When fansites spring up halfway through the first season of a freshman sitcom demanding a pairing of characters, like they did for cocky thirtysomething ex-lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) and 18-year-old overachieving ex-pill-popper Annie Edison (Alison Brie) during the first season of NBC’s low-rent college misfit comedy Community, any other show would try to milk the will-they-or-won’t-they tension for years. Community creator Dan Harmon, however, doesn’t work that way, and in the season finale, he slammed right into that entanglement with cliffhanger-style gusto. The pilot had set up Jeff as chasing the hard-nosed Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), who wouldn’t give him the time of day, but somewhere along the way, something changed.
“Everybody specifically talks about the Jeff and Annie and the kiss they had in the tenth episode,” says executive producer Russ Krasnoff, referring to the liplock between the debate team colleagues that proved humanity was evil and won the competition. “The feedback we got, we looked online, and not only was it Twitter and all of that, people actually made videos. If you just typed in the words – still to this day – if you typed in ‘Jeff and Annie,’ literally just those two first names, you get about 15 or 20 music videos that people have made pulling clips from our show that weren’t even between those two characters but they’ve edited it in such a way that they’ve built a love affair between these two, and it’s like, ‘Okay, obviously the audience is trying to tell us something.’”
In the last episode we saw, Jeff’s relationship with stats teacher Michelle Slater (Lauren Stamile) heating up just as Britta finally allowed herself to admit that she had a thing for Jeff as well (after their perfectly ironic hook-up in the now-legendary paintball episode “Modern Warfare.”). When they both declared their love for him, the commitment-phobic Winger ran away to think, and wound up making out with Annie.
“I think the messier it is, the better,” Jacobs says about the big romantic entanglement, “because it creates drama in a lot of different directions. It’s like that scene where we all looked around the table and we realized that we were all potential romantic lovers. I think Dan was sort of saying something about the show. He wanted to have a group of people that were all within a close enough age range that there are a lot of possibilities. I remember there was one episode where I had my arm around Danny [Pudi, who plays the meta-joke savant Abed] while we were sleeping, and then people were like, ‘Britta and Abed!’ It can come from anywhere. That was just us messing around. So it really could go in any direction.”
That does bring to mind a line Jeff had earlier in the season, wherein an inappropriate comment towards Annie was met with his response of “Annie’s young. We try not to sexualize her.” When I asked them about it after their Comic-Con panel, their response indicated things hand changed since then, too.
“The internet sexualized her,” McHale quipped, and Brie was quick to note that that was “after she sexualized herself. I think that Annie matured a lot. I don’t know if the writers had certain things in mind. It was a collaboration even with wardrobe and hair and makeup to mature Annie towards the end of the season. If you’re looking at a girl coming out of high school, she didn’t have a lot of attention from boys there, and she’s just discovering this, you naturally would start to dress a little differently, wear a little more makeup, you start to be interested in guy you might not have been interested in before. She’s over 18 so anything goes.”
“We were worried to go there and that’s why we did,” added executive producer Neil Goldman. “It’s titillating, it’s interesting, it’s taboo, it’ll get people talking hopefully. And it was a natural thing. We never would have imagined at the beginning of the season we would have gone down that road. It was a combination of finding what these guys were doing on set and what the internet was talking about.”
The cast is very astute about following the online chatter about their show – they’re mostly all active Twitterers, too. McHale explained that “The debate on the internet was, ‘They should get together. They have great chemistry.’ Then other people were like, ‘How dare you! She’s 18!’” Brie followed up with “‘So young!’ Then other people go, ‘But the actors really aren’t that different in age.’ ‘But we’re not talking about the actors, we’re talking about the characters.’ Then somebody else would be like, ‘Shut up! They should get married!’”
Many people, myself among them, believe that Community was the best new comedy on TV last season, and that its complete lack of Emmy nominations is nothing short of highway robbery. Nonetheless, we’ve got a second season to look forward to, and if what happened in the first season was any indication, it will never be what we expect. So what’s next?
“They run away to Germany,” McHale joked, before revealing a little more. “The first script back is terrific because all the things that were set up in the season finale are met head on. There’s no going back from them at all.”
“Things get a lot worse before they get better,” Goldman admitted, before noting that the show won’t stray too far into becoming a relationship melodrama. “We don’t want to make the show too serialized and too soap opera-y, and so that’s kind of what works so good on some level. Abed gets to the point where he says ‘I don’t want the show to be a relationship show. I want the show to be a paintball show.’ But they can’t unring that bell, even though we’ll probably put it to rest for awhile and explore some other dynamics. Sweeps or finale time next year.”
One of the most interesting of those other dynamics is the fact that Señor Chang, aka El Tigre, aka Ken Jeong, got fired from his gig as their tyrannical Spanish teacher for fabricating his credentials, and he’s going to be a Greendale student full-time. Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays the hyper-Christian single mom Shirley, gave a little insight into how that’s going to work out.
“We’ve read two scripts,” Brown said, “and Chang is not yet one of the group. He’s still Chang, he’s still El Tigre, and he’s done a lot of damage to the study group. He’s done some damage, some really personal, serious damage to individual members. He’s kind of circling. He’s on the periphery of the whole thing.”