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'Community' at Paleyfest: Dancing, Blanket Forts and Optimism

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Mar 04, 2012 | 12:53pm EST

CommunityLast night marked an event glorious enough to make steadfast believers in the innate evil of mankind rethink their philosophies completely: the Paleyfest Community Panel. The cast and creators of NBC’s cult phenomenon Community took to the stage of Los Angeles’ Paley Center, offering a panel that was available via Livestream at New York City’s Paley Center.

Community fanatics of the East and West Coasts were able to witness TV Critic Alan Sepinwall moderate a panel consisting of creator Dan Harmon, executive producers Neil Goldman, Garrett Donovan, and Russ Krasnoff, and perhaps most excitingly, seven out of the nine main cast members give their take on the show, its controversial hiatus, insight to the characters, and what fans can look forward to in the future. Icing on the cake: attendees were treated to an advanced screening of Community’s upcoming episode, “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts,” set to premiere on Thursday, March 15 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Being an East Coaster, I attended the Livestream event at New York’s Paley Center which proved to be the embodiment of Greendale spirit. Upon entering, the first thing attendees might have noticed was a blanket fort set up in the lobby, free range for any looting or Latvian Independence Day parades to be undertaken. Kicking off the night was a costume contest—entries ranged from a Jeff too busy texting to announce his own character, to a Pierce donning his Level Six Laser Lotus garb (the Cookie Crisp Wizard costume), and even more obscure characters like Professor Professorson. Following was a Community trivia contest—needless to say, as specific as the questions got, there were no stumpers among this crowd.

After the games (and a few minor technical difficulties), the event took way—kicking off with “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts.” Without giving too much away, the episode is a terrific way to welcome Community back to television, bringing out our favorite aspects of the show’s characters, as well as some unexpected developments. Plus, the episode marks the return of a couple of favorable recurring characters.

The question-and-answer session to follow was a healthy balance between interesting and informative analyses of the writing and development of Community’s stories and characters and some more of the silliness you might expect, like creator Dan Harmon’s and Joel McHale’s (Jeff) consistent torture of Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley), Jim Rash’s (the Dean) shameless pageantry of his newly won Oscar, and, topping the list, a "Britta Dance" by series star Gillian Jacobs.

Absent from the panel were stars Donald Glover, unavailable due to his Childish Gambino hip-hop tour, and Chevy Chase, missing for unknown reasons. As such, a lot of jokes were made at the pair’s expense, such as Harmon’s remark that Chevy’s presence on set actually slows production, and Jacobs’ offhand comment that nobody actually cares about Glover anyway—a joke that was met with unkempt hostility from the crowd.

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Harmon talked a good deal about his vision of Community's mission. Validating what fans have been saying all along, Harmon proclaimed that Community didn’t really start to become what it is today until the sixth or seventh episode. He viewed the first season on the whole as series hero Jeff’s plunge into this new world (the study group), the second season as Jeff’s acceptance of the group as something important to him, and the third season—which he said he always knew would be “the dark season”—as a playing out of “what it means” to be a group of people coexisting, examining both the pros and cons (more of the latter, as anyone who is up to date knows).

One of the first questions to kick off the audience’s open forum regarded the mystery of Abed’s age. Harmon admitted that as it stands, he has always viewed Abed as a year or two older than Troy and Annie—making him, presently, about 23 or 24—but that he’d be willing to decide that Abed is 47 if a story calls for it. Harmon also laughed about fans’ speculation that a young boy shown in a flashback in the episode “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism,” depicting Jeff and Shirley in childhood, might be Abed. Harmon decreed that this was not the show’s intention, and jokingly called all of the fans who held this belief “racists.”

Questions regarding Community romances were plentiful, and all of them were centered on Annie. When asked for her choice of romantic partner for her character Annie, actress Alison Brie declared that Britta would be her top pick. Needless to say, costars Danny Pudi (Abed) and Ken Jeong (Chang) were visibly enthusiastic at this proposal.

One of the greatest questions of the night, coming from a particularly young audience member, involved the series's unofficial motto: “Six seasons and a movie!” If this actually comes to fruition, what will the movie be about?

Harmon’s response was met with overwhelming applause. The end of the fifth season would involve the study group discussing a vague trip they’d plan on taking over the summer. The beginning of the sixth would open with the group in shambles—eye-patches, missing limbs, etc—vowing never to discuss the events that played out in the interim period. And the movie, following Season 6, would inevitably inform us as to what actually happened on that fateful trip. 

And although this plan might never manifest, optimism was prevalent onstage regarding a fourth season. Harmon and Krasnoff alluded to beliefs that Community would be back, in large part thanks to the overwhelming enthusiasm by fans to get the show back on the air after it was placed on hiatus in the fall.

The event ended in the sweetest way possible: an extremely excited fan took to the microphone to announce her love for Pudi and his character Abed. Pudi responded by flying offstage, running into the audience, and giving the young woman a big hug, which sent her into a fit of ecstatic tears.

The Paleyfest Community panel could not have gone better. We got some good news about the show’s future, a great episode to look forward to, and some fun and interesting moments from the show’s cast and creators. The event was exactly what fans needed to instill their faith in the show’s subsistence. If viewers stay as passionate as they have been, we might be in for the fourth season we all know this deserves.

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