Community Dan Harmon 2nd Season Interview

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Dan Harmon walks us through Community’s second season (part 1 of 4) By Todd VanDerWerff June 7, 2011 ARTICLE TOOLS       Email Print Share MORE THE WALKTHROUGH      Rob Corddry walks us through Childrens Hospital’s third season Rob Corddry walks us through Childrens Hospital’s third season Rob Corddry walks us through Childrens Hospital’s third season Vince Gilligan walks us through Breaking Bad’s fourth season (Part 4 of 4) Vince Gilligan walks us through Breaking Bad’s 4th seas
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  Dan Harmon walks us through Community ’s second season (part 1 of 4) By Todd VanDerWerff  June 7, 2011 ARTICLE TOOLS             Email     Print     Share  MORE THE WALKTHROUGH    Rob Corddry walks us through Childrens Hospital  ’s third season      Rob Corddry walks us through Childrens Hospital  ’s third season      Rob Corddry walks us through Childrens Hospital  ’s third season      Vince Gilligan walks us through Breaking Bad  ’s fourth season (Part 4 of 4)      Vince Gilligan walks us through Breaking Bad  ’s 4th season (Par  t 3 of 4) RELATED ARTICLES    Epidemiology      Dan Harmon walks us through Community  ’s second season (part 4 of 4)      Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples      Accounting for Lawyers      Anthropology 101      Basic Genealogy      The Psychology of Letting Go      Basic Rocket Science      Dan Harmon walks us through Community  ’s second season (part 3 of 4)      Dan Harmon walks us through Community  ’s second season (part 2 of 4)    RELATED TV SHOWS    Community   In its second season,  Community  tried so many different things that it sometimes seemed like adifferent show every week. In 24 episodes that aired from September of 2010 to May of 2011, theshow visited genres and episode types as diverse as zombie tales, stop-motion animated Christmasspecials, and clip shows. Along the way, it attempted to tell a complicated story about the ways in which its central characters could be just as bad for each other as they were good friends to eachother. Series creator and executive producer Dan Harmon sat down for an epic interview with The A.V. Club to talk through the season, episode by episode, and his thoughts will appear over the next four days. Today: the first six episodes, spanning from the season première, “Anthropology 101,” toHalloween episode (and zombie epic) “Epidemiology.”   “Anthropology 101”   (Sept. 23, 2010)  Another year begins at Greendale, and Jeff must deal with the fallout from the season one finale. Betty White guest stars as a crazed anthropology teacher.   Dan Harmon: There was a laundry list that we started with. One was to have them take a differentclass. Now, obviously, at the end of the first season, they were already teeing that up. I did that onpurpose, because I wanted to be able to point to somethi ng. I didn‟t want to have conversations over the summer with brass about the still-to-be-defined template of the show. My fear was that unless Idirectly conflicted with that in the narrative of the show, then over the summer we were going tohave these meetings and people were just going to decide — not because it makes a better TV show,  but because it‟s less scary to them— to keep things the same.I knew that the hub of the show was that study room, so I knew that they had to, academically, havetasks ahead of them to thinly justify them sitting down at this “ Cheers  bar.” It has to have somethingto do with supposedly studying. So it couldn‟t be gym class, for instance, it couldn‟t be survivalism class or anything that would have maybe been more fun. It had to have some roots in academia, and I cited anthropology in the first season as my preference. My thought at the time was, “Well, this is a topic that, way more so than Spanish, which is a one-joke topic, could actually furnish us with story  ideas.” I turn ed out to be incorrect. Anthropology class was not a backbone at all, much less was itsprouting limbs from which we were telling stories, but the thought at the time was that with a topiclike anthropology, which is literally the study of humanity, that we would have all kinds of excusesand opportunities to have assignments.Both as a matter of preference and as a matter of logic, Ken Jeong was not going to be the teacher. So  we talked a lot about, “Is he going to be in the study group or…?” And the decision was, “Let‟simprovise.” It was [executive producer] Garrett Donovan who presented that solution, which I was surprised to hear because it sounded like the kind of thing that comes out of my mouth, typically,and frustrates a logical guy like Garrett. But his logic told him the thing to do here is to embrace the  very energy that we‟re having in this conversation, which is, “What do we do?” Embrace the confusion, embrace the idea of this character as a Gollum-like figure, this underbrush figure. Hedefin es the perimeter of the campfire because he‟s neither necessarily having a seat, nor is he amonster out in the dark, but he‟s just sort of out there.     The first episode —and I‟ll put it on the DVD so people can see it— there was a debate about theending.  