Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - The year that was (streets ahead)

Every year I look back and think “Wow! This year was amazing. I doubt I’ll ever have another one like it again.” Well, 2013 was amazing. I can only hope that I have half as much fun in 2014. There were many highlights -- Bonnie and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Baltimore. I threw a giant party to celebrate the opening of the new "Star Trek" movie. We saw Paul McCartney at Fenway Park from seats on the field (it was my 8th time seeing Macca). And I got the chance to participate in one of the final performances of "Cinematic Titanic," re-connecting with celebrity friends I first met back in 1992 (Trace, Joel and the rest of gang are just darned good people).

But in year filled with truly amazing things, one subject was front and center in 2013, a little TV show called "Community."

Dan comes to town

The stars of the show: Spencer and Erin (oh, and Dan)

On January 17th, I drove into Boston -- Somerville, actually -- to see "Harmontown" live at Johnny D's. "Harmontown" is Dan Harmon's live show/podcast. It's usually taped at the NerdMelt Showroom in Los Angeles. However, after being fired from "Community," Dan decided to take the show on a nationwide tour. It's interesting to note that by the time performance day arrived, I had already booked my trip to LA for CommuniCon 1 in February. I knew I would be seeing Dan again in just a few weeks at the con. Perhaps that is why I had just as much fun speaking to other members of the touring troupe, namely Erin McGathy and Spencer Crittenden. Although Spencer did not take me up on my offer to help at the sales table, he surprised me during the Dungeons and Dragons portion of the show by naming a minor character "Clint." Sadly, Clint suffered greatly during gameplay. Such is the life of a minion. When the show was over, Dan stayed to speak with anyone and everyone who wanted to talk with him. After over an hour of standing in line, it was my turn. We chatted briefly about random things and then he was on to the next fan. I didn't have him sign anything, as I don't collect autographs. However, I did collect something. By speaking with Dan, I had completed the trifecta of meeting and speaking with the creators of my three favorite show - "Star Trek" (Gene Roddenberry), "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (Joel Hodgson) and "Community" (Dan Harmon). Perhaps even more amazing, this would not be the last time all three of those shows played a part in my 2013 life. As I mentioned, I would go on to host a Trek party and go backstage with my MST3K friends. There was also much more "Community" to come.

CommuniCon 1
Hanging with the coolest people on the planet - Commnies (oh, and Dan, too)

This was the epicenter of it all -- CommuniCon 1 - an intimate convention held on the campus of Los Angeles City Collge (LACC), that served as the exteriors for Greendale Community College during season one of "Community." It was a convention I almost missed. The Northeast was experiencing the leading edge of a blizzard on my departure date. I was constantly checking the weather and messaging with fellow Communie Kim Rogers, who would be flying out of New York. We both made it out just in time. And I gave Kim my first official "Troy and Abed handshake" when we met at the con. It was a great moment. In fact, to me, that's what CommuniCon was all about - connecting with fellow fans.Sure, it was absolutely amazing to meet the writers and actors who work on this one-of-a-kind show, to get a wonderful hug from Yvette Nicole Brown and see Dan Harmon again (second time in a month!). But it was fellow fans that made CommuniCon amazing. I got to meet my Twitter Communie friends in person, like artist-extraordinaire Julieta Colas, and fellow blizzard escapee Kim. Walking around the convention and the LACC campus I met dozens of people, like Kristin Ashmore, Shannon Leigh and Mary Moody. And by helping out with convention duties, I got to know four incredible ladies: Catherine Boyd, Jen Eisenhour, Sarah Dorman, and our fearless leader, Gillian Morschedi.

The highlight of CommuniCon was the last event of the convention. It was something that I actually thought would be a quick, simple activity. People would take the microphone and explain what "Community" meant to them. I volunteered to read the message sent in by my Twitter friend, Taylah. I also gave my own short speech. But what I didn't anticipate was how emotional this seemingly mundane session would become. It was filled with gut-wrenching, tearful and wonderful confessions. In that small, nondescript meeting room we were experiencing the very soul of this fandom. The raw center was exposed for over two hours. Incredible. 

In the end, I would do a disservice to all the people I met at CommuniCon by trying to name them all here, as I am not that good with names. But it was a pleasure meeting every single one of them, and I hoped it would not be long before I would see them again. Little did I know, the year had many more Community-related surprises in store.

