The following is Part 2 of "Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna and Two Microphones," a special closing panel for CommuniCon's second convention. The Community scribes came to partake in an unmoderated question and answer session with the audience where they talked about everything from the evolution of Britta's character, to why there haven't been any characters with physical disabilities portrayed on the show, to little teases about season five.
This is as close to a transcript as we could get. At times crowd laughter and applause did overstep some of the words. Additionally, the questions have been paraphrased for conciseness and crosstalk about talking into the microphone (there was a lot of Harmon making fun of people who didn't) has been cut out. Enjoy!
Click here for Part 1 of Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna's panel, where they just riffed freely about the Community writer's room, Harmon's growth as a showrunner, and a little bit about season five of the show.
- Did you ever expect Community to become such a globally accepted and loved show?
HARMON: "That's a loaded question! I could either sit here and argue with him that it's a globally-- oh but the world globally is important there. I always absolutely worried that it would never translate overseas. I am very shocked and super pleased that people in the U.K. and Australia-- people that come back from Australia that don't even really know me that well go like 'Oh shit, Australia is like crazy for Community!' I don't know, that's really just anecdotal stuff; it's not a measurement. But yeah, overseas are people are crazy for the show... Yeah, I'm shocked. The answer is no, I did not know the show is equally globally loved, if it is. I have since learned that there's this amazing kind of demographic that transcends time zones and languages, so I would not be shocked tomorrow. But that's because of what I have learned about the show."
- Do you have any regrets about the paths you've decided to take with any of the characters, for example Britta's intellectual regression?
HARMON: "I have regrets about the path that I've taken with every single character. When you do a show for five years, every single character is amazing; every single actor playing that character is amazing; you're in twenty minute format; you're competing in your own head with the ghost of 30 Rock like standing next to you going 'That's still not as funny as 30 Rock!' And you go 'Okay guys, we can get to 70% as funny as 30 Rock and fill the 30% with feelings.' That's always my strategy. Everyone's got a heart, right? So instead of 'Ha ha ha, it will be ha ha, heart!' So you're trying, and the format should be 'set up, punchline; set up, punchline', it doesn't matter how touching the show is. And sort of the show's worst moments are when I forgot that, you know, to be crass about the Home Depot of it all...If you can figure out a way to be touching while getting people to laugh, good for you, but that moment where you lose your level because you're like 'Oh man, who are we kidding? Everyone watches this show so we can get into this five minute conversation about how this character feels about this character', you can slip up.
"I went off on a tangent there. I won't do it again, I promise. Therefore in every episode of Community there's this chess game you have to play with 'This character's going to be over here; this character's going to be doing that.' There's an absolute tendency to start having, for instance... Let's talk about Britta because that person mentioned her specifically. I think you're going to really like-- [in announcer type voice] I think you're going to love the new Britta! She's 2014 compliant! She's got--
MCKENNA: "She's filtered now."
HARMON: "She's less filtered. I've explained this a lot of times, a lot of these people have heard this before, so I'll say the quick version. Britta was the typical indie film, non-wanted symbol female that the horny male was supposed to be so tempted by that he had to jump through a bunch of hoops in the pilot. Every writer thinks that they know what a perfect woman is-- every male writer-- and every male writer that tries to write the perfect woman has this tendency to kind of just create a 'Well, she's eclectic. She's everything to everybody.' And it's kind of like you're disservicing that character. That's our issue as men writers that we'll always be working at.
"We started to do the series, we sat down, what about Britta? Hilary Winston, who was here yesterday, the first thing she said was 'I'm sure she's a wonderful person, but I wouldn't hang out with her.' Why not? 'Well, I wouldn't trust her not to bum me out! It says more about me than about her, but I wouldn't want to go shoe shopping with her because I know I'd feel vulnerable the whole time; I'd feel like she was looking over my shoulder. Everything is too outside the moment for her; everything is too being measured; everything is symbolic, and sometimes you just want to be a worse person and be a consumer and be a woman and be able to fall back on your sisterhood.' And I, instead of saying 'Okay let's make Britta a better woman to those definitions', I just said 'Okay, let's make Britta more of a woman that all women hate.' And we started moving from there, and a million things, and at a certain point the joke became that Britta's a buzz kill and Britta always screwing things up and all of this stuff.
