There’s softball, there’s whiffleball, and then there’s what happened at Comic-Con on Friday morning, when Moses Port and David Guarascio, Community’s newly installed replicant showrunners, faced tough questioning from a room full of people dressed as Nightcrawler. (This isn’t a cheap Comic-Con joke. Someone dressed as Nightcrawler actually asked a thoughtful query about Asperger’s syndrome. She then teleported away in a burst of smoke and brimstone.) It was both a smart play and a gentle public debut for the two scribes who, despite perfectly sterling comedic résumés, have their hands full attempting to replace visionary lunatic Dan Harmon (and his penchant for crack metaphors) at the helm. Even with the presence of the cheery, quippy cast, one might have expected a few zings and arrows to be directed at the new guys, something about how everything that was good, or occasionally great, or often-frustrating-yet-always-interesting, about Community was a direct data dump from Harmon’s idiosyncratic, gin-soaked brain, that ordering a shortened, zombie season of the low-rated, Internet-adored series makes about as much sense as hiring a Moby impersonator to DJ your bar mitzvah, that Community without its creator would be like Troy without Abed in the morning.
But there was no mention of the Internet’s fallen hero — consigned, for the time being, to a life of Kickstarting cartoons with other prickly geniuses — or even the slightest raising of a skeptical eyebrow, even if that eyebrow was hidden under latex and blue face paint. Instead, according to the indefatigable Alan Sepinwall’s live blog of the event, there was this:
“10:53 a.m. A woman cosplaying as the fifth Inspector Spacetime, asks if they expected that to be as big a deal as the fans have made it. “
So, not exactly parliamentary question time, then! Was there no one in a Clark Kent costume? Of course, it’s unfair to expect anything hard-hitting or newsworthy to emerge from San Diego this weekend — the convention long ago became little more than an overheated opportunity for studios to toss fistfuls of geeky red meat to rooms full of gold-bikini-ed carnivores. This was more of a party for the rapturous true believers, those loyal Human Beings who happily hashtagged their show back for a miraculous baker’s dozen of new episodes. For this they deserve real credit, and the majority of the panel rewarded them with the unveiling of a Season 3 blooper reel and lots of real-time opportunities for Joel McHale to charm, Danny Pudi to rap, and Gillian Jacobs to weep with fan gratitude. (Chevy Chase either chose not to attend or was wisely locked in the air conditioning vent with Annie’s Boobs.)
And yet. Maybe I’m Grinchy or a shill for the Air Conditioning Repair School, but I can’t help but think there was something striking, savvy, and, honestly, a little sad about Port and Guarascio’s knee-scraping performance. Said Guarascio: “A couple of months ago, we were a lot like you: just huge fans of the show who thought it was one of the most special things on television. Suddenly we’re here, helping to keep it going.” Port later added, “We’re not going to screw it up.”
It’s worth giving these two the benefit of the doubt — Season 4 won’t start shooting for another few weeks and they’re probably still plenty busy trying to get the stress and self-loathing stains out of the office couch. But there’s quite a gulf between Harmon’s sui generis storytelling and today’s promise of capable, non-screwy stewardship. Community, at its best, has always been about pushing past the boundaries of normalcy, expectations, and even reality, and celebrating the strangeness discovered along the way. Maybe it still will be. But if not, hey, everybody coasts a little bit their senior year, right?