A chat with Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs, Ken Jeong and creator Dan Harmon of “Community”

America loves an underdog; cult TV fans only love underdogs. So it’s no wonder that suddenly almost everyone seems to love “Community.”

TV’s backhanded salute to two-year colleges comes by its underdog status honestly. Seemingly cursed with underwhelming ratings despite wide acclaim, it was put on indefinite hiatus late last year after an outstanding musical episode gleefully spoofing “Glee.” Hollywood naysayers to the contrary, there was clearly plenty of life left in the highly imaginative, frequently surreal show set at Colorado’s fictional Greendale Community College, a sort of academic “Green Acres” where normal logic is permanently suspended.

The show, which airs Thursday at 8:00/7:00 central and is also viewable via Hulu and NBC.com, returned in mid-March to a surprise — extremely healthy Nielsen numbers (2.2/7 in the advertiser beloved 18-49 demo). The credit, the show’s makers agree, goes largely to the intense activist fan base.

“Community” stars comic Joel McHale (“The Soup”) and an outstanding ensemble cast with an ethnic makeup that, shockingly, actually resembles a typical suburban community college. Aside from the three cast members we spoke to, the show also features gifted former “3o Rock” writer and actor Donald Glover, Daniel Pudi, Alison Brie (aka Trudy Campbell of “Mad Men“), and some guy named Chevy Chase. Speaking of Mr. Chase, just as the original version of this piece was posted, the Bullz-Eye staffed noticed a burgeoning net-storm over what sure sounds like a pretty ugly altercation between Chase and executive producer Dan Harmon with possibly inevitable repercussions that we can only guess at.

Nevertheless, spirits were high one sunny Sunday afternoon in Anaheim just a couple of weeks back at the 2012 edition of WonderCon as a bunch of mostly fannish writers met with just a few of the very talented people behind “Community.” Yvette Nicole Brown plays the outspoken, devoutly religious, and disarmingly maternal Shirley Bennett; Gillian Jacobs is high-strung former anarchist Britta Perry; and “The Hangover” heavy and former real-life practicing M.D. Ken Jeong inhabits the role of Spanish teacher turned security guard Señor Ben Chang. Also present was affable seemingly affable creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. As befits a production that blends real intelligence with anything-for-a-laugh energy, everyone had something interesting to say to a table full of committed fans and this enthusiastic “Community” newbie.

Yvette Nicole Brown on the good ratings news.

2.2 is massive…for us that’s like the stratosphere. You could say, “Oh, we’re so fabulous.” No. The fans are fabulous. This is 100 percent flash mobs, black goatees, Subway sandwich buys. They really blanketed NBC and Twitter with their love for the show. I think it made people who had never heard of us go, “Huh. Let’s see what this is.” I’m praying they come back next week.

Creator Dan Harmon on the surprisingly good ratings for the show’s return episode.

I never thought our ratings made sense when they were as low as they were, but now I don’t think that these make sense. It was like a 50 percent increase or something. It was insane. I don’t know who got a Nielsen box or whose cat stepped on the remote. I hope that we can keep it up.

Ken Jeong on the show’s perceived near-cancellation.

The events that have transpired since December have only brought the show and the fans even closer. We have even more love out of it. In hindsight, this has all been such a blessing. You really get to feel the love right now.

Gillian Jacobs on the the role of improvisation on “Community.”

I would say that there’s a lot of goofing around. There’s not a lot of actual improv with the lines. Maybe two percent of what you see in the show is improv. It’s scripted; we try very hard to get it word perfect. It’s just a lot of us making up stupid songs. Stupid raps… We quote the show to each other and we become obsessed with certain lines and repeat them. Lines that probably nobody else cares or remembers, we repeat daily. It’s like jokes on joke on jokes on jokes and we can’t even remember the origin of them anymore.

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HS TV 101: 12 Great Shows Set In or Around High School

High school: it’s a rite of passage we all must endure. Some of us weep when it’s over, others can’t wait to say goodbye forever, but for better or worse, it’s an experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The same goes for some of the many TV series that have been set in high school. Here at Bullz-Eye, we’ve polled our writers for their favorite shows within the genre, and the end result is, not unlike high school itself, a mixture of both comedy and drama.

