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September 2, 2014

Behind the Scenes of 'Community's' Halloween Episode

by Laura Prudom, posted Oct 28th 2010 11:55AM
Joel McHaleGreendale Community College is a very special kind of educational establishment, catering to the drop-outs, the rejects, the elderly and even those who like to forge their qualifications.

It's also one of the most entertaining places to spend 30 minutes of your time on a Thursday evening, even up against such ratings heavy-hitters as CBS' 'The Big Bang Theory' and Fox's 'Bones'.

Perhaps you've never seen an episode of NBC's 'Community,' now in its second season (quite likely, since the show is criminally underrated), but if you only watch one Halloween episode this year, you should make it this one -- it's even on at a special time, 8.30PM ET, so you don't have to choose between those geniuses on CBS and the ... different type of geniuses that populate 'Community'.

Besides, this episode has zombies, and Ken Jeong in skintight Spandex; what more could you ask for from a TV show?

TV Squad was part of an intrepid crew of reporters who braved the 'Community' set during the filming of the Halloween episode, in which Pierce (Chevy Chase) and other students ingest a bio-hazardous substance, start exhibiting flu-like symptoms, and turn into zombies at the college's annual Halloween party. We've got all the dirt on what to expect from those lovable, flesh-eating Greendale Human Beings when 'Community' goes 'Resident Evil' tonight.


Last year's Halloween episode of 'Community' certainly set the bar high when it came to executing a crazy concept in a suitably epic fashion, and many cast-members credit the plot with opening the barn door and allowing all of the crazy to escape for future storylines (such as the season-stealing Paintball escapade last year).

Gillian Jacobs and Yvette Nicole Brown"It was a big episode for us, in terms of the tone of the show and the ways in which we were going to push past a traditional sitcom," Gillian Jacobs (who plays tomboyish Britta) shared in a roundtable interview. "That was the first inkling to me of the madness that was ahead, and it was a big caper with all of us involved. It's nice to come back to Halloween again this year, because I have a lot of fond memories of shooting that episode."

Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays motherly meddler Shirley, revealed that the show has been purposefully "upping the ante" on this year's episodes, just to give viewers more of the thrills that made the end of the last season so unmissable. "We are so grateful that people are finding our show, and we know that sometimes it takes something really big or exciting [for people] to tell their friends 'you gotta see this show, this show is crazy!'" she explained.

"Crazy" seems to be creator Dan Harmon's middle name, and he has no reservations about making every episode all-or-nothing. "The Halloween episode is extravagant and insane, and, just like the paintball episode, will either get me promoted or fired," he laughed, seemingly unconcerned about his potential career suicide (and after seeing the actors in costume and watching brief snippets of filming, we're pretty sure he doesn't have much to worry about, either).

Harmon credits the inclusion of director Anthony Hemingway as a mark of the quality of the episode -- the veteran director has helmed episodes of 'The Closer,' 'The Wire' and 'True Blood,' so he's "capable of producing action and drama" as well as comedy. Previous attention-grabbing episodes, such as the infamous Paintball war and last week's hilarious 'Apollo 13' spoof, have a very cinematic feel to them, which is just one of the reasons why 'Community' always succeeds in transcending the limitations of the sitcom formula (and budget).

Alison Brie "We really immerse ourselves in the genre when we're doing a specific genre episode," agreed Alison Brie (who plays control-freak Annie) taking a break from filming to visit us in her disheveled Red Riding Hood costume, complete with ghoulish zombie make-up. "Every episode of this season has an element of that excitement and that edge and that unpredictability -- it's something that's different from what you would normally see on TV. The writers are really going for it gung-ho, and we're all on board; it's a dream job!"

Part of the reason for that balls to the wall mentality is, Harmon conceded, because a showrunner never knows when an episode might be their last -- shows have been dropping like flies this year, and for an on-the-bubble series like 'Community,' every viewer counts.

"I feel like it was by the grace of God that we were picked up for a second season, and then there was the announcement of 'Big Bang' moving to 8," Harmon observed dryly. "It made me feel like, hey, this thing might not last forever, and so the pressure I put on myself for second season was, get some good stuff done while you can." He admitted that he was feeling particularly nihilistic at the end of the first season, which resulted in some excellent episodes that clearly subscribed to the adage of 'go big or go home'.



"Second season, we're coming out of the gate with episodes that I refuse to wait to do, in the first 6 we're doing stuff that you shouldn't be allowed to do in an entire season," he chuckled, hinting that season 2's Christmas episode would be similarly spectacular, since it will be filmed entirely in stop-motion animation. "It'll be like a timeless Christmas classic in the stop-motion medium that used to give us so much happiness as children," he insisted. "And there's a reason for it to be stop-motion animated -- but it's not a dream and it still exists within the reality of the show. People will be able to refer to the events that took place in that episode, even though it's entirely animated."

With such an imaginative and unpredictable creator, you would forgive the cast for being nervous about what kinds of situations they might end up in next, but every single actor we interviewed trusts Harmon implicitly, no matter how many times he strips a certain character naked ...

"What's great about Dan is that his ideas are so fantastical, I get thrilled just to be able to shoot them," Joel McHale (portrayer of campus studmuffin Jeff Winger) told us. As for what he does to prepare for his taxing role of being too cool for school and making out with a slew of lovely ladies, it sounds quite simple.

"I try not to eat too much sugar, 'cause I'm going to be naked again," he teased. "Yeah, I'm contracted [to be naked every other episode], and they're just going to put less make-up on me until I become the whitest person in the history of television. I'll be blinding, there'll literally be light coming off me, I'm so white."

Donald Glover and Danny PudiDespite his purported paleness, we doubt that many of 'Community's' viewers would complain about an abundance of shirtless Jeff Winger, even though Harmon insisted that he wouldn't give us too much of a good thing, in case we start taking McHale's torso for granted. The buzzkill.

Instead, the Halloween episode looks to shake up the shirtless dynamic; Jeff will be regrettably clothed in order to pull off his costume choice of David Beckham ("Jeff actively pursues costumes that you'll find him 'accidentally handsome' in," McHale admitted) and it will be the resident jock, Troy (Donald Glover) who eschews a shirt this time around. "I have my shirt off for like ... ninety percent of this episode," Glover confided.

He also shared that Troy will have more of an action-packed role this time around: "I'm punching people out, zombies, zombie women -- it's just good fun," he said smugly.

When it comes to impressive costumes, though, Troy's BFF Abed (Danny Pudi) might have Troy's abs beat; he'll appear as the alien from 'Aliens,' albeit without the copious quantities of saliva.

"It's kind of the perfect balance of homemade and very scary. You can tell Abed spent way too much time [making it]," Pudi laughed. Unfortunately, a couple of the alien's qualities were still eluding him at the time of the interview. "I can't do the head-within-the-head thing yet," he sighed. "I've been trying -- I've been acting real hard."

Ken Jeong Pudi also informed us that in order to get into the zombie mindset, the cast watched 'Dawn of the Dead' in Brie's trailer, andthat he had purposefully infected himself with a cold the week before, just so that he could feel extra "off" -- now that's what we call method acting.

As for who could boast the scariest costume of the episode, that seemed like a no-brainer for everyone. "Senor Chang (Ken Jeong) is pretty frightening," Jacobs decided, giving a little shudder. "He's dressed as Peggy Fleming, so he's in an ice skating leotard and a ladies' wig from the 60s."

We're having nightmares already.

The Halloween episode of 'Community' airs at the special time of 8.30PM ET tonight on NBC.
Will you be watching?

Check out our previous 'Community' set visit interviews here.

[Follow Laura on Twitter @LauinLA.]

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