…an episode reminding us all the importance of “the dingleberry smash.”
Throughout its run, the brilliance of Community has stemmed from its fearless originality. No niche, it seemed, was too esoteric; Dan Harmon and company mined comedic gold from whichever flight of fancy they desired. So, when a show with such boundless creativity opts to revisit an earlier conceit, it had better bring it. Look, it might not be fair, but was there ever a point when you weren’t actively comparing this installment against the vastly superior entry from the mind-bogglingly outstanding second season? What can I say? It’s the nature of Human Beings.
And, in light of that inevitable comparison, I couldn’t shake the fact that this episode was just…unnecessary? In fact, it managed to encapsulate my initial reticence upon the announcement of Harmon’s return. Would he, to quote the Boss, relish in the glory days as a way to prove to his audience what a mess the much-maligned fourth season truly was? Clearly, after this episode, the answer seems a categorical yes.
Now, just wait a tick. Before you start mailing me the desiccated corpses of sky spiders in utter outrage, hear me out. Trust me, it’s Community, so I laughed. I laughed a whole lot. But let’s just pause for a second and place this episode within the show’s broader context. If this had aired last year, wouldn’t most of us have slammed it for trying too hard to recapture the comedic heights of yesteryear? Don’t try to dodge the question because the answer is obviously yes. We would have. But weren’t you, deep down, trying to convince yourself you liked it more than you did? After all, it’s Dan Harmon!
I appreciated the fact that this go-around of “D&D” centered around Buzz Hickey and applaud the desire to deepen his character’s relationship with his other son, Hank,** and Hank’s son, Sebastian. Jonathan Banks is amazing (always has been and always will be), and I’ve enjoyed what he’s brought to this character, but the emotional core this time didn’t resound as potently here as it did in season two when playing the game meant saving Neil’s life. We dealt with the dad issue with Jeff last season–fairly well, I thought, despite the naysaying of detractors–so what we’re left with is a recycled idea with a recycled undercurrent. Hence my unshakeable feeling of it being unnecessary. Plus, I’ll just say it: is Hickey worthy of our sympathy? The guy’s funny with his insistence on punching people and hobgoblins (but no ladies bc duh) in the heart, but is he really a good dad? I’m not so sure.
**Not the gay one. Him he gets. Love it.
Of course, David Cross playing Buzz’s son Hank earned this episode a few extra points because the man can do no wrong; only he could sell that sepia-toned, artistically out of focus musical number that felt like something pulled out of a cut scene from The Hobbit. So, again, at least the episode brought the funny. After all, with Hector the Well-Endowed reprising his role and Annie spraying down enemies with his massively imaginary ding dong, how bad can the episode really be?
As with most episodes of Community, recounting the plot machinations saps the joy out of it, so you won’t find me doing that here. But a special shout out needs to go out to Dean Pelton. My stomach hurt from laughing at the site of him rubbing the hilt of his sword to a picture of Jeff propped up on the windowsill. Typing this, I’m laughing again. And how about his positively phallic death when he forces himself on Jeff’s drawn sword? Amazing. That Pelton’s character is also Jeff’s character’s son only adds to the awkward Oedipal hilarity of it all.
Abed is a cruel Dungeon Master and his tightly orchestrated quest finds the gang (Crouton, Dingleberry, and Fibrosis amongst them) making their way to the Black Tower (#StephenKingReference) to defeat the dreaded Necromancer. Along the way, Abed peppers the journey with symbolic intent: most notably, Hank literally burns a bridge that plunges the group into a river current. The dude’s got control issues. But rest assured, Hickey uses his own brand of acumen to get his team back on track.*** Just to reinforce the Abed’s penchant for the symbolic, both Hank and Buzz arrive at the Black Tower but their bickering provides the Necromancer with an opportunity to escape down a rear hatch. The intention is clear: father and son are willfully blocking one another from being able to come together. As Abed said, if they could just get their crap together, Buzz and Hank might be able to do something about their dysfunctional relationship.
***I’m going on official record to decree it the single best hobgoblin interrogation/waterboarding scene of all time. Danny Pudi’s dual Gollum-esque performance only added to it. Funniest scene of the episode for me, hands down.
In the end, this episode didn’t tickle my fancy to the extent that last week’s brilliant installment did. It had its moment, but there seemed a fundamental miscalculation here; we love Community because it continues to push the envelope and surprise us. While the mention of a “D&D” revisit sounded initially appealing, its inconsistent delivery only reinforced that aforementioned strength. But, hey, sometimes we need to be reminded about the things right in front of our faces. Even when those things include the massive members of Hector the Well-Endowed.
Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room
-Chang: “Too cool for street insurance? Excuse me…”
– Pelton: “Okay, it’s short notice, but I think it’ll be good for me.”
– Pelton [gasping for air]: “FATHER!”
– Jeff: “Go find a name that’s not just another creature’s name plus hob!”
– Hickey: “I’ve punched about a thousand hearts in my life. I never, never missed.”
Abed: “Have you ever been a three foot tall halfling running through two foot vines trying to punch a seven foot monster?”
– Hank: “You know where he was on most of my birthdays? I little place that rhymes with not there.”
Chang: “Times Square?”