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Joel McHale and Jim Rash talk about their 'Community' revitalization

“Community” may be an underdog comedy series on NBC, but the show has had some major, well-publicized drama behind the scenes. “Community” creator/executive producer Dan Harmon was fired from the show for its fourth season. Fans and many other people (including “Community” star Joel McHale) loudly protested, and so Harmon was brought back to “Community” for its fifth season, which premiered with two back-to-back episodes on Jan. 2, 2014. Harmon and Chevy Chase, one of the original cast members of “Community,” famously clashed when they worked together. And so Chase’s Pierce Hawthorne character has been killed off of the show.

Joel McHale and Jim Rash
Joel McHale (pictured at left) and Jim Rash (pictured at right)

In “Community,” McHale plays Jeff Winger, a disbarred lawyer who found out that his college degree is phony, so he goes back to school (the fictional Greendale Community College) to get a legitimate education. In the show’s fifth season, Jeff goes from being a student to being a teacher at the college. The large ensemble cast also includes Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton, a Greendale Community College administrator whose ineptitude is matched only by his love of the school and his devotion to his students. (In real life, Rash won an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay to 2011’s “The Descendants.”) Here is what McHale and Rash said when they did a telephone conference call with journalists about the past, present and future of “Community.”

“Community” is 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 kind of inside that bubble? Have there been moments you’ve sat back and said “This is crazy!” or has too much been made out of it?

McHale: Jim, you go first.

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 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, in a weird way, the drama sort of kept us out there.

McHale: Yes. I agree with you, Jim.

Rash: Yes, that just sort of kept us out there. You know, 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.

McHale: Yes. And I would say that especially this year with Dan back the material. I mean, the scripts have been so great that it becomes with all the things that have happened with the show, when the material’s so good you kind of forget about that stuff. And last year was kind of the crazy year, and - but now that Dan is back it’s like the monarchy has been restored and things are as they should be. So in that sense, it - I’ve - the sense of relief that I’ve had this year has been tremendous.

The previous season of “Community” took a lot of hits. Did it really feel like it was creatively missing something? Or do you think it kind of took some unfair knocks?

Rash: You can’t not have Dan’s mind and the creator’s mind and not feel that there’s some kind of difference. I think that as great as a task that was before them and as great as these writers were that we’ve had over all of our seasons the math’s fantastic but Dan’s brain you can’t sort of replicate and sort of his vision.

I think it’s part of the whole staff is sort of to sort of go into that vision and help service it. But without him you don’t really have your sort of guide through that. And so, while there was so many things that were so 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?

McHale: Yes, and like a show like “Breaking Bad” or “Arrested Development,” you need that kind of “where it comes from” one place, like Dan. That would be Dan or [“Arrested Development” creator”] Mitch Hurwitz. And there was some really good stuff last year but it did not have the direction that the other seasons had.

You have got an absurd number of great guest stars for this new season. Which ones were the most fun to work with, and have you ever felt that there were so many that it kind of distracted from the core ensemble of the show?

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 … not even near the trap of people start using guest stars to make up for storytelling. And all these guest stars only absolutely support and enhance it.

And I think our guest stars are so creative, like Vince Gilligan and Mitch Hurwitz and Chris Elliot and Paul Williams … I mean, talk about a crazy group of people, included Gina Gershon and the incredible, beautiful, lovely Brie 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.

Rash: One hundred years, Joel?

McHale: I don’t care.

Rash: That’s amazing.

McHale: Yes.

Rash: I would agree. I don’t need to add to that.

Do you have any particular favorite guest stars?

Rash: Well, Gilligan has the most probably interaction with the largest bunch. What was yours?

McHale: I will say it’s hard to choose a favorite. I didn’t get to work with Vince Gilligan … and I’m not trying to be diplomatic here. I will say that Mitch Hurwitz made me … Mitch Hurwitz and Chris Elliot and Walton Goggins … I mean, boy, it’s hard … it’s like picking amongst your children.

