As any Human Being knows, the ever-brilliant and hilarious Community recently returned to NBC on Thursday night, after being benched initially when the network unveiled their midseason schedule.
A couple months ago, I visited the set of Community as the cast worked on the last few weeks of production on Season 3. I’ll have more material from this visit down the line, since there were several things occurring that I can’t go into detail on yet.
Set visit interviews are typically on the short side, as the cast are usually in the middle of filming and sometimes only available for a few minutes, due to production needs. But I was lucky enough to get a much longer conversation than is the norm on these occasions with Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie.
We were still a couple of weeks from learning Community’s return date at this point, but Jacobs and Brie spoke about how much the fan support during their hiatus meant, what it’s like seeing various groups of “shippers” react to the show and much more, while giving a few hints about what’s to come – even as they both laughed about the fact that they were having trouble recalling everything they’d shot through the season. Oh, and you’ll see a reference to them wearing “crazy costumes” while we spoke, but what those costumes were has to remain quiet for the time being, I’m afraid!
IGN: What was it like hearing you guys weren’t going to be airing initially this year, but then seeing how the fans quickly mobilized and showed their love for this show?
Jacobs: Obviously it was disappointing to be pulled from the schedule, but I had kind of willfully forgotten about the fact that 30 Rock had to come back. So once they made the announcement I was like, “Oh, yeah.” Something was going to happen along those lines because there were one too many shows for Thursday. So it was disappointing, but I really think it was encouraging to us that they didn’t reduce our episode order.
And then the fans, they’re everything that we always hoped and dreamed they would be. They’re the best. They are so resourceful and organized and creative. They’re not just sending things to NBC. They’re tweeting our advertisers that aired during our final episodes [in 2011] and saying, “I saw your ad for Yoplait, and I really enjoyed it during Community. Thank you so much for supporting Community.” And they’re having flash mobs in New York and LA and around the country. They’re just the best. The number of “Save Community” Twitter accounts that have sprung up in the last couple months, it’s really incredible. It makes you want to keep fighting when you see how hard they’re fighting to keep the show on the air.
Alison Brie: I feel like it actually gave us a great boost, morale-wise, seeing the way the fans have stuck by the show and taken up… what am I trying to say?
Jacobs: The mantle!
Brie: Yes! With their flash mobs and their support online. I’m almost never felt prouder to be on the show because we’re suddenly so able to see the impact the show has had on people and how much they enjoy it and missed it being on. It’s really special.
IGN: You’re coming back on with a run of 12 new episodes. On one hand it’s like, “There’s been no Community on!” But then it’s like, “There’s so much to look forward to!”
Brie: It’ll be the equivalent to when you miss a show and you don’t catch it from the beginning so you rent it on DVD and watch them all in a row.
IGN: I’m friends with a married couple who just caught up on your show, and they’re obsessed with it now. But they wouldn’t watch the Christmas one until they knew when it was coming back.
Jacobs: But that’s such a good one!
Brie: I know!
Jacobs: People seem to continue to discover our show. I feel like even though we’re a third-season show, I get tweets all the time that are like, “I just discovered your show!” And I feel like for those people, they’re able to catch up and then have a whole half-season of new episodes.
Brie: It’s been a nice time for people to catch up.
Jacobs: Yeah, and having everything on Hulu, too, gives people access to the whole show.
IGN: You guys are known for having these really imaginative, big episodes, but I think this season especially, that’s nicely balanced with the fact that we know these characters so well at this point. The timeline episode is so brilliant, but it wouldn’t really matter if you didn’t know who this group is.
Brie: Absolutely. There is an episode we shot where Danny [Pudi] and I are paired up the whole episode.
Jacobs: I forgot about that episode!
Brie: I know, I did too! It actually just made me think of it when you mentioned the timeline episode, because it’s a very conceptual episode. But really, it’s delving into the fundamentals of their relationship and who Abed is and what makes him tick. I think we delve into Abed’s character a lot because he’s hard to figure out, you know? But it’s always kind of cool to see how he relates to different people now that Annie’s living with Abed and Troy and to kind of to re-explore that relationship and see why they’re so close or where they differ and how they don’t get along. That stuff is woven into these more conceptual episodes. It’s what gives them weight. We never do conceptual episodes just for the sake of doing it, even with this stuff. Like you said, the stakes have never been higher for the group. We’re all in crazy costumes this week, but it means something to the group in a way that it never has before.
IGN: I still want to meet everyone’s parents.
