REVIEW: Dimension 20’s ‘A Crown of Candy’ is a Royal Success

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“There are dark forces at work. Be wary. Boldness will be required in the days to come.”

This article contains mild spoilers for A Crown of Candy.

The dome set of Dimension 20 emits a soft purple glow. Six players are seated at its center table, which is decked out with a new board sweetly shaded with magenta and craftily dotted with candied landscaping. At its head, a dungeon master sits. He wears a familiar “Men’s Standard Fit Whittier Oxford Button Down Shirt” by Goodfellow & Co, striped with burgundy and navy. Yeah, you know the one. The fifth season of CollegeHumor’s anthology D&D series Dimension 20, subtitled A Crown of Candy, couldn’t have started any other way. While this new season boasts a land about as broad as Spyre from the show’s first season, Fantasy High, there are always places that stories have to start, and this one in particular starts in Candia, the heart of Calorum.

One would think that after producing five seasons in less than two years, Dimension 20 would suffer from a few levels of creative exhaustion. However, if A Crown of Candy is any indicator, the magic is far from faded. Following the adventures of a royal family and their court, this season mashes up Game of Thrones-style politics with a Candyland-inspired setting for a captivating story. Flip Screen’s two resident CollegeHumor fans were blessed to have seen the first and second episodes of A Crown of Candy, and in the spirit of collaboration, we’d like to take you on a journey through them and show you a world where a foreboding being known only as “the Hungry One” haunts all and the food pyramid has been turned into a literal hierarchy.

BETHANY: I think more than anything, apart from fellow fans wanting to know what this new season of Dimension 20 was even about in the first place, people were desperately waiting for the characters to be revealed. Sure, we were satiated by the tasty trailer that got dropped in February, appropriately the 20th, and certain suspicions were confirmed for those hung up on Brennan’s insane impression of an old man licking a lollipop on Game Changer. There’s always a want for more, though, isn’t there? Nia and I, we’re no strangers to the waiting game. The cast absolutely delivers in that respect. After all, when have they ever not had characters we could get thoroughly invested in?

To start it all off, Brian Murphy’s character. Clad in heavy yellow armor, wielding a Push Pop as a sword in one hand and a lollipop as a shield in the other, is a bright red gummy bear by the name of Sir Theobald Gumbar. He is every single quality you’d expect Murph to stuff deep inside a character and more. While some may be surprised to learn that his character is not a paladin, rest assured that the class he takes might be even better than that. He’s a battle-worn knight that’s sworn allegiance to his king, and from that stems an interesting rivalry, leading us to our next character, played by Zac Oyama. We’re so used to his characters truly being good at their core. Needless to say, fans are going to find themselves very intrigued by the way he presents Chancellor Lapin Cadbury, a chocolate bunny that I can’t forget to mention is a spellcaster. Though it isn’t Zac’s first in D&D, it surely is in Dimension 20, and I’m particularly pumped to see how he shows off as a warlock.

Now comes my favorite character, who absolutely nobody is surprised to know is of Emily Axford’s own creation. A Crown of Candy is a tale about a royal family. What better way to complement that than with a princess? Jet Rocks is about as chaotic as you’d expect her to be when correlated to her player, a lithe being of black licorice that hardly cares for the throne that’s soon to be hers. No, all she craves is the battlefield. It’s hard to hold in all the reasons why I love her so much, so I’ll ask you a question, Nia. Who’s your favorite character so far?

NIA: Though I’m hesitant to declare favorites so early on, there is already a soft spot in my heart for Princess Ruby Rocks, played by Siobhan Thompson. While she is Jet’s twin and a rogue like her sister, Ruby has her own goals and enough personality to practically leap off of the screen. In fact, I love the entire royal family, which also includes Lou Wilson’s Amethar Rocks, the unwilling king of Candia and father to Jet and Ruby. Lou is absolutely magnetic with every character he’s played thus far, and this pattern continues with his deeply flawed yet good-hearted monarch. Perhaps some of my favorite moments of the first two episodes are between the family members. By having some main characters be blood-related for the first time, A Crown of Candy introduces dynamics not previously seen in Dimension 20 canon and raises the stakes in a new way.

Of course, any discussion of stakes would be incomplete without mentioning the wonderful Liam Wilhemina, played by Ally Beardsley. Though he is young and more concerned with seeds than politics, his status as a political prisoner shows that Candia is not as sweet as it seems. Ally portrays Liam with a mixture of sweet naivety and melancholy, and it is absolutely fascinating to see.

With this cast of characters, A Crown of Candy marks a departure from typical Dimension 20 form. Our heroes are not thrown together by circumstance as usual, but by blood or duty. This makes every interaction more layered, every move in battle more emotionally charged. In my eyes, A Crown of Candy seems to be more than every other season in every way, shape, or form. How do you feel, Bethany? What have you noticed that makes this season stand apart from others?

