School’s back in session for ‘Community’

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Even the star’s mother thought her son’s NBC sitcom had been canceled: the low-rated but widely acclaimed quirky cult-favorite “Community.”

“It was on her Facebook page,” noted comic-actor Joel McHale: “‘Say it isn’t so!’”

Actually, it wasn’t so. “Community,” about a community-college study group that becomes an unlikely family, returns to NBC Thursday night.

In mid fall, show creator and executive producer Dan Harmon got word the network was pulling his three-season-old series from its schedule, but that it would return — and, in fact, production on the show wouldn’t even be stopped.

“We kept shooting, and that was always a good sign,” said actress Alison Brie. “But it is sort of like getting sat down and your parents being like, ‘We’re not getting a divorce. We’re just going to be sleeping in different houses for a while.’ And you’re like, ‘That’s not good.’”

It certainly wasn’t good for Harmon, who said he went into a funk after receiving the news, a period of “self-loathing” After two years of running wild creatively while still nestled in the arms of NBC’s Thursday-night lineup, “I was spoiled,” he explained. “But it was also cool in a meta sense — adding a surprise chapter to a dark season.”

Observed actress Gillian Jacobs, “They were already sort of setting a tone with the episodes that were aired before we got pulled ... We killed Pierce’s father. We already established the idea of ‘The Darkest Timeline’ before we were pulled. So I think that was already in place and then it was sort of amplified by the fact that we were actually pulled off the air.”

Oddly enough, Thursday-night’s return episode may be the season’s brightest yet, with a moving wedding proposal and a revelation about one chronically cynical character’s hopeless romanticism. And there’s more good news: Actor Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton, returns to the show an Academy Award winner, for co-writing the George Clooney drama “The Descendants.” Rash was the one who accepted his Oscar while imitating presenter Angelina Jolie’s leg-revealing stance.

“That pose just strangely, for me, just fit into what I was feeling,” Rash explained. “You’re so proud of this long road that you’ve taken, this thing that started in 2007, that you had no idea that you’d be up there. I’m standing with Alexander Payne and my best friend from Groundings and writing partner (Nat Faxon). That felt like a great way to show, ‘All right. I’m going to do a proud stance — and an Oscar on my leg.’”

Harmon seemed confident “Community” would be renewed for at least a half-season more, bringing the episode count to a key number — “88 is the new 100,” he said, referring to the quantity of episodes it takes to have a good shot at a successful run in syndication, which is where much of a series’ profits are made.

But just in case, Jacobs and McHale have epitaphs ready for “Community”:

“We told a tale,” she said.

“We are as epic as ‘John Carter,’” he added.

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