Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.
Community is a show unafraid to engage its viewers in a game of brinksmanship, pushing the boundaries of the sitcom form. In “Virtual Systems Analysis,” Annie (Alison Brie) enters the Dreamatorium with Abed (Danny Pudi) and sets off a rabbit-hole journey through each other’s mind and through the character’s relationships with the rest of the ensemble. “It was a controversial episode,” says Brie, “Even among our fans, who are usually willing to go out on any limb with us.” Brie notes that the episode was a good showcase for how Annie’s character arc evolved in season 3. “I thought it was really refreshing that this season we delved into what makes Annie tick,” she says.
EW: What was your reaction when you saw this script? Even for Community, this episode seems a bit out there.
ALISON BRIE: I was very excited. I love having adventures with the boys in the apartment. I think it’s a fun side of Annie to see. She’s always trying to be very adult and very responsible, so I love when I’m paired with Troy or Abed. At the same time, it was one of those episodes where, like, “Oh my gosh, this could be amazing or it could totally bomb and be the worst thing ever. No one’s going to have lukewarm feelings.”
To be very narcissistic, my favorite scene to do was the one with me talking to myself. That was a challenging scene to shoot. It was Abed playing me, talking to me. But they’re both me. To shoot it, we had a green screen, and we had me talking to a stand-in — a girl with brown hair who was about my height, who would stand and not say anything, while Danny was hiding in a corner saying the off-camera lines. I was staring at someone who looked eerily like me, not moving her mouth at all, while I was hearing these other lines. Then, when we’d flip around, and it was me playing whatever I did in my mind… I’m sorry, I’m getting really meta now.
In the show, your characters are always put in extreme situations. As an actor, how do you deal with that?
A lot of times it’s an impossibility to overthink it. For that episode in particular, we were getting pages an hour before we were shooting. Sometimes you’re literally just looking at those writers, like, “Here’s what’s going on in this scene.” You don’t overthink it. You trust that you know your character. It becomes an amazing acting exercise: Someone comes in and says, “Here are your circumstances. Go.”
This episode is so focused on how Annie and Abed play off of each other. Was it fun to explore that dynamic separate from the rest of the ensemble?
I think that Annie, in her type-A-ness, can relate to that side of Abed. They’re both rigid characters, in certain respects. Annie is younger than Abed, presumably — nobody really knows Abed’s age! But I do think they can connect on this level. [In this episode], she’s trying to learn more about him.
What did you think about the reaction to the episode?
It was a controversial episode, even among our fanbase, who are usually willing to go out on any limb with us. I thought it really challenged people’s idea of what a television show can be. I love the episode because — and this is one thing that our show does on a regular basis — it mixed comedy with a deeper look into what drives these characters emotionally, and what keeps them united as friends, and also what pulls them apart. It was this in-depth analysis about Annie and Abed’s friendship. And it was weird.
Do you guys know anything about the new season? Have you met the new showrunners?
I have no idea where it’s going from here. My motto going into season 4 is “Well, this should be interesting!” [Laughs] We’ve had a few exchanges with the new showrunners. They seem great.
Do you think the show will be different without showrunner Dan Harmon involved?
There’s no question that the show will be different. Dan Harmon was so instrumental in everything that went on with the show, and was the cause of most of the relentless innovation. It will be an interesting process. But some of our writers from the past few years are still on the staff, and our new showrunners are fans of the show. Hopefully we’ll maintain the essence of what makes this show great.
So I can tell the Internet: “Alison Brie says Community will be totally different now!”
We’re going multi-camera and we’re going laugh track. Other than that, I have no idea what’s coming.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich