As seen on TV

Joel McHale: I skip to the set of ‘Community’ every day

Chelsea Lauren / Getty Images for Xbox

The kooky cast of Community is back in action. The NBC Thursday night ensemble comedy has writer and famed Chevy Chase enemy Dan Harmon back at the helm after a season-long absence. Joel McHale returns as a smart-mouth lawyer turned student turned professor at Colorado’s fictional Greendale Community College. We talked to McHale on a recent conference call about what to expect in the fifth season’s go-around:

How is this season going so far?

WIth Dan back, the monarchy has been restored and things are as they should be. So in that sense, the sense of relief that I’ve had this year has been tremendous. [But] it always seems like every season we don’t know if we’re coming back. Imagine if we were on The Big Bang Theory, where we are like, ‘We can do this until we’re 60 if we want.’

You guys have got an absurd number of great guest stars. Did you ever feel that was a distraction?

No, not at all. I would say it only supported it: Vince Gilligan and Mitch Hurwitz and Chris Elliot and Paul Williams. I mean, talk about a crazy group of people, including Gina Gershon and the incredible, beautiful, lovely Bree Larson. I think it’s some of the most creative guest stars of the last, I don’t know, I’m going to go with the last 100 years of television.

We’ve seen your character, Jeff Winger, really come to into his own; last year we saw him leave Greendale and resolve issues with his father. Is he maturing?

I would say Jeff, now he’s a professor, he is once again somewhat destabilized. And his immaturities are exposed, a whole new set of them. There were a number of things that kind of got taken care of last year, and those things, they’re not things that just get kind of wrapped up. It’s not something like, ‘Well, that was done and now I’m fixed.’ It’s more like you are constantly finding new kind of things to fix and hopefully make that person healthier. But Jeff has had years of selfishness and that gets exposed this year. And it was very fun to play. But there’s no doubt, though, that he loves this study group. And he has to really comes to terms with how he feels about the school ultimately.

Do you always follow the script?

Oh, yes. There’s this weird thing where people are like, ‘Do you guys just kind of make it up as you go along?’ And I’m not sure why. I mean, Dan’s is not an improvised comedy. There are very deliberate parts of the train-track that is being laid down to get to the end of this season. I know this is going to sound really grandiose, but it’s as specific as Shakespeare was with his words, where there’s really no excess.

“Community” has had its ups and downs and the hardcore fans have stuck by it. How would you encourage a new viewer to give it a chance?

The episodes speak for themselves, and you don’t have to watch from the beginning to enjoy the show. And you might be a little lost on some of the inside jokes. That said, I think it’s also the job of NBC to keep pumping us out there.

What’s it been like working on the same show after all this time?

I count myself as incredibly blessed, because I get to work. And I remember a lot of time before I got The Soup or Community where I spent most of my time not working and trying to get it. So to have it is a huge blessing. And once I ever get the balance, I’ll be very happy. But I haven’t yet. But believe me, working on Community I skip to the set each day.

Madeleine Marr

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