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Community Creator Dan Harmon on What’s in Store for Next Season

After a brief stop at Comic-Con this weekend, the cast of Community begins production Monday on Season 3 of the much-adored (except by stubborn Emmy voters) NBC comedy. Creator Dan Harmon will no doubt let loose with a few spoilers for the faithful assembled at the Con, but he knows there's also a loyal core of fans who won't be able to make the schlep to San Diego. As such, he agreed to take a break from writing next season's episodes to fill in Vulture readers on what to expect from the new season: new characters, the status of Annie-Abed, and just what he has planned for the show's annual Halloween episode. For those whose questions didn't get asked, don't worry: We promise to track Mr. Harmon down again before the season begins.

So: Annie and Abed. What is the status going into the third season? We saw that amazing kiss. Will there be more, or will this continue your policy of just having everyone hook up with everyone?
The latter. But there's only so many people, so sooner or later people gotta hook up second times. The first order of business is to make good on the insinuation that we made in the first season that any of these people could end up together, in any combination.

So are the Annie and Abed 'shippers going to be happy or pissed?

If there [is] an Abed/Annie 'shipper out there, they would be frustrated that I was doing it in the way that a reset button could be hit on it. Because [in the Season 2 finale] Abed isn’t being Abed, Abed's being Harrison Ford. But the concept that the writers have talked about for several seasons [is] the idea that Abed would have a persona that Annie might have a relationship with, so to speak. Annie has a very specific taste in men, and Abed doesn’t by default fit that profile. But he's capable of becoming Jon Hamm, or Jeff Winger, or Hans Solo. We do have more plans for that area. We won't be hitting on that in the first episode, but there's lots of fun to be had.

Will Chevy Chase be part of the cast in the same way he has for the past two seasons? Or will there be a change in that relationship?

I don’t expect any change. We have to address that schism that we left you with at the end of Season 2, and we will resolve it. But in the long run, I don’t see major changes to the population of that study room table. I like the combination and number of people and the specific actors that are playing those roles. I think that it’s a magical combination, and I don’t want to fuss with it too much.

How does that apply to Señor Chang?
Señor Chang is a special case, because as you saw, we experimented last year with letting him float around the periphery of the group. And while that created interesting results, I felt that it was a little unfair to Ken Jeong, who is a really funny guy, especially when he's in a position of authority. Turning him into a Gollum-like figure ... took some of his tools away as a comedian. I didn’t want to just keep him as a teacher from the first season to second season, which was why I changed things up. But having him be a peripheral character, running around the sagebrush in the second season — I craved seeing him in a very specific role of authority again. And we're going to be doing that, and we're setting that up in the first episode of Season 3.

Will anybody be leaving the show next season? In terms of your general cast of players, any changes?

Everybody that you're used to, definitely coming back. Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton, is going to be a regular now in terms of the deal he has with the show. His name will be in the title sequence now. I imagine us using him just as much, because we've always used him as much as we've wanted to; he's always been there for us. But he's a regular now on the show, and that’s something we're really excited about for him.

What about the rumors of a new professor? And what will the gang be studying this semester?
They're going to be taking biology. The general idea with this season is to add — on one hand in a real way, and on the other hand in an absurd way — a certain amount of groundedness and reality to the series. Because the detractors of our show complain that there's a distancing that takes place because we have such a silliness and far-fetchedness. Doing the themed episodes, and having every episode stand on its own as its own little movie, [they say] that you're not able to get hooked on the show. If last year we were a bunch of loose pearls that were rolling all over the floor that you could slip on, hopefully this year those pearls will have a string through them that makes them all one thing.

Any other new characters?
[We're adding] the vice-dean of Greendale's air conditioning repair annex. The Greendale Community College only has one part of it that is actually nationally renowned, and it's their air conditioning repair program. And it's sort of a separate annex on the campus that puts itself above the rest of the school, and ironically has more power than the campus itself. It's much like a Big Ten university's football coach having more power than any administrator or faculty. It's going to be part of a larger story that I think should be really cool.

Speaking of deans, will we be learning more about Dean Pelton and his incredibly embarrassing private life?
I think we'll probably find out a little more this year. I really want to know what that guy does when he leaves work. I want to know what his value system is. I want to know what his relationship with his father is like. There are a lot of things I'd like to know about Dean Pelton.

Let's get to some reader questions. JeffBudgell asks if you're going to listen to Donald Glover and do a Back to the Future episode?
I respond to him by saying, it's going to be a huge challenge to do time travel in a way that you can get away with without violating the reality of the show. I know Donald had some ideas about it, and very few movies are more my favorite than Back to the Future, so he should rest secure that if it's ever possible to be done in a way that will make a show good, then the right guy is sitting at this desk to make sure that happens. But I also put the asterisk on that of: How in the hell would you do that?

A dream sequence is just too lame?
Yeah, well you can't tell the audience — well, you can, but I don't like to tell the audience — that anything they're watching doesn't matter.

What special episodes do you have mapped out so far?
In the first six, you'll be seeing an episode in which you actually see multiple timelines. And that's cool. Again, the danger of that is you're now telling the audience, well, some of this stuff didn’t happen. So why are they supposed to care? The answer, in this case, is that because you're seeing multiple timelines, you're seeing different circumstances. And each of those circumstances is bringing preexisting things about the characters out to the surface. So even though this person in this reality didn’t slap this person, we now know this person wants to.

How about Halloween?
We might do a sort of anthology-type Halloween episode. Which means we'll be telling stories that are just stories, and they don’t matter to the canon of the show. And that's something you can justify more on Halloween than you can in a regular episode.

You'll likely get some Treehouse of Horror comparisons.
Very much so. When a show has been on the air as long as The Simpsons, and has been so inspirational, there's almost a point where it stops being hacky to imitate them. Nevertheless, I don’t want people to think I'm just rehashing or ripping off what they're doing. So there has to be a reason we're doing what we're doing, and it's not just because we like it when they do it. I'm working on that episode right now; I'm going to be writing that one. So I want to make it really cool.

Okay, back to Vulture readers' questions. From Falcon15: "Dear Dan Harmon, have you seen the GQ shoot with Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs? Will you please allow that photo shoot to inspire next season's overarching story line about Annie and Britta's entrance into the world of lesbian-tinged S&M?"
You're talking about my daughters, essentially, so back off, mister! They're out there for you, and I make money off of you leering at them. But I have to be careful about exploiting them myself. It feels very icky. I love those girls and I love those characters, so when I dress Annie up in a cleavage-enhancing outfit, I'm always dying inside. It kills me to have to do it for the public. But I do it sparingly.

Speaking of that, PieceofBass asks, "Why is Gilllian's character named Britta?"
I wanted her to be unusual. In the pilot, she is this source of nourishment for Jeff, so I was thinking of it like it’s a good hipster name for some blonde girl who might have had rich parents and rebelled a little too hard during her life. We also associate it as a brand name with refreshing water. And also, it's the name of a friend of mine, a musician named Britta Phillips. She's a friend of mine, and I always thought her name was really cool. I also wanted someone to have that vibe of the ex-girlfriend who always intimidated me.

Last question, from Sizzlemuffin: Do you think for any reason, any reason at all, Ron Swanson could possibly just show up in town for a meat-lovers' convention or something?
Oh, I would love nothing more. I love Parks and Rec and those characters, and I have even informally on Twitter made it known that I would be interested in doing any kind of crossover with those guys. But I think they've been through a lot, have been through the valley of death, and are finally rising up as champs. The last thing they want to do is associate themselves with the likes of us.

Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images