As Community marches toward the end of its fifth season, the NBC comedy seeks to fulfill its unofficial mantra: “six seasons and a movie.”
NBC has yet to officially renew the series for a sixth season, but stars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Jim Rash and Yvette Nicole Brown, along with returning executive producers Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, were cautiously optimistic. Many pointed to its unlikely five-season run as proof that TV miracles do sometimes happen.
“We know there’s going to be a sixth season or else you’ll probably show up with pitchforks and torches,” McHale joked, drawing cheers from the PaleyFest crowd gathered Wednesday at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre for Community’s fifth straight session. Added Jacobs: “It’s happening, come on, good energy!”
“The only thing weirder … would be not getting a sixth season,” said Harmon, who at one point called the current run of episodes “our fifth season of near-cancellation.”
As for the movie part of the mantra, Harmon joked that the fans could crowd-source it to fruition. “They’ll make it. They can each take a frame and we’ll be done,” he said. “If we get a sixth season, they owe us a movie, right?”
Harmon and McKenna both credited McHale with kicking the wheels into motion for their Community return. They cited a mutual misunderstanding (“a comedy of errors”) that had them at a temporary stalemate. “Let’s absolutely do it — as long as Donald Glover’s on board,” Harmon joked, referencing the former regular’s decision to depart.
“What more can be said about it?,” Harmon said of Glover, who appeared in five episodes this season. “We looked at the Donald situation and we met it head-on. We talked to each other about it. There were no weird manipulations of our own desires or things. It was very straightforward in a refreshingly tragic way. Sometimes people go away who you don’t want to go away.… Half of life is stuff you don’t want happening, happening.” He later joked that Troy leaving serves as the perfect setup to “our Search for Spock Community movie.”
“It was definitely hard to lose Donald,” Pudi admitted, explaining that Glover’s departure forced his character, pop-culture geek Abed, to grow and to “socially engage.” But Harmon is semi-hopeful that should a sixth season come, there may be a shot for Glover’s return to Greendale.
Harmon revealed that Jonathan Banks wasn’t the producers’ first choice to play criminology professor Buzz Hickey: It was Ray Liotta. “We were talking to Ray Liotta for a while,” Harmon said, adding that he was the inspiration for the nervous ex-cop.
And having showrunner Mitch Hurwitz (Arrested Development) and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) guest-star seemed like no-brainers. Harmon had seen Hurwitz guest on Comedy Central’s Workaholics, while Gilligan’s casting came by way of the studio (Sony TV, who did Breaking Bad) and after someone suggested the idea after a table read.
When asked whether Community would have been in the same boat as cult favorites Firefly and Veronica Mars had the show premiered five years earlier, when Internet fandom wasn’t as fervent, Harmon said he believes that would’ve been the case. “Yes, it would’ve suffered the same fate as the beloved shows,” he said. “Fans wouldn’t have been able to rally as easily.… If you can tell me what factors they use in their decisions when we don’t need the Internet … none of us know.”
He added: “There’s a feeling that the fans keep the show alive. If you ask the suits, will they say that?”
Other highlights included a brief Brown and Pudi peck on the lips and the cast reciting verbatim Dean Pelton’s peanut payday rap, in addition to Harmon’s inventing an alter ego, the corporate shill “Harvey Hollywood,” ranting on the TV industry and ratings, and making continued digs at The Big Bang Theory. The crowd was also treated to a preview of the April 3 episode, “G.I. Jeff,” an homage to 1980s cartoons.