"Definitely along the way, we have a tendency-- Pierce's racism is another good example. Pierce was always supposed to be a liberal Baby Boomer, like my parents, who through the best of intentions but a generation gap, was actually accidentally racist."
MCKENNA: "He was so aware of race, and we constantly used it as something that he could stumble over."
HARMON: "Yeah, if you watch Norman Lear sitcoms in a world where they were trying to change the world, like the consciousness of race by our definition today is racism, and so there's, anyways a horrible tangent. Britta's intelligence level, how smart is she? How many books has she read? How much is she on her stuff? It's a good question. I think the truth about Britta is that she did drop out of high school; she did spend a lot of time like vandalizing and actively defying the system. I think she's been all over the world. think she's been tear gassed and loved it! I think that she fights, and I think that she does-- I think she knows things and she's a wise character, but she's pop culturally and technologically illiterate.
"Sometimes the joke became like 'Britta doesn't know what this is. Britta doesn't know anything.' And when you're in an artificial society, sometimes the person that knows everything about what is actually the most important thing is going to seem like the biggest idiot in the world. There's a self-parody to that as well because as I've said, Britta's politics are my politics, and so anyways in season five, I got fired and re-hired, so this year my politics are now it's just a full-born like 'She's an idiot.' [laughter] No, this year she's right. Now she's right all of the time. She believes human kind is a victim of a system."
MCKENNA: "Even when she's not involved with the the theatrical storyline, you'll see some Harmonium elements of fighting against the system that becomes a theme for the season."
HARMON: "I will apologize for this season because I think the word 'system' is used so many times this year."
MCKENNA: But in a great way! But no, I think in a great way where there are people fighting against elements of complexity, anti-humanity, that's a big theme for this season, which is great."
HARMON: "I've always been in love with Britta, and I'm not apologizing for it this year."
MCKENNA: "No, I think someone who like you said was a character that caused certain people to feel a certain way, and you embraced it, you Charlie Browned her in a certain way, she's just a great character."
HARMON: "We have similar conversations with each character. How dumb is Troy? How high is his IQ? You know, you do the Woody jokes with him; that was an important archetype: Troy just didn't get it half of the time. He didn't understand even the context of the conversation. Was he an airhead or is Britta more of an airhead? It goes beyond that. I think all characters, when you put them on a sitcom, they pretty much become stupid. Unless they're "The Smart Guy", like the Professor on Gilligan's Island who can make a coconut radio. But he still seems kind of dumb compared to a normal person because a normal person would say 'You can't make a radio out of a coconut.'"
- Is it more satisfying to have a hugely popular show like Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory, or to have a show with a fandom like us?
HARMON: "What's it like having a hugely popular show? Let me compare those two things! I think, I hope that when I say this isn't sour grapes people know because...I think I willingly roll around in ditches and have said I don't want to be successful and been self-destructive and people have screamed at me 'All you have to do is shut up right now and you could have twice as much money,' and I've said 'Well, I have a couple more things to say!'
"Part of the craftsmanship of this is 'Why are you doing something on television if you aren't trying to make something that everyone loves? And if you can't do it, is it really just because you're so awesome?' And is the person who manages to get fifteen million people to watch his sitcom in your time slot, is he able to do that because he's so stupid, so untalented? No. Two different people, two different paths, two different contexts. I love this. This sounds like pandering. If I said I love the room next door, you guys would boo me. I like the focus. I like where I can be a person and kind of also combine that with everyone liking me. I don't want to be successful. I don't want to be successful...I'm finally saying it now. I do not want to be successful."
- Are you planning for #sixseasonsandamovie or are you prepping a fifth season finale that could also work as a series finale?
