I’m sharing this on the off chance that you somehow missed this. I’m both pleased (due to the quality) and displeased (because no proper scifi show has reached the level of storytelling of this sitcom’s scifi episode) to report that this, so far, is the best episode of science fiction television of the current fall season. Why do I say it’s so good? Because while superficially the episode is all about the gimmick, the episode is really a brilliant character study made possible by analyzing the current state of the characters but in different situations at the same point in time. Think about it.
Few shows effectively walk the line between affectionate parody and cruel ridicule of subcultural subjects. Some topics are pointedly ignored because acknowledgment grants some sort of power. Fortunately for Community, there is no topic in the multimedia world that is worth ignoring. What amazes me is the creativity displayed by the writers to make each topic work. In the first season they managed to make a post-apocalyptic action episode work. In the current season, they have already pulled off parodies of both zombie and space shuttle launch films. Bear in mind that this show takes place at a community college and the parodies are appropriately grounded in some level of reality.
Which brings us to the recent Advanced Dungeons and Dragons episode. In order to instill a classmate with self-respect after realizing he was exhibiting the warning signs of a severe depression, the study group convince him to play a game, his favorite game, with them. What would normally happen on television series in such a circumstance would be the transportation of the cast into the magical world they were imagining. Instead, it kept true to the nature of the game. Every person described what they were doing or attempting to do, and to make it even more funny a narrator (speaking in the tone typical of fantasy films) spoke over them – to describe the characters as they described their actions. This simultaneously pointed out just how ridiculous playing role-playing games can appear to outsiders but reinforced to those with experience in these games the majesty of these curiously indescribable worlds.
This does not come without some criticism. The previous week’s episode featured an anti-drug play in which Pierce paid Annie off in order to get a larger role, but this had the poor effect of making his role, that of drugs, the most appealing to their audience. Pierce already played antagonist, and in the AD&D episode he played antagonist again. It does not sit well as a viewer because it seems like there is no break for the cast in dealing with him, which begs the continual question of why he is always part of their study group. I guess that is the ongoing joke, but his continually disappointing behavior sometimes stops being funny and becomes something worth avoiding. (Bear me no mind, though. I also think this of Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. One-note characters both me. When depth is only given once every seven episodes, it does not work for me.)
I admit to being shameless about this show. It is one of the few shows that I can say has consistently been one of my favorites airing on television. It does not fail to make me laugh.