Changing Times on "Community"

Going into its fourth season, NBC’s Community abruptly changed much of its behind the scenes creatives, including, crucially, creator and show runner Dan Harmon. At the same time, the study group on the show, headed up by Joel McHale’s Jeff, faces their senior year at Greendale University. It’s therefore fitting that when two of its stars, Alison Brie (“Annie”) and Danny Pudi (“Abed”), got together to talk about the show this year, much of the focus was on change:

Pudi: That is in some ways what we set  up for season four, embracing change, and I think specifically with the world of Abed. You see that right away, in the premiere of season four, going into his happy place especially anytime anyone mentions that it’s our senior year which is scary. And I think with Abed we’ve explored change a few different times already. In the “My Dinner with Andre” episode you know, it ends with Abed saying  that changing really isn’t his jam, you know? He’s more of a fastened lip and stoic type. And I think the thing about senior year at Greendale is that whether or not we change much as individuals, our circumstances change and our environments change. So I think that is something we have to at least address so there is part of that. And I think honestly when I look at the world around me I think most of my friends and the people I know, they’re at their core, they’re essentially the same people. You know, you do grow but in many ways the things that grow is literally just the fact that you’re a little bit older now and you have to have a job and you have kids and a family and you’re no longer living at home. Your responsibility to the world around you changes. It’s your ability to adapt to that that I think is interesting. And so I think that’s what we explore season four.

Brie: Yea I think that Annie, like all the characters, has always been changing. You know because they started out as singular beings and now they’re sort of a unit and just in terms of gaining friends like that and growing up a little, like everyone I hope, grows in college because you’re learning so much about yourself through these interactions with these other people. And Annie she started out, I always think of Annie being kind of two steps forward and one step back like in all of her growth. She started out so studious and just seemed very driven and is still driven, but we’ve seen some detours. She gets hung up on guys, she gets hung up on the friends group and trying to keep the study group together because she’s never had friends like this before. And she’s never had guys interested in her before. So we’ve see those kind of detours with Annie and this year she’s sort of returning to her studious roots and she’s discovered a new major, forensics, that she’s now interested in and feeling really passionate about it again. So we sort of see her returning to being that figure for the group. To being kind of driven and just being kind of the voice of reason for the group and that’s how she changes.

When new writers came on fans were worried that it might be less ambitious than when Dan [Harmon] was on, was that a concern for you?

Brie: I think, you know, it’s a tough thing to learn that your show runner is not coming back to the show and Dan is such a big part of the show, so I think we were a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect but that’s not really a new feeling having worked on our show for four years now. So when we met the new guys they really stressed how much they loved the show and wanted to keep it the same and some of our writers were still the same… And we all were certainly very vocal this season to sort of speak to what our characters would and wouldn’t do and the way things might go on the show and so we were all sort of working together to keep the show intact.
Pudi:… I think for us the one thing that you know we wanted to do and to make sure it comes across this year is that our genuine love for the show comes across and I think you’ll see that with us this year. Still, there’s an extra level of responsibility we had as actors to really make sure that we’re still staying true to who these people are and the world around Greendale. But there was definitely—you can’t replace Dan Harmon. He created something that’s pretty amazing and I’m forever thankful for that.
Brie: Yea, me too.

This season has already seen Malcolm McDowell guest star as a history teacher, Matt Lucas as a deranged Inspector Spacetime fan and NBC’s just announced that in the spring we will see “Seinfeld” favorite Jason Alexander as a Friendly Mountain Man.

Who is your dream guest star on the show?
Brie: I’ve always thought Jason Bateman would be this like—because we love Arrested Development here—and I’ve always thought that he would be so great on the show. Pudi: Dream would be Zach Galifrianakis. I think that would be so much fun. I think it would be amazing to see him in our world. Bruce Willis would be unbelievable. We could do like a Looper. Oh, that would be amazing!

What’re you really excited for people to see for the rest of this season?
Brie: I am really excited for the Christmas episode, that’s the one that’s Hitchcock inspired. Also we have like a Freaky Friday episode that was written by Jim Rash—who of course plays Dean Pelton, and is an Academy Award Winner for Screenwriting [The Descendents]–so that is a really fun one. And also our season finale, I am like ‘Hang in there, fans…’ I think the finale is such a special treat and it’s written by Megan Ganz and it’s one of my favorite episodes this season and I think that it has a lot of elements in it that, it’s really just made for the fans.
Pudi: In some ways it is just a little bit more of a love note.–
Brie: Because it was sort of written as if it might be our last so a lot of heart in there from all of us. And I do think that the episodes get better and better throughout the season so keep tuning in, guys!

“Community” airs Thursdays at 8pm on NBC