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Community: Praising Mr. Banks

by admin March 21, 2014 9:12 am
Community: Praising Mr. Banks "A satisfying sequel is difficult to pull off," Abed warns at the outset of "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," an on-the-nose bit of commentary from Dan Harmon cautioning viewers to not expect this follow-up to Season 2's "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" to scale the same heights as that Top 10 (maybe even Top 5)-level installment of Community. And he's right… "Advanced Advanced," isn't isn't the comic K.O. that Advanced proved to be. But it does turn out to be satisfying in its own right, especially when watched a second and even a third time through and the work of the episode's breakout star -- one Mr. Jonathan Banks -- snaps into focus.

Banks's Hickey has been an entertaining addition to the ensemble all season long, but this was the first episode where both the actor and the character really hit his stride, becoming more than just the requisite grumpy old man stand-in for the departed Pierce. Tasked with carrying both the emotional and comic arc of the narrative -- which involves the group's efforts to reconnect him with his estranged son Hank (played by a perfectly cast David Cross, who happens to be buddy-buddy with Banks's Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul boss, Bob Odenkirk, from their Mr. Show days in the '90s) through a game of D&D -- Banks rises to the occasion, starting out in his default gruff 'n' grizzled mode, but allowing that guard to fall away as the game progresses and, to his shock, he really gets into it.

Watching Hickey cautiously and then gleefully absorb the rules of the fantasy realm that Dungeon Master Abed created, I can't be the only one who flashed to the great Freaks and Geeks series finale where James Franco's cool-as-hell freak Daniel discovers the magic of D&D through little Sammy Weir's crew of geeks. There's just something joyful about watching Banks's wizened, wrinkled face break into a sly grin when he comes up with a bit of gameplay that impresses even the stoic, know-it-all Dungeon Master. And without hanging a lantern on it, Harmon and credited writer Matt Roller make it clear that this game represents Abed's payback of sorts for the harsh lesson that Hickey taught him a few episodes back -- chaining him up to a file cabinet and causing him to miss his all-important Kickpuncher premiere. That was Hickey's way of parenting a disobedient child, whereas this is the child's way of schooling his out-of-touch parent by forcing them to speak the same language.

The big difference between this D&D episode and its predecessor is that, the first time around, Harmon played for much broader laughs and spread them amongst the entire ensemble. Though the gang has reassembled for this round (with the Dean and Chang subbing in for the absent Troy), this is really Hickey's show with a major assist by Abed, while Jeff, Annie, Britta and Shirley (who actually exits the episode midway through) were mostly consigned to the margins. And while I'm glad that Harmon didn't clutter up the episode with sideplots for each character, he also didn't give them much in the way of memorable comic beats to play. (Let's just say that finding a "Funniest Line" for Britta was particularly tough given that she had maybe, four or five bits of dialogue the entire half-hour.) I also think that "Advanced Advanced" suffered somewhat by coming directly on the heels of last week's episode, which also devoted a major chunk of its running time to watching the characters play a boardgame… in that case, the VCR-based Piles of Bullets. Still as a showcase for Banks -- who sadly may not be back for a still-unannounced Season 6 thanks to Better Call Saul -- this edition of Dungeons & Dragons hit the spot. Here are '90s sketch comedy series that best suits each character as well as their funniest lines.

Hickey
Which '90s Sketch Comedy Series Is He? Carol & Company. Because he's old enough to have watched Carol Burnett's original sketch comedy series in its first run.
Funniest Line: "Now you listen to me young man, I've punched about a thousand hearts in my life and I never, never missed."

Britta
Which '90s Sketch Comedy Series Is She? Mr. Show. Because the inside of her brain is just as strange and random as your average Mr. Show episode.
Funniest Line: "You guys cool or are we going to have to get red?"

Jeff
Which '90s Sketch Comedy Series Is He? The State. Because it had the cool factor of being broadcast on MTV and the hip factor of absolutely no one watching it.
Funniest Line: "Fa… bulous Neil felt like a nobody and thanks to us, he's still out there doing this and that in the background."

Annie
Which '90s Sketch Comedy Series Is She? All That. Because it was the biggest thing at her elementary school.
Funniest Line: "I build a fire and construct a crude wooden rack to dry my boots and oversized codpiece."

Abed
Which '90s Sketch Comedy Series Is He? The Ben Stiller Show. Because it knew how to celebrate, imitate and ridicule pop culture almost as well as he does.
Funniest Line: "Your move, Mr. Tickles. You successfully pour more tea into Count Frogula's cup."

Shirley
Which '90s Sketch Comedy Series Is She? MADtv. Because Saturday Night Live just thought it was so damn superior.
Funniest Line: "I’m Crouton the Half-Orc druid. Druid? Oh, Crouton."

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