HARMON: "The short answer is absolutely not, I cannot assume that a season is the final season. If it was, I would do weird stuff which would be the final season. My job and my religion and my philosophy is to pretend that my goal is to get as many people to watch the show so that the show runs as long as possible. That being said, each season you have this situation that comes up at the end of each season, maybe we'll never come back; maybe this is the last time we'll ever get to talk to these people ever again. So you make sure, like a parent leaving the house to go off to Iraq that you don't freak the kid out, but the hug is a little tighter. And that's what we'll continue to do."
MCKENNA: "In season three, we were taken off the schedule, and it was like oh, the supposed death. And here we are two years later, so I mean it's one of those things where--"
HARMON: "Season three, by the way, I said, because the scene where Abed goes into the cardboard box and closes the door, and there's a weird light? They pushed back on that and said like 'Can we make sure it looks like a practical light from inside the box, not some magical light?' And I said 'Tell them no! It's symbolic of me leaving the show!' [shocked cartoon voice] Why did they fire me?
"But always at the end of seasons, you're always thinking about the mortality. It's like every year you blow out your birthday candles, you love your kids a little bit more."
- Since every episode follows a story circle, how important is a story circle for the whole series and that certain characters reach a certain destination/development by the end? Or is the journey enough?
HARMON: "The journey's absolutely the only thing. I think if there's a theme to the show that accidentally emerges, it's because we've been trained to think about hitting certain points at certain points. How that can mess with us and make us enjoy who we are and be what we are less. So absolutely it's like, characters are like-- this will sound great-- characters are like sea monkeys. Like, you ever get those trilobites? Those like prehistoric things? You put them in a journey, and it's up to them what happens."
MCKENNA: "Season three we tried to map it out. That's the thing, the season, which I loved, but we tried to map it out. Dan had to go in and pitch season three to the network, and so we had to have arcs for everyone and everything, and like what was the arc of the study table? It was just like okay, and we did it. We did it with season three, and we broke it out, and we were like 'Okay, we have these marks,' which you go, 'Well, this should be how Dan thinks because Dan thinks in story circles; he thinks in arcs; he thinks in these ways.' But if you play it too much, then you're trying to hit these things; you become slaves to Chang taking over the school."
HARMON: "Which could be fun, it could be not fun, whatever. Ultimately, I will tell you guys my overall philosophy. It doesn't matter if you're atheist or a fundamentalist or the eight things in between them-- there's only eight; you have to pick one! The bottom line for me is that you're in the moment. You are walking in step with the thing that is actually running everything and trying to make it decent. And every second we get tripped and tempted into thinking about five seconds ahead, ten seconds ahead, thirty seconds ahead. And you have to do that-- we all have to do that all of the time-- but to the extent that we do it, we get screwed; we get clumsy. You're looking where you're not existing, and you're screwing up. So I just wanted to make that clear. The characters, we definitely want to have a life of their own, and when we start to think ahead like 'Oh man, season four Jeff's going to meet his dad', well look how-- I wasn't there for season four! We couldn't have predicted that. You don't know if the show's going to exist. So definitely the important thing is to know the core of the characters as much as you can and observe what happens to them in whatever water's flowing. It's part lifeguard; keep them from drowning."
MCKENNA: "It's hard talking about these things without you having seen any of season five, which you know if they'd have done this right, you guys would have seen five or six episodes of the season of Community. But there are things going on with characters that we just follow because they amuse us: 'Oh, that's interesting.' And we follow characters, like this new character that we have who's great, Buzz Hinkey [sp?] played by Jonathan Banks, and we're following these things, and it just like tickles us; it amuses us. We can't write towards where 'Oh this is where he holds everyone hostage!' We're letting these characters sort of lead us. Once you write towards character, we're writing things that I think all of you guys will love, and when we look back, we'll go 'Oh, there was a shape to that that we didn't know about except that we loved what was going on with this character and the other characters in the group.'"
HARMON: "He's like 'You guys could have just said organic.'"
- Will there be more behind-the-scenes footage coming?
MCKENNA: "We're trying to. This year we're really trying to champion to get back to doing EPK, behind-the-scenes."
