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TV Goodness Q&A: Joel McHale and Jim Rash Talk Community Season 5 [INTERVIEW + PHOTOS] 

Community -- Season 5

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Full disclosure: I did not watch season four of this show. The reason? No Dan Harmon. So when I heard the mad genius (and that’s really what he is – I’ve experienced this man in person), I knew I was back in. I’m so excited about season 5 of Community and I can’t wait to see what the show has in store for us.

TV Goodness participated in a press call with series stars Joel McHale and Jim Rash. They talked about Harmon’s return, what to expect this season, the changing dynamic of the ensemble cast and about some of their favorite episodes and guest stars.

Photo Credit: Chris Haston/NBC
Photo Credit: Chris Haston/NBC
Photo Credit: Chris Haston/NBC
Photo Credit: Chris Haston/NBC

On behind-the-scenes drama 

Joel McHale: “Jim, you go first.”

Jim 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 we never really know where we’re going. So I feel like – in a weird way the drama sort of kept us out there. 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.”

Joel: “Yes. And I would say that especially this year with Dan [Harmon] back the material has been- 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 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- the sense of relief that I’ve had this year has been tremendous.”

On the criticism of season 4

Jim: “Well, I feel you can’t help but feel- you can’t not have Dan’s mind and the creator’s mind and not feel that there’s some kind of difference. I mean, 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 to sort of go into that vision and help service it. But without him you don’t really have your guide through that. And so, while there was so many things that were 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?”

Joel: “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 Mitch Hurwitz. And there was some really good stuff last year but it did not have the direction that the other seasons had.”

On upcoming guest stars and if they were a distraction from the ensemble

Joel: “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 at all, not even near the trap of people using guest stars to make up for storytelling. And all these guest stars absolutely support and enhance it. Our guest stars are so creative, like Vince Gilligan and Mitch Hurwitz and Chris Elliott and Paul Williams – I mean, talk about a crazy group of people, including 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.”

Jim: “100 years, Joel?”

Joel: “I don’t care.”

Jim: “That’s amazing.”

Joel: “Yes.”

Jim: “I would agree. I don’t need to add to that.”

On their favorite guest stars

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

Joel: “I will say it’s hard to choose a favorite. I didn’t get to work with Vince Gilligan, but they all really- I’m not trying to be diplomatic here. I will say that Mitch Hurwitz and Chris Elliott and Walton Goggins. I’m stammering, because it’s really hard- it’s like picking amongst your children. You know, the ones that you…”

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

Joel: “So to answer your question, no. I can’t pick one.”

On characters being written off

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

Joel: “There was a lot from season four- there was a lot of unanswered questions. 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 – or have.”

On the changing cast chemistry

Jim: “I would say both those absences have not so much changed, but evolved the study group’s connections. You get to figure out what Abed is without Troy. They do a very good job of watching this guy transition into the next chapter of his life without his best friend. The same thing with Pierce’s absence and having other characters complete the study room table. 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. If anything, it always opens up new doors when something happens like 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.”

Joel: “Yes, and Dan doesn’t shy away from those things and he never has.”

Jim: “No.”

Joel: “Just like when Britta and Jeff had the- it was like ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ And Dan goes ‘Oh they will, and they have been for a year.’ 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 not only is he such an incredible actor, he is really funny. It’s just a whole different wonderful vibe. You’ll see how his character just sings through this thing. I didn’t mention him with the guest stars, because I count him as a series regular than a guest star. Then with Troy’s departure, as Jim just said you will see how – 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.”

On the show being back for season 5

Jim: “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 was just felt like a gift. It felt like you were being handed material that was – I would argue some of the best of all the seasons. 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 as far as hitting big sort of epic episodes, but also really paying homage to these characters that we started with five years ago.”

Joel: “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.”

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

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

On Dan’s return to the show

Joel: “There was nothing I particularly laid out. I should have gotten him a beard trimmer.”

Jim: “Certainly Joel probably was paramount in starting these conversations towards the end of last season 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 four 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.”

On Joel playing a student vs. playing a teacher

Joel: “It’s neither and both at the same time, because they’re both really fun to play. I got to do really fun things as a teacher, but as a student I got to do- 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 half-hour sitcom I would say that you’re probably high. But with the teacher, I mean, as we’ve been saying this season we re-establish ourselves as characters. And then things go nuts. It was fun every day, so I get – I cannot make a distinction.”

On Jeff’s maturity

Joel: “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. I think there was a number of things that kind of got taken care of last year, and those things- they’re not things that just get kind of wrapped up. It’s not something like, ‘Well, that was done and now I’m fixed.’ It’s more like you are constantly finding new things to fix and hopefully make that person healthier. But Jeff’s 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. He has to really come to terms with how he feels about the school ultimately. I think Dan just absolutely lays those things out for Jeff to have to deal with and as an actor was really fun to deal with.”

On the Dean’s maturity 

Jim: “Well I think this year,  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 authority figure side of the Dean. 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.’ This year definitely leads up to 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. I think you just continue to see – I mean, obviously the fascination with Jeff continues and will continue, I’m sure.”

