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."