Rash: It’s the “Sophie’s Choice” of guest stars, guys.

McHale: So to answer your question: No,I can’t pick one.

Rash: Oh my god, Joel. You got so angry.

McHale: So pissed.

Could you talk a little bit about how they decided to deal with writing off Pierce’s character this season?

Rash: With the departure of Chevy [Chase] from the show, I think that was a way to sort of service both how he affected the study group — the character of Pierce — and how they would move forward from this moment. You know, and I think that it’s always difficult when a transition period happens. Obviously, five episodes in, with we deal with the transition of Troy leaving the school.

But I think it’s about passage of time and it’s the same thing as deciding that all the fourth season had happened the way it happened and then use the replications and the ramifications of the choices made there into the fifth season. So I think it was sort of approaching it from the growth of the characters and 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.

McHale: Yes, I think there was a lot from Season 4; there was a lot of unanswered questions. And Pierce’s departure was kind of abrupt and it needed to be addressed. And it would have been easy for Dan to say everything was a dream upon his return. But the way he handled it was masterful. And it really answered all the questions that I think fans would have had after it’s appeared …

The ending scene with Walton Goggins is one of the best scenes we’ve ever done, I think. Walton is so funny and it’s such an incredibly great reveal of how he died. When I read that, I mean, I stood up and screamed “Touchdown!” And it just dealt with it so well. And on top of that, Dan called the first episode as a re-piloting as he calls it, and I think the second episode is a re-establishing the grounding, I guess you could say, of the characters.

And so that episode is a bottle episode except for the tag scene, and I just think we learned so much about everybody through Pierce’s death, and it was just perfectly run and perfectly executed. And that episode, it just cooks, so I’m really excited for people to watch it.

We’ve talked a little bit about kind of all the behind-the-scenes stuff but just personally, how does it feel to be in this season as you have filmed this season? Was there a point where you thought this would not be possible and you would not be back on-set and doing this show again?

Rash: I feel like that’s always at the end of each year we have that little emotional “Will we be back?” process through our mind. But I think that this whole year, it felt like a gift. It felt like you were being handed material. I would argue some of the best of all the seasons. You know, and 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 big sort of epic episodes, but also really paying homage to these characters that we started with five years ago.

McHale: Yes, I’d say as Jim just said, it always seems like every season we don’t know if we’re coming back. And if we don’t have that feeling then I don’t know what it would be like.

Rash: It would feel weird. It would feel almost anti-“Community” if we were assured of anything.

McHale: Imagine if we were on “The Big Bang Theory,” where we’re like “We can do this until we’re 60 if we want.”

Rash: It just seems fitting ...

Can you talk a bit about the developments of your individual characters for this season. Joel, over the last four years you’ve seen Jeff really come to into his own as being a much more dimensional person. And last year especially we saw him leave Greendale and resolve issues with his father. With this season, with Jeff coming back as a teacher, Dan really wanted to accomplish in helping him to mature once more as a person. How has his relationship with the rest of the cast been affected with his new position of sort of authority?

McHale: All very good questions. I would say that this year, Jeff, now he’s a professor, he is once again somewhat destabilized. And his immaturities are exposed, a whole new set of them. And 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.

And they’ve driven, as people in real life, people are able to overcome some things, but 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 has had years of selfishness. And a bunch of that, I think, gets exposed this year. And it was very fun to play.

But there’s no doubt, though, that he loves this study group. And he has to really comes to terms with how he feels about the school ultimately. And I think Dan just absolutely lays those things out well for Jeff to have to deal with and as an actor was really fun to deal with.

Jim, Dean seemed extremely excited to see Jeff once more. Were there any plans for the two of them to develop and grow together as characters and what Dean’s growth might be for this season or how he might progress further into character?

