doesn’t go the traditional nerd-flaying route; the jokes aren’t really about the game. Jeff’s lone aside about everything being “silly” is pretty toothless, since most of Troy and Abed’s antics are “silly,” in the strictest sense of the word, but also intensely awesome (BLANKET FORT). There are jokes about Abed being terrible at making up names (Bing-Bong! Hector the Well-Endowed!). There are jokes about Britta’s unflagging need to champion the downtrodden, even if the downtrodden are imaginary. (“Why are the gnomes beleaguered?”) But these are based on the characters’ intrinsic traits– at no point is anyone labeled a loser or outcast for playing D&D. (I’ve never played D&D, but I’m totally the kind of person who would. Also, there’s no blood to be had from that stone, so really I’m just glad the writers left it alone.) In fact, the gang commits fully to the game without any objections. When Jeff balks a bit at the beginning of the game, it’s not because he thinks it’s uncool, but because he simply doesn’t know how to play.
Dan Harmon and his intrepid band manage to get all these messages across while staying far, far away from After-School Special territory. They deftly navigate from hilarious RPG-sex to Pierce being enragingly shitty to real catharsis. And all to a score that admirably emulates Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings. Seriously, Ludwig Goransson’s LotR-ified theme and the D&D’d title sequence are amazing, and yet another example of just how much love everyone on staff has for the show. There was no real need to do that; a lesser show would have left it alone, or possibly just done a title card that looked LotR-y, but this extra touch just makes everything that much more awesome.
So basically, thank you, Dan Harmon and Team, for creating this show.