Jacobs: We’ve heard things about Annie’s parents. We’ve heard about her mom, right?
Brie: We have. Annie doesn’t get a lot of support from her parents. When we look at how Annie was living in a bad neighborhood and her parents don’t want to support her because they don’t want to recognize her drug addiction. It’s funny when you talk about this stuff because it sounds like we work on this really serious show, but it kind of just validates this fact that these characters are grounded in reality and come from very real places. That’s why they spin off and become so crazy. Because Annie can be a really crazy character. I think you could point to any one of them and say, “God, they’re so kooky and crazy, and they just get crazier and crazier.” But it all comes from a real place.
Jacobs: We’re all tightly wound, I feel like. You put the slightest pressure on us, and we go bananas.
IGN: The way the show is designed – and maybe people overuse the word – but the “meta” aspect works very well, especially with Abed, who can step aside and be a little observational and make those connections the others wouldn’t.
Brie: Yeah, Abed as a character is a great tool to help us do that. And I think as the show has continued, all the characters can take that standpoint because like any group of friends you kind of start to take on traits that your friends have. So how Abed is really meta, maybe the rest of the group in some aspects start to look at the world a little differently as well.
IGN: How are things going for Annie’s love life?
Brie: Annie’s love life is kind of at a standstill from what I can remember.
Jacobs: Remember your speech?
Jacobs: “I’ve been on three dateeeeeess…”
Brie: Oh! Annie’s love life is not going well. What else is new?
Jacobs: That’s another episode I just remembered!
Brie: They’re all coming back to us.
Jacobs: Shoot ‘em and forget ‘em! Love ‘em and leave ‘em!
Brie: “Love ‘em and leave ‘em!” We are big pimpin’ with these episodes. No, Annie’s love life is not going great. We see some more Jeff and Annie pairing up, but not necessarily romantically.
IGN: One of the funniest things about covering TV is seeing the “shippers” aspect and how certain fans will grab onto one part of a show, and it becomes what the show is about to them. Has that been fascinating for you as actors to see that you might do one scene with one glance between two characters and suddenly…
Jacobs: Oh yeah. Totally. Our clip show last year ["Paradigms of Human Memory"] when we did the homage to the shipper videos…
IGN: That was so brilliant.
Jacobs: It starts out with Jeff and Annie, and Dan [Harmon] paid to get the song that was in the first shipper girl’s video — and then I just love the play on it with Pierce and Abed because you really can take anything out of context and add some music to it and slow it down and make it sepia colored, and it will seem like it’s romantic. Sometimes there are little things that happen, and I almost feel like they’re accidents. I’ll grab Danny’s hand because he’s Danny! Then suddenly, it’s screen captioned and then it’s a GIF. And it’s like, “Britta and Abed: Romantic Tension.”
Brie: But it’s a testament to back in the first season how they’ve always said, “Any two people in this group could be romantically paired up.” And that’s totally proven to be true as we continue to shoot episodes, and I feel like the writers continue to swap us out and do different romantic pairings with different people. And every time, inevitably, there’s some contingence of fans that go for it and are into it, like really into it, and you’re like, “Oh, okay. I guess that one works too!”
Jacobs: Yeah, there’s a whole Annie & Abed faction.
Brie: Yeah! And I don’t know why we continue to be surprised by it. Like the finale last year when Danny and I were going to kiss, and we were like, “Wait, what!? We’re going to kiss? Mmm, okay.” And right after, yeah, you see the fan videos, and you’re like, “Oh! Actually, yeah! That totally worked! That was genius!”
Jacobs: But I think the thing about our show is that they can all only go so far. Our show has never become about relationships. We can kind of flirt with all of these pairings, but we never take them too far down the road because at the end of the day it’s like we’re a family.
Brie: It’s more about the group being in love with everyone in the group as a group, and not really about two people pairing off — excluding Troy and Abed. [Laughs] The greatest love story of our time.
Jacobs: Kind of! The most unconditional love story of our time.
IGN: So, that being said, when are Troy and Britta gonna do it?
Brie: [Laughs] Define “do it.”
Jacobs: We did it. “It” being homework… together!! I don’t know. You’ve gotta ask Dan. You should shuffle on up to the writers room and ask them those questions. They don’t tell us nothin!’
IGN: Like you said, Dan does a really good job of never letting it take over the show. Like on the flashback episode, you revealed Jeff and Britta’s hookups were happening all year, rather than have it be a year of watching the hookups happening.
Jacobs: Yeah, exactly. I feel like it’s nice because they’re all human. So obviously we all have hormones.