Rash: I think this year is much like the re-pilot sort of thing. I think one of the things that we get back to a little bit with season five is that is that authority figure side of the Dean. You know, although he’s well-intentioned and makes huge mistakes, he does love the school. So I think he’s obviously giddy that Jeff is back, both as an entity but also in the idea of helping save the school, which is once again in jeopardy. And continues to be: I think it’s in a constant state of “in jeopardy.”

And this year definitely leads up to sort of something big in the sense of what the loss that the Dean would feel with the school not being around or these people not being around him, which he has sort of folded into their family by force. And I think you just sort of continue to see … obviously the fascination with Jeff continues and will continue, I’m sure.

McHale: Yes, you’re not going to. Can you believe that?

Rash: Yes. It’s still there. That’s actually, I think, a request of Joel, I think that Dan was not sure about it. 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: I will punch you ...

Rash: That’s correct, right Joel?

McHale: I don’t know where you’re getting this. But it’s weird to me...

Rash: I’m getting it from a place called “Reality.” It’s a file I have right here.

McHale: Listen, it’s weird to me that you constantly were like, “I think the Dean needs to win an Oscar this year and he needs to show it to everyone.”

Rash: I’m just spitballing ideas, man.

McHale: OK, sure. The Dean makes an independent film that everybody sees.

Rash: That didn’t go over well. I think it’s getting back to being an authority figure, to segue back to what I was saying.

Do you think the Dean is at his happiest when Jeff is around with him to obsess over? Or do you think there’s something, somewhere that he can progress in a life independent of Jeff Winger’s character?

Rash: Well, I think involvement with Jeff and the study group is something that is where he’s at his happiest, to just be included. And I think that just goes to speak to him as a person. I think that he probably has a need there that is not fulfilled yet.

And, of course, these unlucky few who decided on that study room table became sort of the focus. Early in Season 3, I even established that I told them about danger, about the fire before I told anybody else … I am forcing my way into their family. So I think he is happiest when he is included, whether by his own doing or they actually let him in.

Jim, since you are an Oscar winner, do you ever feel the urge to write more?

Rash: No. I mean, I had such a great time being allowed to write last year and was proud to be a part of at least the “Community” history. But to be honest, it’s like I’m already envious of the stuff we sat down to read this year. You know, I feel like Dan’s brain, Chris McKenna’s brain and the brains that they have hired … I’m always in awe of that.

I think that I would probably do some bad imitation of it if I even attempted. So I sort of enjoy the road they take us on. In other words, they don’t need my bald head.

Do you always stick to the script?

McHale: Oh yes.

Rash: I think for the most part, yes. I think I would say 99-point-something percent of the time we’re just doing Dan’s and Chris’s and the writer’s words. Wouldn’t you say, Joel?

McHale: Yes, there’s this weird thing where people, like, “Do you guys just kind of make it up as you go along?” And I’m not sure why. I guess there’s a lot of that. But no, I mean, Dan’s is not an improvised comedy, and Dan’s - all the stuff that Dan is saying in every episode, they’re very deliberate parts of the train-track that is being laid down to get to the end of this season.

I know this is going to sound really grandiose, but it’s as specific as Shakespeare was with his words, where there’s really nothing that’s left, there’s no excess. And so anyway, no, there’s not much improvising going on. But as you can see from the performances, they look like they’re improvised because the actors are so damn good.

Can you guys talk a little bit about the costumes or lack of costumes or unusual accessories in one of the first new episodes that we’ll see?

McHale: Our show has such a big world and can go so many different places. And there’s one episode in particular, the one that Mitch Hurwitz is in, that kind of goes the farthest. And I don’t know how much I can say, just saying that when you tune in you will not really believe that this is a half-hour comedy. So that’s kind of in general.

Rash: Yes, I mean, I think the wonderful thing about this place, with “Community,” is that with each genre-shifting moment we live in a world where these costumes appear on our cast. And this other world is developed within minutes. It goes back to paintball: you know, in what was maybe a two-hour period anarchy had it.

