The Curious Case of Chevy Chase and Community

posted by @HeyItsKamo

I love Community. If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you love it too. When I first heard about the show’s premiere and premise, I was excited. Super funny and charismatic The Soup host Joel McHale is getting a shot to star on a sitcom? Donald Glover, 30 Rock writer and ex-member of Derrick Comedy is on board? Wait, so is Chevy Chase? Hold on, how the he*k did they get HIM? Whatever, I don’t give a shit- this show is going to RULE.


And it did rule… for a while. Despite ratings that dropped on a continuing basis, the show got better and better with each episode. You can say it was smart, but to me it was consistently funny and, more importantly, entertaining. The Troy and Abed character arcs were a joy to watch. Chang went from a teacher at Greendale to a regular cast member, and his antics only got more outrageous; McHale and the rest of the cast shined. Like any show, it had a few episodes that we could have done without (anything in season 3 that was Chang or Dean heavy in particular), but besides a few rotten apples, we had a pretty good thing going.

Then this happened.

Apparently one of the stars of the show, Chevy Chase, was unhappy with Community creator and executive-producer Dan Harmon. He left Harmon a voice-mail letting him (essentially his boss?) know just how he felt about the direction the show was heading, or so it would seem. Basically, Chase said that Harmon waited too long to tell the cast when certain things were changing with the script, and he didn’t feel that the writing was good, saying, “second of all, you’ve got bad writing. Shit. It’s an abomination. You’re writing is getting worse and worse.” The voice-mail was the result of reported months of on-set disagreements and tension between the two, as well as a stunt pulled by Harmon, who led a group of Community show members (not sure if it’s cast or crew or what) in a, “Fuck You, Chevy” chant at the wrap party for the conclusion of season 3.

Also in regard to the voice-mail… it’s pretty damn funny. Give it a listen, it’s hard not to laugh at the shit Chase is saying.

I think one thing we can take away from the voice-mail is: Chase is clearly upset, but what he’s upset at isn’t necessarily the writing or the show in general, it’s with Harmon. Harmon, a relatively unknown writer, embarrassed this actor that used to be top-billing in fucking EVERYTHING, and he embarrassed him in front of his wife and daughter who were attending the wrap party with Chase. Was Chase wrong for calling Harmon a “cock sucker”? Nope. He’s pissed off and saying anything that comes to his mind (I particularly like the part where he makes fun of Harmon’s eating habits and tells him he won’t make it to 57), which is something we all do when we’re mad. The staff at Community stood behind Chase, saying it was unfair what Harmon did.

So naturally, Harmon releases the voice-mail, claims that Chase was drunk when he left the message, and makes a bigger situation out of something that should have only been between the two of them. Would I have released the voice-mail if I was Harmon? Let’s be honest, I probably would- how could you not? So when word got out that the recording made it’s way to the web, Chase’s reaction was, simply, who gives a shitYes, I said those things- I was mad. Harmon ended up apologizing, saying that the move to release the voice-mail was “Dumb, unclassy, inconsiderate.

So to recap briefly, we have popular show on NBC, created by Dan Harmon and co-starring Chevy Chase. Chase and Harmon had tension building during season 3- during a Reddit AMA, Harmon said that Chase would often walk off set and, in the case of one particular scene that was being shot on the last day of filming, Chase walked off set because he didn’t want to say a line. The scene couldn’t get shot, and it pissed Harmon off. As a result of Chase’s behavior, Harmon started a degrading chant aimed at Chase in front of the actors family during the season 3 wrap party. This embarrassed Chase, who called Harmon and left him an angry voice-mail, which Harmon then released to the public. He later apologized, but the damage was pretty much done at that point. In May, Harmon was let go from the show shortly after the whole ordeal seemed to play itself out.

Then, with season 4 on its way, another rant by Chase was reported, this time claiming that he said the “N-word.” This would seem really inappropriate and out of context, but when you take a look at how he used it, he was actually making a point- Chase, upset with where the character he portrays on the show is heading (he’s getting more and more racist), asked, “what’s next, am I going to say the word ‘ni**er’?” Still, not cool of Chevy to do that- he can voice his opinion to whomever he wants, but maybe spewing shit like that should be kept behind closed doors, huh? Any how, this rant came a few weeks before Chase announced that he would be leaving the show, mid-way through the taping of season 4 (so he could go do Old Navy commercials apparently…). Season 4, by the way, has already been delayed several times; the latest season was to originally air on October 19th, but was pushed to the 30th, and now NBC is saying February. So who fucking knows what’s going on at this point (do we even still care?).

So what the hell is going on?

