I want to write two reviews for “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” one for the comedy, and one for the character material underpinning the episode. The former worked. The latter didn’t. More details after the jump.

I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons before. In fact, until a few years ago, I didn’t even know what the hell it was. To be frank, I find the concept a little silly. That being said, I think that Community did a good job of simultaneously making fun of the game and celebrating it in this episode. Sure, a lot of the jokes were framed in terms of Dungeons & Dragons, but they were more about how the study group’s members reacted to the game than the game itself. Britta took up the cause of gnome rights (à la Hermione and S.P.E.W. from the Harry Potter series). Abed was perfect as the dungeon master, insisting on being unbiased, and the fact that he had reserved “Hector the Well-Endowed” for Troy cracked me up. Speaking of Hector, it was funny enough that Annie ended up with that character, but I nearly lost it when I saw that Annie had to use the character to seduce an elf maiden. (Thank heavens for NBC’s lax censorship policies!) And oh yeah, Chang. In blackface. Too funny.

There were a lot of other nice touches in this episode, from the prologue and the modified opening credits to the “fantasy” soundtrack. I was impressed by how the show managed to work little jokes into the introduction, like Britta yelling about Julian Assange. Honestly, I’d just like to list all the jokes in this episode, because almost every single one at least put a smile on my face.

Really, that should be enough. One of the primary purposes of a comedy is to make people laugh, and that’s exactly what this episode did. But Community isn’t just a series of sketches. It’s a television show with a cast of familiar characters, and since a lot of Community’s jokes are rooted in character traits, it becomes essential for me to want to spend time with the characters if the show is going to work.

Unfortunately, I don’t want to spend any more time with Pierce.

I get it: Pierce is an old, lonely man with a surprising lack of maturity. He says things that he shouldn’t, and he occasionally displays childish behaviour. On the other hand, he sometimes has great wisdom and genuinely wants to help people. That mixture of flaws and qualities is what made Pierce an interesting character in the first place. But for the past two weeks, the emphasis has been on Pierce’s flaws, and it is those flaws that have driven the plot. In fact, his behaviour has been so execrable that I wonder why the study group continues to spend time with him.

I can buy Pierce lashing out at the group for not including him in Dungeons & Dragons. I can buy him spilling the secret that Jeff birthed the “Fat Neil” nickname at Greendale. But I can’t buy him as a flat-out villain who openly and brazenly attacks Neil and aims to ruin everyone else’s good time. Pierce wasn’t oblivious here. He knew exactly what he was doing, and for that reason, his behaviour was inexcusable.

Community is built around a core of likable people. I don’t want to hate anyone in the study group, which is why the way that Pierce has been portrayed in the past couple of episodes really irks me. I wonder, for instance, why Chang couldn’t have been used as the villain instead. After all, he’s basically a running joke at this point. But then it dawned on me that this could all be a setup for a storyline about Pierce. The man could be headed for a ticket out of the study group, and he may become depressed while the rest of the group fails to realize it. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good setup. For this kind of setup to work, the audience has to be in on it. We have to be aware of Pierce’s emotional state. His mother’s death, the painkillers, the wheelchair, the video footage of the Hawthorne Wipes commercial – these are just little hints that don’t add up to a coherent whole. The show was wrong to employ subtlety in this regard.

Thus, despite the stellar comedy, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” failed to become a favourite episode of mine. Community isn’t just built on jokes. It’s also built around characters that I enjoy spending time with, and right now, I’d rather spend time in the dentist’s chair than with Pierce Hawthorne.