Before the always-inventive Community unveils its season 3 premiere tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC, creator Dan Harmon would like to make this pledge to you. “We’re going to be weird in ways that addict you to the show,” he says. “We’re going to be weird in insanely grounded, clever ways — not weird in ways that make [NBC parent company] Comcast go, ‘Isn’t that the show where everyone’s dressed like a Viking?'” Herewith, your cheat sheet to the new season of the community college-set comedy, as graciously provided by Professor Harmon.
• The show will play up reality but not dumb things down.
“Our train got a little cartoonish for some people last season. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing unless it impedes people’s ability to believe the characters are real. This season, a very vague fundamental goal is to ground the show just enough. And because I don’t want that to entail watering it down, my only recourse was to add a certain amount of intensity to the show. If sometimes doing things full‑bore means going off the rails and if that’s a bad thing, then instead of slowing down, I just want to add weight so that we stay on the rails and continue to go just as fast.”
• Harmon found a bit of unlikely inspiration for season 3 in The Wire.
“I thought it would be a fantastic idea to cast Michael Kenneth Williams, who played Omar on The Wire, as the biology teacher [Professor Kane]. It was a symbolic nod to the inspiration it provided me between seasons. I watched all five seasons. That’s a show that would be the opposite of season 2 of Community because you have to have watched every episode before the one you’re watching to understand what’s going on. And you absolutely believe that everything is truly happening and you become completely immersed. So, [we] looked at that as the South Pole to Community’s North Pole and said, ‘Let’s just take a couple buckets of ice from that pole.'”
• Professor Kane will try to teach Jeff a lesson.
“He’s a man that spent most of his life in a maximum-security prison where he taught himself biology and got his degree from behind bars. And this is his first job as a free man. And he takes this study of life very seriously … He doesn’t put on airs. He simply expects or deserves your full attention. And it’s like: Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), you’re full of yourself. There’s an automatic conflict there.”
• As Vice Dean Laybourne — from the Air Conditioning Repair school — John Goodman will send chills down Dean Pelton’s spine.
“We’ve actually been thinking about that since season 1, that there’s this annex on Greendale’s campus where the only thing of national renown that Greendale provides goes on and distances itself from Greendale proper … The Air Conditioning Repair Annex is a sleeping giant that is reawakening this year and renegotiating its contract with Greendale. [Laybourne is a] giant thorn that can stab you through the top of your head and impale your entire body into the ground. He’s a brute, omnipotent, impersonal cosmic force looming overhead that casts a big shadow and changes the circumstances for the Dean [Jim Rash], who just wants to be a good Dean and needs to get out from under this guy’s thumb.”
• Jeff will double major in frustration and humiliation.
“Jeff is going back to a position of anchoring the show, which is now about an ensemble of misfits, who are in their third chapter of a four‑chapter. It’s in this chapter that he’s going to receive the most punishment, because if this is a four‑chapter story as implied in the pilot, then he needs his four‑year degree … He will be humiliated. He will be frustrated. He will try to change himself in ways that only prove the bad things about himself. And most importantly, I think he will track down his dad and for the first time in his life, try to start opening up to people. And I don’t think it’s going to make him a different person than he is. He’s a narcissist and solipsist. His decision to start being a human being is going to be really hard for him. It’s going to be very fish-out-of-water.”
• Abed will start to face so many consequences, it’s almost criminal.
“I’m very interested in exploring the price of being Abed (Danny Pudi). We’ve all seen how much more powerful he is by virtue of his disconnection from other people. And we’ve gotten hints of the price that comes with. Are there things that he does that hurt other people unintentionally? Are there things that hurt him about being who he is? Abed’s the kind of guy that does not pay his parking tickets. If a parking sign makes no sense to him, then it makes no sense and they should make it more sense. And he’s not going to bother himself with a piece of paper that’s put on his windshield as a result of parking in his particular space. So, he’s probably got a lot of unpaid tickets and there may be a warrant out for his arrest.”
• Troy: No longer a boy. (Bad news for Jeff?)
“Troy (Donald Glover) is a hero figure to us in the writers’ room. We feel like we’ve watched him become a man last year. So we want to watch Troy continue to become a man, which is going to result in conflict between him and Jeff. Jeff’s a very guarded guy. Troy’s a very sincere guy. Troy is tomorrow and Jeff is potentially yesterday if Jeff doesn’t watch his step around a guy like Troy … Also, Troy’s going to make a vocational choice. He’s sort of surrendering to his natural gift for plumbing. But there’s going to be another avenue that will be pulling at him.”
• Britta chooses a controversial career path.
“Britta (Gillian Jacobs) is going to declare a major and she’s going to pursue that zealously. It’s going to bring her into a fair share of conflict with Abed. It’s probably the worst possible job you could ever imagine giving someone like Britta. It’s the place where someone like her could potentially cause the most damage.”
• New Annie goes up against Old Annie.
“Annie (Alison Brie) is going to acquire a serious rival, and her rival is the person that she used to be. The kind of person that succumbs to an Adderall addiction. The kind of person that is competitive against the entire world at the expense of relationships with other people. Annie needs to blossom into a confident woman and figure out what she really wants to do as she competes with this person as a sort of shadow of her former self.”
• Shirley is cooking up a business plan.
“Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) needs to hunker down. Having gotten her family back together, she’s got to decide that she’s staying at Greendale for a reason, and she’s going to try to be a businesswoman and get serious about her baked goods company.”
• Pierce: Not just Captain Crazy, but a captain of industry?
“Pierce (Chevy Chase) is going to have to get out from under the ghost of his dad. He’s been the heir to his father’s success for his whole life and he’s going to make a decision to put his own shingle out. He’s going to become an entrepreneur and he needs to make his own product and distinguish himself as a captain of industry.”
• Chang’s in charge!
“I felt like casting Chang adrift was a slight error. He sort of wandered like a Gollum figure in the underbrush. And this year I thought, ‘How can we capitalize on Ken Jeong? How can we focus this guy like a laser and use every ounce of his potential?’ And I think the answer lies in giving that character authority and power over others. I didn’t want to make him another teacher again, so he’s going to be a security guard. Not the kind that makes the campus more secure. The kind that makes it a more dangerous place to be. And I want to watch his ascent to power from that position.”
• There mostly likely will be blood.
“[The Halloween episode] is going to be an anthology. We’re sailing in the same ocean as [The Simpsons’] “Treehouse of Horror,” but at the same time I think we have permission to do that because that show’s been on for 40 years.”
• One scenario will feature six times more laughs.
“At a housewarming party for Troy and Abed’s apartment — they get an apartment together — they’re playing a game that involves dice and there’s a reason to roll the die. We see different permutations of the die roll … The direct inspiration for it was Run Lola Run. I wanted to watch the same sequence play out with one random event at the beginning that changes six different ways.”
On Twitter: @dansnierson