The sophomore season of the underrated NBC comedy ‘Community,’ arguably the funniest show on TV right now, kicks off at 8pm tonight, and now that they’re facing down the popular ‘The Big Bang Theory’ as their competition on Thursday nights, they’ll be pulling out a few more stops to try and make sure they can keep getting eyes on their show. One of those stops is bringing in Betty White as a crazy new anthropology teacher.
“She’s a madwoman,” says star Gillian Jacobs of White’s character. “She’s a fierce madwoman who I think can speak Swahili? I don’t know. She was such a delight, and I really think that she got the world of our show. She seemed to really like the tone of our show and just dive right in there and was game to do whatever they threw at her. We tend to do a lot of things last minute with this show. Sometimes you’ll get new pages in the middle of shooting a scene. She was incredibly game. We’re really lucky.”
“Betty White is actually everything that you would expect her to be,” agrees Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays Shirley, the sweet Christian single mom with anger issues. “You know how sometimes you meet your heroes, and you’re like, ‘Oh, please let them be nice. Oh, please let them be funny.’ She’s funny, nice, gracious, knows all her lines – everything you would expect from someone that’s that wonderful, she’s all that. She’s just a great lady.”
There’s also a lot of drama to be resolved since the season finale, wherein Jacobs’ Britta Perry and Lauren Stamile’s Helen Slater both publicly declared that they loved Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), who then retreated from making a decision between his two pursuers and wound up making out with Annie Edision (Alison Brie) in the parking lot outside.
“It will be dealt with almost immediately,” Brie says. “So that’s something to put your mind at ease. We saw Annie mature a lot over the course of last season, and so she comes into this season at a more mature place, but she’s still Annie, so she’s still fragile, and she still has a lot to learn, as do all the characters.”
McHale concurs. “The great thing about the first episode is that all that stuff that was set up in the season finale – of me making out with Annie and the love between Britta and Jeff and all that crap – all that is being dealt with as opposed to some series – like on ‘Gilligan’s Island’ they would be like, ‘Well, we’re back on the island, everything is exactly the same.’ It’s not like that. The dynamic definitely changes.”
Jacobs was very open about her end of the love quadrangle. “I think that Britta’s ego got the best of her in that whole scenario with the Tranny Dance, and maybe she’s having some regrets about how she behaves because that often happens. Maybe feeling a little morning-after regret and remorse at how everything went down, but she’s a prideful person, so I think that sometimes prevents her from admitting fault when it would probably be helpful for her to just say, ‘I messed up.’ So she’s created a mess. She’s created a big old mess.” Not that it’s all her fault, of course. “Jeff Winger is being a bit of a dog, I would say in defense of Britta. People were ping-ponging around in the season finale, and the thing that I like about our show is that you then have to deal with that. It’s not like you get to press the restart button and have it be as though it didn’t happen.”
Any chance Shirley will get in on this and make this a five-sided love polygon? “I guess they don’t want to give Shirley any love because Joel has kissed just about everybody,” Brown jokes. “He kissed his pool teacher in that episode. He kisses everybody. I think that there should be at least a dream sequence where Jeff Winger is dreaming about Shirley, and then there could be a kiss there. I don’t know that Shirley would, after both Britta and Annie have kissed Jeff Winger. Sloppy seconds is not her thing, so I don’t think she’d go there.”
Besides, Brown has her own preference of love interest that she hopes will show up sometime this season. “I don’t know anybody that would not want Isaiah Mustafa.”
Lest we think the show is going to become nothing but crazy relationship drama, we can’t forget that this show is known for its off-the-wall meta comedy as much as it is for its lovable characters, both of which are embodied in Abed, the pop culture savant played by Danny Pudi, who has a close and very weird friendship with Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes.
“I will say that there will be some more rapping this year,” Pudi says, referencing the Spanish Rap he did with Glover that was later remixed into an internet sensation by DJ Steve Porter (who followed that up with an even bigger ‘Community’ remix shown at Comic-Con). “Donald just released an album as Childish Gambino, and he’s got mad skills. I like to rap in Polish and I love beatboxing. I’ve been making noises with my mouth ever since Police Academy, so I think there will definitely be opportunities for that. Now that we’re in anthropology too, I think this is new material, which is really exciting for us. The study of man is going to be very influential, and it’s gonna impact Abed a great deal because he is a student of human behavior, so learning how Neanderthals reacted to situations or what was the pop culture of Neanderthal days? I can’t wait to explore that.”
“The opening to the first episode of the second season is awesome,” he continues, dropping tidbits about the rest of the season as well. “I’m really excited about that. You also get to see a little bit of us off campus a little bit more, which is really exciting, especially in the third episode. Abed and Troy definitely have a good, solid friendship where they just kind of get each other no questions asked, which is awesome because they allow each other to be as weird as they need to be in whatever the situation is. It’s a great friendship when you can just be as weird as you want to be, and I’ll let you be there, and then maybe later I’ll be like, ‘That was very weird,’ but I won’t stop you from getting to that level. They’re completely committed to whatever they’re doing. So we’ll see. Maybe there’ll be some more ‘Sesame Street’ stuff too.”
What about other guest stars this season? “Well, John Oliver is coming back, and he’s already been back once,” McHale notes. “I know he’s coming back again. Betty White is already going to appear in two, and I wish she would come back for more than that. Rob Corddry and Drew Carey, because they’re in the episode where I go back to my law firm, so if they’re available, I’m sure we’re gonna need them again.”
Any other spoilers to reveal? “Pierce becomes a woman,” McHale jokes about Chevy Chase’s buffoonish curmudgeon Pierce Hawthorne. “Jeff dies two episodes in. So I’m gonna move over to ‘Hot in Cleveland’ with Betty White.”
In reality, there’s an amazing Apollo 13 episode in the works that may rival the fan favorite paintball episode ‘Modern Warfare,’ but more on that as it gets closer to airing – same for this year’s Halloween episode, which is rumored to be a budget-busting zombie epic. Not to mention the talk that the Christmas episode this year will be in stop-motion animation somehow. If any show can make those crazy ideas work, it’s ‘Community.’
But what about that new, stiffer competition they’ll be facing? Brown is just as polite as Shirley would be about it. “‘Big Bang Theory’ is a great show, so I understand the excitement about it, but I think we’re a great show too, so hopefully our audience will find us and stay with us. We feel like everyone that’s seen it likes it. Spread the word about our scrappy little show and we can get some people to watch.”