And this year I think we go into all types of interesting worlds. For me, I just get down to ugly white undies and I wear the same pair of shoes as the Dean every day. I mean, I have one pair of shoes. They maybe cost a dollar to make. Joel, I’m sure, is super-envious.

McHale: I am.

Rash: My clothes are all highly flammable. So I’m like the most unsafe person on the set. I mean, I literally am a walking disaster of a bomb just ready to ignite. It’s a little less “costumes for the Dean” this year. There are a couple little ones peppered here and there. But I think that part of the re-pilot was to sort of make sure that none of us were just a one-sentence character, which we never were in the very beginning or throughout the series.

But it’s nice to remind ourselves that we’re all one thing. You know, we did a lot of costumes last year. So I think that while I have a couple little things here and there, it’s nice. I get to wear those dollar shoes.

We talked earlier about guest stars on “Community.” What are three names of people that you are pretty sure you couldn’t ever get on the show?

Rash: I think we’ll never get Gene Hackman. He won’t come out of retirement for us. Who else won’t we get?

McHale: Basil Rathbone, probably because he’s dead. We’ll never get Nathan Fillion, I’ll tell you that. We’ll never get a live killer whale, I know that.

Rash: No, let’s hope not. Yes.

With the departure of Chevy Chase and the reduced role of Donald Glover, has the chemistry kind of changed between the “Community” cast? And if so, has Dan Harmon’s return as showrunner sort of offset that burden?

Rash: I would say … not so much changed, but sort of … evolved … the study group’s connections. You know, you get to figure out what Abed is without Troy. And I think they do a very good job of watching this guy transition into the next chapter of his life without his best friend.

And I think the same thing with Pierce’s absence and having other characters complete the study room table. And as the study room table becomes a whole other entity, I think it really speaks to the idea of the evolution of a series, that the rules keep getting changed on us, which is very much like reality. And people adjust.

And so I feel like, if anything, it always opens up new doors when something happens like the death of someone or the departure of someone. It only helps to sort of explore what happens when that happens to Jeff’s character and Britta and all these characters. So I feel like that’s always sort of a wealth of great change for a series.

McHale: Yes, and Dan doesn’t shy away from those things. And he never has. Just like when like when Britta and Jeff … it was like the first season or second season, through the first season it was like “Will they? Won’t they?” And Dan goes “Oh they will, and they have been for a year.” And it’s the same way with Pierce’s departure. People die in real life. And people have to deal with it.

Rash: [He says jokingly] Wait, what?

McHale: Jim, they don’t just go to a happy place where their body is put into a closet for a while and then they come back later.

Rash: You are lying. We all become cartoons.

McHale: OK, I’m just making this up then. No, but Dan will just go headlong into those things. And I’ll talk about Jonathan Banks here for a minute. Jonathan Banks’ presence in this show is just absolutely, out-of-this-world tremendous and he is such a fine … incredible actor; he is really funny. And it’s just a whole different wonderful vibe. And you’ll see how his character just sings through this thing. And I didn’t mention him with the guest stars, because I count him as a series regular than a guest star earlier.

And then with Troy’s departure, as Jim just said, you will see. You thought that Danny Pudi was awesome before. He is incredible with being this character that is socially different than everybody but is dealing with these big, heavy emotions. And boy, does he do it in a way … I mean, he’s just incredible.

“Community” has had its ups and downs but the hardcore fans have stuck by the show. And now you’re talking about how the Season 5 premiere is a “re-piloting.” How would you explain or how would you encourage someone new to the show to give it a chance when in the past they might have seen commercials or one or two episodes? How is the re-piloting another way to re-engage new fans?

McHale: The episodes speak for themselves, and you don’t have to watch from the beginning to enjoy the show. And you might be a little lost on some of the inside jokes that are made, but … I think these are some of the best episodes we have ever done. I think they stand alone. And that said, I think it’s the job of NBC to keep pumping us out there and put us out there, that this is a highly enjoyable show. So just getting the word out about the show, I think, is important.

