It’s taken the Comic-Con organizers a while to catch on to just how beloved “Community” is by the Con crowd, but the series finally gets a promotion to the big stage in Hall H, and for a panel that should be very interesting due to the return of creator Dan Harmon, who’ll be appearing alongside returning producer Chris McKenna and stars Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Jim Rash, and Ken Jeong. (Joel McHale is busy filming a movie, Donald Glover is reportedly cutting back his involvement with the show, and Chevy Chase is… gone.) The crowd was enthusiastic enough last year in Ballroom 20 with replacement producers Moses Port and David Guarascio, but they adore Harmon. And Harmon has been blunt to a fault at times about his opinion of the one Port/Guarascio season. Will he be able to contain that impulse today, or will the sight of 6000 screaming fans bring out his exhibitionist impulses? Will he say what the plan is for dealing with the events of the Harmon-less season? How much, if anything, will they say about Glover’s status? And what will the energy of the panel be like without McHale as the usual ringleader?
1:49 p.m.: Still a few minutes away from starting. A lot of crowd turnover after “Doctor Who” ended, but from my vantage point the room’s still more than 3/4 full.
2:00 p.m.: Start being delayed as they keep loading in people from the Hall H line outside. Room should be full by the time we begin, whenever that is.
2:05 p.m.: Okay, and we’re off! We open with a video about the return of Coke Classic, the McRib, Twinkies and other consumer products that were temporarily decommissioned. Now we’re watching Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and set up a Greendale E. Pluribus Anus flag, and the crowd roars at every glimpse of Troy, Abed, Annie and company. FWIW, there is some season 4 footage included in there. It’s followed by clips of the actors praising the fans, the fans saying, “Pop pop!” and drawing pictures. And now there’s a “Star Wars”-style crawl of tweets about the show’s renewal, and a plug for the DVD release in August, and the usual #sixseasonsandamovie hashtag.
2:09 p.m.: Now a Lego Iron Man is dancing on stage, but Rash and Pudi run out to remove its helmet, and the fans go nuts for Harmon, who’s revealed underneath the clunky costume as he keeps spinning around like a magician’s assistant. Jeong runs out to pull off his boots, and now Harmon is alone on stage in a black suit, grey t-shirt and socks, pacing in front of the table. “It is good to be back!” he calls. “Oh, you missed me? I missed you, too. I am billionaire playboy creator Dan Harmon.” He doesn’t want to say that television is going to enjoy its longest period of quality because of him. He’s not going to compare himself to a phoenix rising from the ashes to “create a machine that eats pain and craps joy.” He’s going full televangelist here. “It’s not about us. It’s about legacy. It’s about what we leave behind. It’s about six seasons and a movie. So what I am saying, if I’m saying anything at all, is welcome back to ‘Community.'”
2:10 p.m.: McHale plays the role of Harmon’s father Howard in a black and white video, discussing the possibility of six seasons and a movie. “It all starts here, with season 5 of ‘Community.’ Speaking of the future, here’s the man who’s an above-average bowler and couldn’t make ‘Web Soup’ work. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Hardwick!”
2:11 p.m.: Hardwick apologizes for killing G4 but then busts McHale for skipping Comic-Con. (The fans are not on Hardwick’s side of this dispute.) He introduces the cast, to big ovations, followed by McKenna and Harmon, who has put the red Iron Man boots back on.
2:14: What does Harmon’s return mean for the show? “New levels of anxiety that will no doubt trickle into the show,” Harmon says. “Nobody wants to not fail more than me at this point, because it’s kind of a weird story. I really really have to make these 13 count. I don’t consider them the last 13. I’m going to do everything I can to get us the sixth season.” Was he thinking about what the next season would be when he wasn’t working on the show? No. He had plans for season 4 when he was still working on season 3, but the actual season 4 has rendered his plans “out the window. This is a whole new thing. We have to re-ground, re-establish these characters, get back to the emotional basics and then have the most fun we can have.” He promises an animated episode, but doesn’t want to plan too hard. If he made mistakes in season 3, “It had a lot to do with over-planning; thinking about the finale during shooting of the first episode.” He wants to get back to the feeling of the first 2 seasons.
2:16 p.m.: Does Jacobs ever feel secure for the show’s future? Jacobs doesn’t, but she never had steady employment before this show. “This steady anxiety and looming cancellation is my new reality,” she says, and looks forward to bringing it over to future projects.
2:17 p.m.: What has Pudi learned about Abed so far? “One, that he’s not alone. For us, this is such a treat.” This is the show’s fourth Comic-Con visit, and he sees people in Inspector Spacetime outfits, 8-bit t-shirts, etc., and “I get to connect with people all over the place now in the strangest possible ways.” He’s shocked the show is still here, and feels that translates into the episodes. He thanks the fans.
