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Scene Invasion: COMMUNITY at PaleyFest

It’s ironic that NBC’s chirpy, clever sitcom Community would suggest, as it did in last week’s episode, that its cast of damaged misfits are the least-loved students at Greendale College less than a week before its rabid fans packed the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills for the show’s fourth consecutive appearance at PaleyFest.  The stars and creators of the low-rated, critically-acclaimed comedic gem gathered this Tuesday at the Paley Center for Media’s annual two-week extravaganza celebrating the televisual medium.  It was another woozy victory lap for a show perpetually on the brink of cancellation.

READ – Andrew Robinson’s Community Recaps

The PaleyFest panel was downright intimate, especially when compared to the massive size of major pop-culture conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con and SXSW.  Even the upper balcony provided a great view of the proceedings – a riff-heavy hangout that featured cast members Joel McHaleGillian JacobsDanny PudiYvette Nicole BrownAlison Brie, and Jim Rash; as well as showrunners Moses Port and David Guarascio, executive producer/director Tristam Shapeero, and writer Andy Bobrow.  Regrettably, Donald Glover and Ken Jeong were missing (the latter perhaps suffering from Changnesia) and Chevy Chase – who walked off the set during filming of the current season, never to return – resurfaced only in a few delectable verbal jabs from McHale.

Unlike the aforementioned mega-events, PaleyFest devotes each night of its schedule to a single program, allowing visiting shows greater leeway to spring surprises on the audience.  The live table read of the season four premiere “History 101” began a night of unexpected delights, with Bobrow filling in for Glover and comedy veteran Fred Willard gracing the panel with his best Chevy Chase impression.  Later during the Q&A, a fan floated the idea that Willard could replace the departed Chase in a potential season five.  It was an intriguing possibility, though Willard’s avuncular cluelessness is cut from an entirely different cloth than the brash, offensive, self-aware-but-kinda-not tightrope walk that was Chase’s Pierce Hawthorne.

paleyfest-community-puppets

The ensuing conversation, moderated by TV Guide’s Mike Schneider, mostly danced around the typical demands for spoilerage and delivered plenty of fan-service mugging.  (One highlight: McHale and Rash arguing about which of them guest star Malcolm McDowell preferred.)  More substantially, Guarascio revealed that Rash would contribute his Oscar-winning writing talents to an episode this season and promised a comic book-themed installment that would delve into the “origins” of the study room.  But the best surprise was saved for last: stagehands bringing out Avenue Q-style puppet versions of the entire cast, followed by a teaser of their appearance in an upcoming episode.

Oddly, the absence of series creator Dan Harmon didn’t seem notable, except for Port and Guarascio’s acknowledgment that even a Harmon-less Community could still be the Community that its fans know and love.  They praised the cast and crew for helping them maintain show’s free-spirited iconoclasm and admitted that they interpreted network push-back as a blessing that they were on the right track.  And while their reign has been divisive so far – with some fans reveling in “Worst episode ever!” criticism each week – it’s instructive to go back and watch the Community’s shaky first steps to realize that it took several episodes for Harmon to get his sea legs too.

Overall, though, it was a night of triumph for the embattled show seeking its #sixseasonsandamovie.  Fan responded with glee when producers confirmed that a third part of Community’s epic paintball saga was in the works, and loudly applauded Brown as she reminded the fiercely loyal fanbase to savor its impressive run.  “We made it through four years together,” she beamed, “and that’s a great thing!”

Follow Eric Ambler (@AmblerAmblog) on Twitter and stay tuned to Screen Invasion on Twitter (@ScreenInvasion) and Facebook

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The Author

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is a film critic and correspondent for Screen Invasion, as well as the founder of Ambler Amblog (https://ambleramblog.blogspot.com/). His parents named him after a Welsh spy novelist they found in a reference book. Someday he will get around to watching all the VHS tapes he bought at Goodwill.