web analytics
Home > TV > Natural 20

Natural 20

February 5th, 2011

Time’s resident TV critic James Poniewozik made a good point: for all its pretensions of nerddom, The Big Bang Theory has never done anything “so wholly, committedly geeky” as an entire episode centered around a game of Dungeons & Dragons. They’ve come close, as when the boys purchased the Time Machine from George Pal’s 1960 movie adaptation. But as the series has become a mainstream hit, it has also settled into a string of lazy comic book references.

No, the D&D episode came from time-slot rival Community, aka The Best Show That You’re Not Watching. Now in its second season, Community has at times become too weird (Abed as Jesus) and/or ambitious (a stop-motion animated Christmas show) for its own good, but when it truthfully focuses on its characters it’s pretty terrific. An all-D&D installment initially sounded as if might be a high-concept, elaborate pop-culture parody similar to last year’s zombie apocalypse, but wisely the action remained centered on a table strewn with character sheets and 20-sided dice. (Mostly. There was Chevy Chase’s Throne of Evil constructed from file boxes and traffic cones.)

Now, the little geek that lives inside my head must be allowed to declare that the game of Dungeons & Dragons depicted was greatly simplified. There were no miniatures, charts or graph paper maps, and Abed (in the role of Dungeon Master) was rolling the die for everyone. That’s not wrong, per se, it’s just a different play style. What the episode did very right, however, was to capture the feel of sitting in a group and collectively weaving a story.

I found some of the in-game interactions very familiar. When Britta “the Needlessly Defiant” questioned whether the goblins about to attack the party had had their lands violated or obsessed about giving the gnome waiter at the tavern his dignity, it took me back to my own adventuring days, when all-too-often I attempted to chat up the monsters.

Then there was the brilliantly uncomfortable scene in which Annie (playing Hector the Well-Endowed) seduced Abed (as the comely elf maiden who owned a pegasus stable) while everyone else looked on with a mixture of bemusement, horror and note-taking. We’ll never know exactly what Alison Brie was saying during that montage, but we can assume that it was very, very naughty.* I’m pretty sure that just about every role-playing group ever has had a similar experience.

Somehow, I got through the initial draft of this review without mentioning Senor Chang’s appropriate yet still wildly-inappropriate blackface appearance as one of the game’s Drow dark elves. “So we just gonna ignore that hate crime, huh?”

Normally I would embed the video here, but I know that it’s unlikely to remain available for more than a couple of weeks. So if you missed Thursday night’s broadcast, go to NBC’s Community website.

*I am looking forward to the hits I’m about to get for “naughty Alison Brie.”

Comments are closed.