Rash: Yes, and I think that granted you can say “Oh, the idea of a re-pilot is we’ve got to get new people. We need to expand our audience,” and all the things that you would love for your series with little or no effort. But I think regardless of calling it a re-pilot, it’s not just to add people. It’s also to raise the stakes for our characters.

Jeff’s already going to a new place with this. You know, where he starts is sort of lower, you know, has hit rock-bottom and this is a whole new world for him. And also just sort of what goes through his mind in the pilot episode alone, about the his allegiance to the school or not to the school for his own selfish reasons, his attachment to these people, to them wanting to come back, for what reasons. I mean, I think it is more than just for new people. It’s really for the fans to see the evolution of these people if the stakes are sort of raised in different ways.

Are you guys “Community” fans now, like the rest of us? Or is it just another job that’s in the books?

McHale: If “Community” was another job, you would be devoid of joy or emotions. No, because it’s only 13 weeks. We started [filming Season 5] in August [2013] and we ended in early December [2013]. Jim goes off and makes movies and writes movies and wins Oscars, and then I do “The Soup” and I try to be in movies as much as I can.

And then you really can only hope for it to come back, because I love doing this show. I know that when “Community” is over, it will be a near-impossible task to duplicate the quality of the show, to go into another show with this sort of quality. I would say as a fan of the show. I look forward to every year coming back and seeing what what’s next for us to do as characters.

Rash: Yes, and it’s sort of nice when you’re experiencing all of these episodes with the fans at the same time, because we haven’t seen anything completed. You know, we’re going to be seeing it the same way everyone else sees it. You sort of don’t have that ability to just hear what the fans are saying as you’re shooting.

In other words we’re just going to put it out there and experience it all together. So I think in that way we’re already huge fans. And I know Joel likes to watch himself, so …

McHale: What?

Rash: He’ll just sit there in front of the TV and then, like, text me and say, like “How great was I in that?” And that’s pretty much him: not just a fan of the show but of himself.

McHale: Jim Rash.

Rash: I’m not going to be shooting movies.

McHale: Jim likes watching himself but that Oscar gets in the way so much because he puts it right ...

Rash: No, you know what? In your face: I’m just going to be doing bake sales while we’re off, just tons of bake sales.

McHale: Yes, in the shape of Oscars.

Rash: All right. And next question?

McHale: What’s it like having an Oscar? Go ahead, shoot, Jim.

Between your work with “Community” and your film work and also a little bit of TV hosting and everything, how do you juggle all that stuff? And do you ever get to sleep?

Rash: Well I’ll let you go, Joel, because I don’t think you do sleep.

McHale: I don’t. Especially last, because my dog two days ago got neutered. So he’s been whimpering a lot and that’s been this great. No. It’s always different every week. I don’t necessarily have the balance down right. My major goal is to see my wife and children as much as possible. And then Jim always wants to get on the phone and talk about his Oscar, which takes up about two or three hours.

I count myself as incredibly blessed, because I get to work. And I remember a lot of time before I got “The Soup” or “Community” where I spent most of my time not working and trying to get it. So to have it is a huge blessing. And if I ever get the balance, I’ll be very happy. But I haven’t yet. But believe me, working on “Community,” I skip to the set each day.

Rash: He’s being honest. Je literally skips to work.

McHale: Literally.

Rash: It’s one of the more sad visuals I’ve ever seen.

McHale: Jim can’t skip, because he’s got his Oscar in his back pocket.

Rash: You know what? That’s not even funny, because I’ve had some weird surgery that gives me the inability to skip. That’s offensive.

McHale: So tell me right now without pause what your weird surgery is.

Rash: The weird surgery was I wasn’t sure if you need ankles and I got them removed. And that was wrong: you do need ankles. They put them back and now I can’t skip. In your face.

