Warning: This article contains storyline and character spoilers from this week’s episode of Community.
This week’s Community is a bottle episode which finds the study group stuck in an RV driving an absurdly giant hand up a mountain pass. We talked with show creator Dan Harmon about the genesis of the idea, how the prop masters and set designers contribute to his mad world, and why Abed seems to be slipping back into his “Mork from Ork” persona.
Did the writing of this episode start with “giant hand on an RV”? Or did that come later in the process?
The way we did that is we decided that they should be in the RV and there should be something ridiculous tied to the roof that wouldn’t make any sense that it turned out the Dean bought. We didn’t say “giant hand”; we said to the prop master, “What exists out there that’s gigantic and just random?” He showed us a couple pictures of some things and I noticed this giant hand sitting in a lot somewhere. Actually, some of us had driven by it, I think. There’s actually two of them — a left and a right one. They were white and we painted them flesh color and all we needed was one of them. But you can see the pair of them now when you drive to the lot — there’s this place you drive past a giant pair of hands.
Did you ever find out what they were from?
I don’t know why they were made. We don’t know. We chose the one we did because it looked funnier with somebody sitting in the palm. The other one had more of a fist shape to it. We chose the more relaxed hand so the Dean could nestle in its palm.
The show’s cartoon logic — the idea of following an idea to crazytown and beyond, but still being logical — is something you don’t see anywhere else. Another show might have a guy who buys a giant hand, but what is it about your thought process that generates the giant watch and the boy dragged away by a giant kite?
I guess I’ve always been fascinated with the difference between what we call comedy and what we call drama. This year, with the tags, we’re exploring a lot. I’ve also been fascinated with what we consider to be the boundaries of what a story is about and how life never really obeys those boundaries.
Down every street, there’s a story going on. Your perception warps that to turn everyone else in the world into background characters. The same as when you’re driving, the place directly around you doesn’t seem foggy — it’s everywhere else in the world that’s just in a fog. So it seems like all other human beings aren’t important and — if you’re having a good time — it seems like the world is good.
So I always enjoy the random embers from the campfire, following one in particular that tots off, rolls somewhere, and starts its own fire. And also, I get nervous when all we did was tell a joke, because it feels like, “Why is the show a half-hour long? And why is it so expensive and why do we care? We can just tell a joke into a microphone, so why are we watching a TV show?” I just feel like the answer has to be because people are real. Every joke has this tragedy behind it and every tragedy has a joke within it; that’s why this is a larger form that’s more captivating to people, so let’s make good on it.
So with that tag, the first thing is simply, “Well, isn’t this funny that we get to see the guy that was going to buy the hand?” Then that became, “Yeah, then he hangs up the phone, then we reveal that there’s this watch.” The original thought was this guy, he’s at a rest area — somewhere to make the exchange — so he goes over to his car and there’s a giant watch on a trailer on his car. And then we start thinking, yes, it’s funny that that guy exists and that we bother to spend time with him. Yes, that’s funny: We’ve done that before. Yes, it’s absurd and hilarious that the reason he wants a giant hand is because he already has a giant watch.
But then, having written that, you just go, “Well, if this is truly a funny joke and it’s so concise, then doesn’t it deserve to be defiled and explored? Because we can cut it later if we don’t like it, but let’s have his wife walk in. And just when you make people feel comfortable with you as Henny Youngman, turn into David Mamet and that’ll be extra funny. Alternating artifice with reality, back and forth, back and forth. I guess that’s just always been my instinct.
The posters in the RV — there’s one for Forlorn Embassy, there’s a Kneecap Jenny. Is there some big list of fake '90s bands that the writers came up with that you use to just sprinkle the names around?
We definitely did generate a list when we decided that Elroy should be a fan of some '90s band when we were decorating his trailer. We had the writers generate a list of '90s band names and they came up with some great ones. Kneecap Jenny might be one of them, but the funny thing is that Natalie Is Freezing was actually — it was my choice from this long list that was generated — and it wasn’t the writers that came up with it. It was somebody in the art department. They’re often much better at that kind of stuff. Natalie Is Freezing sounded perfect to me.
I don’t know if they kept their own list and when they need set decoration, they can go into that. I saw that in this episode too. They’re pretty autonomous; I’ve never had a single note about the set decoration. It’s sort of the opposite: They call me down to look at a set and then I walk into it and then I can go finish writing finally because I finally understand something about the scene that I didn’t before because of the attention to detail that they put into somebody’s apartment or a hallway in the school.
Last episode, Abed said he was starting to lose his grip on reality and this episode he pushes that fourth wall gimmick about as far as it can go. Is he regressing or is this just a cyclical thing for him?
I think he’s regressing a little bit. I think that his friendship with Troy was the height of him extroverting. It took a lot of his energy and then broke a lot of his heart and I think he had to go back inside to heal up.
But it’s not just a back and forth thing, a change of direction. It’s cyclical that way, I guess. When you’re traveling in a circle, you end up going the same direction several times, but you’re never in the same place twice. You’re not going from left to right, you’re going from up to down and by the time you’re going back to the left, you’ve gone down so much, it’s a new place to go left. Aren’t you glad I just described how a circle works?
Abed is furious with Troy and Troy leaving has made him a different version of the guy that was basically just Mork from Ork in the first couple of seasons. It was just, like, a visitor to our world who didn’t understand any of it and accesses it through our popular culture. Abed has grown since then and has learned and asserted that fitting in with people is both a difficult feat and also not that rewarding. Everyone’s just as screwed up as him. So now, he’s following his own comfort than following some mission to be understood.
Community is released every Tuesday on Yahoo Screen.