I’ve seen at least a dozen “Community” panels over the years at various Fests and Cons and TCAs and you can guarantee two things:
1) The cast will be funny. It doesn’t matter which permutation of talent takes that stage, they’ll find a way to play off of each other. So even if Chevy Chase is there making everybody awkward or if you’re missing Donald Glover, hilarity will still find a way to ensue.
2) In part because of No. 1, you’re safely guaranteed that actionable information will be minimal. There’s just too much improv and too many extended bits and too many games of one-upmanship. If you’re a fan, that’s not a problem. You go. You laugh. You have a great time. If you’re a reporter looking to cull a blog post of 20 things one might have learned from a particular panel, it can be a real challenge. Either there’s no straight-faced information, or straight-faced information is given, but the next punchline comes so quick at hand that you can’t get follow-up details.
So this list of 20 Things We Learned From The “Community” PaleyFest Panel from Tuesday (March 5) night includes several things that probably aren’t real and several very quick hints at things that went elsewhere. Previous 20 Things… write-ups from Comic-Con have been vast seas of quotations, but I’m not sure if this one will be.
Click through for the 20… But if you’re spoiler averse, you probably don’t want to bother.
20) Here come the puppets! It was officially announced on Tuesday that this spring, the Greendale gang will get puppet-ized by the same folks who did the masterful puppet episode of “Angel.” The puppets were brought out on-stage, which led to both great excitement — “This is my favorite thing ever,” said Yvette Nicole Brown — and silliness — There was a lot of puppet-humping going on, as Alison Brie put it, “You can’t give children toys and not expect them to play with them” — and some sincerity — “We just want to thank you guys, because look at the crazy places this show has gone,” said Danny Pudi. NBC didn’t give an official air-date for the puppet episode, but check out the first official puppet image.
19) Nobody works a running gag like Alison Brie. Nobody. Early in the panel, Brie transitioned into a very strange character to avoid answering a question. The character was a little boy smoking two cigarette and speaking in a gruff voice, from an anti-smoking PSA, Brie explained. As the panel went along, she kept returning to the character, who had a strange backstory that involved being orphaned in the industrial revolution, as well as a wildly shifting array of accents. “I’m workshopping my one-act, so thanks you guys,” she cracked. A little later, though, Oscar Winner Jim Rash looked at Brie with mock concern and noted, “I’m gonna go out on a limb… I’m not gonna see this one-act.”
18) As you probably already know, this next episode features James Brolin. “This is the episode where Jeff murders his father. It’s very heavy. Mariska Hargitay turns up. Turns out it was a sex crime,” McHale says He adds, “It gets pretty heavy because it turns out that they both have herpes.” Gillian Jacobs was a little more series when it comes to Britta’s role in this reunion. “This is massive for Britta. Not only does she have a major, but she’s finally worn down Jeff and she’s actually making progress with his daddy-issues. This is a feather in her camp,” she notes. But is Britta on the verge of becoming a real therapist? “She’s still in the phase of accidentally helping people. I think to be a real therapist, you have to help people on purpose, so she has a ways to go.”
17) There’s a Joss Whedon connection, only not really! James Brolin is suddenly everybody’s father, having popped up on “Castle” a few weeks ago. Asked if this makes Jeff and Richard Castle half-brothers, McHale successfully panders, “Let’s just say if there is a Season 5, we end up on the Serenity.” When the audience roared, McHale quipped, “That was a nerdjaculation.”
16) We’re going to get to go to Shirley’s house for the upcoming Thanksgiving episode. “I just wanna warn you guys: Shirley likes really weird wallpaper and a lot of gingham, so I’m just telling you to prepare your eyes now,” Brown teases. “And we get to see a little bit about what made Shirley who she is. She was formed in this later years more by her in-laws than even her actual family, so you’re gonna get to see a little crazy.”
15) The cast of “Community” will do *nearly* anything you ask or dare them to do. Ask the cast to get up en masse and do Britta’s pizza dance? Gillian will lead the charge. Alison Brie declined to freestyle rap on the panel, but she and Danny dueted on an improvised song about Donald Glover’s “These Girls” that became increasingly dirty with references to pubic hair and pearl necklaces courtesy of Brie. An audience member asked Brie and Pudi to do a scene from “Doctor Who” in the style of “Inspector Spacetime” and while the two stars seemed game, the moderator wanted to get more questions in. Plus, as McHale said of the scene, “It’s 400 pages, you guys. Come on. It’s written in blood.”
14) There’s an upcoming “Origins” episode that looks at how the gang got together, with a superhero-style twist. “One of the great things about the characters on the show is that the seem like superheroes to those of us that love the show and just talking about them that way and seeing them through Abed’s eyes, sorta like the way that they’re all connected and meant to be together was sorta an inspiration for doing a story that might trace back how they really came to be. The show has always done a good job of sorta being informed by and reflecting on other genres like comic books, for example, so it just seemed like a natural fit for an episode,” co-showrunner David Guarascio says. And because of that episode…
13) Annie’s Boobs might be back. “Annie’s Boobs is part of the origin of the group one might say, so perhaps we will,” Guarascio hints.
12) And paintball might be back. “There might be a little paintball,” Guarascio hints again. But it won’t be a third full paintball episode, though. Brown describes it as “Paintball-adjacent.”
11) The network and studio were resistant to the “Things are changing” meta-episode that marked Guarascio and Port’s showrunning premiere. Remember all of that stuff about “Community” becoming a multi-cam comedy? And recasting Pierce? And doing the Muppet Babies animated version? The Powers That Be weren’t fans. “When we pitched that to the network and the studio, they really did not want to do that and they fought us very hard on it and we hung up the phone and we’re like, ‘OK. We know we’re on the right track with this one.’ And then there was one they liked, ‘This is great!’ ‘What are we doing wrong? Why do they like this one?’ So it was a very different barometer you’re kinda using to sorta guide yourself creatively,” Guarascio recalls.