McHale: You sound like an idiot. In your face. What an idiot, an Oscar winner guy who doesn’t think you need to have ankles. In your face.

Rash: That was my journey.

McHale: Idiot journey.

Over the years, “Community” has had some classic sort of theme episodes: the paintball episode, the video game episode, the “Law & Order” episode. Can we look forward to any of those this year? And do you guys have sort of an ideal fantasy type of theme episode that you’d love to do for “Community”?

Rash: Did you say “dean episode” or just “theme episode”?

Theme episode.

Rash: Theme, you said theme. Oh, I made it about myself for two seconds. I apologize. Theme episode. Well, you definitely get some this year. I mean, as far as sort of the fantastical side and the school being overtaken with a genre, so to speak, without losing its characters … We hit upon some David Fincher worlds and we do all types of stuff.

McHale: There’s another D&D episode, I don’t know if I can say that. There is an homage to “Logan’s Run.” And then we do a shot-by-shot redo of the movie “Blue is the Grayest Color” or whatever it is. Very sexual.

Rash: Yes. It’s like our own “50 Shades.” It’s just a lot of nudity. A lot of pixilation.

McHale: We also are doing a live “Sound of Music.”

Rash: Oh, I wish.

Does Jeff have a similar trajectory to Chang from the first season? Or is that asking too much? Like sort of watching Chang sort of downfall in being that teacher that we respect to being that guy that no one wants to pay attention to in the classroom?

McHale: You respect Chang as a teacher in the first season? Then you’re an insane person. He was out of his mind as a teacher. You really like abuse.

Rash: I think, Joel, you have more of an upward climb, wouldn’t you say?

McHale: Yes, I would say no. Chang, he is referenced a couple times. He’s like “Maybe I’m just insane and out of mind.” Still, I would say that it’s a completely different path and Jeff has all sorts of insecurities and deficiencies from building up walls around him from trying to act cool and be cool and always overconfident. And so, I’d say he’s on a completely different path, I would say.

How excited are you guys for the fans to see 503 with the homage to a certain other actor? Without giving away who it is.

McHale: Yes, as you know how funny it is and I don’t want to ruin it for the people who haven’t seen it. It was one of those things where every time I read these scripts that are our table reads I’m like, “Holy crap, he did it again.” Dan just knows, man.

That’s why Dan is Dan. And he’s got this whole world in his brain. And I think it’s just so fun, because if you look at some of the things that are said about this actor and what it is, a lot of them are very true and are actual analysis, which is hilarious.

You’ve done some really cool holiday episodes in the past, but “Community” is debuting in the mid-season this year. Can we expect to see any holiday episodes?

McHale: Yes, there’s an Arbor Day.

Rash: We’re hitting all the big ones: Easter.

McHale: Yes, National Secretary’s Day, Bring Your Kid to Work Day.

Rash: May Day. Play Day.

McHale: Yes. Then we celebrate all the Slovenian holidays.

Rash: Which I was surprised how fun they were.

McHale: Fun and I didn’t realize that you could have two holidays a day. And in that country, they have over 380.

Rash: I know. Let’s move there. I think in seriousness, no. We tried to stay on our calendar this year. Isn’t that right, Joel?

McHale: Yes. And last year there was a ton of holidays, and so you’ll see, as Dan said, it’s a re-piloting of the show and a re-establishing of the characters. And you’ll see how “Community” lives because the characters are I believe incredibly grounded. And then that means that when that happens that the world can go crazy ot just go way out there. You will see that in spades this year.

Is there an episode that you guys that are particularly excited for the fans to see this season?

McHale: That’s hard.

Rash: That’s tough, because there are probably many. I personally think only because I wasn’t associated with the first D&D round, very excited that I got to be part of the D&D redub — excuse me, D&D 2, I guess, because I feel like that was where Dan and them want to always, like, go further than we went the first time. And I think they do and that in particular. What about you, Joel?

