'Community': Dan Harmon on Life After 'Modern Warfare,' Betty White and 'Glee'
Sorry to be away so long, but I was wall-to-wall at the recently concluded biannual Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour (which you'd know if you followed me on Twitter!), but it did give me an opportunity to talk to lots of folks, including "Community" executive producer Dan Harmon (you can also follow him on Twitter).
Season one of the NBC Thursday-night comedy included "Modern Warfare," in which the fictional Greendale Community College became the setting for a rollicking paintball war that turned into a trip through most of the hit action movies of the past couple of decades.
The action sequences culminated in an encounter that resolved the long-simmering sexual tension between study-group mates Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs).
But a later episode put Jeff in a liplock with fellow study-group member Annie (Alison Brie), setting a fresh romantic pot on the boil. More on that here.
With the show returning for its second season on Sept. 23, there's lots more "Community" to talk about, so here's the first installment of my chat with Harmon, a fellow community-college student and one of my favorite showrunners.
Click here for part two.
On topping "Modern Warfare":
Harmon: "It's a specific thing, the action-movie genre, but I think that the way you top it is by stretching the taffy in two directions at once. You make the characters more real, and you subject them to weirder and weirder stuff. I haven't even begun to squeeze that sponge yet. That's just dripping out before you even put pressure on it.
"The great news is that 'Modern Warfare,' if it had failed in some capacity, if the critics had hated it, if the viewers had hated it, then 'Community' would ... be coasting to whatever shoulder of whatever highway sitcoms slip off to.
"'Modern Warfare' was me asking permission to really become a fan of the show alongside the other fans, and permission feels granted."
On having red-hot silver vixen Betty White in the Sept. 23 season-two premiere, playing respected but somewhat nutty anthropology professor June Bauer:
Harmon: "She was awesome. She was amazing. She's a sweetheart. She was down for anything, even a little humble about her ability to pull it off. I don't want to spoil one of the things we had her do, but it's a ridiculous thing to ask.
"All she kept saying was, 'Are you sure you don't want to get somebody else to do this for me?' And I kept saying, 'Are you saying that because you don't want to do this? Because if you don't want to do anything, I will call in a jet pack and have you lifted out of here. I will not be the man who ever made you do something you don't want to do. But if you're saying that because you think you're bad at it, then you're ridiculous, so sit down and do this.'
"It's amazing. You'll see the thing I'm talking about. You'll know that that's what I'm talking about, what she did with us."
On whether White will return:
Harmon: "Uh, I decided on the set that, regardless of what she wants ... I have been saying that it's up to her. Now it's not up to her. I'm trying to figure out ways to -- I'm going to sneak her in here and there, so people understand that if I have my way, she'll be back. Because I don't want to get emails from people going, 'Where is she? What's going on?'
"I want the answer, that she is over there. So I kind of made that decision on the set, watching her interact with Joel McHale and stuff.
"She riffed, not only a joke that we'll keep in the show, and not only a joke that we'll blow a scene on, she riffed a joke that we'll end the first act with. That's something that the writers didn't have to labor over for six hours. She was on the set, just watching the scene."
On his rivalry with Fox's school show "Glee," including a "Modern Warfare" scene in which Jeff paintballs a Greendale glee-club member, quipping that the group should perform some original songs:
Harmon: "I heard from their TCA panel, I saw on Twitter, that, partway into the season, they're doing an episode of original songs."
(As a matter of fact, in front of the assembled Press Tour reporters, "Glee" executive producer Ryan Murphy said, "We are going to have an original-music episode which is going to be, I think, in the second part of the season, which the assignment will be for the kids to write their own music. And we're talking to some great songwriters, and of course, we'll be working with Adam (Anders, music producer) on who those people will be. But I think -- I hope that we'll have, like, five original songs.")
Harmon (cont'd): "It made me think of our challenge to them in 'Modern Warfare.' I believe we hit home. I think I will next challenge them to go multi-camera, strategically sabotage them -- add a dog!"
On why he has a very personal reason to chide the folks at "Glee":
Harmon: "I watch 'Glee,' and it wipes (my cynicism) right out. It fills my heart with love. I can't watch 'Glee,' because they're in the stage next to us (at Paramount Studios), and I have to hear them. They're like the neighbors who won't keep it down.
"I have to go over in my bathrobe. I know they hate me for it, but I rap in their door with my cane, and I go, 'Stop it! Stop having fun!'"
Next: Harmon on "Parks & Recreation," action figures, Starburns, Anthony Michael Hall, holidays, Britta and being heroes.