It’s been a wild few months for Community, the cult NBC comedy about a ragtag bunch of community-college students. First, show runner Dan Harmon was fired. then Chevy Chase said doing the show was “a big mistake.” Now, in advance of the fourth season premiere (Oct. 19 at 8:30 p.m. E.T.), star Joel McHale breaks it all down with TIME.
TIME: This is the first season of Community without Dan—
Joel McHale: It is. Unless he’s there secretly.
Hiding under a couch? Monitoring from afar?
You never know.
So what’s changed?
Boy, let’s see. Well, we don’t have to wear the uniforms anymore. And the lobster buffets are gone, because it’s the only meat he’s not allergic to. Very convenient, a weird allergy.
All right, I’m just making stuff up. Really, not much has changed. A lot of writers stayed, so they know the spirit and tone of the show. And it’s our fourth year, so we have a good sense of our characters. The main difference is he’s not physically there.
I only ask because after he got fired, you and your castmates were pretty vocal about what a comic genius he is, and how he’s such an integral part of the show. Are you worried it’ll suffer creatively?
What is so genius about Dan is that these characters are incredibly well-drawn. They’re very much based in real people, but the world is fantastical a lot of the time. I always end up comparing it to something like Shaun of the Dead. In that Simon, what’s his name, the lead in that movie—what’s his name?
Hang on, I can Google it.
No, now I’m pissed. I can’t believe myself. Simon Pegg! You know, he’s crying real tears in that bar when his girlfriend’s dumping him. But around him is a zombie world. That’s like Community. So in that sense, I think people were worried the show would become normal or something, or subdued. I don’t know if you’ve seen the photos of my character and The Dean [Jim Rash] in a dress, doing the tango, with two men dressed as unicorns behind us…
That’s actually my desktop background.
Well, as far as the story and the fantasticalism—wow, don’t print that, find out what the word for that is—it’s all still there. if we lost our uniqueness, we’d lose the show.
(MORE: 10 Questions for Ty Burrell)
So your co-star Chevy Chase has been sharing a lot of opinions recently…
He called sitcoms like Community “the lowest form of television.” What’s the deal?
I will tease Chevy about that stuff, and then he always goes, Oh, I was just joking! and then I’ll say, a) Hilarious, hilarious! and b) You should soak your dentures. It’s like, Chevy, why are you here? This is not a tour of duty. You are not going to be sued. And then he’s like, well you know, I like it here, I do. And I’m like, alright, well then stop saying stuff. Or, I guess, say whatever you want, but I’m gonna make fun. It gives the whole cast fodder to make fun of him.
That seems fair.
I would love to do a group interview with us doing Chevy and Chevy doing us. And we’re all just like [alters voice to mock Chase], Raaaaahh, I’m just here for the money! I love it! I love the money!
Sounds like you guys have a fun dynamic on set.
Yeah, if we’re putting in that many hours, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on a set where people hate each other. We get along really well. I mean, other than when Chevy’s raving about how he just wants the money.
Let’s talk about your other job, hosting E!’s TV clip round-up The Soup. Do you actually watch any of the shows you mock?
Uh, no. I mean, yes, but no, I can’t watch them all. In our first season it was me and four other guys and a gal and we watched all of television. And it got downright depressing. I remember getting to the end of watching six hours of television and then I had two more hours of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and I was just like, I’m gonna kill myself. But thankfully, they have hired more and more people, so I can choose the shows I like to watch.
Which ones do you choose?
Honey Boo Boo. I know everyone’s saying it’s the end of everything, but I don’t think it’s as bad as Jersey Shore. It’s definitely not as scripted. I also like The Ultimate Fighter. In a singing competition, contestants get criticized for being off-key. In this one, if you mess up, your face is bashed in. So that is an honest show.
Which show gives you guys the most fodder?
I cannot stand stuff like Bad Girls Club, where people are put together and plied with alcohol so they fight. Or Big Brother, where it’s just conspiring and whispering, conspiring and whispering. I truly believe that’s like a glimpse of hell. But one show that’s giving us a lot of clips right now is the flameless candle show on HSN.
The flameless candle show?
It’s on Home Shopping Network out of Tampa. They do an hour of this thing on the flameless candle, which is just a light shaped like a candle. But they will spend the whole time telling you why they’re better than regular candles, and how classy they are. We love it.
Anything else you can share about the new season of Community?
We have our Halloween special, where we go to—I don’t know if I can say this, but I’m gonna say it—Pierce’s mansion. And it is haunted, basically. Something has happened. Also, Chang is back. But it is not what you would expect.
Dun dun dun.
Dun dun dun! He’s a Komodo dragon. He’s turned into a dragom. Into a huge lizard! No, really, it’s great to be back with the cast. We only have 13 episodes this season, so we have to swing for the fences and make them as good as we can.
Well, good luck. And thanks for the interview!
Sure. And please, when you write this—every single critic writes, “the ratings-challenged Community.” And I always go, well, yes we were, but we beat American Idol in the demo when we came back after our forced hiatus [in March].
No one remembers that! And we were the number one comedy on NBC for that month. So whenever I hear that, I’m like, addendum to your claim! Or at least many critics. Not Time magazine critics. You know, you write for something reputable.
Consider it noted.
VIDEO: Q&A with Joel McHale