McHale: As you just kind of said, Jim, it’s hard for me to pick out. I am truly excited about all of it. The thing that I am excited for people’s reaction to is there in the “Logan’s Run” homage, there is one scene in particular that involves choreography … It’s definitely the most insane piece of television I’ve ever been a part of. And I’m so excited. I don’t know what people are going to even think. I’m just excited to see what people’s reactions are to it, because it’s so wonderfully out there.

Is Joel going to be in his underwear this season?

Rash: Joel, I’ll let you take that one because I don’t know if I could keep my lunch down.

McHale: Well, yes. Because the dean wouldn’t be into that. This is the first time in network television history that I spend an entire episode full-frontal. That’s one of the reasons that I have to go to the gym so often: out of paranoia that I won’t appear well on screen. I am pretty exposed, yes. I would say there’s a lot of exposure.

Rash: Well, I mean the good thing about it is that when he does have to take his shirt off or go to his underwear and his body wasn’t where it needs to be, we have the technology to sort of make it better? You know what I’m saying? It’s like in post, Dan will go “Let’s just fix this, because it’s not right.” You know, just one of those things. You know, Joel does his best but sometimes clothes come off and it was not what you were hoping for. And we can fix it in post. Next question?

McHale: What’s weird to me is that when Jim has been asked to kind of be not well-clothed, when he takes his shirt off, he has his Oscar duct-taped to his side, which is weird, because duct tape reacts to your skin pretty harshly. And there are other bumps that he has that need actual professional attention.

Rash: Well, that’s why the dean’s clothes are so large and baggy on me. It’s just to sort of hide imperfections.

Have you had a favorite dean outfit that you just really love?

Rash: They’ve all been fantastic. We have an amazing wardrobe department that has sort of had to on the fly to create so many wonderful things and then the writers put them into the scripts. I always go back to pretty much every entrance at our very first sort of flashback episode, when we were commenting on all the costumes I come in on. I mean, that whole little line-up of five were great, from Tina Turner to Carmen Miranda. All of those. I think Joel’s the one who probably admires them the most.

McHale: Yes. I mean, I become so bored.

Rash: No, tell them what you said. You just said it yesterday to me.

McHale: Well I say, “Thank God for those outfits,” because, Jim, sometimes I can hardly understand a word he’s saying.

Rash: That sounds different than I heard it yesterday. Yesterday it was, like “Jim, you’re like a wonderfully-wrapped present in costumes. I can’t wait to open them, because the outside is as good as the inside.” Next question.

McHale: Literally I was on a plane all day yesterday. So once again, Jim usually takes his home line and just puts it against a stuffed animal and then he calls that. It’s weird.

Rash: Well I had a great conversation with you. And yesterday you were a little seal.

McHale: You see? That’s what I’m talking about. So now it’s pretty clear, right?

Rash: All right, end that.

Joel, what was more fun to play: the student or the teacher?

McHale: Neither and both at the same time, because they both are they’re both really fun to play. I got to do really fun things as a teacher, but as a student … If you had said to me that you’re going to be in a zombie apocalypse and get to play kind of a Bruce Willis action star while you’re on a half-hour sitcom, I would say that you’re probably high. But with the teacher, I mean, as we’ve been saying this season kind of we re-establish ourselves as characters. And then things go nuts. And it was fun every day. I cannot make a distinction.

Did the “Community” cast have anything to do with Dan’s return? Did you guys send him baked goods, camp out at his house? How did you get him to come back?

Rash: Pretty much all of that, right?

McHale: Yes.

Rash: I mean, the bake sale went really well.

McHale: Yes, it was a very good bake sale. I make a macaroon that will slay you.

Rash: Oh my, you’ll die when you eat these.

McHale: No, I mean, there was nothing I particularly laid out. I should have gotten him a beard trimmer.

Rash: Certainly, Joel probably was paramount in starting these conversations towards the end of last season I would say. You know, and sort of imagining a world where the whole team (and that meant some crew people as well) that had moved to another show for Season 4 and are now back with us. So it really was not just a re-pilot, but we were putting the family back together and I think Joel needs to take some of that credit for.

