I think we can all agree that we’re somewhere between enthused and ecstatic at the return of Dan Harmon-helmed Community Season 5. But in between having good old-fashioned Greendale fun during the double episode premiere last night I couldn’t help but find myself asking lots of inside baseball questions. That’s just the sort of show Community has become. Especially when you spend this much time on the internet. SPOILERS AHEAD.
The consensus #1 Q that needs an A: How the hell did Dan Harmon talk Chevy Chase into doing a cameo (as a hologram, albeit) in “Repilot”? Between Chevy’s unceremonious departure from the show and his long, sordid history with Harmon it just seemed like an impossibility.
Well, luckily for us, IGN has the scoop the morning after:
IGN: Chevy’s cameo was a very nice surprise. How did that come about, and how did you decide upon the specific way it happened in the episode?
Harmon: Well, there’s always the point in every story when a character that’s gone down a certain path needs to have a reason to turn. One of the easiest things to do is have a moment with a mentor, a kind of Obi-Wan figure. I was really just considering what the story needed in the moment where Jeff is walking away with the power to destroy or save Greendale in his hands. What the story needed was someone to turn him, and I did picture Pierce immediately because if he was still on the show, that’s exactly how we would use him, and it’s a greater fact that he was always at his best as this sort of hapless Obi-Wan or a cautionary tale or unintentional mentor – trying to be a mentor in one way, but actually inspiring in a different way. It just seemed like one of those big moments where it was like, “Man, I really miss having that Pierce character,” and I literally pictured him in my head like this Industrial Light & Magic ghost that would appear in front of Jeff and say, “Don’t do this. Go back.” Then I thought, “Okay, then how do we actually make that happen, logically?” The answer was, “Well, actually what you’re describing could just be a hologram, because it doesn’t need to be having a conversation with Jeff. He just needs to say something. He just needs to be a vision.” He can’t be a literal ghost, but he could be a hologram, because Pierce has money, and that seems like the kind of thing you associate with Pierce — that whole Baby Boomer/Sharper Image kind of technology for its own sake kind of thing. And actually, that would work perfectly, because it would allow Chevy to come back to the show without panicking Sony legal, because he wouldn’t be on the set.
I wasn’t there when Chevy departed, but I know he had a specific agreement with Sony in which the terms of his departure were contractual and there was an agreement on both sides. I don’t really know more details than that except to say that simply bringing him back would be a contractual issue. So I was able to say to the studio, “What if we weren’t bringing him back? What if we were shooting him on a separate stage with no other actors around. Would that be allowable?” And they said, “Yes.” So it became this idea. I knew Chevy would be on-board because he’s an arch-character, but I know that at the end of it all he always loved doing the show and would be more than willing to come back. He’s very passionate about making people laugh. So I texted him, and he said, “Absolutely, I’ll do it.” And then there was the weird thing of, we really didn’t want that to leak too early because it’s such an easy thing to spoil, and it really does spoil it, I think. So we wanted to see if it was possible to keep it under wraps until it aired. We actually kept it a secret from as much of the crew as possible, other than there were some people we needed to shoot Chevy, but we didn’t tell anybody that we didn’t have to tell. At the table read for the episode, we wrote a fake scene where Jeff is turned by Star-Burns. [Laughs] That’s actually, unfortunately, a really funny scene that the actors got really excited about, because it’s the reveal that Star-Burns is alive and that he’d been hiding on campus and faking his death to avoid death charges. The question is, why would he pick the campus to hide on? It’s the dumbest hiding place in the world, and he doesn’t know why, there’s just something special about the campus, like it was home or something. And that’s what turns Jeff.
IGN: Well we do know Star-Burns is alive from the end of Season 3, so I you still have that in your pocket for whenever you want it.
Harmon: Yeah, yeah… He’ll probably be involved.
Quite the fitting send off. Keep it up, Community S5. More IGN interview with Harmon here.