Why Community Season 2 Episode 14 Isn't Streaming And It Should Be Reinstated

Dan Harmon's "Community" is one of the best network sitcoms ever produced. Over six rocky seasons, during which the perennially low-rated series teetered on the brink of cancellation, Harmon and his phenomenal writing staff crafted a densely layered and wildly meta disquisition on what it means to be human. Seriously. A sitcom did this.

The show initially revolved around seven misfits (Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie and Chevy Chase) who bond quickly as a study group at the fictional Greendale Community College. That the study group is formed under false pretenses (McHale's Jeff is trying to hook up with Jacobs' Britta) places all of the relationships on the shakiest of foundations. Before long, every character has their insecurities tattooed on their forehead, which leaves us wincing as hard as we laugh.

As the series segued into its second season, Harmon expanded the core to include disgraced Spanish teacher Ben Chang (Ken Jeong). Chang is the ultimate try-hard. He believes he's a core member of the study group, but they're perpetually creeped out by his desperate efforts to belong. One of Chang's biggest whiffs at trying to crack the core seven arrives in season 2, episode 14, when he forces his way into an emergency game of Dungeons & Dragons. Chang overcommits to the campaign by cosplaying as a black elf. This entails caking himself in pitch-black makeup and throwing on a white wig, and this is, obviously, quite problematic.

A show that wasn't afraid of tap-dancing on the edge of comedy

When the episode aired in 2011, there was not, as far as I've been able to Google, a single, significant peep about Ken Jeong donning blackface. In 2020, however, as racial tensions caught fire in response to ... well, a lot of stuff, but primarily race-baiting by President Donald Trump and his bigoted Republican allies, networks proactively removed content that featured characters in blackface. This episode of "Community" got spiked as a result, and this was probably the wrong call.

The episode, titled "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," finds Jeff hastily convening a campaign to prevent the death by suicide of Neil (Charley Koontz), a bullied geek who is known as "Fat Neil" around campus. Jeff's selfless act is admirable, but oddly out-of-character; it's not until the climax of the episode that we learn he's assembled the campaign to atone for having coined the appellation that is the bane of Neil's existence.

This episode is peak "Community." Jeff and the rest of the study group intentionally exclude Chevy Chase's abrasive Pierce because he lacks the sensitivity required to finesse Neil off the ledge. When Pierce learns he's been cut out, he barges his way into the campaign, and Abed, the rules-bound Dungeon Master, has no choice but to deal him in.

"Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" is a beautifully honest and open-hearted exploration of bullying, which extends to Pierce's resentful behavior. This is a cyclical sickness, and we're moved by the caddish Jeff's efforts to undo a moment of offhanded cruelty. It's an all-time great half-hour of television. But because of Jeong's blackface appearance, it has been scrubbed from all streaming services — which can cause quite a bit of confusion for new viewers when they reach the episode's sequel in season 5. It's also infuriating because Chang's act is deftly in keeping with the episode's theme.

An egregious sin born of loneliness and cruelty

First of all, Dan Harmon and his writers address the elephant in the study room multiple times. Yvette Nicole Brown's Shirley, aghast at Chang's cosplay, cracks, "So we're just going to ignore the hate crime, huh?" When Pierce shows up, he chastises his colleagues shutting him out in favor of "Al Jolson" (a reference to the early 20th century vaudevillian whose blackface performances were a vital part of his act). A beat or two later, he tells Abed that he wants to "attack blackface."

Chang is the first participant to die, which leads to a hilariously overwrought exit that's straight out of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings." But we feel just a tinge of sympathy for this oddball, whose efforts to be a part of the study group emanate from a place of extreme loneliness. To impress these people, he commits the egregious sin of blackface (though he does not engage in eye-bugging minstrelsy). Again, the episode acknowledges this, and, in classic "Community" fashion, we're wince-laughing. It also gives the genuinely offensive Pierce the high ground he needs to wedge his way into the campaign.

In a 2021 piece for The New York Times, Harmon said, "The Dungeons & Dragons episode, justifiably they're stripping it from the streaming archives because it's got a joke about blackface in it. It's gone, and it's fine that it's gone. It also is probably the best episode of 'Community.'" I admire his equanimity, but the absence of this episode leaves a hole in the soul of the show. The inexcusable behavior is the point. Bring it back.