Everyone knows that I am a Survivor guy, first and foremost, forever and always. To me it is the greatest show that has ever been on television and for the last few years, I can’t even remember having a social life that existed on a Thursday.
As a result, I didn’t get to see a lot of what many called the best new comedy of the season last year. Citytv’s import of the NBC hit, Community. With Survivor‘s move to Wednesday’s this season, I have finally been able to catch the show and totally see why it has been touted with such critical acclaim.
The show revolves around the idea of a smarmy lawyer (played by The Soup‘s Joel McHale), whose education is deemed void by the bar being forced to attend a local community college with an extremely eclectic staff and student body.
During the Citytv upfront presentation in June (which, if I am calling a spade, a spade was the best Canadian Fall Schedule presentation this summer), I had the chance to interview the cast of the show and discuss with Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie and Danny Pudi why Community has become so popular.
For Donald Glover, who plays Troy Barnes, the show doesn’t feel like a job and he pointed to that aspect of it as being an important aspect of its success.
“I go there and it doesn’t feel like work,” Glover said. “But like when I’m on set I’m just like, oh I’m getting paid to goof around.”
Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays Shirley Bennett said that she knew from the table reads that the show was a knockout and it was primarily because of the chemistry shared amongst the cast.
“There was a time for me at the first table meet we had when everybody was there and everybody was doing their thing where I thought, oh my God, this might actually work,” she said. “So I think that the audience kind of sees that we’re getting along and we’re having a good time and I think that translates, so… I hope that’s what they’re seeing, is our love for each other.”
One of the aspects of the show that, ironically enough, keeps it so fresh are the plethora of pop culture references that are made, particularly by Danny Pudi’s character, Abed. The actor himself, admitted, that sometimes these go over his head and he while he was worried at first, he has now grown into appreciating the throwbacks.
“At first I was a little bit worried because I wasn’t sure exactly what the writers had in mind of course. We’re all learning as we go, so it doesn’t really worry me as much anymore because I kind of get it,” he said. “This is my character — my character Abed, this is how he sees the world. This is how I see the world and as long as it comes from that place where references aren’t just references for the sake of references or doing something like that. But [if] it comes from a grounded place where I’m relating it to a character situation where maybe Britta and Jeff are playing these roles like Sam and Diane or something like that, then it makes sense and I think our show allows itself to kind of do that.”
Alison Brie said that referencing other TV shows and characters make the show more relatable and believable.
“And to me it sort of makes it more relatable because in real life I feel like you compare people to people on TV all the time so why wouldn’t the characters that you watch on TV, if they’re supposed to exist in any kind of real place, not kind of do the same things if they’ve grown up watching the same shows you know?”
As I have been catching up on Community episodes this season, I found myself constantly using my computer as I watch to make sure I didn’t miss any of the referential humor and the actors said that sometimes they also have to do their research according to Pudi.
“All the time, Monday’s, I will get our table read, I’ll get our script and I’ll be like, ‘Alison, what is he talking about?’ And we’re Googling it, youtubing it, and being like, ‘Oh, okay, this is from My Bodyguard, a film with Matt Dillon that I’ve never heard of.’
Alison Brie credited the show’s creator for being the pop culture guru.
“Dan Harmon, our creator, is just like, he’s an encyclopedia with those types of things. So, it’s all of us across the board,” she said. “There are some that we get and then there are some that were, that we’ll ask each other about, then there’s some that we’re embarrassed that we don’t know.”
Yvette Nicole Brown pointed to the way that the different references unite varying generations of TV viewers and give Community an ageless appeal.
“Like there’s things that Chevy’s [Chase] generation can understand, my generation, Donald’s generation,” she said. “There’s something for everybody in it and if you miss one joke and it went over your head, the next one will hit you right where you are.”
Ultimately, though, just like any other popular program, the writing works with the characters and that is a fact that cannot be lost. Pudi talked about a scene in the first season’s chicken finger episode that featured the Goodfella homage not for its comedy but because of how much light it shed on the relationship between Abed and Jeff.
“To me, that was one of the most honest scenes I had been in all season and I think what makes that episode great is that we do have this spoof going on but at the bottom of it, at the root of it there are these characters figuring out what drives them,” he said.
“And you can trace that — I think you can make parallel to terms with of any episode that we’ve done that’s been a heavy, heavy in the oomph category, has also been heavy in discovering further details about a relationship between two characters,” she said.
The actress who plays Annie Edison talked about the paintball episode which highlighted the dynamic between Jeff and Britta and the Buddy Cop episode where she shared poignant scenes with Yvette Nicole Brown as being examples.
Pudi said that is the heart of the show and credited the writers for never losing focus.
“We’re all on the same page, yeah. They’ll say something like, “we don’t want this to be just a spoof, it’s not about that.” What’s fun is to be able to go there but it has to have — the characters need to be doing it for a reason. There always needs to be that reason.”
Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Citytv and NBC.
Tags: Alison Brie, Community, Donald Glover