<i>Community</I> Cast Previews Puppet Episode at PaleyFest

The cast and producers of Community made a surprise announcement Tuesday evening at their PaleyFest panel in Beverly Hills: An upcoming episode of the NBC comedy will feature our favorite Greendale study group as puppets. Not only were attendees treated to a clip of the opening credits as sung by the puppets, but they also got to see them for themselves when the marionettes were brought out on stage.

Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays Shirley, described the puppets as her "favorite thing" this season. "Don't you love it?" she asked the audience. Considering that previous episodes have shown the Community cast as Claymation figures and video-game characters, having them portrayed by puppets seems like the natural progression.

The PaleyFest panel opened with stars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi, Jim Rash and Brown joined by Richard Erdman as Leonard, Fred Willard as a stand-in for Pierce, and director/producer Tristram Shapeero as a stand-in for Troy reading the Season 4 premiere "History 101." If there was any doubt about the chemistry of the cast, this hilarious read-through should put those concerns to rest. Pudi sang the Community theme, Brie did her best Rash impersonation -- it's very good -- and McHale and Rash even tried their best to recreate that episode's tango.

It was funny, but nowhere near as hilarious as the Q&A portion. From Brie's recurring "smoking child PSA" bit (words cannot explain) to McHale and Rash having an onstage improv-off over which of them guest star Malcolm McDowell disliked the most, the panel was as much a roast as it was an informational session. Clearly, this is a cast that likes each other and is thankful for where it is.

"Four years is great," Brown says of Community's difficult run. "We made it to syndication and we got to meet all you guys, and we've been to PaleyFest four years in a row. This has been a great run. ... We're in the gravy years of our career and the gravy years of this show, so if we get to continue into another year, it will be awesome to get to see you all and come back again, but it's not a bad thing. Four years is great. Remember that, whatever happens. We made it four years, we did it together, and that's a great thing."

The March 7 Thanksgiving episode, "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations," is coming up, and Brown told Spinoff Online on the PaleyFest red carpet that it will be one of the most Shirley-focused episodes of Season 4.

"The Thanksgiving episode is a lot of Shirley, a lot of her home life," she said. "You get to see her in-laws and what makes her her. A lot of cooking. I'll tell you this, though: 'He Is Risen' apron returns. We'll see that again."

That episode also marks the introduction of James Brolin as Jeff's estranged father and Adam DeVine as his stepbrother. "I haven't seen the cut, but it's pretty heavy," McHale teased on the panel.

In terms of other upcoming episodes, Rash wrote a Freaky Friday-like storyline called "Basic Human Anatomy," and there's also an "origins" episode, which co-showrunner David Guarascio teased would feature an appearance by Annie's Boobs (Troy’s pet monkey).

Another fan-favorite element of Community returning this season is paintball. "There might be a little paintball," Guarascio said. "Don't yell at us if there's not an entire episode of it.

As for Rash's involvement, he told Spinoff he’s going to be very involved in Ken Jeong's "Changnesia" storyline -- and he teased on the panel that Chang might not even have lost his memory.

"I think [the Dean] likes to think of it [as a mentoring role] or at least he thinks he can help cure it, but also for his own good and for the school, to say that they really helped cure Changnesia. So definitely heavily involved with the 'Kevin' character," Rash said. He added of the fact the Dean now lives next to McHale's Jeff, "I think it's just another thing that's going to drive Jeff crazy. I definitely invade his space both on campus and off, and [the Dean is] trying to get his fill of Jeff before graduation -- if they graduate."

A fifth season has yet to be announced, but if it is, the cast and crew some ideas. They joked about a Back to the Future or Cocktail episode, and McHale even teased Nathan Fillion fans by saying the study group ends up on Serenity at one point. Fingers crossed for "six season and a movie" so we can actually see some of those ideas pan out.

Willard's involvement on the panel and in the season premiere leaves the door open to him replacing Chevy Chase as Pierce now that the comedian has left the series. It remains to be seen if it's a necessary change, but the PaleyFest audience definitely responded well to that idea.

As for Leonard, Erdman said we'll never find out who he is -- or why he loves creating his own product reviews on the Internet -- any time soon.

"Nobody does [know who he is]," Erdman told Spinoff. "When we first started, one of the directors went to the writers and the producers and said, 'Who is Leonard?' And everybody said, 'We don't know!' And so actually that's given me carte blanche to take off and do whatever I want to do with him, which is fun."

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

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