Though NBC's "Community" had a tumultuous summer, culminating in creator Dan Harmon's high-profile exit and the introduction of two new showrunners (David Guarascio and Moses Port), we would hate to see backstage drama destroy one of the most original, inventive and outlandish comedies on TV today.
When HuffPost TV spoke to the cast at Comic-Con, they had yet to begin filming, so it was hard to gauge how much impact the creative switch would have on the show as a whole. Now, "Community" is a few episodes into filming its new season and Danny Pudi spoke with HuffPost TV about the direction of the show and how he's feeling about Season 4 as a whole. Thankfully, after speaking to Pudi -- who was refreshingly candid and as hilarious as ever -- there's reason to be optimistic about what the new season has in store and about the cast being as invested in maintaining the integrity of "Community" as the fans are.
Read on for Pudi's take on Season 4, Troy and Abed's evolving relationship, the impact of Harmon's exit, and his involvement with various webseries -- including whether he'd be open to an "Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time" (a.k.a. the unofficial "Inspector Spacetime" series) cameo.
Everything was wrapped up very neatly in last season's finale, so where does the study group go from there?
I don’t know. But if you’d have asked me at the end of Season 1 where the study group goes from here I would’ve said, I just don’t know. [Laughs.] I wouldn’t have told you that we were going to go on a space bus or end up doing a “My Dinner With Andre” homage! So I don’t know. It’s senior year, technically, at Greendale College, so I think there’s that aspect that we can explore. What’s it like to be a senior at Greendale? And we certainly start tackling that from the start of Season 4, especially with Abed.
When we last left him with the Dreamatorium, in this fragile, broken state of mind, there were a lot of things that we were exploring; the changing dynamics in Troy [Donald Glover] and Abed’s friendship as well as the realization that Abed can’t control everything. And you start seeing how Britta [Gillian Jacobs] is urging Abed to go to therapy as well as how Abed reacts to knowing that this is his senior year with the study group. What does that mean after they have to go on?
At Comic-Con, I think it was pointed out that even if some people are supposed to graduate, it doesn't necessarily mean that the group has to break up, since they're actually a makeshift family now.
Yeah. I think we’ve already alluded to knowing that Pierce [Chevy Chase] has been at Greendale for a number of years. But I’ve joked about it in the past, that I’ve always thought it’d be a funny idea if Abed was sort of a Richard Alpert that’s never aged, but if we opened a dusty old Greendale yearbook from 1924 there’s going to be a picture of Abed looking exactly how he looks right now. So who knows? Maybe there’s some magical road that we’re destined to end on here.
Last season saw more of a serialized approach to some episodes. Is that going to continue, or are there more self-contained stories?
No, definitely this year there’s things that we’re addressing, and we’re dealing with the consequences of that. I think already, early on this season, one of the big things that we’re addressing is, we’re meeting Jeff Winger’s [Joel McHale] father -- which I think is especially important for the character development of Jeff Winger. But also I think as a fan of the show, I’ve always been interested in knowing, "Who is the guy that made Jeff Winger, Jeff Winger? Who’s the guy that’s given this guy his ability to talk his way out of anything?" At the same time, maybe that’s who he’s been text messaging all the time with his phone ... [Laughs.] I’m wondering.
In the premiere, we're already addressing what took place at the end of last year. And it is senior year now, so how are we going to approach this year? What’s going to make this year different? I think that’s it in terms of thematically larger episodes. Out of the first five, the Halloween episode is pretty fun. It's a typical one-off "Community" Halloween episode where we all go on a mission. And this particular mission involves Pierce’s mansion. I think people will like that.
Can you reveal what your costume is yet, or are you keeping it under wraps?
I can’t reveal it. But you know what? It’s one of those that’s worth waiting to see on camera for the reveal. I think the audience will really, really, really love it. It’s a great campus costume. I can just say that it is both Troy and Abed. We have to be together for this costume to work.
We know there's going to be an "Inspector Spacetime" convention episode, and Tricia Helfer's involved -- can you say anything about that episode specifically?
Yeah, I can not only say something, but I can emote something. [Makes high-pitched dreamy sigh.] I don’t even know what that is. It’s smileful giggles. That was pretty incredible, to see her on set, in the makeup trailer. It made my year. It was pretty cool. I also got to work in that episode with Matt Lucas, who was fantastic. I’m such a huge fan of him, and working with him ... he’s a really generous actor on top of being really hilarious, and I think the fans are really going to dig his role in that episode. To me he makes perfect sense for being this character at an Inspector Spacetime Convention. He’s a fanboy like Abed in many ways. I think the fans will get a kick out of watching both Abed and Matt Lucas’ character together.
You mentioned Troy and Abed's joint Halloween costume, so I'm assuming they're back on track? They had a fair amount of growth and conflict last season, but obviously their friendship is such a cornerstone of the show.