BETHANY: Something that I feel separates A Crown of Candy from other seasons is just how much lore is infused into it. Dungeon master Brennan Lee Mulligan talked about this in a recent Fireside Chat that he hosted ahead of Dimension 20 Live’s finale, how the lore from this season isn’t so dependent on any prevailing features like it has been in the past. Fantasy High was easy to nail down because he was basically tossing high fantasy elements into a high school atmosphere. The Unsleeping City was easy to dream up because half of the fiction he told was actually cold hard fact, a part of New York City’s history that he knew by heart. He shouldn’t discredit himself when it comes to either, though, because I don’t think anyone else would have been able to breathe life into these concepts the way that he did.

While A Crown of Candy draws many of its structural details from Game of Thrones, its originality lies in its ability to evolve from where it begins. D&D is a game where worldbuilding is an ideal, and in this instance, Brennan doesn’t disappoint. Candia may be where we see our characters start, but we aren’t there for long. Get used to referencing back to the extensive map of Calorum because, by the looks of the trailer, we could be seeing all its stretches of land in all its delicious glory. Fructera, Vegetania, Ceresia, the Dairy Islands, the Meat Lands. We’ll get to visit each and every one of them, if we’re lucky.

Speaking of which, the food-based puns in this season are endless. In the first two episodes alone, we are thrown so many good names of people and places and things, titles and pets and weapons. There is no extent to which they stop. I think one of my favorite puns has to be the name of a certain sword: Flickerish, the Twizzling Blade. It’s just got such a good ring to it. What about you, Nia? Do you have a favorite pun out of all the ones we know?

NIA: My favorite pun might be the fact that another sword was named Payment Day, like the Payday candy bar, though it’s hard to choose from so many. I think that the abundant supply of food-based puns helps show how good this show is. While the first few instances of lore explanation can be long for someone who doesn’t enjoy getting info-dumped on, these clever references to something familiar help ground the audience in the story. Moreover, they’re a testament to the thought put into this show. No opportunity is left untaken and no stone is left unturned, and there’s just something about seeing love and hard work so clearly on display that makes this show a must-watch.  

The same can be said about the overall production of the first two episodes. This season’s character art, done by Samir Barrett, might be my favorite of the show thus far. I also couldn’t help but notice the craftsmanship that went into constructing this season’s table, so intricate and detailed it appears like a work of sorcery. I also found myself absolutely fawning over the visual and sound editing. Two hours is a long time, but the quick cuts for funny reaction shots and artfully steady lingering on the emotional moments (and there are already so many) is enough to make two hours feel like two minutes. The always-masterful editing is complemented with a delightful soundtrack. From lively party numbers to sweeping orchestral numbers that recall pieces from Game of Thrones or Lord of The Rings. Every element of this season coalesces so perfectly that it’s easy to believe that you’re peeking into a different universe or watching the next big high fantasy show, instead simply listening to seven people tell stories to each other.

Everybody notices different things when they’re watching the show. Bethany, was there anything, in terms of storytelling, production, or otherwise, that you’d like to highlight?

BETHANY: You’ve practically spoken my mind about everything so far. I think the one thing I will touch on that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the combat. As is standard for seasons of Dimension 20, combat episodes are evenly spaced. The first and second episodes of A Crown of Candy fall in perfect line with this pattern. As the tail end of the first episode trails off with our characters headed out of Candia, we eventually find them stopped by a tree that’s been suspiciously felled right on the path they’re taking. Brennan pulls out all the stops in these final moments, a habit of his that we know all too well. Some may recognize the combat boards from the second episode from the trailer, Candyland-esque squares winding around pink trees, a miniature caravan pulled by marshmallow chicks. As lovely as the scene may look, enemies lurk under all that sweetness, and nothing is as it seems once they’re in the thick of it.

NIA: Dimension 20 gets more experimental (both storytelling and mechanics-wise) with every new season, and A Crown of Candy might be the show’s most ambitious narrative yet. Several cast members play against type, and the story itself takes on a tone darker than its “everyone is evil” season two and gritty urban fantasy season three combined. Yet, at its core, it’s still the hilarious and heart-warming show that it always has been. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that A Crown of Candy might be the show at its best (a high compliment, considering how amazing it already is). As a result, it’s the perfect jumping-on point for anyone currently unfamiliar with the show. You don’t need to be a D&D expert to watch the show. You just need to love emotional storytelling, complex characters, and a little bit of chaos.

Be sure to watch A Crown of Candy when it premieres on Dropout and Youtube this Wednesday, April 8 at 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific. Episodes will premiere live on Youtube at the same time each week, then move exclusively to Dropout afterward. Don’t have a subscription yet? Check out this giveaway Bethany is running.

Director: Michael Schaubach

Cast: Brennan Lee Mulligan, Emily Axford, Ally Beardsley, Brian Murphy, Zac Oyama, Siobhan Thompson, Lou Wilson

Release Date: 4/08/2020

Available on: Dropout, Youtube

WordPress currently does not allow the same post to be linked to two authors at once, so despite what the website says, this post is co-written by Nia Le. Nia Le is a student at USC majoring in Applied Math, minoring in Screenwriting, and desperately trying to figure things out. She loves storytelling, TV, and making terrible jokes. She used to write under her given name, Antonia, but has recently realized that her nickname suits her much better.