Kind of a weird meltdown, I guess. Chase is doing something notable for the first time in a decade, and fucks it up? Harmon finally gets his big break, and ALSO fucks it up? Too weird… The thing that confuses me more and more is what this whole ordeal is about. I think a lot of people are under the assumption that Chase was being a diva, and Harmon was fired because he’s a small fry compared to the ex-SNL comedian. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Another questions is, why would Harmon risk his career over something as simple as, “He refused to do the “tag” for the Digital Estate Planning episode.“? I don’t get it- wouldn’t being the executive producer of a hit television show that you created be more important than a cast member not doing a “tag”? Maybe Harmon was just fed up and let his emotions get the better of him.

Someone I talked to about this situation brought up the idea that Chase is being “ungrateful”, and while it certainly does seem like that’s the case, I’m not sure if that’s exactly true or not. What does he have to be grateful for exactly, being on a hit television show? Still getting mainstream work while other actors and comedians from his generation have all but retired (Bill Murray excluded, Murray rules) from Hollywood? The writers on Community for providing him with a popular character to portray? In terms of Chase being appreciative of the writers, I’d have to think that while creating the character of Pierce Hawthorne rested with them (or maybe it was Harmon?), establishing this character was all Chase. Would another older actor have been able to bring this character to life like Chase did? Maybe, but I think that it was all Chevy that made us fall in love with this degenerate geriatric.

In terms of who should be grateful here, it’s kind of double-sided. Surely the head honchos over at Community should be counting their blessings that Chase agreed to sign on to the project in the first place- while it’s not the character of Pierce Hawthorne that’s the most popular (that would go to Troy and Abed), the notoriety that came along with Chase’s signing on to the project certainly grabbed the attention of critics and viewers alike. Chase should also be thankful he was given an opportunity to jump back into the spotlight when he was cast on the hit program- his last role in a (somewhat)big movie was Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), and before that… Vegas Vacation (1997) I guess?

If you look at the recent events from Chase’s point of view, I can see why he would be upset. The progression of the Pierce Hawthorne character has been building towards what Chase’s entire(current) argument is about: he’s turned into a sexist, homophobic, racist old bigot. At first, Hawthorne was a goofy, harmless old guy attending Greendale Community College; he’s inherently rich, and instead of going to school for an education, he’s going for comradery. The character has gotten stranger and more over the top as the series has progressed, where finally there are episodes where he’s just flat out nasty and racist- now, it’s the same shit each and every episode. “What sexist comment will Pierce say to Britta? Is he going to make another Arab joke to Abed? What racist generalization will he direct towards Troy?” I understand the humor, that we’re supposed to look at these jokes as edgy and “pushing the envelope” but it’s come to the point where they’re not- they’re annoying. It’s like, “Ok, we fucking get it- he’s old and short-minded. What else do you got for him?” From what I can gather, Harmon was partially responsible for at least some of these jokes since he was still involved with writing during season 3, so some of this must rest on him. Maybe Chevy saw that.

In a way, it’s a shame to see it happen to a character that had so much potential- Troy and Abed evolved into a thing no one expected. They’re one of the best duos in recent television history since J.D. and Turk from Scrubs, so why couldn’t Pierce experience a similar progression? It’s understandable why the writers have gone in the direction they have (this old white man is afraid of change and different ethnicities ha-ha, the audience eats this shit right up!), but it’s maybe just a bit unnecessary. Hawthorne was a funny character when he was acting out of the loop and goofy- why make him sexist and racist too? Or why so often?

If you take a look at the other side of the argument, Chase is also in the wrong here. He’s directly responsible for the departure of the series’ creator and executive producer, Harmon (Heat Vision and Jack, The Sarah Silverman Program), which is pretty fucked up if you think about it. How screwed up of a relationship do you have to have with someone where you LEAVE your OWN PROJECT. I’m not sure if he was given an ultimatum by NBC (“it’s you or Chevy, but people know his name and Chevy used to be a movie star, so…”) or left of his own free will, but things were definitely tense enough for him to pack his stuff and go. Supposedly, NBC wanted to keep him around as a consultant on the program, but he pretty much said “fuck that noise”. The show also lost several other writers, producers, and episode directors at the end of last season, so season 4 was predicted to be shaky at best. And now, halfway through taping of this newest season, it was announced that Chevy is gone? So, does that mean Harmon is back? Where do we stand with this? It’s just a really weird situation, and I have to think that if Chevy Chase would have left instead of Harmon, things would be a lot better off. Or maybe not, who knows? It brings into question of whether or not the Pierce Hawthorne character is necessary for the show to continue (clearly it’s not, if Chase left and they’re going to continue without him), but that’s not something I’m looking to discuss. Personally, I’d lean more towards the side that, yes, he’s a crucial cog in the shows system, but that’s just my personal opinion.

Another question, while unrelated from the whole Community issue, is what’s the effect on Chase’s previous work? What kind of fallout are we looking at here? All of these rants and altercations make Chase look like a bad guy. Was Chase always an asshole? Is he even an asshole now? I never liked any of the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, but I did like him in Caddy Shack and Three Amigos… And all of these reports on his recent troubles seem vague- was the mass exodus of the writers/producers/directors/Harmon a result of Chase and how difficult it is to work with him, or was it coincidence? These are questions we’ll never get answered, but they certainly make you think.

