Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for Paley Center for Media
“Community” has been a fixture of the last four PaleyFests and this year was no exception. This was “Community’s” fifth time at PaleyFest in five seasons! But the special occasion was the return of “Community” creator Dan Harmon and co-showrunner/executive producer, Chris McKenna.
At the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, TV Guide’s Michael Schneider held court with Harmon and McKenna in addition to cast members Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown and Jim Rash. But before the panel began, the first part of the fifth season finale was shown in its entirety. Without giving major spoilers away, the Save Greendale movement reaches its conclusion as a major relationship heats up and Subway makes a return to the series.
In the aftermath of the screening, Schneider asked Harmon about the potential relationship game changer in the finale. To which, Harmon replied “there’s some stuff going down, but I think that if ‘Community’ has been adamant about anything it’s that relationships mean nothing.” After the laughter from the crowd died down, Harmon continued with “emotions mean everything, and sometimes those emotions get exacerbated by other people and you never know when you love somebody or when you don’t.”
Both Harmon and McKenna credited McHale for engineering their return to “Community.” Both men related that there had been some miscommunication between them before they finally met in person and realized that they could reunite on the show. McKenna joked that “Dan said, ‘let’s absolutely do it. because as long as Donald Glover is on board…”
Harmon continued the joke by adding “these pens came down from the ceiling and we signed our contracts. And then they went up to a UFO and we heard a cackling. We ran out to the sidewalk and it was Donald Glover flying away.” Then Harmon deadpanned “listen, the other actors are great too… we just had to bring in a couple more people from ‘Breaking Bad.’”
After sharing a few stories about what McKenna meant to him and the series as a whole, Harmon explained why he feels a true “bromance” with his co-showrunner. “In an industry designed for all of the writers to work against each other, run by people who depend on us being jammed into rooms together, rewriting each other ad nauseum and then also at the drop of a hat, selling each other out and stabbing each other in the back, being eminently replaceable in a pyramidic fashion.”
Harmon went on to say that “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 too because he never got [paid] enough the first time around. That’s the bromance part. That’s why I feel so close to him.”
To top things off with a punchline, Harmon added “hear that every network and studio out there operating and hiring writers: Chris McKenna always sides with the psycho!”
McHale equated the fourth season of “Community” with “that episode of 'Twilight Zone' where the guy realized he was in a zoo on another planet… It just was not the show. I mean, [Harmon’s] brain is where it all exists and I didn’t think it was worth continuing if he wasn’t back.”
Pudi addressed the departure of Donald Glover by saying that “having Donald for at least five episodes was the best, because we could at least really send him off in a good way. We had five great episodes… and it was nice to actually grieve as characters and friends on set.”
“It was definitely hard to lose Donald,” continued Pudi. “But I think… most of the characters, especially Abed, had more growth this year than in all the seasons… It showed that Abed can actually socially engage and take what he learned from his relationship with Troy and he can connect with other people… I love the season because of that.”
Regarding the recent darker turns for her character Shirley, Brown said that “I think that Shirley has always been flawed, she’s always been violent… she found Jesus and she’s trying to be better.”
Jacobs was happy that “[Britta] was right a few times, which was really nice! And I got to be power hungry and have mustard on my face. That was really fun. And I got to scream ‘floor bitch!’ to Jeff, have the biggest hair I’ll ever have in my life. I had some really, really, really great moments this season.”
The Dean’s infamous rap in the Payday costume was also a topic of conversation as Rash relayed how difficult it was to get as much of the rap in one take as possible. Rash and several of his cast mates then began an impromptu performance of the Dean’s rap, although no one knew the full lyrics, leading Jacobs to hilariously improvise at one point.
Jacobs also received one of the biggest ovations of the night when she said that the sixth season was “happening.” However, Harmon and McKenna were more reluctant to confirm that and they claimed ignorance about the reported discussions about “Community’s” fate. “I don’t know what’s going on,” said Harmon. “We’re on our fifth year of near cancelation. The only thing weirder at this point than getting a sixth season would be not getting a sixth season!”
Towards the end of the panel, two clips were shown from next week’s “G.I. Joe” animated episode that will use some of the characters (and the art style ) from the ‘80s “G.I. Joe” series. The opening sequence of the episode was shown and it got a huge laugh from the audience. Harmon got another big laugh when he added that “it’s ratings dynamite! I believe my mom is going to love this.”
Harmon also explained the appeal of doing a ‘G.I. Joe” style animated episode. “I want to say that [‘Community’ writer] Jordan Blum said that ‘GI Joe’ has the kind of spark of something that feels like you don’t necessarily have to be familiar with it in order to understand what the point of that mythology is and then find emotionally resonant storyline… The story itself is about age and dying.”
The panel ended with a PaleyFest tradition: fans rushing towards the stage in order to get autographs from the cast and the producers. “Community” has been to five PaleyFest events in a row, so it’s a safe bet that the show will be back next year if it continues its improbable run.