Talkin' Shop: A Q&A With Community's Dan Harmon

by Ethan Alter September 6, 2011
Community Q&A With Dan Harmon

TWoP: Which Season 2 episodes do you look at and think, "Yup, we got it right."

Harmon: My mind goes to the so-called bottle episode, "Cooperative Calligraphy" and the hospital episode where Pierce pretends he's dying ["Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking"]. Also, "Critical Film Studies" and "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons." There's lots of them, but those are the ones that immediately shoot to the top in my mind.

TWoP: And on the flip side, which ones make you go, "We coulda done better?"

Harmon: Even though it seems so fantastic, I'm tortured by how much better the clip show episode ["Paradigms of Human Memory"] could have been. Then there are some episodes that are just A-story, B-story driven stuff. I realize that's what a sitcom has to be and that if we don't do that a lot, then no one's going to understand these characters are real, but there's a drawer full of those episodes that I look at and go, "Eh, I could live without watching that one again." The episode that keeps coming up when the writers talk about that is "Asian Population Studies" and also the Shirley-giving-birth episode ["Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts"]. And that one was definitely the writers' fault -- my fault in particular. For a pregnancy that's been building the entire semester, what'd we'd really do with it besides sitting a woman in the corner of the room and having her just give birth? One of our producers, Neal Goldman, has an expression: "It's pizza. We make pizza." Meaning, the worst slices are still really delicious. I think that's a good way of putting it. Because it's not like I'm ashamed of anything we've ever aired. I think it's a great show and I'm proud to say I'd be a fan of it even if I didn't have anything to do with it. But when you split hairs and pick your favorites and least favorites, something's gotta go on the top and the bottom.

TWoP: You guys are known for subverting traditional sitcom tropes, but at a certain point you must hit a wall trying to come up with fresh spins on something like a birth episode.

Harmon: Yeah, we talked about that. We said, "How do we Community-up a childbirth?" And I think given more time in the writer's room, we probably would have figured something fantastic up. But my instinct there was "Let's do the most ironic thing ever: let's just have her give birth." Because if she gives birth in an elevator or a hot tub or at a Dodgers game, isn't that what Fred Flintstone did? That's the whole point of traditional sitcoms -- of course the birth is going to happen in a wacky way at an inconvenient time. I guess the mistake we made is we should have gone all the way with that and had her go to a hospital and give birth. But I think The Office had just done that so what we got was right in the middle. It was mashed potatoes without gravy.

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