Alison Brie Explains Why The Community Set Felt Frantic, Frenetic, And Chaotic

Alison Brie has had an undeniably impressive acting career on TV, with memorable roles on "Mad Men," "Bojack Horseman," "GLOW," and most significantly, "Community." Although the community college-based sitcom was never a ratings hit, it went on for six seasons thanks to its passionate fanbase and Yahoo's short-lived streaming service coming to its rescue. 

Throughout her time working on "Community," Brie was also performing as Trudy Campbell on "Mad Men," a minor but consistently recurring role. Although it makes sense that the serious prestige drama would have a different feel behind-the-scenes than the wacky fast-paced sitcom, the sheer scale of the difference was noteworthy to her. The "Mad Men" showrunner Matt Weiner was, according to Brie, "a real stickler for us saying everything word perfect, word for word. Sometimes even gestures were written into the dialogue. 'She puts her hand to her forehand,' and you better put it to your forehead right then!"

Dan Harmon at "Community," however? "Dan's got this crazy genius mind. I think it thrives more in chaos," she said: 

"Everything felt a little more frantic, frenetic, chaotic. There were times where Dan would come down and maybe we didn't have the scripts yet for the whole episode, but we had some scenes and then Dan Harmon would come and give us context and be a little more physical." 

"Community" offered a lot more leeway when it came to the actors' body language and delivery. In part because of the lack of a strong overarching narrative, there was a lot more creative freedom going into each individual episode. 

Community's tight-knit cast

"It was a little messier," Brie said of the "Community" filming process, "but it really worked for the type of show we were making, and I think it gave all of us room also to bring our own things to those roles and really bond as a cast and become something else." And sure enough, the main cast of "Community" seem to be the closest friends of nearly any ensemble sitcom in a while.

Most of the cast members have a group chat going on as recently as 2020, and in addition to the on-screen chemistry, the behind-the-scenes fun has led to some of the most entertaining blooper reels of any show. One highlight is Brie's freestyle pillow fight rap, done with Donald Glover and Danny Pudi keeping the beat. The three of them are clearly just goofing around but Brie's rapping does actually have a pretty great flow, which makes sense you find out that Brie rapping on set was a recurring thing.

One extra upside to her time at "Community" was how cool everyone was with her working on "Mad Men." It was fairly uncommon for actors to have multiple major TV roles at a time, and although Brie didn't think her decision to join the sitcom as a main cast member "went over too well" for the crew  at "Mad Men," the people at "Community" didn't resent her at all for her attention being divided between two shows: "Luckily all of the producers on 'Community' were big 'Mad Men' fans, so they were pretty open about letting me continue to recur over there."

The downsides to Community's chaos

Whereas "Mad Men" had a consistent writing staff throughout its seven-season run, "Community" was plagued with conflict and controversies behind the scenes. Even as it produced some of the best sitcom episodes of all time, Dan Harmon's approach to showrunning at the time included constant re-writes. It led to the show constantly going behind schedule and over-budget, culminating in Harmon being replaced altogether in the show's notorious season 4. When explaining the difference between Weiner and Harmon, Brie said

"He had a much different battle in terms of — I think Matt having the first scripted show for AMC really got a lot of creative freedom versus Dan Harmon is coming to NBC who has been doing sitcoms since the dawn of TV and Dan's trying to push against that and make it something different, so there was a sense of procrastination that I think came out of him not wanting the network to have control over what we were doing."

Harmon would be rehired for season 5, but by that point the show was losing major characters left and right. Both Pierce (Chevy Chase) and Troy (Donald Glover) left officially in season 5, and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) also left in season 6. Even more minor characters like Professor Duncan (John Oliver) and Buzz Hickey (Jonathon Banks) were nowhere to be found in the final season. The writing remained strong in the final two seasons, but the golden era of the show was clearly long over. Despite it all, Alison Brie enjoyed the experience the whole way through, and if Dan Harmon ever got around to writing a "Community" movie, she would very much be on board