Community creator Dan Harmon will once again join his cast for a panel at Comic-Con on Saturday, but we just couldn't wait that long. So, we phoned Harmon to see what he's got up his sleeve for Season 3, and boy, did he spill the goods. Britta's choosing a major! Shirley will redefine herself. And despite the cliff-hanger of Season 2, it sounds like our study group may grow closer than ever this season (or at least certain members of it will). Plus: Harmon teases the group's new biology teacher and an "epic" hero's journey for Troy.
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TVGuide.com: Do you have some fun surprises planned for the Comic-Con panel?
Dan Harmon: Yeah, there definitely are fun surprises — more so than last year. The panel will begin with another DJ Steve Porter remix of Season 2, and that's really cool. During the panel at some point we're going to show some bloopers, a gag reel from the season. But then there are other surprises that are pretty much specifically designed to be spectacular.
TVGuide.com: Now that you've had time to step back from it, how do you feel about what you did in Season 2?
Harmon: I feel great. [But] I would probably agree with some of the critical appraisals that we did a couple too many big thematic departure [episodes] a couple too many times in a row. The net effect was for people to feel a little disconnected from the show. And even when we weren't doing big stunt episodes, we were, because... I always made sure that every episode, especially in the second season, was modular — that it had no connection to previous episodes except that the characters were the same characters and they were growing. This year I'm putting a bigger emphasis on connectivity between these episodes without making the show a serialized show. I want to feel like these pearls that are the episodes have a string attached to them so that at the end of the season, you can have experienced a full story.
TVGuide.com: Is that to say that you aren't going to do big stunt episodes?
Harmon: We won't do away with them completely. I just want to make sure that we don't do two in a row or that they become so much the show's identifier. I mean our ratings keep going down. ... And I have no reason to believe that [the stunt episodes] are not the reason the ratings are going down, because we're at a time when we're supposed to be attracting new viewers and all they're hearing about our show is stuff that maybe intimidates them. Maybe when you're watching TV, you're flipping channels looking for a comforting friend that doesn't expect a lot of you, so other shows are beating us out in that regard.
Community Finale: Can Pierce be redeemed?
TVGuide.com: Do you think that also plays a role on Emmy nomination day? Did you feel overlooked?
Harmon: I didn't feel overlooked because that would be to say that people knew about us and liked us and unfairly didn't give us something. And that's definitely not how I feel. I'm disappointed, because I wish that we had better luck. I wish that more people knew about the show, because I know that if they did they would consider us. I don't think the reason for that is because we're doing a bad job. I think it's because nobody knows we exist.
TVGuide.com: So how do you plan to turn that around in Season 3?
Harmon: I want to be more psychologically and narratively clever. I've done a lot of planning out of stories for all the characters that will take place throughout the entire season. I've never done that before. ... And also I want to bring intensity to the show, frankly, because if someone says your show is too weird, you have two choices: You can add water and make it less substantial and have less flavor, so that it's less appealing basically to everyone. Or, you can intensify its non-weirdness. You can make it a more grounded show in a way that feels brilliant.
TVGuide.com: First things first, though, you have to deal with last year's cliff-hanger. Will we see Pierce (Chevy Chase) back in good standing with the group?
Harmon: We definitely need to resolve that conflict, and we're going to focus on that in the first episode of the third season. [Pierce] is going to continue to be a part of the show, and I want to learn more about his character and continue to play games with the audience that allow them to answer that question of, "Why would anybody ever hang out with this guy?" And I want people to have those questions about everybody [in the group]. ... I want to delve more into the characters' lives and psychology in a way that I'm hoping will be surprising to people.
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TVGuide.com: So what sort of plans have you made for the characters?
Harmon: Well, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) is going to choose a major in the beginning of the season. It's been a long time coming. She's finally going to commit to a chosen vocation and she'll be trying to prove herself throughout the year. I want to see with Abed (Danny Pudi) more of the things that make it difficult to be him. We've seen lots of him being a superhero in his disconnection, and I want to see what the price of that disconnection is sometimes in stories that challenge him more.
For Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), I want her character to evolve a bit now that she's gotten back together with her husband. She's going to need to find her volition. She's going to need to move forward, and like Britta, decide what it is that she wants to do with her life. Pierce needs to atone with Jeff (Joel McHale), and I want this to be the season that we meet Jeff's father if possible. Annie (Alison Brie) is going to have a rival that will bring the worst out in her and cause her to have to do with battle with some of her profound weaknesses. And a couple of the characters will be cohabitating in different combinations that will move the show forward I think.
TVGuide.com: What about Troy (Donald Glover)?
Harmon: Troy is going to be pursuing his talent for plumbing. He's going to finally have surrendered to that, but he's going to be torn between that and another occupation that will want him more badly and want to exploit his talents in a different way. Troy's going to have probably the most heroic journey of all in an epic sense, because he's sort of the chosen figure who has this gift. He's going to be torn between two worlds that Greendale's campus is affected by profoundly.
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TVGuide.com: And what's Chang (Ken Jeong) up to this season?
Harmon: I wanted him in a position of authority. I thought that would be very funny. So there's going to be a whole story to his occupying that role. Chang is going to be a security guard, and his story is going to be the story of a man's rise to power.
TVGuide.com: Will we see more of Shirley's husband (Malcolm Jamal Warner) this season?
Harmon: If we see more of him and her home life, it'll be more in the second half of the season because I want her to buckle down and decide what she wants to do and how she's going to do it. If that's taking a toll on her home life or facilitating it, then that'll be part of that story. But first things first, I want her to redefine herself.
TVGuide.com: Will Jeff and Britta's weird, will-they-or-won't-they relationship still be in play?
Harmon: It's a permanent part of the world that they've created. We've never gone backward from any of this; we are simply bouncing these characters off one another. It's not a will-they-or-won't-they with two characters who you know eventually will, it's: Which of these two characters will live happily ever after? And will they actually be in love in the sense that you can picture them 20 years from now in a grocery store arguing about cereal? Jeff and Britta will always be a factor, just as surely as Jeff and Annie always will. He's tangled with those forces, and he can't un-ring those bells.
TVGuide.com: I hear the study group will take biology this season. What can you tell us about the teacher?
Harmon: We've had all these crazy teacher characters. They're so dedicated to their profession that they're kind of nuts or they're off the deep end. So, the next logical place to go on that playing field is a deeply intense character. ... I want this character to be the epitome of intensity and integrity — an untouchable character that therefore is going to be obviously rubbing up against Jeff Winger the wrong way. Jeff doesn't understand what it's like to be passionate and take oneself so seriously that you would ever sacrifice your convenience for something.
TVGuide.com: Given all that's happened with Pierce, will Jeff continue to be the group's leader?
Harmon: He's going to continue to be the hub of the group, the heart of the group — the one they go to when they need problems solved. But he's also the one that is most burdened by their imperfections. Jeff is more and more in love with the group and that love is less and less on the negotiating block. Jeff no longer has stories where he's asking whether or not he likes these people. Jeff is now having stories where the difficulties of liking this group of people are being presented.
TVGuide.com: Is that what this season is really all about?
Harmon: Yeah, Season 3 is about the price that you pay when you figure out that you love a group of people. That's it in a nutshell. It's about the high cost of valuing people other than yourself, and that's the path that Jeff has been on. The third chapter for him is going to be the toughest of all. When you love people, their pain is your pain. Nobody likes having to deal with hassles more than Jeff Winger, and nobody's going to have to deal with more this year.
Community returns Thursday, Sept. 22 at 8/7c on NBC.