The gas leak year. That’s how Community, in continuity, refers to its much maligned, Dan Harmon-less fourth season. In fact, when Yahoo put together videos summarizing each season of the show they opened their Community 401 video with the following disclaimer, “Due to a toxic gas leak on campus, Greendale assumes no responsibility for the following events.”
That’s their way of basically throwing everyone who worked on season 4 under the bus, which includes people who’d been with the show during the original Harmon era and stuck it out for season 4, like Megan Ganz, who wrote that brilliant Law & Order parody episode. Of course, Yahoo is simply following Harmon’s lead, who compared the experience of watching season 4 to “being held down and watching your family get raped on a beach.” In his absence, the show floated too far away from reality, ending in a season finale featuring a regrettable battle between the Greendale Seven and their evil dopplegangers from the Darkest Timeline. So, when Harmon was re-hired he used the fifth season premiere to wave most of that away with a recurring joke about some vaguely explained gas leak having negatively influenced everyone’s actions and memories.
It was such a very Community thing to do, creating an in-universe explanation for why the show’s previous season had more or less sucked. I personally loved their puppet episode, and thought some fans were a little too blindly devoted to Harmon in declaring the new season a total loss. Of course, it did take a fair amount of generous squinting to see the new episodes as anything other than a step down in quality. Harmon’s work with the fifth season was an obvious case of “Well, that’s more like it.”
But whatever happened to those guys Sony hired to run that ill-fated fourth season, Moses Port and David Guarascio?
They were coming off of Happy Endings, and claimed from the get-go to be Community fans determined to keep things mostly the same. Much like Harmon has repeatedly done and continues doing, Port and Guarascio even used their season premiere to pretty much speak directly to the audience, including a plot in which Abed escaped into his mind to imagine a version of Community which played out more like a traditional multi-camera, laugh track sitcom with tacky jokes. That was what many worried the show was going to become, maybe due to a mandate from the studio/network or because many had gotten their hands on a bootleg copy of the truly dreadful IT Crowd pilot Port and Guarascio made with Joel McHale before Community ever even started. Their response was to have a good laugh followed by a “No, seriously, we’re going to keep Community plenty weird.” After all, while Abed was imagining that version of the show the rest of the characters were watching Jeff engage in a Hunger Games-like series of battles in the cafeteria to secure everyone a place in a class called “The History of Ice Cream.”
However, no matter how hard they tried to reverse-engineer the Community formula they were always just going to be those guys who weren’t Dan Harmon. He has his own documentary, Harmontown (now available on Netflix), and made the cover of The Hollywood Reporter. Port and Guarascio? Not so much. Now, Harmon is the returning hero, soaking up attention at SXSW this weekend as part Yahoo’s push to promote Community‘s highly improbably 6th season. What of Port and Guarascio? They each only have one additional IMDB credit beyond their time on Community, which is as Executive Producers of an episode of NBC’s Marry Me, reuniting them with the creator and one of the stars (Casey Wilson) of Happy Endings. I can find no other evidence of what they’ve been up in the past 2 years.
Megan Ganz, for her part, bolted from Community after its fourth season and landed at Modern Family, joking that on her first day when her new desk wobbled one of the show’s veteran writers offered to balance it using one of the many spare Emmy’s they had lying around. She’s now credited as a writer for 6 Modern Family episodes and supervising producer of 24 over the past season and a half.
Back when Community was transitioning into its fifth season, Harmon offered no sympathy to Port and Guarascio, telling THR, “It said ‘no-win situation’ at the top of the contract, and they signed it anyway.” They responded in a simple statement, “We enjoyed our time on Community, and we’re thrilled it was picked up for a fifth season. We wish nothing but the best for the show going forward. It obviously could not be in better hands.”
The fact that we are now up to the “Six Seasons” part of the “Six Seasons and a Movie!” rallying cry is partially thanks to Port and Guarascio. Granted, it’s kind of their failure which led to the cast rallying to bring Dan Harmon back, but, still, someone had to make that fourth season.