“As Weird as You Always Wanted Them to Be”: Dan Harmon and ‘Community’s’ Cast on What to Expect in Season 6

AUSTIN, TX: “I wanna ask, do you ever think, ‘This show sucks now?'” The question was posed at the Community SXSW panel not by a pushy journalist or a gauche audience member, but, of course, by the show’s creator Dan Harmon — a writer known perhaps as much for his scalding self-doubt and candor as for his scripts and characters. The question was posed to the small group he began the panel with, original regulars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, and Alison Brie, out of concern for the way some of their cast mates have fled the show. But Brie responded by shifting the focus: “There may have been one season where we thought that,” she replied, to an appreciative roar from the crowd.

It was an in-joke for the fans, and the Austin crowd was a fine representation of one of the most dedicated fan bases in all of television — one that cheered, analyzed, and championed the show through five low-rated seasons as the redheaded stepchild of NBC’s Thursday night lineup, and now into its much-requested sixth season on Yahoo. They got a few little tidbits Sunday about what to expect next season: episodes will run a little longer, they won’t suddenly go dirtier than they did on the network, there will be a “Karate Kid episode,” and yes, they’re doing another paintball show.

But more than anything, it was an hour to enjoy the camaraderie of a cast that’s been doing this for a very long time now, and to meet its new additions. Joining the cast this year are character actor Keith David and TV mainstay Paget Brewster (“She spent the last, what, 25 years on Criminal Minds?” quipped McHale). Both talked — and seemed sincere! — about it being a happy set, which hasn’t always been the show’s reputation.

The cast and crew of "Community" at SXSW.

But that happiness comes at a price, according to Harmon. “It’s actually horrible, because Chris [McKenna, executive producer] and I are finally just in charge,” he explained. “There’s nobody above us, and there’s nobody even on the side of us that’s doing a bad job of helping, or anything. Everything that we complained about for five years is finally solved. And now it’s just us, and we’re just falling apart.”

“We have so much rope, there’s just nooses all over the place,” McKenna laughed.

The main freedom allowed by their new “network,” it seems, really just falls into the realm of being a little bit weirder. “In the smaller moments, where someone’s just having a crazy rant, that rant gets to live a little longer,” Brie explained. “Things can be as weird as you always wanted them to be.”

“There’s a moment in particular that reminds me of,” Harmon agreed, “where Britta references Jeff being hoisted by his own petard, but something in the way she uses it makes Jeff go, ‘What do you think hoisted by your own petard means?’ And her answer is three pages long… If it was on NBC, you’d get two commercials during that explanation.”

The cast and crew of "Community" at SXSW.

The other big difference, according to both Harmon and the cast, is the degree to which their new broadcaster seems interested in such novel concepts as promotion. “We were like, ‘No one’s ever had a plan for us, no one’s ever spent money on us,’” joked Gillian Jacobs, aping their wide-eyed wonder. Harmon concurred: “It’s like the scene in the movie where the orphan sits down to the potato soup…”

When the panel went to the audience for questions, the inevitable query was posed — now that they’ve achieved the first half of the fan rallying cry/hashtag #SixSeasonsAndAMovie, well, will there be a movie?

“Yahoo seems down for just about anything,” Harmon shrugged. “They have purple beer there at their campus, their name has an exclamation mark in it, I don’t know why they’d turn their nose up at a movie of a low-rated show. They seem to be very naïve!”

Community premieres Tuesday on Yahoo!

Photo credits: Jason Bailey / Flavorwire