It's taken the Comic-Con organizers a while to catch on to just how beloved "Community" is by the Con crowd, but the series finally gets a promotion to the big stage in Hall H, and for a panel that should be very interesting due to the return of creator Dan Harmon, who'll be appearing alongside returning producer Chris McKenna and stars Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Jim Rash, and Ken Jeong. (Joel McHale is busy filming a movie, Donald Glover is reportedly cutting back his involvement with the show, and Chevy Chase is... gone.) The crowd was enthusiastic enough last year in Ballroom 20 with replacement producers Moses Port and David Guarascio, but they adore Harmon. And Harmon has been blunt to a fault at times about his opinion of the one Port/Guarascio season. Will he be able to contain that impulse today, or will the sight of 6000 screaming fans bring out his exhibitionist impulses? Will he say what the plan is for dealing with the events of the Harmon-less season? How much, if anything, will they say about Glover's status? And what will the energy of the panel be like without McHale as the usual ringleader?
1:49 p.m.: Still a few minutes away from starting. A lot of crowd turnover after "Doctor Who" ended, but from my vantage point the room's still more than 3/4 full.
2:00 p.m.: Start being delayed as they keep loading in people from the Hall H line outside. Room should be full by the time we begin, whenever that is.
2:05 p.m.: Okay, and we're off! We open with a video about the return of Coke Classic, the McRib, Twinkies and other consumer products that were temporarily decommissioned. Now we're watching Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and set up a Greendale E. Pluribus Anus flag, and the crowd roars at every glimpse of Troy, Abed, Annie and company. FWIW, there is some season 4 footage included in there. It's followed by clips of the actors praising the fans, the fans saying, "Pop pop!" and drawing pictures. And now there's a "Star Wars"-style crawl of tweets about the show's renewal, and a plug for the DVD release in August, and the usual #sixseasonsandamovie hashtag.
2:09 p.m.: Now a Lego Iron Man is dancing on stage, but Rash and Pudi run out to remove its helmet, and the fans go nuts for Harmon, who's revealed underneath the clunky costume as he keeps spinning around like a magician's assistant. Jeong runs out to pull off his boots, and now Harmon is alone on stage in a black suit, grey t-shirt and socks, pacing in front of the table. "It is good to be back!" he calls. "Oh, you missed me? I missed you, too. I am billionaire playboy creator Dan Harmon." He doesn't want to say that television is going to enjoy its longest period of quality because of him. He's not going to compare himself to a phoenix rising from the ashes to "create a machine that eats pain and craps joy." He's going full televangelist here. "It's not about us. It's about legacy. It's about what we leave behind. It's about six seasons and a movie. So what I am saying, if I'm saying anything at all, is welcome back to 'Community.'"
2:10 p.m.: McHale plays the role of Harmon's father Howard in a black and white video, discussing the possibility of six seasons and a movie. "It all starts here, with season 5 of 'Community.' Speaking of the future, here's the man who's an above-average bowler and couldn't make 'Web Soup' work. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Hardwick!"
2:11 p.m.: Hardwick apologizes for killing G4 but then busts McHale for skipping Comic-Con. (The fans are not on Hardwick's side of this dispute.) He introduces the cast, to big ovations, followed by McKenna and Harmon, who has put the red Iron Man boots back on.
2:14: What does Harmon's return mean for the show? "New levels of anxiety that will no doubt trickle into the show," Harmon says. "Nobody wants to not fail more than me at this point, because it's kind of a weird story. I really really have to make these 13 count. I don't consider them the last 13. I'm going to do everything I can to get us the sixth season." Was he thinking about what the next season would be when he wasn't working on the show? No. He had plans for season 4 when he was still working on season 3, but the actual season 4 has rendered his plans "out the window. This is a whole new thing. We have to re-ground, re-establish these characters, get back to the emotional basics and then have the most fun we can have." He promises an animated episode, but doesn't want to plan too hard. If he made mistakes in season 3, "It had a lot to do with over-planning; thinking about the finale during shooting of the first episode." He wants to get back to the feeling of the first 2 seasons.
2:16 p.m.: Does Jacobs ever feel secure for the show's future? Jacobs doesn't, but she never had steady employment before this show. "This steady anxiety and looming cancellation is my new reality," she says, and looks forward to bringing it over to future projects.
2:17 p.m.: What has Pudi learned about Abed so far? "One, that he's not alone. For us, this is such a treat." This is the show's fourth Comic-Con visit, and he sees people in Inspector Spacetime outfits, 8-bit t-shirts, etc., and "I get to connect with people all over the place now in the strangest possible ways." He's shocked the show is still here, and feels that translates into the episodes. He thanks the fans.
2:18 p.m.: Hardwick asks Jeong about his favorite fan interaction so far. He was in Toronto promoting "Hangover 3," "and I got way more Chang than Chow than I ever had before. It was amazing."
2:19 p.m.: Brie loves playing Annie, and has enjoyed watching her evolve into a more mature human being "and then devolve into one who's maybe not as mature, and maybe that'll turn back around." She says it's exciting to learn new things about your character's past that completely changes the way you think about what you're playing. "I'm just excited to see what Dan's going to do," she adds.
2:21 p.m.: Hardwick praises Brown's sincerity and graciousness, and asks about her own fan interactions. Brown does her annual "thank you for coming" greeting as the cast applauds the crowd (and vice versa). She names a fan who was the first Shirley cosplayer she meant.
2:23 p.m.: Hardwick asks about Rash's Angelina Jolie impression when he won his Oscar. He says this weekend he spoke to a reporter who spoke to Jolie and Brad Pitt soon after the Oscars, and were told "they both found it very amusing." Hardwick brings up the body-swapping episode Rash wrote (the highlight of season 4), and Rash calls it "a huge honor." The challenge was "trying to get anywhere near Dan Harmon" and the other writers, but it helped that he had such a "distinctive map" of all the characters from previous seasons.