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To celebrate Community finally arriving on Netflix, EW is binging the beloved comedy with the cast and creator.
For the latest installment of EW's BINGE of Community, Danny Pudi, who played Abed, joins EW's Chancellor Agard and Derek Lawrence to look back at the NBC sitcom's fifth season, which many viewed as a major improvement on the lackluster fourth season. That upswing can mostly be attributed to creator Dan Harmon's return as showrunner after being dismissed at the end of season 3. For Pudi, having Harmon at the helm again lifted a weight off of his chest and helped set the tone for the year, which kicked off with a premiere that reset the show's premise.
"I do remember just hearing the news [of Harmon's return] and being so, so happy and just relieved — for me especially because playing Abed is such a unique voice, a very specific voice, and not having Dan there, it can be really difficult," says Pudi in the video above. "After season 4, which some people call it the gas leak year, we were very fortunate to keep the show going and that was miraculous. So I think Joel McHale, he did such an incredible job of bringing everyone back and getting Dan [back] ... So being back together in the 'Repilot,' reading the script, and feeling like, 'Wow, our show is back again, different but back in a new way.'"
As the cast and crew welcomed Harmon back, they also had to prepare to say goodbye to Donald Glover, who played Abed's Dreamatorium co-captain Troy Barnes and left the show in season 5. To be fair, no one was surprised by Glover's decision because his wide-ranging interests made it clear he was destined for even greater things.
"Our show had a lot of ups and downs as we are all familiar with. So by season 4, I think we knew it was going to be happening at some point. I remember vividly when Donald played me some music in his car — this was probably season 3 at some point — that he was working on, and it wasn't like one of your friends playing you a mixtape and you being like, 'Oh, that's pretty good,'" says Pudi. "I think this was 'Heartbeat' ... And I was like, 'Oh, this is like real good, Donald.' And immediately, I was like, 'Oh, you're gone.' But for all of us, I think we were just supportive of each other, being just grateful that we had a chance to make it that far."
Glover's departure ended up yielding two of the show's best episodes: "Cooperative Polygraphy," a bottle episode in which the recently deceased Pierce (Chevy Chase) leaves Troy his entire fortune on the condition that he abandons the Greendale nest, and "Geothermal Escapism," which homaged post-apocalypse movies and sent Troy off with a campus-wide game of Lava.
"It was kind of nice to be able to grieve in a show where you're grieving about your real-life friend saying goodbye," says Pudi. "I kind of feel like the lie detector episode was what our show started as in many ways — us sitting around the table being honest, revealing secrets — and then Hot Lava was what our show became, which was this out-of-this-world other show. So, to be able to do that — really have a two-part send-off for Donald — was great because we got a chance to go on an adventure, get out of Greendale's normal classroom settings, but also have moments where we were actually truly saying goodbye to our friend."
If there was a bright side to losing Troy, it was that it allowed the show to explore Abed's relationships with other characters — from new Save Greendale Committee member Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks) to Abed's girlfriend Rachel (Brie Larson).
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"It's funny, we made a bit of it while we were filming, because as soon as Donald left, every character that was paired with me, we just kept yelling, 'New Troy!' which was really fun," he says. "It's a chance, for the first time I think in many ways, for Abed to be really paired with a lot of different people in a different perspective. So, he's forced to grow, he's forced to learn, and that was exciting for me to be paired with all of these different people. [It was also] very uncomfortable for me, Danny, and for Abed [because] we went from this sort of easygoing, almost childlike comedic duo to all of a sudden Abed has to grow up real fast." He especially loved exploring Abed's romantic side because it showed that Abed is "a full person with a full life."
For more from Pudi on season 5 — including his thoughts on the David Fincher-esque Ass Crack Bandit episode — watch the latest installment of EW's BINGE of Community above. And check back tomorrow for season 6's episode with Gillian Jacobs.