Yeah. I think, judging by their Halloween costume, they’re in a good place, I will say that. [Laughs.] I think what’s been nice is they had to sort of work through those tough times in the blanket and pillow war. So this is a new understanding of each other. I think everything came easy to Troy and Abed since they first met. They just understood each other with their nonsensical Spanish raps and all. And so I think it was important to show what would it be like if each character had to do their own thing. Because usually Troy and Abed just agree on everything. But some things might not be right for Abed that are right for Troy, and vice versa. I think they reached a common understanding that they are the best friends, but they also know that sometimes they each have to do their own thing, whether it’s AC repair school or the Dreamatorium. So yeah, they’re back, and there are a couple of really fun tags as well that we’ve already done this year that I think people will like.
How much impact has Dan Harmon's absence had for the show on a day-to-day basis? Is it business as usual?
It’s still business but, I mean, there is definitely an impact. It’s been hard because it’s not like we’ve been able to sort of grieve appropriately, because it happened while we were gone. I’m super thankful for what Dan did, because without Dan there would be no Abed, and I wouldn’t have this wonderful role in this wonderful show to work on. A large part of the show has been the creations and the imagination of Dan Harmon, so I’m forever grateful for that. But in terms of the show, we’re all really busy. We’re back at it. Our fifth episode is out, and I think we’re sort of getting into a rhythm here.
The cast is just really, really incredible. It’s just good to be back with everyone. I think we miss each other and we also realize how much we miss goofing around with each other. There was multiple scenes where me, Alison [Brie], and Donald are in this one scene together -- I don’t want to say what it is, but Annie, Troy and Abed are together concocting a plan and each time on camera we’re fighting to either get a weird dance in or a strange inside joke from the debate episode in. Last year, for instance, Alison, and I were trying to get this weird high five into an episode all year, but they were cutting it in the editing bay. It’s moments like that that I still live for and that I think I’m excited about because they’re still there; we’re having fun. On top of that we have a great director, Tristram Shapeero, who’s our executive producer this year, who’s been with us since the chicken fingers episode of Season 1. He’s been really great at helping us through this transition process with all the new writers. It’s nice to have someone with sort of an outside eye being able to look at the scenes and the episodes, and tell us, are we staying true to who we are?
As you mentioned, you have a lot of new writers. Have you noticed a difference in scripts or tone?
I have noticed a little difference. I think it’s natural. I think we’ve noticed differences in all three seasons. I think that’s what kind of makes our show special too, though, is that you just really never know what to expect. But it’s kind of been the same about our show, which I think people are either drawn to or not. You can’t tune in one week and expect to see what you saw last week. But in terms of this year I think, yeah, the writers are getting up to speed, and though we miss Dan, I’m excited to see what their new spin is.
You've been doing a number of videos and campaigns for Speed Stick online. What's your latest installment?
Well we unveiled the contest winner of our Speed Stick “Handle It” Campaign, which we started a couple of months ago. We asked guys to send in their uncomfortable, sometimes hilarious situations that they’ve been in, where they’re able to conquer, and keep cool under pressure. We got some really great responses. The winner was picked, and we made it into a video that I narrated with my sheer panic voice -- my internal voice, which is my external voice in real life. [Laughs.] We made that video and it's live on YouTube’s Speed Stick page. It involves a gentleman shrinking his girlfriend’s laundry ...
You've also got a hilarious new webseries going on. How did "The Book Club" come about?
It actually came in through another “Community” connection. Justin Lin, who directed our first paintball episode and directed the “Fast and Furious” movies, he had been given this opportunity to produce some content for a YouTube channel. He asked me if I had any ideas, and so I got together with a couple of buddies, and it was a fun project for us. It was kind of a new experience, where we did everything in terms of writing, directing, producing.
Me and my two friends Chris Marrs and Tim Kendall came together. We had done another video for their organization called “Blowout Sale,” and they likened the tone of that. They wanted something kind of fun and playful, and so we came up with this idea to do a series about a book club meeting that goes into weird places each week. It’s an excuse for us to blow things up and to go on action adventures. We’ve done six episodes, of increasing craziness.
Speaking of webseries, have you seen Travis Richey's unofficial "Inspector Spacetime" series that can't legally be called "Inspector Spacetime"? [Called "Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time."]
It’s got the longest title of all time! I actually have not seen it, but I just heard about it. I need to watch it, actually. But I actually ran into Travis not too long ago at the ”Six Seasons and a Movie” art show in Downtown Los Angeles. I’m actually really eager to see it. It’s an exciting time to kind of see all these weird offshoots going, and see what people come up with on the fly, on the Internet. And for me, that’s pretty exciting, especially when it has something to do with “Community.”
Would it break the fourth wall too much for you to do a cameo?
I think that’d be awesome. It would be like Abed’s role on “Cougar Town.” Maybe he’ll be an Inspector stand-in ...
What are you looking forward to seeing most in the new season?