HARMON: "But he was also asking about extended cuts, like the Valentine's Day episode."
MCKENNA: "I would love that because we have cuts right now that are three minutes over that we're like 'How we're going to cut three minutes!?' ... The thing is, we have these great cuts that are coming out right now that are literally thirty minutes long--"
HARMON: "Of awesomeness!"
MCKENNA: "And don't let production know because they go, 'See? We told you they should be shorter! We told you they should be a twenty page script!'"
HARMON: "It's so crazy because every week we write a thirty-three page script, basically, on average, and then every week they go 'This should be twelve pages long to shoot it.'"
HARMON: "So sometimes we cut pages, and then we come in ten minutes under, and when we don't cut pages and blah blah blah. It's so arbitrary. We have this great episode coming up where we're a minute under, that's the director's cut. It will probably end up becoming two minutes under, and then we're giving free ad time to Sound of Music live telecast. But then we have longer stuff because we have great stuff, and then we have to let go of a lot of great stuff and trim it down to 21:30 of awesomeness, so yes I think if we do-- I don't mean to say if at this point, I just don't know where DVDs are these days. But assuming there's a season five DVD, I gotta make sure there's everything on it. I'll just be naked on it."
MCKENNA: "That is one of the things with Community sometimes. It goes over, and you just want to save that stuff and put it somewhere, but where do you put it?"
HARMON: "I have video diaries. I was pompous enough to keep video diaries of me driving to work everyday for seasons one through three. I have this iPod Touch that I bought expressly for the service, in the most pretentious way of all, like 'This is going to go in the Smithsonian one day.' Every day I'd drive to work for twenty minutes and talk for twenty minutes. One day I want to just hand that to the DVD people and go 'Here you go!'"
MCKENNA: "This year we're doing like all these behind-the-scenes EPKs, which sort of fell off for awhile, but we're having a crew down there all the time."
HARMON: "Yes is the answer to your question, and we could have just said that!"
- When the Dean was locked up in the basement, why did his facial hair grow but the top of his head stayed bald?
HARMON: "He's bald. I'm assuming you mean why didn't he look more like Mr. Howell? I don't know. I guess that hair grew slower."
- Is the Jim Rash/Dean Pelton "Human Being was murdered" video canon, and will there be tryouts for a new Greendale mascot on season five?
HARMON: "I only watched season four once; I might have missed that part."
MCKENNA: "It bums Dan out."
HARMON: "I think he's probably still alive."
MCKENNA: "We have a problem with the Human Being creatively because every time he's on screen, you find you have to define and explain his character."
HARMON: "That's true, you have two choices if you're going to do a Human Being joke. Writers often in the writer's draft, they'll go, Jeff says this, and Britta says that, and they'll go 'Well, that's not what the Human Being thinks' and then over there-- or not even that, they'll just cut to the Human Being in a corner with a bowl of cereal going [unintelligble noise]. I'm so often accused of having this show that's just inside jokes, and I can't imagine someone tuning into the show [getting it]. He doesn't look like a mascot; he's just a guy in a weird, white suit."
MCKENNA: "That's going to get us on at 8 p.m. in November!"
HARMON: "Not that I pander to that mentality, but as a craftsman, I'm just like the Human Being is hard! He has a big footprint. You can't just bring him in as a tchocke; he actually covers the whole desk. You'd have to explain he's the mascot, so these schools have mascots; he's a Human Being. You can't just throw over to him. And also, who is he? It's a costume. And now they're telling me they killed him off? Season four! So now I know what the finale's going to be. He's going to be a hundred feet tall stepping on a school called Season Four."
- What's the story behind the cast rallying and planning to get you guys back to the show?
HARMON: "I know for sure that if Joel McHale hadn't bothered to like grab a torch from inside his Edgar Allan Poe home and take to the cobblestone streets with shenanigans..."