2:18 p.m.: Hardwick asks Jeong about his favorite fan interaction so far. He was in Toronto promoting “Hangover 3,” “and I got way more Chang than Chow than I ever had before. It was amazing.”
2:19 p.m.: Brie loves playing Annie, and has enjoyed watching her evolve into a more mature human being “and then devolve into one who’s maybe not as mature, and maybe that’ll turn back around.” She says it’s exciting to learn new things about your character’s past that completely changes the way you think about what you’re playing. “I’m just excited to see what Dan’s going to do,” she adds.
2:21 p.m.: Hardwick praises Brown’s sincerity and graciousness, and asks about her own fan interactions. Brown does her annual “thank you for coming” greeting as the cast applauds the crowd (and vice versa). She names a fan who was the first Shirley cosplayer she meant.
2:23 p.m.: Hardwick asks about Rash’s Angelina Jolie impression when he won his Oscar. He says this weekend he spoke to a reporter who spoke to Jolie and Brad Pitt soon after the Oscars, and were told “they both found it very amusing.” Hardwick brings up the body-swapping episode Rash wrote (the highlight of season 4), and Rash calls it “a huge honor.” The challenge was “trying to get anywhere near Dan Harmon” and the other writers, but it helped that he had such a “distinctive map” of all the characters from previous seasons.
2:24 p.m.: Harmon says they’re taking a different approach in the writers room this season. Because they’re only filming 13 episodes, they’re going to break all the stories first, and they already know roughly what all the episodes will be. (“We have a couple of slates on the board that just say ‘normal episode,'” he explains.) They don’t have any scripts done yet, but they have a few outlines done already.
2:26 p.m.: Harmon calls the show “like a rescue dog; it pees itself every time there’s lightning. It’s been through a lot. I really want to give it a milk bone and make eye contact and make it understand that I’m not going to hurt it.” So the early episodes will be just about the characters. “As much fun as we end up having when we build on these characters” and do high-concept episodes, he explains, they first have to get to the idea of the characters living down the street from the crowd. He admits that “grounded story work” isn’t a fun Comic-Con thing to say, but gets the crowd to cheer at the question, “Get ready to see characters dimensionalized!”
2:28 p.m.: Harmon talks about how Annie was originally just a rip-off of Tracy Flick in “Election,” but Brie climbed into the role and made it her own. Britta is a combination of all of Harmon’s ex-girlfriends. Abed is a lot of parts of Harmon himself. “Ken is the guy from ‘The Hangover.’ We got him; that’s just a get!” Shirley is “the part of me that’s incredibly outspoken and idealistic.” He wants to do stories this season where she gets in trouble for that quality, now that she’s a successful businesswoman. (He will draw on his own troubles with saying things he shouldn’t in public.) As for the Dean, he represents everything that we all think is weird and want to keep secret, only he’s let it all out.
2:29 p.m.: Harmon says he’s terrified of the crowd. They cheer to reassure him, and he tells them to, “Quiet down! You’re scaring me!” Hardwick says Harmon doesn’t have to win these people over. Harmon: “But that makes them my LeVar Burton. I can only disappoint them.” Hardwick leads the crowd in a “We love you, Dan!” chant. Harmon: “I’m the worst person for making that happen now.”
2:30 p.m.: “Community” is coming to broadcast syndication. Jacobs and Pudi have a brief presentation they’ve worked out. She reads, intentionally stiffly, from a script, and he says starting September 20, the show will be on Fridays on Comedy Central. And starting September 16, the show will be stripped five nights a week on local stations. CommunityonTV.com will tell you which of your local stations. Fans have been given beer cups with the URL on them.
2:31 p.m.: Rash is asked to introduce the gag reel from the season 4 DVD. A good chunk of it is scored to Brie’s werewolf rap, now in puppet form.
2:34 p.m.: Fan questions! What’s their favorite piece of fan art? Brown enjoyed the nesting dolls. Harmon’s favorite are the music videos on YouTube. “They always make me squirt water out of my eyes,” he says.
2:36 p.m.: Starburns lives! Dino Stamatopoulos is at the mic, insisting “I have about 30 questions!” He asks, “What do you guys fuckin’ smoke when you write these shows?” Jeong has his face buried on the table. Then he asks if “Meltitude” is coming back, and is corrected by the panel. Now he’s just pitching an ashcan comic that he’s selling at the Con. “It’s going to be a graphic novel written by Starburns!” Now he’s plugging his FOX animated show “High School USA,” which Brie recorded an episode of. Harmon asks if Starburns is coming back. Dino: “I don’t know. It’s up to you and the writers.” The fans cheer and want this to happen. The plugging done, Dino exits.
