The fourth season of NBC's Community has been one of the most contentious television events of 2013 so far. The show is no longer led by creator Dan Harmon, who was controversially fired from the series last year. And now, four episodes into the abridged thirteen-episode season, many critics seem to agree that new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port are struggling (and failing) to recreate Harmon's style of writing. Thursday night's episode, "Alternative History of the German Invasion," much like every episode this season (aside from last week's fairly decent "Conventions of Space and Time"), seemed to be a hollow echo of concepts the series had already executed before -- and better.
But let's not be too critical. The writing might have declined in Harmon's absence, but the stars of the series are just as talented and hilarious as ever. There's a chemistry within the group that has remained strong through the creative turnover (except, of course, for Chevy Chase, whose behind-the-scenes self-alienation is obvious from his phoned-in performances this season).
That chemistry was particularly clear on Thursday in a conference call that Alison Brie and Danny Pudi held with reporters. The two had a very clear and close friendship that yielded some very hilarious moments of spontaneity. After the first question was asked, for example, the two, apparently under the impression that the conference call had ended, started chatting with each other about how awkward these calls are. At the end of the actual call, they bid reporters goodbye by bursting into song ("All for Love," if you're wondering). It was worth calling in just to hear them joking around; but to appease us journalists, the duo also answered a few questions about the series.
Of course, a lot of questions were focused on the show's new creative direction, and the two seemed rather positive about the direction of the series. "It's a tough thing to learn that your showrunner is not coming back to the show," Brie admitted. "[. . . but] when we met the new guys they really stressed a lot how much they loved the show and wanted to keep it the same, and some of are writers were still the same. We all were certainly vocal this season [about] what our characters would or wouldn't do and [the direction of the series], and so we were all sort of working together to keep the show intact."
"[We wanted to make sure] this year that our genuine love for the show comes across," Pudi added. "But definitely, you can't replace Dan Harmon."
Brie also chatted about her character's relationship with Jeff (Joel MacHale), which received significant attention in the "Conventions of Space and Time" episode. "Their relationship doesn't really progress," she noted. "I think that ["Conventions"] showed a progression in terms of Annie's maturity and their maturity sort of as friends in terms of her admitting she has a crush on Jeff. [. . .] I think this season is sort of like them just acknowledging and moving past it in some ways to being really good friends."
"[But] there will be some interesting things for fans later this season just between Joel and I," she added.
I asked the duo what they thought fans should be looking forward to for the rest of the season.
"I am really excited for our Christmas episode," Brie said, remarking that it was inspired by the Hitchcock film 'Rope.' "Also we have a Freaky Friday episode that was written by Jim Rash."
"And our season finale," she added. "I'm like, 'Hang in there, fans.' This is what I'll say about [the season's changes], 'Hang in there, fans.' Because I think the finale is such a special treat and it's written by Megan Ganz and it's one of my favorite episodes this season. It's really just made for the fans."
"In some ways, it's a bit of a love fest or a love note," Pudi added.
"It was written as if it might be our last, so there's a lot of heart in there from all of us," Brie added. "And I do think that the episodes get better and better throughout the season. So keep tuning in, you guys."
Pudi mentioned being excited for the upcoming episode "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking" -- "I'm excited that I'm behind the camera, literally, in the episode, because it allows me a week to not have to memorize monologues from a movie that I haven't seen."
The fourth season overall, according to Pudi, is about "embracing change."
"I think the thing about senior year at Greendale is that whether or not we change much as individuals, our circumstances change and our environments change."
"Any advice for fans who are having a little bit of trouble with change?" a reporter asked.
"No," Brie and Pudi said at once.
"That's a life question," Pudi added.