MCKENNA: "I'm an indentured servant now to NBC Universal. Dan was this crazy guy who was like 'I don't need you now, I've got Adult Swim, pew pew!' [shooting finger guns] I wrote for a really fun show last year called The Mindy Project because I don't know, I made a deal because I thought we were coming back for season four. And that's the way the business goes, and you're going 'Okay', but luckily I ended up on an awesome show called The Mindy Project. Dan went to do his Adult Swim show. We were not working together, and then because of my contract, I was allowed to come back this year because Dan came back."
HARMON: "Yeah, but as far as the dramatic biopic aspects of anyone engineering us coming back, I think start with Joel McHale. But there was an article oddly enough in Vulture-- I think it was Joe Adalian who wrote a little interest piece called something like 'The Real, More Boring Reason Why Dan Harmon Was Fired and Then Rehired.' It was a basic rundown of the very boring, sort of fiscal examination of how the relationship between studios, networks, ratings, syndication, blah blah blah. Ultimately it was very boring and proved that you have this guy and the ratings keep going down, and the studio's goal is for syndication numbers, so they try to change it up to save this thing before their entire investment is a wash. That doesn't quite save it enough, they bring the other guy back, and it's sort of boring that way. It's so much less cigar smoke and so many less dark rooms. That's the thing that infuriates me. I wish there were fat cats that you could punch. I'm a fat cat. When I look back the thing I want to punch isn't human, it's the faculty that doesn't give a shit."
- How did the idea for "Remedial Chaos Theory" come about?
MCKENNA: "The season before, Dan kept on obsessing about doing an episode about-- and I remember it was right before Christmas, season two, and we had like two days to break, and we had to send someone off to write an episode over Christmas. And it was like 'Okay, I've always wanted to do an episode with multiple timelines.' Oh really? Two days before Christmas and you want to break this thing? You asshole! So he obsessed about that for a little while, and we ended up doing [something else], and then next season, Dan still had a little obsession with doing something with multiple timelines. We had already done one and two, and we wanted to do something-- it was supposed to be the third episode actually, and Dan was like 'Hey, remember multiple timelines.' So we started kicking around ideas, and Dan had a million awesome ideas, and Dan just downloaded and had like 'Oh it has to be this, it has to be all seven timelines.' So we did seven timelines, and you've seen probably on Tumblr the insanity. Dan downloaded, talked about it, figured out things, and he would come back in and reshape, and it was about four of us for two weeks with Dan just figuring out how do you do this most complicated episode that we've ever done? Because we wanted everything to work in this kind of clockwork way, but the clock is constantly changing. So it was this incredible idea of Dan's that we beat our heads against the wall on for a couple of weeks, and even that was like a template. And we came back and we made this thing that at a certain point, Dan and I sort of go 'Oh, this is terrible. This is a terrible episode of television.'"
HARMON: "Oh yeah, we really thought it was a stinker. You always think at some point or another that it's just a horrible stinker. The relationship between sci-fi and comedy is so much different than the relationship between sci-fi and drama. For some reason, with sci-fi and drama, you can have Sandra Bullock rent a lake house that has a magical mailbox where she's talking to a guy that used to live there two years ago. I mean it's so fucking weird in a drama! And pay no hede to any actual internal logic because the root of it is 'Well, this is how I feel.' In comedy-- and this is the amazing thing-- in comedy if you want to go there, you have to bring your A sci-fi game. Hence Groundhog Day, which is one of the most amazing romantic comedies, one of the most amazing sci-fi concepts, and yet it's neither sci-fi, nor particularly a comedy. The idea of saying what is the fact? That every reality is based on our choices, obviously, how you illustrate it. If Lisa Kudrow or Gwyneth Paltrow-- I get them confused sometimes-- if she steps off a subway and the sliding doors happen behind her or whatever and she ends up in a different thing, it's fine as long as nobody's laughing. And I just always find that fascinating that in comedy, you're always a little less licensed to do something that nerdy people always do, which is think about the macro-reality of reality."
MCKENNA: "It's harder than drama! We're doing someting conceptual, and at the same time, we still have to have set-ups and punchlines. I'm sorry, drama doesn't have to do that! They just have to give looks."