The wild ride gets wilder
"My emotions. My emotions!"

I know the cool Communies. The ones that are "all in" when it comes to the wild ride that is our show and our fandom. We watched the Harmon-less season four. While there were moments that stood out as classic "Community," the show was clearly missing a certain spark. In addition, ratings never rose to the level NBC and Sony were hoped to see. Add to that the fact that Chevy Chase walked out on the show a few episodes before the end of the season and you can see why it was a bit of a surprise when the show was renewed -- and not a surprise that new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port decided to walk away. But bigger twists were on the way.

Rumors began spreading that Dan Harmon was in talks to return to the show. Wait. What? That sort of thing just doesn't happen. As fans and the media  tried to separate facts from rumors, Dan was tweeting very cryptic messages. Finally, one fan messaged Dan point blank "GIVE US A STRAIGHT ANSWER!" to which Dan replied "Yes yes yes! I'm back I'm back I'm back. You can thank @JoelMcHale."

The King was back! Our rallying cry of "Six Seasons and a Movie," suddenly had have new meaning. But remember that wild ride that is our fandom? The other shoe dropped when we learned that Donald Glover would be leaving the show after the first five episodes. "Try and Abed" were breaking up! And we would only get a 13 episode season. It was time to fasten the seat belts a bit tighter.

We'll take Manhattan
Relaxing in Brooklyn after taking Manhattan

There's nothing that lifts the spirits like getting together with friends. And so, on a weekend in June, a gaggle of Communies descended on New York City for an even known simply as "Communies Take Manhattan." Our goal? Have a good time!

Happily, we hit that bullseye. The size of the group fluctuated throughout the weekend as we went about our activities. Seeing the musical "Once," starring Arthur Darvill (Rory from "Doctor Who"), was high on the list and involved getting up in the middle of the night to secure "Rush" seats. There was an NBC Studio tour, 
an attempted visit to a karaoke bar, shopping, a trip to a "Doctor Who" themed bar, a visit to "Shake Shack," some meandering through a street fair and more. Of course, there were plenty of Communies to meet in real life, such as Britanny McMurray, Shawn Plaisance, Steve Hershberger and many others. And It was all over way too soon!

CommuniCon 2
Community: It's all about the people. And the free food & drinks
Back in 2012, when season four  of "Community" did not return on its originally-scheduled date of October 19th, the cast put out a video that said, basically, October 19th is just a state of mind. It's a warm feeling. It's happiness. So, inspired by that thought, among other reasons, CommuniCon 2 was held in Glendale, Californina on October 19th and 20th of 2013 -just eight months after CommuniCon 1.

This time Bonnie was able to join me. We landed at LAX and made two stops prior to heading to Glendale. First, out to Vasquez Rocks, the site of a bazillion Hollywood exterior shoots, including the famous battle between Captain Kirk and the Gorn. Yup. Another Trek-related event in 2013. Then, it was off to LACC, so Bonnie could have a quick look at the faux Greendale Community College campus. By the time we arrived at the convention hotel, a good number of con-goers had already checked in and were seated at the bar. We got off the elevator and were greeted by a sea of smiling, familiar faces. It was absolutely my favorite moment of the convention! 

At CommuniCon 2 we were treated to a panel with "Community" writers, past and present. As well as talks by members of the production crew and an encore of the "No Small Parts" actors panel. There were also presentations by some of the folks responsible for the "Journey to the Center of Hawthorne" video game and the people who work on the "Inspector Spacetime" web video series. Oh, and a talk by Dan Harmon, this time accompanied by his "Community" cohort, Chris McKenna. What an odd feeling it was. At the last CommuniCon Dan was a man without a show and we were all wondering about the future. Now, the King was back and we were fired up, ready to go.

I also got another hug from Yvette Nicole Brown. She's the best!

The convention did not quite end when the last panel wrapped and the room was cleared. Several of us went to the NerdMelt Showroom to see "Harmontown" on Sunday night. Then, on Monday morning, it was time to say so long, as Communies began to depart for all points on the map. That is the saddest part of any "Community" event. The goodbyes. Thank goodness for social media, it helps fill in the gaps between in-person hugs.

That's a wrap!

Gee. That was a whole lot of "Community," wasn't it? As I say every year, "This year was amazing. I doubt I'll ever have one like it again." But who knows, I just might. after all, season five of the show starts on January 2, 2014.