What was your first day like? How did you break the ice? Pillow fort party?
GUARASCIO: We sat down with everyone individually, got together for lunches, just tried to do some one-on-one time with all the members of the cast just to let them know: We understand if you have some anxiety. That does not offend us. It makes complete sense. I mean, they’re the ones who are really out there more than anyone else.
PORT: Our attitude is a little bit like: We’re stepdads and we’re not going to come in and say, “You have to call us Daddy from the first day.”
GUARASCIO: We also just wanted to let them know, the cast in particular, that we’re really going to rely on you to help keep the tone of the show what it’s been. So if there’s something that’s not feeling right to you, you can tell us, whether it’s a line or a story, we want to have that dialogue. We may not agree all the time, but you might be surprised how often you’re going to convince us that you deeply understand your own character. And it’s been a very important part of these first six episodes, really hearing them out about what feels right and what doesn’t.
Chevy Chase and Dan Harmon had a volatile relationship to say the least, and Chevy expressed some dissatisfaction with the show. What steps have you taken to resolve that?
GUARASCIO: The truth is we’ve had a very easy working relationship with Chevy, maybe just because it was so volatile before, there’s no fight left. (laughs) We sat down, had a real nice lunch. There’s a little bit of us just like that’s “It’s f—ing Chevy Chase! I can’t believe it.” And so it’s been really easy for us. He also says what he wants to say and does what he wants to do, and you just can’t control any of that aspect of it.
PORT: He’s still got some bark left to him, but look, I don’t think we’re gonna throw down with him. That has not happened. It’s all been pretty smooth sailing so far.
Has he expressed interest in doing something dramatic with Pierce or even killing him off?
PORT: When we had lunch with him, these were his words: “I’m getting up there in age. Is it possible that I had a stroke over the summer?” He approached it like, “Let’s use my age to an advantage.”
Community being so meta, how closely do you nod to the behind-the-scenes situation in the first few episodes?
PORT: We tried to own and write toward some of the fears that the audience might have and embrace those things. Some of it is much more obvious than others. But we were mindful of the situation.
GUARASCIO: And what was important to us is it plays into something the show has always done, which is being aware of itself, and it plays into our season-long theme: change. There’s change you control, there’s change you don’t, but that change in and of itself is not a bad thing. Even when you don’t expect it, it can lead to some really nice things and some important things. So that is definitely imbued throughout the first episode, particularly through the character of Abed who has been such a controlling force in the show. He essentially created Community in the sense of he brought this study group together as a way to interact and understand the world around him. So to be able to use the specificity of a character like that to explore the notion of change for these characters this year and the overall change in the show was a really fun way to approach the first episode.
Let’s talk about the first episode. We know that Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) stages a Hunger Games-like competition for enrollment in a class….
GUARASCIO: There is the ultimate Greendale [class] called The History of Ice Cream, where you’re just getting to eat ice cream and talk about ice cream. You get an easy A. It’s a class that everyone in the group has always wanted to be in. And lo and behold something goes wrong. The student records are hacked, which basically means someone has forged a bunch of index cards with the Dean’s handwriting. Now they’ve got way too many people to be in the class, and as opposed to doing it first-come, first-serve, like real ice cream, the Dean has set up an elaborate Gladiator/Hunger Games-style competition to see who can win entry into this class. And Jeff needs a history class to graduate when he wants to. And he also wants the group to take this class together. He is driven to overcome these obstacles the Dean has put in front of him to make sure that this group can stay together in this History of Ice Cream class.
PORT: You might think, Why is Jeff putting up with all this kind of stuff? One of the things we discover is that Jeff has taken a couple courses over the summer without the rest of the group knowing. So he is on track to graduate early.
GUARASCIO: Because senior year is a year of change, that’s a little difficult for everyone, but for Abed in particular. Change has always been hard for that character, and the crushing reality that “this all might end” really hits home with him in this first episode. He’s a guy who’s always used his imagination as both solace and defense, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, and he’s been encouraged by Britta: “Go to your happy place whenever you need to if things are getting stressful.” And for Abed, the act of imagination that he has may spiral him a little further away from reality.
PORT: For our character that views everything through the prism of television, it manages to inform where his happy place is as well.