Heading into its fifth season, "Community" has its creator Dan Harmon back as its showrunner, and it starts the season off tonight with an episode entitled "Repilot," in which Jeff (Joel McHale) returns to Greendale when his former law partner Alan Connor (guest star Rob Corddry) recruits him to gather evidence for a lawsuit he is pursuing. Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) is thrilled to see Jeff back at Greendale. Thinking he is there to help save the school, he quickly calls the study group back together -- surprising Jeff with a reunion.
"Now that Dan is back, it's like the monarchy has been restored and things are as they should be," McHale said in a conference call with reporters. "So the sense of relief that I've had this year has been tremendous."
The show has also experienced the loss of Chevy Chase, who exited his role as Pierce Hawthorne, and Donald Glover (Troy Barnes) is planning to exit at some point during the season, which gives Harmon room to apply his genius to new storylines.
"With the departure of Chevy from the show, I think that was a way to service both how Pierce affected the study group and how they would move forward from this moment," Rash said. "I think that it's always difficult when a transition period happens. Give episodes in, we deal with the transition of Troy leaving the school. So I think [Pierce's departure] was approaching it from the growth of the characters, what it meant for them and the impact of a singular guy on the rest of them. Same thing that will be dealt with the Troy departure."
Was there a point where you thought this season would not be possible and you would not be back on-set and doing this show again?
Jim Rash: At the end of each year we have that little emotional “Will we be back?” process that goes through our mind. But I think that this whole year felt like a gift. It felt like you were being handed material that I would argue was some of the best of all the seasons. I feel like the growth of this year for all the characters and for "Community" in general is pretty paramount. You know, in the sense that we really went very far as far as hitting epic episodes, but also really paying homage to these characters that we started with five years ago.
Last year, we saw Jeff leave Greendale and resolve issues with his father. With this season, with him coming back as a teacher, I was wondering what Dan really wanted to accomplish in helping him to mature once more as a person. Also I was wondering how his relationship with the rest of the cast is affected with his new position of sort of authority?
Joel McHale: Now that he's a professor, he is once again somewhat destabilized, and his immaturities are exposed, a whole new set of them. I think there was a number of things that kind of got taken care of last year, and they're not things that just get kind of wrapped up. They've driven him -- as people in real life do -- to able to overcome some things, but they it's not something like, “Well, that was done and now I'm fixed.” It's more like you are constantly finding new kind of things to fix and, hopefully, make that person healthier. But Jeff's had years of selfishness. And a bunch of that, I think, is exposed this year. And it was very fun to play.
You have a large number of great guest stars for this new season. Which were the most fun to work with? Also, did you ever feel that there were so many that it kind of distracted from the core ensemble of the show?
Joel McHale: No, not at all. I would say it only supported it. And I think the guest stars, because Dan's writing is so terrific, even though there are a lot of guest stars, he doesn't fall into that trap of using guest stars to make up for storytelling. All these guest stars only absolutely support and enhance it. Our guest stars are so creative, like Vince Gilligan, Mitch Hurwitz, Chris Elliot and Paul Williams -- talk about a crazy group of people, including Gina Gershon and the incredible, beautiful, lovely Bree Larson. I think it's the most creative guest stars of the last, I don't know, I'm going to go with the last 100 years of television.
"Community" premieres its fifth season with back-to-back episodes tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.