It may seem like a risky decision for a fifth-season show to focus an episode around a character who was just introduced that season. But luckily, Buzz Hickey is a great character. And just as luckily – well, this part might not be so much a matter of luck – his son Hank is played by David Cross, who in addition to being one of the most important people in American comedy, is also just a really great actor. When he trusts the material, he has a simple presence of just being in the narrative. He is basically being himself, so his skill doesn’t really show itself off, but that serves the scene in episode 5.10 of Community effectively.
Because Buzz Hickey is emotionally rough, it is unsurprising that he is at odds with his son. (Sidebar: it was a nice moment when it was pointed out that this son wasn’t the gay one. That one, Buzz gets. I mean, I expect Community to be progressive, but it’s still worth pointing out.) Since Dan Harmon loves Dungeons & Dragons, he has decided that Hank Hickey is a D&D player. That explanation may sound a little flip on my part, but I actually meant for it to be matter-of-fact. Apparently D&D is a major nerdy pursuit, but I don’t personally know anybody who plays it, or if I do, I don’t know that they play it. I think it might be a generational thing. Dan Harmon is a bona fide Gen-X’er, and Gen-X nerds are probably more likely to be D&D’ers than other generations. Fittingly, David Cross is also a Gen-X’er.
This is in part a roundabout way of saying that I am okay with the fact that Community is doing a second Dungeons & Dragons episode more or less just for the hell of it. The first D&D outing is one of the best the show has ever done; it was unlikely that this episode was ever going to match it, and it wasn’t trying to do the same things anyway. The original came at a major turning point in the intra-group conflict between Pierce and everyone else, and Neil’s crisis was much more urgent than that of the Hickeys. (I was a little surprised that Jeff mentioned how they may have prevented a suicide last time. I mean, I always assumed that was the implication, but I don’t think the show has ever directly acknowledged that, so it was a little heavy to hear it.)
I might actually consider “Advanced Advanced D&D” to be one of – to use Harmon’s terminology – Community‘s “pizza” episodes. That is to say, an episode that like pizza is not trying anything too fancy or unusual but can still be successful. Pizza episodes tend to be reliable, as even bad pizza is still pizza. Dungeons & Dragons, though perhaps not a frequent occurrence, is enough of a part of these people’s lives such that the whole structure of the show does not need to be re-organized to have this episode make sense. There were some flourishes to make this outing feel like an entry in the fantasy genre, but of course every Community episode has references and they were all very much still in Abed and Annie’s apartment the whole time.
It was interesting how the study group tried to use the fact that they are all in a much better place than they were in Season 2 to help the Hickeys solve their impasse. Jeff almost immediately offered his experience with daddy issues to nip this conflict away. The fact that everyone was so eager to help Buzz and Hank speaks to the fact that there wasn’t any legitimate animosity with anyone else besides the Hickeys. There was some playful animosity, but nothing worse than Jeff shoving Britta’s face in a puddle as one of his game moves. The Hickey drama was sufficiently detailed, but it was also kind of its own thing. Unlike Neil, Hank probably will not be showing up again. I would be happy to see him, but there is no obvious reason why he should be hanging out around Greendale.
As for the lack of development among the regular Greendalians, there actually was some characterization present in, weirdly enough, the tag. Abed practicing Dungeon Mastering with Annie’s “stuffies” was an inspired peek into the time that he must have spent working on that huge book of game scenarios he pulled out during the main action. But, more tellingly, this scene also established what places Abed’s need for play take him without a partner like Troy always around. Annie may be up for an occasional romp in the Dreamatorium, but not as often as Abed is.
Speaking of Annie, I love how attached she is to her stuffed animals. Hitfix‘s Alan Sepinwall recently had a lengthy interview with Harmon, which covered, among other topics, Annie’s recent maturation. Now, I am happy that this season has given her plenty to do, but I resent the implication that her dressing in skirts and bright colors, and her purple pens, and her feelings for Jeff have been signs of immaturity in past seasons. These elements have always struck me as parts of Annie’s personality and never mutually exclusive with her maturity. So I hope all those colorful aspects of her do not disappear, but if some of them must, at least she is still allowed to have her “stuffies.”
All in all, I enjoyed this episode more than I didn’t. It may seem like I spent most of this review talking about what I didn’t like, but it’s not like I hated what I didn’t like. It’s just that it needed to be talked about, while the good stuff wasn’t insisting that it be dissected.
And now, the bullet-point portion of the review:
-The Dean’s behavior towards Jeff got a little too close to harassment territory, but at least a good portion of that was acting as his D&D character. Also, the father-son angle was a little poignant in light of his moment with Duncan in the “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” tag.
-The sound mix was really on fire.
-The “Times Square” joke could have been really hacky, but the editing was perfect, and Ken Jeong’s delivery was spot-on.
-Annie wonders aloud if Hickey’s problem with his son is an “emergency collage situation.”
-”Dingleberry” was Chang’s mom’s nickname for him.
-”If we lose, I’m going to punch each of you in the heart.” Hickey then continued to discuss his heart-punching experience.
-”I’ll imaginary sleep when I’m imaginary dead.”
Jeff Malone is a voracious entertainment consumer and entertainment creator. He currently resides in New York City, where he is working on a Master’s in Media Studies at The New School. In addition to his pieces on TMRzoo.com, you can check out his blog (jmunney.wordpress.com), where he provides regular coverage of Community and Saturday Night Live, as well as other television, film, music, and the rest of pop culture.