For many years, screenwriters used a character’s love of Dungeons & Dragons as a quick way to convey that the character was a nerd with no social graces. Fortunately, shows are now portraying D&D in a positive light. The game’s resurgent popularity is one reason, but it also helps that many of the behind-the-scenes forces in Hollywood have likely spent some time gathered around a Dungeon Master’s Screen. Whether watching these shows for the first time or the 100th, here are some great moments in D&D‘s pop culture history.
It’s no surprise Dan Harmon is a huge D&D fan. He was a member of The Dead Alewives, the Wisconsin comedy troupe that expertly skewered the difference between D&D‘s evil reputation and the far nerdier reality in the audio sketch that brought a specific way of saying “Where’s the Mountain Dew?” to the tables everywhere. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons not only lets the talented cast of the show bounce off each other, the plot coalesces around a common pitfall of gaming. What happens when someone the Dungeon Master doesn’t want in the game barges in and demands to play anyway?
Key and Peele
If the Dead Alewives sketch captured the mundane charm of a typical D&D session, Key and Peele perfectly portrayed the awkwardness of introducing someone unfamiliar with how the game is played into a long standing campaign. In the sketch titled “Tyrell Plays D&D,” Jordan Peele’s streetwise Tyrell sows chaos in his cousin’s D&D group as Kanye the Giant. Sometimes, the tavern brawl at the beginning of the game starts an epic quest. Sometimes, it causes the party to pile into an SUV to listen to a demo CD.
This summer show burned up social media in 2016 with it’s potent mix of Steven Spielberg kid protagonists and Stephen King creepy small town mysteries. The main cast of Stranger Things playing D&D could have easily been an insignificant reference of the time in the first episode, but the importance of the game kept the theme running throughout all eight episodes. Without the things the kids (and one helpful adult) learned playing in “The Vale of Shadows,” Will Byers’ disappearance could have ended even more poorly.
Freaks and Geeks
Another show that told a great coming-of-age story set in the 1980s was Freaks and Geeks. The first season finale, “Discos and Dragons,” found the two titular groups interacting in a strange way. Cool kid Daniel ends up on AV Club duty as a punishment, slowly being drawn into the geek’s D&D game, eventually joining as Carlos the Dwarf. Sadly, the early end of the show leaves the question of whether Daniel get geekier or the geeks got cooler because of the experience, but the episode warmly portrays how playing D&D can get people to open up to each other in unexpected ways.
The IT Crowd
The fourth season of the amazing British comedy series The IT Crowd premiere with “Jen the Fredo.” Jen’s trying to impress her superiors by taking some business partners out for a night on the town, but can’t bring herself to go the usual route of bars and strip clubs. Instead, she’s convinced by her nerdy charge Moss to let the boys play some D&D, which they enjoy far more than the gang expects. As if the business encounter wasn’t an impressive enough display of Moss’s Dungeon Master skills, he also helps his mate Roy deal with a recent breakup by offering closure with a fictional version of Roy’s girlfriend.
What is your favorite TV episode that features D&D? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image Channel 4, Pixabay
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.