The students at Greendale Community College face one of life’s biggest hurdles in this, its fourth season.
It’s the final year of academe and that has some of our friends fretting about the future.Danny Pudi and Alison Brie, who play Abed and Annie respectively, were in Toronto this week and spoke with Monsters and Critics about the show, its refusal to conform and prospects for the future.
*Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on City (Canada)
Monsters and Critics: There’s nothing like Community on TV where you can expect an epic 30 minute movie and vaudeville show.
Alison Brie - Cool! Yay! It’s something we take extreme pride in; the gift that Dan Harmon gave us in creating the show and setting the precedent for pushing the borders of what can exist on network television.
Danny Pudi – What can you do in 22 minutes? That for us has been a consistent and exciting challenge every week. Early on I used to think coming back from the fourth fifth or sixth table read thinking “Wow, that’s still funny”. It’s getting weirder. I can’t believe I’m getting to do that! What? We’re gonna do that? The writers text me “How’s your Christian Bale impression?” “What Christian Bale impression?”
Alison Brie- And then a year later they ask me “How’s your Christian Bale impersonation?” Uh oh! Here we go. So for an actor it can’t be any more exciting to work on a show like this.
Monsters and Critics: And on Community, you can wear so many personas, your characters and the ones you winkingly assume.
Alison Brie – Yes. It’s always a really cool challenge when we do extreme genre episodes because on the one hand, it’s exciting. We’re never bored, we get to play so many kids of characters within the constraints of our charcaters and that’s where it’s interesting. You do a Law & Order episode and you're focusing so hard to get it right and we’re watching it and studying them and we’re all big fans and fans of research. We watch and bring that element. But at the same time you have to keep in kind where your character is coming from and keep it true to that character that exists on this other show so it’s a treat, a fun acting exercise.
Danny Pudi – It’s a fun workshop.
Monsters and Critics: I'll admit to you I get confused sometimes. All of a sudden it's Abed’s TV show and there's a laugh track. What?
Danny Pudi - Well I’m confused all the time. People need to know it’s not just the viewer, it’s us too. That’s the joy of our show. Personally, I enjoy messiness and uncertainty in real life and you don’t have all the answers. It’s nice to be part of a show which allows those moments to breathe a little bit.
Even though it is extreme and bizarre, it’s lifelike. That’s a crazy thing to say, isn’t it?
Alison Brie - It’s true because we always work hard, however far we take these episodes, to keep them grounded them in the character. There is always character development and it’s always happening in a plausible fashion within the realm of this school we’ve created. The group is going to space and you see our interpretation of our group going to space and you believe it.
Danny Pudi – We’re doing a Claymation episode then you see our version of a Claymation episode and say “That’s pretty dark” but there is a lost reference, Peirce is coming out of the washroom zipping up his pants but it relates...
Alison Brie - ... back to his mom which is why he maintains that reliability.
Monsters and Critics: And what about the German episode? Not the Nazi episode, the German episode; that was bold.
Danny Pudi - The Alternative history of the German invasion.
And quite coy.
Alison Brie – We like to take it up to the line and the about ten feet further.
Danny Pudi– We slow down a little bit before the line and then we just burst over it. It's part of the joy of being on the show with these brilliant comedians. Dan Harmon and the writers are incredible. You’re able to go to places wondering if we can go to them. “Are you sure?” It’s part of being on a show that’s been under the radar for so long that I think we're allowed to go to these places because now people expect it.
Monsters and Critics: What do you mean under the radar?
Alison Brie - I think we are an underdog show. We don’t have the ratings that say a Big Bang Theory has, so we don’t have outside certain circles.
Danny Pudi – Average TV viewers I’m not sure.
Alison Brie – As far as large network television goes were on the smaller scale which has worked to our advantage. NBC has been gracious to give us that extreme bit of freedom to explore new territory as opposed to shows that have that mass viewership and then have to stay in a safe zone because their viewers expect the same thing.
Monsters and Critics: You’re lucky. It’s a small thing sometimes the opening is only three seconds long. That’s bold.
Danny Pudi – There is an episode where Jack Black joined us when he didn’t want to throw off the rhythm or the timing of and that played into the opening. Those little things, those tidbits about the show that sometimes I miss, until I watch it and I’m like “That was so great”...
Alison Brie- ... because of the levels of jokes that exist on the show. We’re not only having that joke in the moment, there is larger joke commenting on the show you’re watching, this machine that is making the television show, the awareness of television shows existing.
Monsters and Critics: The characters must be so ingrained in you after four intense years. Do you sometimes go “Hang on, no, that’s not right for my character”?
Alison Brie – This season’s more than ever because there were a lot of changes that took place. We were empowering ourselves to speak up for ourselves and our characters in Season Four. We’re very protective of our characters. “Hmmm. Maybe she’ll say this but in this way” or pitching alt jokes on the set. “This feels more the style of joke that your character does or that is in my wheelhouse an actor."
Danny Pudi – They were looking to us to tell them if there were moments that felt a little unnatural.
Monsters and Critics: The last year at school makes people anxious. They have to get out of that cocoon and perform and there’s an undertone of regret.
Alison Brie – Not regret, just a different way the characters are experiencing school this year. Every other school year has had a sort of lighter, more wayward quality. This year is decision-making time. “Am I graduating, changing my major, do I have more to do here?” We ended the season with some students graduating and some not graduating so it’s not about ending. It’s not a season that is leading to an ending of the school year for everyone.
Danny Pudi – The beauty of Community College is that can stay as long as you want, take another course in different capacities that helps our show in some ways. But there is that heavy awareness in the room the real world id out there. What’s next?