To celebrate Community finally arriving on Netflix, EW is binging the beloved comedy with the cast and creator.
First seasons are notoriously tough, as the actors work to embody their characters and the writers try to nail down the exact show that they want to be making. This trial and error eventually leads to the right formula, paving way for a season 2 in which everyone is firing on all cylinders. In fact, the sophomore installments are often the peak of a show, whether it be The Office, Sons of Anarchy, and, arguably, Community.
"You could tell there was a confidence and excitement and stories to be told on Community that makes the second season so special and so genre-bending," says Ken Jeong on the latest episode of EW's BINGE of Community, which can be watched above. "I remember the first five or six episodes, they were all high-concept. They were all just on a paintball level. After the Apollo 13 episode ("Basic Rocket Science"), I looked at Danny [Pudi], we were just walking back to set from the table read, and we were like, 'Is every episode going to be like this? This blows my mind.' I felt like every week the writers were trying to top themselves, in terms of concept, in terms of originality. We just looked at each other like, 'Wow. This is like Christmas every day.'"
On season 2's installment of BINGE, hosts Chancellor Agard and Derek Lawrence are joined together by Jeong and Yvette Nicole Brown, who played Ben Chang and Shirley Bennett, respectively. The duo were a natural pair on the episode considering one of the bigger season 2 story lines centers on Shirley and Chang's zombie-fueled hookup in the Halloween-set "Epidemiology" and the subsequent mystery over the paternity of Shirley's unborn son. "I found out in the table read," recalls Brown. "We were shocked." Adds Jeong: "You basically saw where anything and everything is possible on Community."
In the end, the baby would be named Ben, but the father turned out to be her ex-husband Andre, played by Cosby Show alum Malcom-Jamal Warner, who landed the role after some campaigning from Brown. "I had the hugest crush on Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and I set the stage for him to be Andre," she reveals. "In season one, I went to [creator] Dan Harmon and [producers Joe and Anthony] Russos, and I was like, 'Guys, listen. If we ever see Andre, it has to be Malcolm-Jamal Warner — if Shirley reconciles with him.' I was like, 'Only if it's going to be a pretty picture. If it's not going to be a pretty picture, pick whoever you want for Andre and make Malcolm her new boyfriend.' But I was planning to have my time with Malcolm-Jamal Warner."
While Brown was angling for Shirley's new old man, Jeong was waiting to see where Chang fit in the study group. Originally serving as their unstable Spanish teacher, Chang was fired at the end of season 1 and returned the next semester as a student who desperately wanted a seat at that famous table. "I think there was a push from the studio or network to make me more part of the study group, and then I think Dan liked me being the outsider," shares Jeong. "There was a back and forth, to be honest. I didn't know about any of these things until years later. And putting my own producer's hat, I understand that. There have been characters on my own shows where I'm trying to decide, 'where is that placement?' And I thought Dan did something very brilliant, and they're like, 'Let's let that play out in real time.'"
Chang's role would continue to shift throughout the series, as he'd go from teacher to student to security guard to evil dictator to the allegedly Changnesia-suffering Kevin. "Community really stretched me as an actor," says Jeong. "I got to play — in my head — a different character each season. By the time I had my own project, I went in there with an abundance of confidence, like, 'Oh, I can handle this.' And I felt like Community gave me [that] confidence...Community is where I really learned how to act. It was on the job training."
For more from these Greendale alums, including the "comedic gold" scene that Brown wishes she was in, watch the latest installment of EW's BINGE of Community. And check back Sunday for season 3's episode with Alison Brie.