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War breaks out tonight on Community, with two different fort-construction materials at its center. Titled “Digital Exploration of Interior Design,” the episode of the NBC sitcom was previewed at WonderCon, where series creator Dan Harmon, stars Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs and Ken Jeong, writer Chris McKenna and story editor Steve Basilone entered a room packed with fans clamoring for details about the show’s recent midseason return.
“I’ve been ridiculed for doing this because Dan Harmon is dead inside. It’s no small thing you guys did,” Brown said, referring to the outpouring of support after the show went on midseason hiatus. “We feel how much we care for you, we care for you back. We just want to say the fact you guys walked away from your computers and watched us live is really huge.”
“I think one of the biggest thing you guys did that probably happened over the hiatus was a combination of the episodes being on Hulu and you guys [telling people to catch up],” Harmon added. “You guys can keep doing that, being passionate about the show and telling your friends.”
Tonight’s episode features a huge product placement with Subway. Following the events of the midseason return, Dean Pelton (played by Jim Rash) decides to open a Subway sandwich shop in the Greendale Community College cafeteria. Harmon revealed the fast-food chain actually approached the show.
“They’re pretty liberal and progressive about their product placement,” he said. “I’m not one of those writers who’s afraid of ruining everything, but I have to have complete control.” Harmon further developed the concept for the episode when Subway put very few restrictions on him. “[They asked] ‘What if we just gave you this amount of money and we don’t care what you did?’ … It’s not like we want to vilify our product placement, but we need to tell a story with it.”
Another development that began with the midseason premiere was Shirley (Brown) teaming with Pierce (Chevy Chase) for a business venture, something Brown said made for a good amount of entertainment.
“Shirley and Pierce are kind of like oil and water, and it’s fun to see them together, and I don’t think she likes him very much,” she said, asking Harmon, “Does she like him very much?”
“Well, she’s human, so no.” he replied.
Brown also teased further interaction between Shirley and Jeff (Joel McHale), referencing the gossip episode from Season 1 that explored the friendship between the two characters.
“That was also the first time Joel and I as actors worked together,” she said. “Now we’re two seasons down the line and we’re already friends. Getting him all by myself … we found out there’s a nice little sweetness of Shirley and Jeff together. Thankfully, the writers have written maybe three or four more times this season.”
“We gotta get back to that gossip story from the first season,” Harmon said. “It’s weird in TV. You’re selling heads on a box. Another part of your job is to think like a producer douche, like, ‘Put her next to him, she pops!’ … Somehow Yvette next to Joel works.”
The discussion shifted to the popular Season 3 episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” which presented seven different realities of the same situation.
“I think it was as ambitious for us to shoot as it was to write,” said Jacobs, who plays Britta. “We were shooting it the week up until it aired. It was so exciting because it was so ambitious.”
“That one we had to air a week out of order precisely because we needed an extra week in the edit bay,” Harmon recalled. “I hate shuffling the order because it confuses people.”
He noted the midseason-return episode also aired out of order. “It was something we had to do for political reasons,” he said. “We’re coming back on the air, let’s really roll out the red carpet for [the audience] with a grounded episode that doesn’t confuse the hell out of them.”
Jeong also spoke to some upcoming developments for Spanish teacher-turned student-turned security guard Ben Chang, noting this season’s arc has been his favorite for the character.
“There’s nothing I want to say except it’s my favorite Chang arc of the series,” he said. “This arc of Chang is my favorite. It combines the authority of Season 1 with the patheticness of Season 2. … I can’t wait for you guys to see it. It’s personally some of the favorite stuff I’ve done on the show.”
Harmon provided some insight into the creation and evolution of Britta, who began as a metaphorical carrot for Jeff to chase.
“When I wrote the pilot, I needed a carrot for this rapscallion character Jeff Winger, so Gillian had to play the role of the girl the guy wants,” he said. “There’s no more dimension than that. That’s what the character was in the pilot, and I figured if we got picked up, we’d figure it out then.”
After the show got picked up, Harmon spoke about the Britta character with writer Hilary Winston, who told him, “I don’t like her. I wouldn’t trust her, I feel like if I went shoe shopping with her and acted like a woman, she’d punish me for it.”
“Instead of changing the character, I figured that’s the person Britta is,” Harmon said. “She’s the person women don’t like.”
He also mentioned that Britta’s much-mocked pronunciation of “bagel” as “bah-gul” comes directly from him. “I just gave Britta that trait,” Harmon said. “I think that’s what male writers need to do more sometimes. You have to turn off the part of your brain that separates characters by gender.”
After Brown mentioned diversity, Harmon launched into a joking monologue intended to get a rise out of the actress. “Black people are completely specific,” he joked as Brown tried in vain to stop him. “They have a list of qualities that they share with each other. I am a race expert! I’ll be speaking at RaceCon!”
After the laughter died down, Jacobs addressed how much she enjoys portraying Britta.
“I like her tough skin because she withstands a lot of abuse and doesn’t learn from it,” she said. “I just love playing Britta. I think it’s a gift as an actress to play a character like this. I’m just glad people have embraced the Brittaness of Britta.”
As the panel began to wind down, Harmon was asked about the possibility of another paintball episode. “Not this season. I’m sorry about that. I hope you guys understand,” he said. “I couldn’t think of why it wouldn’t be hack. It doesn’t mean I rule it out. I’m not being a refuse-nik. I think it means fourth season we’ll do something awesome paintball-wise. The obvious thing would be to do 1920s Chicago Tommy gun paintball thing. After you [introduce] it, what’s left?”
Don’t miss CBR TV’s interview at WonderCon with star Gillian Jacobs below. Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.