12. Life As We Know It (ABC, 2004 – 2005): Lasting only 11 episodes before ABC unceremoniously yanked it from the air, “Life As We Know It” premiered during perhaps the most cancel-happy era in television. Developed by two of the producers of “Freaks and Geeks” (maybe the writing was already on the wall), the series may have ultimately been undone by poor ratings, but the Parents Television Council’s campaign against the show’s sexual themes certainly didn’t help. Then again, when you green light a series based on a controversial young-adult novel called “Doing It” that follows the exploits of a trio of best friends (Sean Faris, Jon Foster and Chris Lowell) navigating the highs and lows of adolescence, you can hardly pretend to be surprised when its characters discuss sex on a fairly regular basis.

Featuring a great cast of young up-and-comers that also included Missy Peregrym and Kelly Osbourne (yes, that Kelly Osbourne, who’s never been cuter than she was here), “Life As We Know It” certainly wasn’t perfect by any means, but it easily outshined similar shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” particularly in its handling of its adult characters. The series wasn’t without the usual high school clichés, but the writers never shied away from edgier material, either – like a student having a secret affair with his teacher or a star jock dealing with performance issues – resulting in a smart, sweet and incredibly honest look at how sex changes everything. – Jason Zingale

11. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975 – 1979): Despite suffering through remedial classes and acting far more rebellious than was deemed socially acceptable, Gabe Kotter (played by the suspiciously similarly-named Gabe Kaplan) still somehow managed to graduate from James Buchanan High School, but who would have thought that the dreams that were his ticket out would lead him back there? (John Sebastian did, of course, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) With his teacher certification tucked into his back pocket, Kotter returns to his alma mater and takes on the challenge of trying to educate the new generation of remedial students. Oh, sure, their names have all changed since he hung around – now they’re called Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) – but they’re still “sweathogs” all the way.

Most would likely agree that “Welcome Back, Kotter” was at its best when it was still the original four Sweathogs, i.e. before Travolta slipped away from television, put on a white suit, and found big-screen success on the dance floor, but even at its funniest, few would probably describe it as the most realistic look into high school life.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to replicate the high school experience so much as they were trying to service those particular characters and write stories about them,” said Mark Evanier, who served as a story editor for the show. “If you could get a good joke out of it, great…though there were times I think we settled for a decent catch-phrase.”

While the words “up your nose with a rubber hose” lend credence to Evanier’s theory, the Marx-Brothers-inspired chemistry between the Sweathogs helps their slapstick shenanigans hold up nonetheless. And, besides, who needs realism when you’ve got Gabe Kaplan doing Groucho? – Will Harris

10. Glee (Fox, 2009 – present): Is it telling that one of the most popular current shows on TV came it at only the #10 spot? If nothing else, maybe it proves we here at Bullz-Eye aren’t prone to fads. Except that maybe we are, as “Glee” has made it onto our TV Power Rankings lists time and again since its debut. But this list isn’t about what entertains us in the broader sense; it’s about great high school shows. As entertaining as “Glee” can be, it has almost nothing real to say about the high school experience, and in fact most of the high school kids I know find it to be pretty nonsensical.

The one area that it seems to excel in as far as capturing the high school experience is in its ability to play romantic musical chairs with its cast of teenage characters. These kids are fickle, and the only guarantee that seems to come with a relationship on “Glee” is that sooner or later it’s going to end. Some props should probably also be given for their attempt to zero in on the bullying issue that so seems to afflict kids today, but “Glee” chose to unfortunately treat the topic with kid gloves rather than say something truly meaningful. None of this is to say that “Glee” isn’t one hell of an entertaining series, because it is, but anyone looking for something a little deeper would do best to dust off their old DVD of “The Breakfast Club.” – Ross Ruediger

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Jamie-Lynn Sigler stops by the AXE Lounge

The girls of ‘Entourage‘ can’t seem to get enough of the AXE Lounge, and we can’t seem to get enough of them. The latest visit came from Jamie-Lynn Sigler, the woman you know as, well, herself, and yet another of Turtle’s love interests in the HBO series.


Sigler stopped by this Labor Day weekend to give guys some pick-up advice, talk about her new role as a detective, and share a little bit about her newest dream…to be on the hit show ‘Glee.’ Who doesn’t want a piece of the ‘Glee’ action?

  

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