We do an ending of the first episode, where Jeff does the standard, ironic setup of, “Oh, what‟s the worst that can happen if Chang‟s in the study group?” and we cut to this sort of Gollumscene where he‟s stroking the study room table, and it cuts back a nd forth, so there was pushback on that from the network, predictably enough, because it‟s weird. And I was going, “Okay, first day of school, no problem, pushback, let‟s use this as an opportunity to make this even better.” The way I make things better is by grounding them, darkening them, edging them, so I actually preferred the new thing that we did shoot, which was Joel saying, “What‟s the worst that can happen?” And you  just cut to Chang walking outside the medical office, and the camera dollies on him , and he‟stwitching. And he‟s got this glare in his eye, and it‟s just a very slow dolly, and you hear, faintly, thesort of Chinese lullaby that you heard in “Modern Warfare,” when he was Chow Yun -Fat. And youhear, also, inexplicably, other sounds including a baby crying, and it builds to this intensity.I liked it. It reminded me more of   Spaced  , where it‟s like, “Okay, this is funny because it‟s not thatfunny.” And, predictably enough, being presented with those two choices, the brass wanted the silly    Gollum ending. The problem was that I‟m a creative, I can‟t unring bells, so I had seen that ending  with Chang, and I had fallen in love with the storyline that we were gonna pursue. The reason I putthe baby crying in there was because I wanted to link it with this concept that Chang had eaten histwin in utero, which was a joke that Andrew Guest had written in the first season for the  Family Day  episode. It feels like such a throwaway, but I just was in love with the idea of actually revealingthis incredibly deep foundation to his personality and disorders, and we had this whole thing plotted out where we were going to tell this seasonal story of how he‟s plagued by the guilt that his m otherput in him that he had a twin in the uterus, and it was a little girl, and he ate her. And [his mother] dressed him up in little dresses and said, “I wish you were your sister instead,” and that rejection triggers these psychotic breaks in him. We were gonna slowly bring in the ghost of his dead sister,playing with a little ball and encouraging him to do bad things. We were gonna slowly uncork that,  one step at a time, so that we wouldn‟t have to pitch it to anybody, because obviously the answer  woul d be, “No, don‟t do that.”    And so I started looking at Chang like a big joke that would happen one joke at a time. So it‟s ironic, sometimes, that the people who wanna protect your show from too much craziness often cause a lessmarketable craziness. Like, “Oh, that seems weird, don‟t put it in the show,” or, “Okay, that seemsless weird than the weirder thing, so do that instead.” And you end up with a character who spends— and this is not a bad thing —the year not knowing his place because he‟s been disconn ected from hisGod, i.e. the writers. So he just wanders, and that was the big discussion: what to do with Ken Jeongat the beginning of season two.There was the macro- directive on my part, and I knew this would be an easy thing: The camera‟s gonna start going off- campus. That means we‟re gonna see where some of these people live. It‟sprobably time to reveal that Annie lives in relative squalor, for instance, which is something I‟ve beentalking about since the beginning of the first season. It‟s time to   hint at backstories. We don‟t have to  break stories anymore around third-act dances and social functions, because those were all a result of me raining on the writers‟ parade in the first season, saying, “Trust me, we have to keep the camera on the campus  because it pays off later.”  There was talk about Annie and Britta, Annie and Jeff, Britta and Jeff, and all that stuff. Very early on — [producer] Emily Cutler was a driving force behind this — in one of our first conversations aboutthe season, we were having the conversation about the eventual reveal that Jeff and Britta were fuck   buddies. And that conversation came from my anxiety about, “How do you follow Pam and Jim  without doing a sad attempt to recreate the same energy, which would be mistrusted, or B: ignoring it and not giving the audience food that they eat,” i.e. romance, sexuality between men and women.So I said, “There must be so many more ways of portraying sexuality on television.”   But that led to the road of like, “What is the punk  -rock thing to do? What is the self-destructive thing to do? How do we convince the audience that we don‟t intend to sell them snake oil?” And the answer is: You take a can of snake oil, and you dump it down the storm drain in front of the audience and  you go, “This isn‟t the business that we‟re in, I swear to God.”   So, second season, that conversation resulted in Emily Cutler saying, “What if you just found out toward the end of the year that Jeff and Britta have been doing it the whole time, and it was no bigdeal? ” And I thought that was genius because the audience might not believe you if you just tell themon camera in real time that it‟s possible for a relationship to not eclipse everything, but they won‟t believe it in their hearts, because they haven‟t seen any evidence that it‟s possible for a relationship to not eclipse everything. Guess what, as many of you in the audience have been doing at various pointsin your lives, particularly the broken points, two of these people have been, in an ungodly middlefinger to our fairytale perceptions of monogamy, using each other as sex toys. Presenting the idea that you‟re full of shit believing that, too, was intriguing to me because that‟s how  the relationship with my girlfriend and virtually betrothed mate happened. It started as friends with  benefits. It started with this ironically romantic concept that romance didn‟t need to be in the equation. It made it exciting. Love always finds a way. If two people have been hurt enough, they trick themselves into falling in love through a different door. They just need to protect themselves  with a certain chant beforehand, like “This is bullshit.” And, for that reason, what I love is when the
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