Warning: This article contains storyline and character spoilers from this week’s episode of Community.
Even when Community reveals its romantic, gushy center, the show still maintains the caustic bite for which its known. Out of context, Garrett (Erik Charles Nielsen) screeching, “Stacy, will you be my legally incestuous wife?” is revolting, but it’s also one of the most heartfelt and beautiful lines of the entire season — a juxtaposition that few other shows could manage.
We talked with Community creator Dan Harmon about how much his wedding to real-life wife Erin McGathy (who plays Garrett’s on-screen wife, Stacy) influenced the episode, as well as the evolution of Frankie, the most flattering on-screen experience Harmon’s ever had, and the changing group dynamic that could spell the end of the series.
So we find out about Frankie being called a “cold, off-putting, incompatible person” this episode, and we almost hear more about one of her sisters. Is there a bible on Frankie’s character somewhere, or are you filling in her back story as you go?
There’s a lot of conversation we have at the beginning of the season; we never consider it locked. But, because we get busy, there’s a good chance that most of the conversation we had at the beginning of the season, there are decisions that don’t get made. We decided that Frankie would be an unprecedentedly professional and qualified person — given Greendale’s environment — and that she had to have a reason to be there. We didn’t want it to be because she had fallen from grace or screwed up her life somehow.
So why would an incredibly untapped, organized, problem-solving person be at Greendale? And we decided the answer was probably about her capacity for solving problems being part of her personal life as well: She was in Greendale because it was a reasonable job for her to have while she took care of a member of her family. She mentions that as early as the first episode, that she’s there to take care of somebody. I have a sister who’s developmentally disabled and that just seemed like the natural thing to draw upon — the idea that Frankie had a sister that she was taking care of. But we also learned in the email episode that she has a sister she writes to who is dead.
I always imagined, early on, that Frankie belongs to a very remarkable family that’s also incredibly unstable. Sort of the same way that Marilyn Munster was the ugly one because she was beautiful — Frankie is the hero of her family because she’s sane. That usually doesn’t get you a lot of ribbons, but if you grew up in the Hemingway family or something where the life expectancy was literally affected by the genius and imbalance of the rest of family — if there’s a person in that family who’s talent is for being predictable and solving problems, I imagine that person would be looked at as a superhero by the crazy people around them. That’s how she’s always lived her life. And she enjoys the company of the screwed-up. She doesn’t say, “Ew, that’s gross; I want to get away from that so I can be happy.” She doesn’t blink when she’s faced with craziness; she enjoys cleaning it up and helping it.
So that was the conversation that we had about Frankie when we were creating the character. The specifics always come in the form of someone’s joke or just some off-handed dialogue. And then we pay attention to each word that’s been said because we know it’s now entered canon and we’re automatically keeping track of that stuff. So all we do is we just don’t contradict anything that’s been previously said and over the season organically this biography is born.
Frankie calls the group “co-dependent”; Jeff calls them “synergistic”. Who’s right?
If you’re part of a super-functional group, there’s a really good chance that the individual pieces that make up that group are not functional because why would complete individuals also simultaneously be in a complete group? So individuality may always be at war with being in groups. I mean, we need both of them, but they need each other to die: Individuality and groups. Groups are driven and fueled by the unhappiness of individuals and individuals only taste true freedom and completion to the extent that the groups they’re in fall apart. And they have to form new ones or they have to find out that they are capable of individual completion.
So, it’s a taboo topic whether or not it’s all ending. I never want to pretend to know and I get uncomfortable talking about it. But also, once you’re into your sixth season, if you want people to continue growing — you don’t want them to feel like they’re just going to continue to be this throng. You want to continue to explore the idea that the purpose of that throng was to liberate these people and repair them. They were broken when they started the series, so we’re going to see them start to heal. And if they do start to heal, doesn’t that mean the end of the show? Or does it? Who knows?
How close to your actual wedding was this wedding?
My wedding was too awesome to be funny on television. [Laughs.] My wife produced a greater wedding than any show that’s ever been televised. There wouldn’t have been anything funny about that. It also probably wouldn’t have been possible to put together. We got married at the Natural History Museum; there were elaborate dinosaur costumes on the dance floor, Erin did a little dance number with a chorus line of women that were wearing giant Dan Harmon heads. [Laughs.]
I drew lightly on my worst fears about what it must be like to be marrying me in representing Garrett, who doesn’t have a personality. He’s not Prince Charming. Which I think is important: How many people in this world are Prince Charming? And yet we’re all getting married and a lot of us have long and happy lives. So I did want to explore the idea. The myth of the wedding: “Oh, this is our big special day, this is how we’re beginning our perfect life, so if we make all the right choices and everything goes according to plan, then we’ll be happy.” Which is another form of co-dependence: If this happens, then we’ll be happy. Wedding ceremonies are sort of an exercise in casting that hex on things.
We’ve all been to weddings where it started raining or the power went out or the butterflies that were supposed to come out of a box were dead. A lot of times when these things happens, they actually create a spontaneous cone of joy that erupts all over the place — as long as people don’t freak out about their issues with control. So when you have a groom like Garrett and then on top of it, it turns out that he’s your cousin: That’s the definition of everything going wrong at your wedding. And what is love and what is the point of a wedding? It’s for better or for worse. One gets the feeling that those two will be together forever because their wedding was so terrible.
Who plays fake Dan Harmon at the end there?
[Laughs.] I don’t know! I had a big argument with [Rob] Schrab, who was directing that shot. He really wanted me in there. I kept going back and forth with him saying no, that’s not funny if I’m in there because our friend Matt Gourley is playing Briggs Hatton, and all of these other extras are playing the writers, so why would I be sitting in there? And Rob said I was being humble, like I didn’t want to be a big cheese or something and I was like, “No it’s just not comedically clean. People already know what my dumb ass looks like. There’s no reason to laugh if it’s me sitting there.”
I don’t know where they found that guy, but that is the most flattering experience I’ve ever had seeing this guy. [Laughs.] This guy glaring around the room like he has no idea where he is or what’s going on. There’s a guy bringing him coffee and he’s looking at him like, “Why are you bringing me coffee?” I really like it.
The season finale of Community will be released next Tuesday, June 2 on Yahoo Screen.