McHale: Well, Jim, you were in those lunches, too.

Rash: But I feel like you were the one who ...

McHale: I win.

Rash: Yes. So that, coupled with those wonderful baked goods at least got the conversation going.

McHale: Much like when you’re mountain hiking you need to keep your carb intake high, because you’re burning calories so much.

Rash: Yes, which is good until unfortunately Joel has to take his shirt off and we have to go into post to fix all those carbs.

McHale: Right — or when Jim’s Oscar falls 400 feet down a cliff and we spend two days getting it. I’m going to pick that thing up. Thank God you didn’t drop the Independent Spirit award.

Rash: Well, I think we nailed it.

McHale: Boom!

Rash: We nailed that question.

McHale: Question answered.

Your “Community” co-star Gillian Jacobs was asked what she would say to skeptical or perhaps disillusioned fans and ways to maybe lure them back to this season if they’re still reeling from the abrupt departure of Dan Harmon. And she said that while she believes it’s convincing enough an argument that Dan’s back and that she said you have some of your best episodes this season. She suggested that perhaps you guys, to convince people further, could go to people’s homes and sing Christmas carols. How would you guys pitch it to skeptical fans beyond the obvious points of Dan Harmon’s return?

McHale: Beyond Dan Harmon’s return, what else do you need? And I mean, to be promoted well. I think it would help us greatly to bring people in and to remind people that the show is back. But I think just getting out that general awareness is a key.

We have, I think, the best fans in the world. And I sadly wasn’t able to be at Comic-Con [in 2013], but if Comic-Con was any evidence — I saw some of the video — there looked to be no problem with having that people were back and on board to watch it, evidenced by them having to turn away 4,000 people or something. That said, I will go to people’s homes while Gillian is singing and I will give them a foot massage.

Rash: Yes. And I will go and apologize for the two things they’re doing and then do their chores.

McHale: Yes, right. And those chores will be, like “Have you ever seen an Oscar before? Oh, here’s one.”

Rash: Well as long as you don’t take your shirt off and show them the truth. Next.

McHale: Boom.

Rash: Boom.

McHale: Well, look. I can just take the shirt off, but you have to take the shirt and the girdle off, so.

Rash: And my face.

At the end of Season 4, we had this kind of a subliminal message on the chalkboard, with “Six Seasons and a Movie” slogan in there. Who wrote that? And do you think you should try more subliminal messaging to bring more people on board watching the show?

McHale: Yes, we’re going to use subliminal messages to command our army of our sleeper cell to awaken all the fans. I don’t know who wrote that.

Rash: I think Don, right?

McHale: Yes, I think it was Don, one of our set dressers. He’s a man and in his mid-to-late-40s who it seems at one point was pretty athletic.

Rash: What are you talking about? He always writes something I think of interest up there. And I think that was just sort of his big sort of “Here we are, let’s make this happen.” You know, I think at this point we’ve put that on our vision boards, “Six Seasons and a Movie,” and at this point I feel like we might proving how completely valid the idea of The Secret is, that if you put it out there it works.

Didn’t it first come up when Abed was obsessed with “The Cape”?

Rash: Well, yes. That show would go for six seasons and a movie, yes.

McHale: “Six Seasons and a Movie” is an original term from “Community” that Dan wrote, whereas my character kept saying “It’s going to be off the air in three weeks.”

Rash: Oh, that’s right.

McHale: That was the origin. You will not be disappointed as far as seeing tons of cool stuff that will be in the background, stuff that’s happening and I mean, that’s why when you read Dan’s scripts they’re so wonderfully layered with stuff like that, and that’s why these worlds get created. The worlds are created and they’re really wonderfully complete worlds, even though we’re only telling a story in 21-and-a-half minutes now.

For more info: "Community" website

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