PaleyFest continued last night with a full house for the beloved-but-almost-always-on-the-brink-of-cancellation NBC comedy “Community.” According to TV Guide’s L.A. Bureau Chief Mike Schneider, also the panel’s moderator, “Community” was returning to Paleyfest for an “unprecedented fifth time.”
Cast members Joel McHale, Jim Rash, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Pudi and Gillian Jacobs participated on the panel, alongside executive producers Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna. Harmon and McKenna had been absent for the show’s fourth season due to the former’s firing which subsequently convinced the latter to leave the show.
Much to the audience’s surprise, the evening began with a screening of the first episode of the two-part Season 5 finale. (spoilers ahead!) Equal parts zany and heartfelt, the episode focuses on how Jeff and the gang prepare (or in some cases, don’t prepare) for the insurance inspection that will determine Greendale’s value to the city. After a series of bizarre tests carried out by the insurance inspector, everyone at Greendale is surprised to hear him declare the school an asset to the city. Relief, however, immediately evaporates once they learn that plans are being made to sell the school to a private company that turns out to be Subway. Helpless at the hands (or perhaps we should say halves) of the Five-Dollar Footlong, Jeff and the gang are forced to witness Greendale’s conversation into a sandwich-making college. Everyone laments the loss of their beloved school and contemplates their next steps. Just as soon as we think it’s over, though, it’s not, with the first half of the season finale carrying even more surprises before it wraps.
In hindsight, the decision to screen such a pivotal episode of the series for a room full of loyal fans can be read as the “Community” gang’s way of saying. “Thanks for sticking by us all these years. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”
Perhaps the vow is overdoing it a bit. If you’re a fan, though, then it might not seem that way. The panel discussion that followed the screening, took on the same bittersweet tone of the never-before-seen episode. Rather than focusing on Season 5 semantics, Harmon, McKenna, McHale and the rest of the cast engaged in a discussion infused with a mixture of nostalgia, gratitude and hope.
So what did we learn when the lights came up in the theater and the panelists took the stage? Here are 10 highlights:
“If ‘Community’ has ever been adamant about anything it’s that relationships mean nothing…emotions mean everything and sometimes those emotions get exacerbated by some people and you never know when you love somebody and when you…don’t…”
When Schneider tried to get Harmon to talk about some of “the big moments for shippers” in part one of the finale, Harmon gave the above response. Real talk, indeed.
“All I’m trying to do as Jeff is to be as good in bed as Troy was.”
McHale’s response to Schneider when he attempted to redirect the shipper question to the cast. Boys will be boys.
McHale played an instrumental role in bringing Harmon and McKenna back to the show.
After Harmon got fired and McKenna voluntarily left the show, the two fell out of touch. As McKenna so cleverly put it, “He was busy doing ‘Rick and Morty’ and I was busy not having a pilot picked up.” Their return to the show almost didn’t happen because Harmon thought that McKenna had a deal at Twentieth Century Fox that would prevent him from returning, whereas McKenna wasn’t sure whether Harmon had any interest in returning. McHale bridged the gap between the two by talking to both about the possibility of returning to the show, which eventually resulted in the two meeting and sorting out the minor details — minor being the fact that Harmon actually did want to return to the show and that McKenna’s deal was actually with Universal so he would have no contractual issues if he wanted to return, which he did.
“In an industry designed where all the writers work against each other, run by people who depend on us being jammed in a room, rewriting each other ad nauseam, and then also at the drop of a hat selling each other out, stabbing each other in the back, being imminently replaceable in a pyramidal fashion. The only person who ever had a chance of doing a better show than I could have done, called “Community” after I was a liability, was the one guy who bothered to refuse the job, who deserved it more than anyone else to because he never got paid enough the first time around. That’s the bromance part.”
Harmon provided a particularly insightful comment on his professional relationship with McKenna in the context of the TV machine that “Community” has been at the mercy of since it first aired.
“You hear that every network and studio out there still operating and hiring writers? Chris McKenna always sides with the psycho.”
On the difficulties of Season 4:
McHale compared it to the episode of the “Twilight Zone” where the guy realizes he was in a zoo on another planet. “It just was not the show.”
Pudi’s reaction was a bit more startling. “I was literally crying in my trailer trying to learn lines most of the year,” he said, “It was a hard year.”
Harmon on Donald Glover’s departure from the show:
“Sometimes people go away that you don’t want to go away and it doesn’t mean that they are bad people and that your life worsens, it’s absolutely half of life — is stuff that you don’t want happening, happening. And so we knew that on one hand that this was something we didn’t want to happen and we knew on the other hand that there was going to be energy coming from that we would be able to tell stories with. I mean, you’ll never be able to replace Troy. Never be able to replace Donald. I think it’s just a perfect set up for our ‘Search for Spock’ ‘Community’ movie.”
“People don’t realize that Dan Harmon has a nice flow. He really does. The Christmas episode where Troy raps, [to Dan] you wrote that, right? And you write this rap [Dean Pelton’s rap in the peanut costume] and when he writes a rap he demonstrates how to do the rap, and on my phone somewhere is a video of him doing demonstrating that rap for Jim for the first time.”
In response to Yvette’s comment, a female voice in the crowd shouted, “Tweet it!”
Yvette, of course, responded, “I will.”
“I think he likes telling people and he likes having command over people and going, ‘Hey ski-hat.’ And then of course, Alison has so brilliantly cut him down to size. It was more, I think the teaching stuff, I don’t know where it’s going to go, obviously, but I think it was more of a jumping off point to get us back together, and it obviously worked so, thank god. Because there was a lot, there was some crisis happening this year that had to get taken care of, so screw teaching.”
McHale’s comment came on the heels of the discussion of the repilot.
On the issue of a sixth season renewal and the possibility of a movie:
When Schneider raised the question to Harmon, McKenna, McHale and the rest of the cast, there was a brief pause before Jacobs casually asserted, “It’s happening, come on.” Her comment was met with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
McHale followed up by saying, “I think we know there is going to be a sixth season because you guys would probably show up with pitchforks and torches here.”
“We’re on our fifth year of near cancellation,” said Harmon. “The only thing weirder than getting a sixth season would be not getting a sixth season.” Given all of the politics that has plagued production on the show, Harmon is hilariously on point with his observation. “There is nothing left for the show to do that would be really weird, other than getting cancelled. That’s it. That’s all we have left.”
Meeting Harvey Hollywood:
The Harvey Hollywood bit started when Harmon was asked a question by a fan in the audience. The fan asked whether “Community” would have suffered the same fate as “Firefly” or “Veronica Mars” had it come out five years earlier. He based his question on the the argument that in 2008, which was when “Community” premiered, widespread use of the internet helped fan communities rally together and stand behind their favorite content.
“There is a feeling that fans keep the show alive,” answered Harmon, “but if you ask one of the suits, would they say that?” Switching to a throaty voice that sounded vaguely like Harvey Weinstein, Harmon continued, “Yeah, we love those fans. I love my big cigars and my fans. These kids, their sub-reddits and their blood diamonds — oh wait that’s good, I like blood diamonds.”
At this point the audience couldn’t stop laughing. “Who are you channeling?” asked Schneider.
“It’s Harvey Hollywood,” Harmon declared in the same, throaty voice. “I love television. I want a monster and tits in every episode.”
Now what we all want to know is when Harmon will guest star on “Bob’s Burgers” or “Archer.”
There will be a special animated episode titled “G.I. Joe.” Although still in production, a clip from the episode premiered for last night’s audience. Watch it below: