Community season six is now in its third episode over at its new home on Yahoo! Screen and is continuing to press on with some of the best installments of the series to date. One reason for its high level of quality can be attributed to actor Jim Rash’s portrayal Dean Craig Pelton, the head of Greendale Community College and fervent admirer of Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger. Mr. Rash recently spoke with me about the return of Community, how his character has evolved over the years, and how Community is like Cheers.
FreakSugar: Now you’re on Yahoo! Screen, does this season feel like there’s more creative freedom to do with Community things that might not have been possible on network TV?
Jim Rash: Oh yeah, there’s a lot more creative freedom on-set. There’s support of what [Yahoo! Screen] wanted of the show and support of what the show is. Certainly, our time on network was, “We want bigger numbers, so you need to change your show so more people will want to watch it.”
But you’re like five seasons in, four seasons in, three seasons in, it’s not about bringing more eyeballs, unfortunately, at this point. It’s about satisfying our fans and trying to introduce us to new people in a world where you can catch up to a show. So, that said, I think it’s still Community. We just have more time to tell our stories than we did on network, which is nice. But no change in terms of language and stuff, because then you’re just doing it on purpose.
FS: We saw a little bit in season five of Jeff as a teacher at Greendale and the dynamic between him and the Dean as his boss. Are we going to get the opportunity to see more of that?
JR: Yes, there’s a whole episode where we bring in convicts to raise money. It’s an awful idea, and the Dean becomes infatuated with one of the prisoners to take the place of Jeff. And we get to see Jeff teaching his class and more of him acting as a legitimate teacher.
FS: That’s great. And with the mix-up in the power dynamics, Jeff was always trying to get away with the Dean—
JR: –Now he can’t. [laughs] And we have Paget Brewster as a financial advisor who is brought in to oversee the Dean financially. So it’s nice to have the Dean have reins around him by someone who’s not above him, but someone who’s giving him constraints. Which he does not follow. [laughs]
FS: That’s one reason I was glad to see Paget Brewster come in because your scenes with John Goodman [in season three] were some of my favorite scenes in the series.
JR: My God, those were so much fun. It is nice to have another authority person. And it’s also good because Jeff’s in a place of being in the administration and we have an advisory board that extends outside the classroom for most of the story. It’s still in the walls, but very much an advisory-driven story.
FS: Is there anything about the nature of the show or your character that you would prefer went unaddressed or unanswered?
JR: Well, it’s nice this year because there’s an episode that addresses the Dean’s sexuality and how complicated it is. I don’t think it’s something that [showrunner] Dan [Harmon] always intended, but it’s growth rather than avoiding it, which is nice. As far as the rest of Greendale, I never want to see Leonard graduate. [laughs] I think however it ends—a movie, another season, whatever down the road—Community has to feel like Cheers. It’s still there. It can’t not function. The characters have to move on. Of course, you want to see closure, what happens next, for all these characters. Jeff’s the only one who has a tie to it outside of still student.
FS: You mentioned that the show will be addressing the Dean’s sexuality this season. Last season, we didn’t see the Dean in any costume. I always thought that the Dean used those costumes to work through issues that were triggered somewhere down the line. It’s nice to see an acknowledgment of that.
JR: Yes! I think Dan came back after season four where we exhausted costumes. Even I was like, “Good Lord, I’ve worn two in this episode alone.” I think Dan’s main thing was to protect his characters. He doesn’t want it to be a checklist. So he wanted to not do the costumes because of that. This year has pretty much followed suit because he wanted to remind everyone who all these characters are and let them grow. So that’s continuing season five and not having him doing it just because he enjoys doing it.
FS: I know you’ve written an episode in season 4. Are we going to get the chance to see any more of your writing on the show?
JR: Not anymore writing, but I directed two episodes this season. That was awesome and enough. [laughs]
FS: Thank you very much for your time. And also, I loved your writing in The Descendants. Had to get that in there.
JR: That’s very sweet. Thank you.
FS: Thanks again, sir.