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10) Snailed-It. The stars have a game on set that evolved from them jokingly saying “Nailed It” after good takes. That evolved into a hand symbol that resembled a snail that became “Snailed It.” And it became a game. In an example, Gillian and Danny announced, “Joel McHaled It!” as Joel stood up and recited “Hi. Welcome to ‘The Soup.'” It was unclear which part of the game was supposed to go first. But… Amusing!
9) Based on the prominently placed poster, at least one cast member has given some thought to doing a “Back to the Future” episode. “Donald keeps trying to figure out that episode. That’s one that Donald keeps trying to crack, but he can’t quite work it out, because we can’t have magic on the show,” Gillian says. Guarascio says, however, “The truth is, what we talk about when we break stories that really reference movies fairly heavily, we’re usually telling the story first, we’re thinking about what the characters are going through first, and as we’re talking about that character’s journey in that episode, sometimes something clicks in like there is a movie that we can help tell our story and be referential on one hand and also just elucidate something about the character at the same time. Like the episode Jim [Rash] wrote this year is a good example, the ‘Freaky Friday’ episode.”
8) The new writers have had a prank where they pitch elaborate parody episodes without describing them as parody episodes. “The trick was you start pitching a story that’s obviously a movie parody and then you for one of the veteran writers to go, ‘Oh, you’re talking…'” Andy Bobrow says. “Who was it? Hunter Covington and Gene Hong very earnestly started telling me like, ‘What if Jeff, like, he’s got money problems, so he ends up taking a job at a bar and he turns out that he’s actually really getting into like twirling the glasses and then he goes down to the Caribbean and…’ And the thing is that as they’re telling me that, I’m going, ‘That could be cool! Because we don’t really talk about the money. That would be really funny.’ It took me forever to figure out, ‘Oh. You’re doing ‘Cocktail.’ And I want to do ‘Cocktail’ next year.”
7) Nobody wants to talk about Chevy Chase. Moderator Michael Schneider made a valiant attempt to ask the panel about Chevy Chase’s departure, how it would be handled, if there was any chance Fred Willard might be seen more frequently as Pierce, etc. All he got anybody to acknowledge was that it would be possible for somebody else to magically play Pierce in this universe. “I think we’ve proven we can just say it’s Pierce and move on,” Guarascio claims.
6) The “Beetlejuice” gag was an accident, until it wasn’t. “We didn’t know that one until someone pointed out that we had said it twice,” Bobrow recalls. McHale remembers, “It really was weird that day, because it seemed like that had come out of nowhere and I was in the makeup trailer and there was a guy almost fully done as Beetlejuice and I’m like ‘What? This isn’t the Halloween episode…'” Regarding whether anything similar will happen again, Bobrow asks for a Twitter assist: “Tell us if there’s a full set of something that we’re one short of and then we’ll add that.”
5) Nobody’s saying who’s graduating. Remember that awesome thing where Ryan Murphy gave an interview about who was graduating on “Glee” and then had to backtrack and throw the interviewer under the bus? The “Community” writers are smart enough to avoid that kind of kerfuffle. “We’ll see how it all goes. Everyone’s on their own pace, I would say, just like is often the case at community college, so stay tuned,” Guarascio says.
4) Nobody does a back-and-forth improv exercise about Malcolm McDowell like Joel McHale and Oscar Winner Jim Rash. So McHale and Oscar Winner Jim Rash are talking about guest star Malcolm McDowell and they begin to go back and forth about things the “Clockwork Orange” star allegedly said about the other. Oscar Winner Jim Rash, for example, claimed that McDowell asked what was wrong with McHale and that “Looking at his eyes is like looking at a blank page. Nothing is on it and nothing will ever be on it.” McHale claimed McDowell asked him, “Now why is Moby on-set so much?” Oscar Winner Jim Rash then claimed that McDowell said of McHale’s voice, “It’s like sound that you wish wouldn’t travel.” And it went on for two or three minutes, with Oscar Winner Jim Rash even receiving a “call” from McDowell.
3) Jim Rash won an Oscar this year for writing “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s probably not true, but that’s what what Joel McHale said.
2) There are many answers for which past character the cast would like to add to the study group. Leonard got a couple votes. Joel wanted Magnitude. Gillian suggested John Oliver’s character. Brie suggested Neil. And several people agreed that it’d be great to have Professor Professorson in the study group. None of these things are probably happening, but I think they offer a reminder that “Community” has had lots of good character.
1) If “Community” isn’t renewed, Yvette Nicole Brown doesn’t want you to be sad. Throughout the panel, there were many jesting references to a fifth season and many appreciations of the audience. It was left to Brown to offer sincere reflection. Contemplating the “gypsy” life of most actors, Brown observed, Four years is great! You know what I mean? We made it to syndication and we got to meet all of you guys and we’ve been to PaleyFest four years in a row. This has been a great run. So as an actor, it’s hard when you know friends that are more talented than you or more beautiful than you or whatever that aren’t working. It’s kinda hard to be on this side of it and go, ‘Ah, only four years.’ We’re in the gravy years of our careers and the gravy years of this show. So if we get to continue and do another year, it will be an awesome blessing and we’ll get to come back hopefully and see you again. But it’s not a bad thing! Four years is great. Remember that whatever happens in May. We made it four years, we did it together and that’s a great thing.”
That seems like a good place to end. You can watch the full PaleyFest Panel here.