One of my original intents for this blog was to explore certain “questions” of geek and fangirl/boy culture, create analytical essays and land on my own opinion based on that analysis. That didn’t exactly happen although I have hit there a few times. Now comes one that is so obvious, I can hardly ignore it.
Last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory was a fun character builder based around the gang playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Now, I know that the internet probably exploded at some point last night, since two years ago, a similar episode of Community aired.
There is a small but vocal contingent of people that love Community and really hate The Big Bang Theory. I’ve never quite understood why, I think it goes back again to the Sondheim v. Lloyd Weber thing I touched on last week, I get that two shows can exist in the same genre, use similar tactics and come out with something completely different, but anyway, as the episode wrapped, I realized that I was going to have to do it eventually, and why not now? I mean, an entire book could be written about these two shows with pages upon pages devoted to comparing Abed Nadeer to Sheldon Cooper, but for now, let’s focus on these two episodes, shall we?
So here it is:
A side by side analysis of the Season two episode of Community: “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” with the season 6 episode of The Big Bang Theory: “The Love Spell Potential”
“Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” is one of the best episodes of Community. It’s a strong illustration of it’s characters and general thesis, plus I always like when the show is gentle and loving. It centers around a tertiary character, known as “Fat Neil,” Neil is as described fat, and as an escape from the constant ridicule he received in high school and at Greendale, he plays a lot of D&D. Sensing one day that Neil has slipped in to depression, Jeff Winger feigns an interest in D&D, and learns how the game works. Later, Neil gives Jeff his D&D materials stating that he won’t need them anymore. Recognizing the cry for help, Jeff and Annie get the gang together, and host a D&D game. They decide not to invite Pierce and Pierce crashes the game trying to ruin it. Imaginary hijinks ensue, and Neil finds a reason to live.
“The Love Spell Potential” on the other hand focuses on a weekend for the BBT gang. The girls, Penny, Amy and Bernadette are off to Vegas and the guys are spending the weekend playing D&D. Then with some contrivance, the girls wind up stuck and home and join in the game. Aside from being an excellent outlet to get to see Simon Helberg’s Nic Cage impression (Studio 60 fans rejoice, it’s as awesome as ever!) it leads to a moment where Bernadette and Penny decide to help Amy and Sheldon’s relationship along by putting their characters under a love spell. This leads to a touching moment in Sheldon’s bedroom where they role play a sexual encounter.
Here’s the thing, my favorite episodes of Big Bang focus on a character opening up in a way you didn’t expect. Sheldon’s character is centered around how he doesn’t always understand how his quirks and limitations effect those around him, but this episode made it clear that he understands very much how his fear of physical intimacy is tough on Amy. It was a lovely moment when he took out his twelve sided di, and rolled to see where their characters would touch one another, and still very funny. Jim Parsons is a terrific comic actor and Mayim Bialick does wonderful work opposite him.
So the character growth shown was great, and I hope that this is a path they continue down for this show.
“Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” is still the winner here though. First of all, it’s one the earliest “softer side of Jeff” episodes. While he does think that D&D is stupid, he’s willing to forgo his usual disdain for everything to help out a friend. Abed’s voices as he plays the different characters the gang encounters remain some of my favorite creations by Danny Pudi. (Who is also an excellent comic actor!) There is also a roll played sexual encounter between Annie and Abed here, with Annie’s D&D character, Hector the Well Endowed taking a young elf maiden in a barn. It’s funnier than it sounds. And it has one of my favorite lines by Troy, “Shouldn’t there be a board, or some dice, or something to Jenga?”
What I like about both episodes is that they capture the sort of bizarre excitement of RPG. Neither show does much visually, it’s just a bunch of friends sitting around a table describing things. It’s great. Neither goes the route of cutaways or props. (Granted, Community would be the more likely one to do that.)
In the end though, “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” beats “The Love Spell Potential” if only because of the quality of the writing. It was during the “golden days” of Community, about halfway through season 2, when the show was still, you know, about a community college, but had found it’s weird little heart. “The Love Spell Potential” is taking place in the current season, which while not terrible, isn’t as strong as the show once was.
So point Community, and that’s not something I do often.
I’m kidding, of course, internet, I love Community, it is the most perfect show ever. I promise. (Please don’t hurt me)