When Community creator and show runner Dan Harmon confirmed via Twitter last month that he was returning to the show one year after being fired from it he added “You can thank @joelmchale.” What on Earth could that mean? Could the man who plays Jeff Winger, he who refuses to ever learn lessons, have actually wielded his considerable influence as the show’s ostensible star for good? That’s what pretty much everyone seemed to assume, with unconfirmed reports indicating the cast of the show staged a mini-coup in going to the studio (Sony Pictures Television) and network (NBC) to lobby for the re-hiring of Harmon. His replacements, Moses Port and David Guarascio, were doing a perfectly fine impression of him as the new showrunners. The problem, though, is that it was just an impression, and the show was suffering as a result.
Well, it turns out that’s basically exactly what happened, with McHale being the driving force and deciding vote behind it. In a newly published interview with Dan Harmon, The Hollywood Reporter has provided the most detailed behind the scenes account of Harmon’s firing and re-hiring to date. According to Harmon, while he was away from the show last year he had no interaction with the cast, reasoning ” everybody was having a big picnic without me and swapping stories about how hard it was when I was around.” The show was a more efficient machine without him. Gone were the all-night writing sessions, canceled table reads because scripts weren’t ready, and a self-pitying misanthrope at the center of it all alienating all of his friends with his poor management skills and alarmingly casual alcoholism. It just wasn’t nearly as funny. So, the actors plotted to get Harmon back, with McHale arguing, “The show is in Dan’s brain, and he’s by far the only person that can do it.”
Harmon claims to have been oblivious to all of this until this past May, when his agent informed him Sony was going to ask him to come back. The rest, well, THR can take it from here:
“McHale reached out, too, to see whether he could have Harmon’s permission to go to bat for his return. Harmon says he told his star what he had told his agent: ‘I’m not going to say yes to Sony so that they can go to NBC and say Dan wants to come back and have NBC dump me again. But if they can figure out what they want, I love my show, and I’m open to coming back.’ According to two sources, Sony execs recognized not only that the show had faltered without Harmon but also that he would be better equipped to handle a truncated season of 13 episodes. He also would bring with him [Chris] McKenna, who has his respect and comedic sensibility. Ultimately, though, the determining factor for the studio — and the primary reason NBC agreed — was to appease McHale.”
So, how are things going now that Harmon is back? Well, he’s already had to apologize for using his podcast to trash the work done by his replacements during the show’s 4th season (he equated watching the episodes for the first time to his mind being raped), he told THR that he’s already a couple of weeks behind schedule, and Donald “Barnes, Troy” Glover has put one leg out of the sinking ship by reducing his commitment to a mere 5 episodes in the show’s forthcoming 13-episode season.
Remember when Community was just that fun Breakfast Club-esque show with Chevy Chase and the guy from The Soup? Or when it was that awesome show doing fun genre parodies, like the episode that sent up Goodfellas or the infamous paintball parody of Die Hard? Or when it was starting to lose a little steam but still capable of blowing you away every other week?
You can read the whole THR piece here. However, there’s not a whole lot about Harmon’s firing they reveal that wasn’t already covered by Vulture back in May of 2012. We also covered his re-hiring in further detail last month. The narrative which has emerged is that Harmon is a nightmare to work with who has won the war of messaging by brilliantly using social media to focus on the strange way in which he was fired (found out from his agent, no big meeting with bosses explaining it all) as opposed to the justifiable reasons for why he was fired. As such, he has emerged as the great victim in the scenario when he is actually anything but. However, the dude gets away with it because Community is simply not the same without him, and Joel McHale wanted the old version of Community back. Very streets ahead of you, Harmon.
Can we forget about all of this and watch the upcoming season of the show and get back to laughing at all the funny jokes,. especially since it is likely to be the show’s last? On that point, Harmon gives us some hope, telling THR, “I want to astound people with a season five that makes an unbeatable argument for a sixth season.”
By all means, astound away, Mr. Harmon. Just, you know, try being less of a jerk this time around, although that’s probably like asking Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) to be less Christian – it’s just who that person is, for better or worse.