Going back to the progression of Chase’s character on Community, I could be wrong. Maybe the character of Pierce Hawthorne isn’t racist. Maybe the sexist comments he makes aren’t sexist at all, they’re just new, good-natured humor. But all that shit is just the way it seems to me. You have to understand, I’m not politically correct at all- none of these jokes bother me in the least. I’m simply commenting on what’s being presented to us through weekly episodes of a hit television show, and various media outlets available to anyone looking in the right place.

As for the future of Community, I don’t think six seasons and a movie is very realistic. Based on what we’ve seen in the past year, four seasons might be asking too much.

Like this article? Fucking hate it? Let Mike know in the comments section!

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4 Responses to The Curious Case of Chevy Chase and Community

  1. Oliver says:

    Chevy Chase has a long-standing reputation as a notorious asshole. Don’t buy into the public version of events, clearly a lot is going unsaid.

    Sony chose not to renew Harmon’s contract. We will never know the exact reason why, and it’s pretty clear Harmon doesn’t know either. It’s known Harmon’s behaviour was erratic, he was doing crazy (if often brilliant) things for a network sitcom, and made annoying Sony execs his second job.

    The Harmon-Chase “feud” is hugely overblown. They’re both difficult, but there’s no hatred there.

    Harmon won’t be returning to Community. He was fired.

  2. HeyItsKamo says:

    Thanks for the comment, dude- that explains a lot more than what I was able to find. This whole Chase/Harmon/Community thing was really interesting to me, but I found out (and you noted above) that, flat out, a lot just isn’t being said about the matter.

    Still, I’m wondering why Chase decided to split mid-way through the taping of season 4. I read that he had hinted during the taping of season 3 that he was tired of doing television, something along the lines of, “it’s the lowest form of entertainment.”

    • Oliver says:

      There’s various bits and pieces of information floating about the web, but the popular opinion is that the Chase-Harmon “feud” is a distraction.

      My guess is that it was Chase being his usual pain in the ass and the staff were tired of his antics so they let him walk. Chase is notoriously difficult to work with and it’s a miracle he lasted 4 seasons, especially since Chase had been threatening to leave for years.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Chase’s departure is an indirect consequence of the departure of Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan and, to a lesser extent, the Russos and their crew. Harmon spent very little time on set, and they were the people who dealt with the day-to-day running of the show, and they also departed at the end of season 3.

      There were plenty of good reasons for Sony to fire Harmon that had nothing to do with Chase. Harmon was a pain in the ass because he delivered scripts late (which screws up the schedule, leading to late nights and the show going overbudget as you have to pay crew overtime), made the show “unaccessible”, ignored notes, and liked to do crazy ambitious things. He was a TV executives worst nightmare. For example, Harmon famously blew the entire seasons music budget on ABBA songs in season 2 and there was an entire subplot based around making fun of an Sony executive for having a girls name because Harmon didn’t like his tone in season 3.

      There’s an interview with Neil Goldman on the Nerdist Writers Podcast where he pretty much says that there will never be another show like Community on network television because NBC was in such management disarray that they couldn’t give the show proper oversight, which allowed them to get away with doing crazy stuff. Community’s ratings were low enough that Harmon constantly thought the show was about to be axed, pushing him to do whatever crazy ideas he could come up with, yet the show just did well enough to be renewed because NBC was a trainwreck.

  3. Alvin says:

    Seems the big blowup was because Harmon was in over his head as a show runner. Chevy signed on expecting a certain level of professionalism, and didn’t get it. He wanted to be on and off the set by a certain time, aside from any of the usual technical issues. He expected his character to be adequately written. It really wasn’t.
    Chevy doesn’t support people in that he doesn’t babysit. If anything, people should babysit him, if need be. He doesn’t play the role as a father figure. That’s just how he rolls. If that makes him an asshole, so be it. Dan needed help, and Chevy wasn’t going to do it, and in fact, made it worse.
    Chevy might say, “at the amount they’re paying the showrunner, I shouldn’t have to be dealing with that shit.” And he’s right. He could have been helpful, but he wasn’t. He did his part to help Harman twist in the wind and humiliate himself.
    Just because you can write, doesn’t mean you can manage people, or yourself. They are completely separate skill sets. That’s what people aren’t getting in all this.
    Harmon was in over his head as a leader, Chevy said, “sorry you have to eat shit, but I’m not helping you,” and that’s all she wrote.
    If you can’t lead, the show will collapse around you, as people look to save their own ass. It disintegrates in slow motion, one bit at a time. That’s always the case where big money is on the line.
    And that’s why Harmon does podcasts now. That’s where he belongs-or working for someone who is a leader.

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