HARMON: "I'd love to write that: 'Abed gives Jeff a look.' Anyway... For anyone who doesn't know, I remember uploading screenshots of a text message conversation I had with then-writer Megan Ganz about the concept probably over that holiday break or something where the cool thing about it, and I'm glad I did it was because I would have forgotten about where my head was at the time. Because you can see us talking about the idea way before it has anything to do with a board game or anythign like that. At the time it was called the Run Lola Run idea, and you'd see the scene that they'd restarted, and there was also this element of like well when play video games, we save our place instead of start over. And then that was a whole other idea actually. The original idea, I think, was going to be Abed and Troy playing a reality video game and then starting over because one of their character dies. But how do you justify that stuff? You can't actually reach that reality."
- Are there any plans for a character with an ailment or disability on season five?
HARMON: "Season five, sadly not, as far as having a character who's sort of physically, on-screen, cuts that archetype."
MCKENNA: "Jeff has body dysmorphia!"
HARMON: "That's true. Jeff is anorexic, and we could focus on that struggle. No, but the physically differently abled folk who have approached me and said 'Where's that guy or girl on Community?', it really-- it gets to me. There's a lot of categories that you go 'Oh shit, am I doing my job?' We haven't incorporated anything like that this season."
MCKENNA: "We'd also want to do it in a way that we run up to the idea and the character, and we talked about in the past, and it's just, we also don't want to make it feel like we're doing something as a joke, more of a run-up to these people who have afflictions."
HARMON: "Yeah, I remember talking to this guy who came up to me after a Writer's Guild panel, and he was in a wheelchair, and he said the same question... and I sort of thought on it for the first time with him, out-loud, and said 'You know, that is so important.'"
MCKENNA: "We do have a character coming up that is hearing impaired."
HARMON: "That's true."
MCKENNA: "You know, and it becomes a major storyline, the episode, and it's not just for a laugh. It is someone we hired who does have a hearing impairment. So it's one of those things, though, where we're always trying to embrace every element of humanity in the show. I mean, in season three we were talking about having someone who was an assistant to the dean, and it wasn't a joke; it was like 'Oh we want to have an assistant to the dean who has a mental disability,' and I think it became one of these things where we were just so worried it would be coming off as I don't know, like we were making fun of it or something."
HARMON: "Well, people's scalpels come out. That's the interesting thing, and why it is our responsibility to do it, because people self-hatred and hatred of others come out at the same time. So we talked about the idea, for example, of the dean having this assistant that was mentally disabled or challenged, I don't even know what the correct word is for it anymore. But we had this character that he was using to kind of shield him-- that he would use him to deliver the bad news about teachers' salaries being cut and stuff. And so that joke is what? Are we supposed to laugh at what makes uncomfortable? Are we supposed to laugh at the fact that we're all on the same page as human beings? Or are we supposed to laugh because we're all really happy about how everything is? I think the latter type laugher is not real; I think that laughter happens because we're scared. And I think that the physically challenged people who walk into a room with crutches on their arms or in a wheelchair, the most profound thing that happens is the entire room desperately-- emotionally-- wants that to not be the case. They don't want that person to be in that situation. And so the incredibly irony is that somebody you have the most concern for becomes a living ghost. I remember explaining this to somebody who talked to me after a panel, and I was just kind of babbling about it in my autistic way and not making eye contact and just kind of thinking through it, like 'How would you do it comedically?' And I look over, and he's crying because I've fucking ripped his soul apart, describing this stuff but sort of glossing over it with my comedic sensibility. How would you add a wheelchair to a sitcom without pandering? How would you invite that human experience into it and make it part of the thing? The answer is I don't know how, but I do know at the time that we're doing it, there would be a lot of conversation.
MCKENNA: "We try to write up to people, write up to human beings, in a way that also does not make them martyrs and saints for having an affliction but also not doing jokes about someone with a disability. So I've always thought that we'd be able to do it in the Community way, which embraces humanity and also brings a sense of humor to it so it's not just oh we're patting ourselves on the back for doing it."