[Editor's Note: Gillian and Alison introduced me to frequent Community director Tristram Shapeero at this point, as he walked by. We spoke with him for a couple of minutes about what was being worked on, but it was all off the record, as it was pretty spoilery. Which led to my next question…]
IGN: Is it funny for you, working on a a half-hour comedy, to know people are so invested and want to know what’s going to happen and that you have to keep so many secrets?
Brie: Yeah, and I feel like that’s kind of a newer thing. Because when we started I feel like we were telling everybody everything, because we were like, “Please watch the show! Here’s what happens on it!”
IGN: [Laughs] Hey, I remember doing those interviews with you too!
Brie: To generate interest we kind of had to tell everything, and now it’s a two-sided thing. On the one hand, it’s a weird feeling because we’re not used to having to censor what we say about the show. But at the same time, it’s cool that people are so interested and excited about it that we want to keep these secrets and make the experience of watching the show better for the audience.
Jacobs: Yeah, there’s no difference between our show and Lost. They’re the same show. [Laughs]
Brie: Don’t spoil it!
Jacobs: Somebody will make an argument for that online if you print that. Someone will do it point for point.
IGN: Well now I’m definitely printing it! With fans approaching you, is there an episode or a moment that comes up the most?
Jacobs: Paintball probably. And people really liked Christmas this year ["Regional Holiday Music"], I feel like.
Brie: For me, I feel like it was paintball last year ["A Fistful of Paintballs"], because I wasn’t in the original paintball very much much. So people would mostly approach me about the paintball from last year and be like, “Whoa! Cowgirl Annie! Hello!” And that was only trumped by Christmas this year, and now people come up and are like, “Oh my God, that song you sang — my wife keeps singing it to me, and I love it.” And I’ll be like, “Great, I’m glad I could enhance your sex life with your wife.” [Laughs]
IGN: That was the plan!
Brie: That’s pretty much my goal in all my work, to make marriages better, to make husbands and wives’ sex lives richer.
Jacobs: You’re a humanitarian!
IGN: “Boopie doopie doop doop doop sex!” is a brilliant line.
Jacobs: I said it today! Earlier today, before I came to work. “Boopie doopie doop doop doop…
Jacobs: Yeah, and the brown unitard got a lot of comments.
Brie: It was really sexy!
Jacobs: Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo?
Brie: Sexy Christmas Poo.
IGN: Mrs. Hankey.
Jacobs: Mrs. Hankey! “Hey, Mrs. Hankey!” No wonder he keeps her at home.
IGN: I completely love Britta, and I feel like the more the show’s gone on and Dan and the writers have embraced her flaws, the more interesting she’s become. I don’t think I can name a character quite like her…
Jacobs: Yeah, she’s pretty singular, which at first was a little hard, because I feel like people didn’t quite get who she was or appreciate who she was.
Brie: The Britta of the Britta. I think it even took our writers a little while to figure out the idiosyncrasies that made up Britta.
Jacobs: Yeah. And now I feel like the first half of Season 3 especially, they gave me a lot of really great stuff to do and it’s so much fun. It was so great because of the episode with “Britta’d it.” …As soon as we got pulled off the schedule my entire timeline on Twitter was like, “NBC Britta’d it!” Every headline about the show.
Brie: It really took flight.
Jacobs: Yeah, it’s really fun. A friend of mine is writing a script with a feminist scholar. I read the script and really liked it. And she was telling someone, “My friend Gillian read the script.” The girl wrote, “Gillian Jacobs — you mean ‘Britta Perry: Feminist Icon?’” I was like, “That’s crazy!”
IGN: That couple I know who just watched all of Community were complaining about Britta in the first three episodes. But – and I knew this would happen – now they love her.
Jacobs: The people that we lost after episode three still hate me. [Laughs]
Brie: But those that stuck around…
Jacobs: Those that stuck with the show came around!
IGN: You guys are both active on Twitter. Having that direct contact with the fans, what’s it been like seeing when something takes off like “Britta’d it”?
Jacobs: The night that the Christmas episode aired was so exciting because like nine trending topics on Twitter were about our show.
Brie: It felt like a small victory because it was our last episode to air, and we kind of knew that that was going to be it for a little while. And to see that, I feel like that brought us to tears, we were so excited. Just to see people’s enthusiasm about the episode. Even now, it was really great on Thursdays with people sending messages just talking about how they missed the show and missed it being a part of the lineup. It’s really great. It’s really needed support from the fans.
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