For the past two seasons, drama behind-the-scenes of "Community" has caused more buzz than the comedy onscreen. Fighting between creator Dan Harmon, NBC and actor Chevy Chase resulted in Harmon's departure before Season 4.
Costars Joel McHale and Jim Rash say things are looking up now that Harmon has returned for Season 5, premiering with back-to-back episodes at 7 p.m. Jan. 2 on NBC.
"The monarchy has been restored and things are as they should be," McHale said during a conference call with reporters in December.
Harmon's restoration isn't the only change this season. Chase and his character, Pierce Hawthorne, are gone, and partway through the season Donald Glover, who plays Troy Barnes, will leave.
The changes opened up new story possibilities for the students and teachers at Greendale Community College, McHale and Rash say, adding that they are excited for fans to watch the new season.
"This whole year felt like a gift. It felt like you were being handed material that was, I would argue, some of the best of all the seasons," Rash said. "I feel like the growth of this year for all the characters and for ‘Community' in general is pretty paramount in the sense that we really went very far … hitting big sort of epic episodes, but also really paying homage to these characters."
One thing that doesn't change in the new season is the fascination, er, desire, Rash's character, Dean Pelton, feels for McHale's Jeff Winger. Pelton hires recent grad Winger as a teacher in an effort to help save Greendale from closing.
"That's actually, I think, a request of Joel, I think that Dan was not sure about it," Rash joked. "And then Joel said, ‘I really want the Dean to still be obsessed with Jeff.' And I was like ‘I can go either way.' And Joel just keeps pushing that agenda."
McHale and Rash talked more about the drama, the comedy, guest stars and costars, all while harassing each other. Here's an edited transcript of the call.
I don't know if there's ever been a show with so many behind-the-scenes stories that are almost as fascinating as the actual storylines. What's it been for you guys?
Joel McHale: Jim, you go first.
Jim Rash: Oh, bless you. What a sweet, sweet gesture. No, I think partly blown out of proportion, in the sense that I think we just sort of—we were that show that has been sort of under the radar for so long in as far as ratings-wise and, you know, we've always been blessed to be able to come back. And I think I we never really know where we're going. So I feel like, in a weird way, the drama sort of kept us out there ... It was sort of like our drama behind the stage was sort of keeping "Community" sort of on people's minds outside of fans, I guess.
JM: I would say that, especially this year with Dan back, ... with all the things that have happened with the show, when the material's so good you kind of forget about that stuff.
Last season took a lot of hits. In reflection did it really feel like it was creatively missing something? Or do you think it kind of took some unfair knocks?
JR: You can't not have Dan's mind and the creator's mind and not feel that there's some kind of difference ... Without him you don't really have your sort of guide through that. And so, while there were so many things that were already created by the first three seasons as far as the depth of the characters, the world, how things work, how it operates, how it can be both fantastical but at the same time character-grounded, those things are all there. But without somebody who has this sort of approach to make it so dense and deep with layers, it's difficult. It's a Herculean task that I certainly wouldn't want to take on. But I think we did our best, you know?
JM: A show like "Breaking Bad" or "Arrested Development," you need that kind of "where it comes from" one place—that would be Dan or Mitch Hurwitz or Vince Gillgan. And there was some really good stuff last year but it did not have the direction that the other seasons had.