HARMON: "Yeah, Joe Russo told me a phrase when we were casting the pilot for Community-- and this is related to the race conversation we were having. We were talking about casting the pilot race neutral. As opposed to 'Oh this character is the black housewife; this character is the Asian astrophysicist', it's saying 'Okay, this character is the housewife, we don't know ethnically what she'll be.' It's difficult in casting-- it's not casting's fault-- you're dealing with racks of human tissue; you shuffle through them like they're coats; there are sizes and shapes and different colors. So conquering racism as a source on television, it's weird-- the conversations get weird. And you've never even gotten to the place-- we haven't gotten to the place of talking about disabled people the same way. 'Oh this person's in a wheelchair'-- we're nowhere near there at all. And so the strange thing about it is, I don't want to do what Joe Russo would call the Disney approach to it. That's what he described racially. He said, 'That's where you just say 'I want a black person; I want an Asian person; I want--' it feels like a crime is being committed there. 'I did a multi-ethnic, multi-camera sitcom where race didn't exist as much.' I don't like that; I don't want to be that show where the guy rolls in in the wheelchair and is just there, and it's great, it's a victory because of the fact that the wheelchair got to be there. There's something-- something is wrong with that. I do like the idea of respecting people so much that we acknowledge all of the different ways to be human and acknowledge that they can also be part of set-ups and punchlines. One of my biggest pet peeves is that the laughter has to stop because someone comes into a scene; their IQ has to lower or higher because of their other condition. It makes me very conflicted about it. I was raised in the '70s where they were obsessed about it."
- What was the approach to the show upon returning?
HARMON: "Actually our challenge was more about 'What are we going to do now?' It was kind of like a re-pilot. If we commit one crime in the eyes of hardcore fans in episode one of season five, maybe it will be a little bit boring because we actually just get them all back at Greendale so we could start it again? So actually more than anything it was 'What is our job here?' We had a big three-day summit with all of our writers, and that was the title of it. 'What is our job?' What have we been hired to do by the fans, by the mythical beast known as the new viewer, what is our job? And we all agreed-- we had a three-day conversation-- that our job was--"
MCKENNA: "To make everyone feel okay. About getting back to basics. And that's what we're doing. Once 501 is out of the way-- which is also a great episode-- because when you watch 502, I watch it, and I just get excited, I go, 'Okay, here we go!' We have new characters, new dynamics, similar settings, but it is just getting back to the characters."
HARMON: "There's two episodes into the thirteen that are just like full-blown, screw you, season two Community just decided you need to catch up tonally, basically. But that does not mean that the other episodes are normal episodes. The other episodes kind of thread this weird needle of 'Well because of the subject matter they're dealing with, we feel a little David Finchery this week.' So it's pretty interesting."
MCKENNA: "And then we go out in style with a certain character in a way-- that you know about, he's leaving-- that makes it fun and epic and feels like a throwback of season one and two Community."
- How do you strike a balance between story, character development, arcs, and jokes in the script?
HARMON: "It's pretty easy because you sort of set a rule and say 'Well, this is a comedy script,' and as I've said, I want this to be competitive with something as recognizable as 30 Rock. You sort of set a rule in your head where you need to be setting up or telling a joke three times per page, or something like that. You set a ridiculous sort of 'I'm going to write a haiku; I'm going to write a sonnet.' Sonnets and haikus, they have structural demands that may seem to sort of compromise you, but within that sonnet or haiku, you absolutely go 'This sonnet is about people'; 'This sonnet will not make you think that this person that they're talking about is not a real person, even if that's necessary for the syllables to end at the right number at the end of this line.' Does that makes sense? The jokes are the last thing."
MCKENNA: "The jokes are the meaty part, but we could do those in an all-nighter or the morning before, but if the story's not working, if you don't care about what's happening, then the joke's not working either. I've been at table reads, not on this show, where the jokes are incredible, but if the story's not working, the jokes don't play because people don't care. So once you get them caring about the story, then the jokes will come, and you can move on into really fun, fun stuff. But it's all empty if the story's not working."
Community will return to NBC on January 2 2014 at 8 p.m.
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