Our world looked a lot like The Darkest Timeline after Community was pulled from NBC's schedule. But throughout the almost four-month ordeal, Joel McHale and the cast of Community were continually amazed by fan-support (from flash mobs to avatar-goateeing), which is just one of the reasons why they are thrilled the show returns to Thursdays at 8 p.m. tonight!
To further promote Greendale classes being back in session, Joel rang up TheInsider.com for a chat about life during hiatus, what fans can expect from these upcoming episodes and how he's feeling about a season four!
Insider.com: Congrats on the return of Community -- did it come about sooner or later than you were expecting?
Joel McHale: It was sooner than I thought. I think some people thought we were never coming back, but [NBC entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt really reassured me that we would be. It was sooner than April, which is what most people thought. I'm excited we're back, let's see if we can get a 1.8 (rating) or something [laughs].
Insider: What do you feel NBC's expectations for the show are now?
Joel: I don't know what their expectations for us are, but I assume it's for us to have the same kind of ratings. I mean, we're back at the same spot, so there was a moment of, "You saw what our numbers were and didn't change anything,” so..." I would have liked a lead-in, but I'm just glad to be back in any capacity.
Insider: Was it strange at all continuing to film the show without knowing when or if it would air?
Joel: It wasn't bizarre for me, I think it was weird for some of the cast. Dan [Harmon, creator] was pretty depressed when the show went on hiatus. I've made a number of TV pilots and there's a sense that all you can do is show up for work and hope for the best. I've always kind of kept that attitude. I knew it was coming back, so it wasn't like Lord of the Flies where all of a sudden we'd lost our minds. Plus, we knew the episodes we were making are good and funny and that fans will love them.
Insider: Community and Cougar Town not only share actors from time-to-time, but also this perception of not being able to gain traction in the public's consciousness. Why do you think that is? Are these shows just too smart for the room?
Joel: I don't think so -- if people weren't getting it we'd have no viewers at all. We wouldn't have the online community that supports the show by making 'shipper videos on YouTube. They're rabid and it's incredibly great. It affirms Dan's writing and our performances. There's a lot of people who really get it -- just not as many as we'd like. There's not a lot of people I talk to who say, "Yea, I watched Community twice and it made no sense to me, so I checked out." Young people recognize me from the show, but older people have never even heard of the show, and that's disconcerting to me -- I think awareness of the show is very low. We've never had a real launch for premiere.
Insider: Was it comforting to have such an outpouring of fan support during the hiatus?
Joel: The outcry was great. What was very surprising to me is how it grew. There was this perception that the hubbub would die down after a few weeks, but it didn't – it only became louder and that was very great. The fans were much more aggressive about voicing their complaint.
Insider: To reward the dedicated, what are you excited for them to see with these episodes?
Joel: I'm very excited about the blanket fort war. Very excited about the Law & Order episode. I'm really excited for Gillian [Jacobs] to look like an older Michael Jackson. I think you saw that in the three-minute teaser. I'm excited for that episode -- French Stewart plays a thug and he's so funny. He delivers some jokes so brilliantly I kept having to turn away because I was laughing so hard. Then there was this trending topic on Twitter, #ChangWillRise – he assembles an army. The group is having to deal with some outside forces that are very powerful. Then, we also get expelled – I'm really excited for that journey.
Insider: It's also been revealed that another Annie/Abed kiss is coming -- does that mean Annie & Jeff's flirtation is over?
Joel: No, it's still all over the map. It's messy and Dan will say that it's not ever really set. When people stay in groups, they tend to mix and match, so one moment it will seem like one couple but the next moment, it's another. These 12 episodes coming up are very much focused on the group coming together to fight off outside powers – from Chang, to expulsion to John Goodman. For these 12 episodes, we have to come together to fight these outside powers.
Insider: With this expulsion and an impending death, some fans are asking if these episodes are treated like the end of a series or a continuation of the story. Which is it?
Joel: They're absolutely a continuation of a show that will have a fourth season. The same thing happened with Parks & Rec – they were taken off the air and everyone was told it was coming back. When you're not on the air, it's scary by the nature of the thing. But there was no talk on set like, "Well, this could be our last take here" or anything like that. None from anyone. With almost any network show, you can only feel confident that it's on the air when you're looking at yourself on television. We were all having a good time because we genuinely like each other, which is rare – so we just enjoyed our time together and are hoping for the best.
Insider: I think fans sense that -- especially since no one on the cast went out for pilots. That always makes fans nervous even if it's just a second position gig.
Joel: Yea. Without trying to sound overconfident in any way, that is more evidence that we believe in the show. Granted, the network has to give you permission to do a pilot, but I don't think anyone asked. I didn't. I love the show that I’m on.
Community returns tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC.
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- Joel McHale