I am not a fan of the roundtable process, but with Community, all bets are off. Since I was literally driving down to WonderCon only to enjoy the panel (where we were treated with an upcoming episode – and not the one airing this week), I figured I’d use my press badge for something and join a bunch of other writers fighting to ask questions while in a very noisy room. What follows are only my questions. Most of the others were mostly about the ratings and hiatus, and I feel that stuff has been covered ad infinitum, so I just did my own so I could have this up quicker for you all to enjoy. I have horror movies to watch!
Badass: Is there any meaning to Pierce’s wife ranking?
Harmon: I think I know why that’s happening – it’s a weak punchline in the comedic sense; the only punchline is that Abed rattles them off. But no there’s no significance. I’ve seen the theory online that it corresponds to the timelines in ["Remedial Chaos Theory"] and you can glean which one is real or something like that, but no. I don’t put that much energy into stuff like that! But I bring it on myself when I do stuff like the Beetlejuice thing, so I understand (laughs).
Badass: I was wondering about your embryo process* – I know you do embryos for each character for that episode, but do they have larger embryos for the whole season as well?
Harmon: This year there was. That was the experiment this year. I don’t know if it paid dividends compared to the second season; I’ll take stock at the end. The experiment for this season… part of it was motivated by politics because there was a new chairman coming in at NBC, and he didn’t know if he was going to keep the show around. So I had to sit down with him and pitch him an entire season of Community episodes at the top of the year; to get the show off of their “weirdness radar," too. I had to make it sound like the show was going to be about people, and that there was a plan, and anything I could do to make them feel comfortable. I had also watched The Wire between seasons 2 and 3. I come from the Channel 101 world so I look at the modularity of episodes as being a superior craftsmanship. If anyone could pick one pearl off the necklace and enjoy it, that’s better than serialization, which is a crutch. It’s the first thing you grab when you’re drowning. And people were saying “It’s too inconsistent, every episode is different, it’s like a sketch show, and that’s why it’ll never get over this rating.” So I said "OK let’s test that theory," let’s create these arcs like Chang’s rise to power, and let’s step them out. So each character has a circle this year. Some of them fell off by the wayside - once we got pulled off the air everything went to hell as far as “plans." It’s like “If you guys aren’t gonna follow through with your story of us being on the air (laughs), I’m certainly not gonna do the episode about the guy meeting his father or whatever.” Screw it, let’s do weird stuff. And I think fourth season – WHEN we get a fourth season – I’m going to go back to a season 2 approach, which is to follow my bliss, follow the writers’ laughter, and not be afraid to change things at the drop of a hat. I always look at the episodes as a whole but for writing the episodes, we’ll be six episodes ahead of the audience but no more than that. That’s my feeling right now.
(Ken was talking about an upcoming arc that he’s very excited about)
Badass: This arc you mentioned - would this be “Chang Rises”?
Ken: Yeah, you’ve seen the twitter hash tags and stuff. Really can’t spoil anything right now, don’t want to give anything away out of respect for the fans, but it really is… I love this season so much, Chang as a security guard. In season 1 he’s an authority, season 2 he’s pathetic, and now season 3 he’s a blend of both. He’s a pathetic authority (laughs). And I thought what Dan did was genius. He told me at the beginning of this season what I would be doing, and I was ecstatic. I was crying laughing when he described the plans.
Badass: Is Sgt. Nunez coming back? I loved your chemistry with him.
Ken: Oh thank you for saying that! I tell you, Melvin Rodriguez… the chemistry was so great. One of the few times that Chang was the straight man in a scene, was that monologue that Nunez had: “What’s that thing, that goes like this, parallel, 90 degrees… you know?” And I go “The arm?” “Bingo!” (laughs). We did so many takes of that! I sure hope he comes back; he’s great. He’s in demand right now; he’s doing some movies and other TV shows. But thank you for mentioning that, that was actually one of my favorite episodes, the Britta/Chang one. Two characters who hate each other, just exploring their hate. There was no “Let’s find a silver lining" - no, they hate each other! They always will. They’re stuck in a situation together; through their mutual hatred they got out of it.
Badass: Dan said the scripts got darker after the hiatus – was that a gradual change building toward the end of the season? Or was it immediately obvious from a certain script, like page one – “This is DARK."
Gillian: The first part of the season was dark too, Jeff killing Pierce’s father – that was dark. And then the Dean doing “Hearts of Darkness”, naked, running through the halls, smearing soot on himself… I think that stuff was there. Dan had said this was going to be the dark season, so maybe the fact that it got pulled… we’re a very meta show! The meta-gods decreed that we’d get pulled off the air on our darkest season. I do still feel it’s a funny show even when horrible things happen.
Badass: How does shooting an episode like "Chaos Theory" work in terms of acting? I assume they just did you in the bathroom from all timelines at once…
Gillian: Oh, yeah we thought we were losing our minds! I had to do the same four lines, seven times for each scene. Like Jeff hitting his head on the ceiling fan, it’s like, “OK, the real ceiling fan… pause, now put in the foam one. OK, Joel stand up! OK, start over!” The amount of times we had to do everything over and over again, we completely lost track. It took us so long to finish it, I think up until the week it aired we were still shooting bits and pieces, insert shots, fire, trolls, pies… it was so complex! Even though it all took place in Troy and Abed’s apartment I felt that one nearly broke us.
Badass: More than the clip show [“Paradigms of Human Memory”]?
Gillian: Yes. I would say so. The clip show was like a sprint, because we had one day on the Universal backlot to shoot a lot of that show. But it was like from 4 in the morning til 6 pm, GO! But with [“Chaos Theory”], it was 3 in the morning, I’m working on this other episode, but had to change back into those clothes and go do a scene with Yvette, and it’s like “Whaaat? Oh, I’m high, right.”
YVETTE NICOLE BROWN
Badass: You got to work with Pierce again [on the “return from hiatus” episode], it had been a while since the two of you paired up.
Yvette: It HAS been a while, and there’s going to be a couple more episodes. Shirley’s been paired with Jeff a few more times this season, and with Chevy’s character Pierce. So they’re going back to the “Greatest Hits” from the first season with some of the pairings. Shirley has a dream and Pierce has money, so there’s a good chance that they’re going to keep trying to see where that can go. Who knows if it’s gonna work out, because it’s Greendale. Nothing ever works out as planned at Greendale! But they’re going to give it a go.
After the press block was the actual panel, where we were treated to the upcoming "Subway" episode that they said will be airing on March 29th (however NBC's schedule has it airing on April 5th). It's a very funny episode and follows up last week's "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts," as Pierce and Shirley seek to get rid of the Subway shop in Greendale's cafeteria. It also begins the "Civil War" regarding Troy and Abed's newest endeavor - a pillow fort (following S2's blanket fort). Like "Sandwich Arts," it's a rare episode that splits the group into smaller units but also gives them all plenty to do (plus brings back John Goodman!). I'll have a full review of that one soon.
The panel itself was pretty much standard if you've been to any of these things or watched them on Hulu or Youtube. Apart from Harmon hinting about some crazy voice mail he has from Chevy (something about a gypsy curse?), I can't really remember much about it other than the guy who was given the "This will be the last question" warning inexplicably asking Ken Jeong about his Hangover character. Don't be that guy, people! Harmon also said the odds of a renewal are now at 70/30, which was great to hear. However, he also warned that if the ratings sink to a .2 this week then all of that goes out the window, so make sure you tune in LIVE on NBC, Thursday at 8pm, if you want to help see the study group make it to graduation.
*Check out THIS article at Wired for more on the embryos.