Joel: “Can you believe that?”

Jim: “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.’ Joel just keeps pushing that agenda.”

Joel: “I will punch you…”

Jim: “That’s correct, right Joel?”

Joel: “I don’t know where you’re getting this. But it’s weird to me…”

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

Joel: “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.'”

Jim: “Hey, I’m just spitballing ideas, man.”

On the Dean being happy to obsess over Jeff

Jim: “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. He probably has a need there that is not fulfilled yet. Of course these unlucky few who decided on that study room table became sort of the focus. In season three I even established that I told them about danger – about the fire before I told anybody else. It’s sort of, like, by default they have become- 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.”

On Jim Rash writing more

Jim: “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. 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 enjoy the road they take us on. In other words, they don’t need my bald head.”

On sticking to the script

Jim: “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?”

Joel: “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 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 no excess. 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.”

On wardrobe

Joel: “I mean, all I can really say is kind of generally is that the show goes in so- 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 furthest. 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.”

Jim: “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. I mean, it goes back to paintball, in what was maybe a two hour period anarchy had it. This year 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.”

Joel: “I am.”

Jim: “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 here – peppered here and there. But 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. 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.”

On encouraging new people to watch the show 

Joel: “The episodes speak for themselves and you don’t have to watch from the beginning to enjoy the show. 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 and I think they stand alone. That said, it’s the job of NBC to keep pumping us out there. This is a highly enjoyable show. So, just getting the word out about the show is important.”

Jim: “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- 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 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.”

On upcoming theme episodes

Jim: “Theme episode. Well, you definitely get some this year. I mean, as far as 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.”

Joel: “There’s another D&D episode. There is an homage to Logan’s Run. And then we do a shot-by-shot redo of the movie – what is it, it’s that Blue is the Grayest Color or whatever it is? Very sexual.”

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

Joel: “Yes.”

Jim: “A lot of pixilation.”

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

Jim: “Oh, I wish.”

On whether or not there will be a holiday episode this season

Joel: “Yes, there’s an Arbor Day…”

Jim: “We’re hitting all the big ones: Easter…”

Joel: “Yes, National Secretary’s Day, bring your kid to work day…”

Jim: “May Day play day.”

Joel: “Yes. Then we celebrate all the Slovenian holidays.”

Jim: “Which I was surprised how fun they were.”

Joel: “Fun and I didn’t realize that you could have two holidays a day. And they – in that country they have over 380.”

Jim: “I know, like let’s move there. No,  we tried to stay on our calendar this year. Isn’t that right, Joel?”

Joel: “Yes. And, you know, last year there was a ton of holidays…”

Joel: “…and so you’ll see as Dan said, it’s a re-piloting of the show and a re-establishing of the characters. Community lives because the characters are, I believe, incredibly grounded. And then that means that when that happens that the world can go crazy…”

Jim: “Yes.”

Joel: “Or just go way out there, and that’s – and you will see that in spades this year.”

On an episode they’re particularly excited about

Joel: “That’s hard.”

Jim: “That’s tough, because there are probably many. I think we have ones that are sort of- I personally think only because I wasn’t associated the first D&D round, very excited that I got to be part of the D&D redub – excuse me, D&D two, I guess. 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. What about you, Joel?”

Joel: “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 in the Logan’s Run homage there is one scene in particular that involves choreography that might be the most insane – 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.”

Jim: “Yes.”

On other projects

Joel:Community is only 13 weeks, with – we started in August and we ended in early December. I mean, 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. 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, you know, what’s next for us to do as characters.”

Jim: “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. We’re going to be seeing it the same way everyone else sees it. We don’t have that ability to sort of 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, I mean, I think, like for him…”

Joel: “What?”

Jim: “…he’ll just sit there in front of the TV and then text me and say, like ‘How great was I in that?'”

Joel: “Jim also…”

Jim: “And that’s pretty much him: not just a fan of the show but of himself.”

On making time for everything

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

Joel: “I don’t. Especially because my dog two night ago – or two days ago – he got neutered. So he’s been whimpering a lot and that’s been this great – no. Well, 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, you know, Jim always wants to get on the phone and talk about his Oscar, which takes up about two or three hours No, I count myself as incredibly blessed, because I get to work. 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. Once I work out – 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.”

Jim: “He literally – he’s being honest, he literally skips to work.”

Joel: “Literally.”

Jim: “It’s one of the more sad visuals I’ve ever seen.”

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

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

Joel: “So tell me right now without pause what your weird surgery is.”

Jim: “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.”

Joel: “You sound like an idiot in your face.

Jim: “No, I…”

Joel: “What an idiot, an Oscar winner guy who doesn’t think you need to have ankles. In your face.”

Jim: “That was my journey.”

Joel: “Idiot journey.”

Jim: “Next question.”

 Edited for space and content.


All photos courtesy of Justin Lubin/NBC.

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