2:41 p.m.: Brown’s favorite episodes were “Law & Order” and the puppets. Rash loves “Remedial Chaos Theory” (written by McKenna). Pudi loved being a vampire and the conversation Abed had with Jeff in the “My Dinner with Andre” episode. Brie loves the Annie/Troy conversation at the end of “Mixology Certification.” “I just remember thinking, ‘This is deep for a comedy that’s a network television show. We’re making real moments here!'” Jeong loved playing Chow-Yun Fat in “Modern Warfare.” Hardwick pokes the bear by asking if they had a favorite season 4 episode. They all name the Rash one. Harmon: “Yeah, that one was okay.” Jacobs praises the fake clip show episode (also written by McKenna), Harmon says McKenna is “truly the only person who could behead me, Highlander-style, and take my power.” He says you can go back to season 1 and “mark the spot with a Sharpie where Chris came to work on it.”
2:42 p.m.: McKenna’s favorite part of the show was going from being a fan to getting to work on it. But the episode he can just rewatch over and over is the Dungeons & Dragons one. “It just works on every level.”
Harmon promises that the season 5 whiteboard has a spot that says “D&D 2.”
2:43 p.m.: How has everyone coped with “all the misfortune that’s plagued ‘Community’ all this time.” Harmon reads a text from Dino, who said he told the crowd to meet him at the wrong corner of the hall to buy his comic. Harmon: “The harder it gets, the funnier the show gets.” He says the stories in the show get to resonate with stories about the show, and it gives him a good place to start looking for funny and character-defining moments. “So bring on the nutkicks!”
2:46 p.m.: A fan asks Harmon about his unflattering comments about season 4, phrasing it more kindly than Harmon. Will he do anything in season 5 to undo the choices of season 4? Harmon says no; he’ll keep following the trajectory. He says that “when I said that naughty stuff,” he was talking about his own experience watching it in the filter of his podcast. “When I do ‘Community,’ I’m making this show to adjust for the despicable person I am, and make a Valentine for people. ‘Community’ is never going to hurt you; I probably am, maybe in a car.” He apologizes to fans if he hurt any of their feelings with those comments. “A fan of ‘Community’ does not have to be a fan of Dan Harmon, and vice versa,” he adds. “I am a creepy jerk.”
2:47 p.m.: Will Chang be part of the group now, or will Harmon return to the conflict of the earlier seasons? Harmon says Chang’s been all over the map, makes another Gollum comparison. “Ken is one of the most amazing parts of the show, and what makes him so amazing is he’s out of his mind on camera.” He regrets having taken away the Spanish teacher job and has been moving him around, and admits it’s hit-and-miss with Chang. “Obviously, he’s going to be back, and he’s gonna be Chang-ing it up.”
2:50 p.m.: Given the show’s great production design, what’s everyone’s favorite set? Harmon remembers the Subway paranoid thriller episode, and the room where Pierce had a reel-to-reel recorder that evoked “The Conversation.” He talks about how detailed even the most basic sets like the Greendale hallways are, with much of the material invented entirely by the designers, not the writers. Pudi loved the pillow and blanket forts.
2:52 p.m.: A fan promises to fund the “Community” movie Kickstarter; Harmon insists that Sony will use funds from “Spider-Man 9” to pay for such a film, then apologizes, “I’m a creepy jerk!”
2:53 p.m.: None of the actors are tired of people calling them by their character names in public, because the fans are so passionate. Pudi tells a story about being recognized while at a urinal, and the guy stuck his hand out to shake it, while they both continued peeing. “And he goes, ‘It’s cool. I haven’t touched my penis yet.'” Rash: “Can I say, in my defense, I apologized for that?”
2:59 p.m.: Last question, but first, the cast tries to invite a fan in a Human Being costume to the stage, before security says no. Do any of the actors want to see their characters do something new this season? Rash: “Well, my first passion is cage-fighting…” He loves that the dean’s fetishes keep changing, and would like to see a new confusing fascination. Brown wants to meet Shirley’s sister, who was referred to briefly in season 1 as having a bad relationship with her; “Sherri Shepard is probably available.” Brie would like to see Annie be empowered, because she’s been very distracted by boys for a while. Jeong just wants to do whatever Harmon tells him to do, and thanks McHale for bringing Harmon back. They also shout out to Glover. Pudi is hoping to discover that Jamie Lee Curtis is his mom, but likes “not knowing what we’re doing.” (As he’s giving this answer, Brie and Jeong are goofing around, with Brie sucking on her index finger and then placing it in Jeong’s mouth; to Pudi’s credit, he just keeps going and going, even as Brie gives him a wet willie with the Jeong-contaminated finger.)
3:00 p.m.: Security finally escorts the Human Being to the front, and Hardwick thanks the crowd for coming.
That was a lot of fun, and that’s a Comic-Con wrap for me. See ya at press tour, everybody.