Joel McHale and Jim Rash on Community season 4: 'It was a very different feeling'
To celebrate Community finally arriving on Netflix, EW is binging the beloved comedy with the cast and creator.
Not even a gas leak can stop us from talking Community season 4.
On EW's latest BINGE series, hosts Chancellor Agard and Derek Lawrence are going through the cult classic comedy, and the time has arrived to cover Community's most infamous season, which was made after creator Dan Harmon was fired (he would return for seasons 5 and 6). Guest Jim Rash, who starred as the costume-loving Dean Pelton, admits that "it was a bit of challenge" without Harmon, or as Rash calls him, "the beating heart of Community."
"There are certain shows that need the person that created them to be with the show," says fellow guest Joel McHale, who played Jeff Winger and was instrumental in eventually bringing Harmon back. "There's very good examples of that, like Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Vampire Diaries, or even X-Files. And the person creates has the culture in their brain...The season definitely lost that magic part of it."
He continued: "For those of you that enjoyed the fourth season — hey, thank you so much. And I hope it doesn't look like we're sitting here complaining about the show that we were on. But, when you're in it, it is your job and it takes up a lot of hours. And yeah, you're paid well for it, but that doesn't mean you don't want to make great stuff...There's still some really good laughs, I think. If you enjoy the series and enjoy the fourth season just as much, then please tell me to shut up. But that's being in it. It was a very different feeling."
While season 4, a.k.a. "the gas leak year," isn't considered to be on par with the rest of the run, there was one episode that stands out no matter the season. A year after winning the Oscar for co-writing The Descendants, Rash penned his first (and only) installment of Community. Rash says he originally had an idea, but once that didn't seem strong enough to hold an entire episode, he visited the writer's room and spotted the words "Freaky Friday" up on the board, and soon the plan was conceived to combine that with the staff's desire to find a story line to break up Troy (Donald Glover) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs). "Basic Human Anatomy," one of the comedy's most emotional half-hours, follows Troy's struggle to work up the courage to end his relationship, leading to him and Abed (Danny Pudi) pretending to switch bodies.
"The main conceit of it fell on Danny and Donald's shoulders, which was to basically play each other, and they both did it quite brilliantly," explains Rash. "They know each other so well. They had picked up on each other's mannerisms. That's part of the challenge and obviously they made that happen. But I think that at the core, if you stick with the emotional idea that Troy cannot say the words, and in an act of desperation convinces Abed that they've switched bodies, and Abed realizes what Troy is asking him to do. Britta starts to realize what Abed is doing for his friend, and, ultimately, Troy says, 'I have to grow up' with the help of Jeff, and switch back and be a man in this moment.' The emotional core of that story allows the concept to help it along without being a spoof. And then we were able to have fun with the stupidity of switching bodies by having the Dean just pretend like he switched bodies with Jeff for no apparent reason other than to have a speech where he said that Jeff was inside of him. And I really think that was the way to have the lunacy and also have the heart at the same time, with the same concept."
The other big dramatic story line in season 4 featured Jeff finally coming face-to-face with his estranged father (played by the legendary James Brolin), as well as his man-child younger brother (Adam Devine). But McHale reveals that this meeting most likely would have never happened if Harmon was still around.
"Well, I was just happy to meet James Brolin," jokes McHale. "It's funny because I think Dan, and I could be talking out of turn here, I don't think Dan ever wanted him to actually meet his dad. I think he wanted him to be like a [John] Doe kind of. But I will say that James Brolin is an incredibly nice man, and his son [Josh Brolin] is a terrible actor and not successful. Oh wait, he's done okay. I think the funniest person... I mean, Adam DeVine is so f---ing funny. And then you had Gillian [Jacobs] in all those scenes too, and I thought they need to do a romantic comedy because they're so funny together. Once that had had happened and that stuff got worked out then Dan did not go back to it in season 5. But I thought James Brolin was a really nice guy. I think he later said it in an interview like, 'I didn't really get the show, but my daughter wanted me to be in it,' and I was like, 'Well, I understand that.'"
For more from McHale and Rash, including Rash talking the Dean's fabulous wardrobe, watch the latest installment of EW's BINGE of Community above. And check back on Tuesday for season 5's episode with Danny Pudi.