If you’re one of the loyal Community fans that gave up on last year’s Dan Harmon-less season, we have good news. The once-booted showrunner is back, and his presence is immediately felt in Season Five’s first two episodes, which premiere back-to-back tonight on NBC. Community actually feels like Community again – the jokes land and the performances are hilarious, meaning all is how Harmon intended in the hallowed halls of Greendale Community College. To get the scoop on Community‘s new season, Rolling Stone chatted with Annie Edison herself, Alison Brie, about having Dan Harmon back in charge and a possible album from her band The Girls.
Are you guys done now?
We’re done – I’m just walking off the lot now. And it’s so strange, because they’ve already broken down the whole set. We’re only shooting these thirteen episode seasons, so they tear down the entire thing. It’s so sad.
And they’ll build it again next year?
Right, right. Or maybe never again. Maybe that’s why it’s sad.
So you’re talking to me instead of celebrating?
Yeah, you’re helping me through the pain.
How does it feel to have the gang back together?
It’s great. I’ve seen the first episode and some of the other ones and they’re just great. It’s so wonderful having Dan [Harmon] back. The material is excellent. I think it’s better than it’s ever been, which is super strange for the fifth season of a show. Having done last season without Dan, I think that everyone was really rejuvenated to have him back and to be back at all. Every year we think that we’re not coming back, especially last year, so there was general excitement just to be back and have Dan back and see what he was going to come up with. And as we shot the season, the material just got better and better.
Was there a feeling of just going through the motions last year?
Yeah, I think so. It was a strange season. Dan, obviously, has always been such a big part of the show. He is the show, basically, so to do a season without him felt really strange. It sort of felt like the constant unknown. I think when Dan is here, we don’t worry about much. We know we shouldn’t ask too many questions. Last year, I think it was a little stressful for everyone wondering, “How’s this going to turn out? What are the loyal fans going to think?”
So did Dan give you a big, all-hands-in pep talk?
I think it was more like an all-Scotch-in drink night where we just sat around and thought, “Ahh. . . Dan’s really back. Let’s all make some jokes and get the elephant out of the room as quickly as possible and then get excited about the season.”
What can fans expect to see this season and from Annie’s in particular?
Great themed episodes. We have a pretty epic episode on the horizon. We don’t redo paintball, but we have an episode that I think the paintball fans will be just as happy with. For Annie, there’s definitely a maturing this season. All the students at Greendale have not seen each other in a while – they’ve had a little time apart – so upon Jeff’s return you see these newer sides to people. Annie is dressing a little differently. It’s interesting because, while I do feel like it’s the biggest progression this character has made in the course of five seasons towards being a more mature person, at the same time it’s really a return to that original Annie from seasons one and two that’s a go-getter and very ambitious and keeping the group together. She wants everyone to be better people, especially Jeff.
She’s definitely a little more buttoned-up in the first few episodes.
Yes. She’s wearing a lot of pants, which is just unheard of for Annie. [Laughs]
Will we possibly see the return of Annie’s Boobs?
[Laughs] I hate to say it, but I don’t think so. But Annie’s Boobs was on set! We have a scene that we shot with a bird – we always bring in some kind of animal – and the animal wrangler that was there tbrought Crystal the Monkey [who plays Annie’s Boobs] and she was there wrangling the bird. It was the strangest and most fun thing ever.
You have always had some really great guest stars on the show.
Yes! And we do again this year. Jonathan Banks!
You got to experience Joel McHale and Nathan Fillion in the same room.
In the same room! I didn’t think it was possible. Nathan is such an amazing sport – he popped by for the briefest amount of time. I think he was like, “I wish I could stay longer and do more.” We were like, “Season Six! Regular!” [Laughs] We have great people. Jonathan Banks was incredible. He did eleven episodes – he’s basically a new regular – and he brought a really cool energy to set. He’s so professional and everyone had so much respect for him. And we all kind of fear him, so it was interesting watching everyone be better when he was around.
Who is the funniest person on set?
Danny Pudi. I say Danny only because he and I are known for our little capers together, so there’s no one that puts me in a sillier mood and makes me laugh more.
Who is the best cuddler?
Probably also Danny. The thing about him is that if you stroke the back of his head, he just falls asleep in your lap. So he can be a really good cuddler, armrest or sack of potatoes.
You’ve been playing shows with your band The Girls. Are we going to get an album soon?
We’ve sort of talked about collaborating on an EP with Jones Street Station, our brother band that we play with all the time. We’ve already written four original songs with them, so it’s sort of in the works, but in a very casual way. I wouldn’t expect it immediately. Give us a year.
Before you were an actress, you worked as a clown. Who were your inspirations?
I was really inspired by Steve Martin from the movie Parenthood with his Cowboy Dan routine. It’s so funny. That’s one of my favorite movies. As an entertainer, that’s my inspiration.
We need you on an episode of Modern Family – you and Cameron could do clown things.
I’d be into it. I can still whip up a few balloon animals, but they all just look like dogs with long tails.