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Dan Harmon: 'Gears are turning' on Community movie, despite 'philosophical question' he hasn't answered

By Matthew Jackson
Community Returns Still

It's been six years since Community went off the air for the last time with a final season on the Yahoo! Screen streaming service, fulfilling the "six seasons" half of the "six seasons and a movie" in-joke that became a battle cry for its fandom. In the years following the show's farewell, pretty much everyone involved has gone on to other things, whether we're talking about Danny Pudi in Mythic Quest or Alison Brie in GLOW, but that hasn't stopped fans from asking again and again when the movie is finally going to arrive.

According to creator Dan Harmon, there may be real progress on that front soon... if he can solve some big storytelling dilemmas along the way.

On a recent episode of Vulture's Good One podcast, Harmon — who's had his own major new career act with the megahit sci-fi animated comedy Rick and Morty — discussed everything from how his working style has changed since Community and accusations of toxicity and abuse centered on his writers room to how his writing style has changed in a more socially conscious era. Of course, the interview wouldn't have been complete with talk of a Community movie, which led Harmon to get a bit philosophical about what that hypothetical film's storytelling needs would actually be.

"Here’s the biggest philosophical question: Are you supposed to service a mythical new viewer? The obvious, dogmatic, practical, off-the-street answer is like, No, you don’t. It’s fan service. Why would there be a Community movie? Who do you think is going to walk in off the street and buy popcorn and sit and watch a Community movie like that? They deserve to be punished. Why are they doing that?

"Saying that that person doesn’t exist is a lot different from asking yourself structurally if you’re supposed to design the movie for them, because there’s a new viewer inside of all of us. If every Marvel movie started with inside references to all 90 other Marvel movies, even if you had seen all of them — even if on one level you’d be like, This is the greatest Marvel movie ever because all of the movies are in here — I think that a part of your brain would be going, Yeah, but it’s kind of not a good movie for this reason. It’s just speaking in gibberish. What does this mean? I exist in that camp like you? Formalistically, you owe a movie that I think the fans can not only enjoy, but they can stand back and go, You know, the crazy thing about this Community movie is that if you didn’t know there was a show, this is an insanely good movie. There’s a reason to watch it and then definitely watch the series because now you’re like, Holy crap. I don’t know if that’s arrogance, pretentiousness, responsibility, self-deprecation, torture. I can’t get myself out of that camp."

Walking the line between fan service and telling a new story is, of course, an issue that every film ever made based on TV series struggles with, and elsewhere in the interview Harmon himself compared the dilemma to The X-Files, a show that has twice branched out into feature films with mixed results. So, Harmon's concern that the film stands as a story on its own while also serving longtime fans is an understandable one.

Then, of course, there's the issue of what the actual story might be. Thanks to a charity table read and reunion last year, we know that the show's stars (with the possible exception of Chevy Chase, who departed the series somewhat acrimoniously) are game for a movie and are still friends who talk frequently, so despite the scheduling hurdles, it seems the chemistry is still there. For Harmon, though, that's not the key concern. The concern is how to make a story about all these people who met in community college make sense more than half a decade later.

"Do you want to see these people play dress-up in their old outfits and come in and go, 'Look at me. Meep meep, moop moop. Look what I used to do'? Yes, to some degree; no, to some degree. And contrary to that, do you want to see these people not doing that and coming in in pantsuits and going, 'I’m an adult now. Meep meep, moop moop. Remember when we did this?' Is there a way to provide a little bit of all of it for everybody and come out on the other side, with everybody going, Wow, that is like everything I didn’t even know I wanted from a Community reunion? If history is any teacher, what I will try to do is solve all those problems, and I’ll end up making a big plate of self-indulgent spaghetti that only five people love."

So, with all that in mind, can the movie happen? Though Harmon maintains that he'd like to have an actual goal to work towards before sitting down to write something, he's also definitely given some thought to a story, and there may finally be some real-world movement to back all that thinking up.

"I started writing to keep my parents from hitting me, and I now only write to feel valid. But the upside of that is yes, I am, at least once a week, thinking about it, because the gears are turning," he said. "There is, like … a thing is happening. Logistically, the locks are coming away. And the only problems are becoming the creative ones, which is great, because I love those problems. I love having these conversations, and they’re being had."