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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Remembering Michael K. Williams’ Comedic Turns, From ‘Community’ to ‘F Is For Family’

Quite a terrible loss. Michael K. Williams is best known for his intense turns on shows like "The Wire" and "Boardwalk Empire," but I decided to look at how he also brought that same depth and nuance to comedy:
In Season 3 of “Community,” the study group takes a class from biology professor Dr. Marshall Kane, played by Michael K. Williams. Prof. Kane is an ex-con who earned his degree while in prison.

In other words, Kane has seen some things. But nothing prepared him for the baffling changes in the world when he got out. Specifically, “as someone who just spent the majority of his life in prison, what happened with Legos? They used to be simple. Something happened out here while I was inside. Harry Potter Legos, Star Wars Legos. Complicated kits, tiny little blocks. I’m not saying it’s bad, I just wanted to know what happened.”

Prof. Kane is honestly baffled and looking for an answer. And Williams plays this scene with complete sincerity — which is where the hilarity lies. Because the idea is absurd, but he’s absolutely right. Legos have changed.

Williams will always be known first and foremost for his scene-stealing turns as some of the most gripping characters in TV history, including Omar in “The Wire” and Chalky White in “Boardwalk Empire.” But even in his more lighthearted roles, Williams brought a sly intensity that instantly stood out — even in a sea of comedic actors.

“I don’t know what to say, sympathies to his loved ones and everyone that got to work with him,” “Community” creator Dan Harmon wrote on social media, while sharing another iconic moment featuring Williams on the show: When he defends the value of the pinky swear: “Man’s gotta have a code!” Added Harmon: “Wherever he is, I hope Legos are simple again. I hope to join him there and write more silly things for him to say.”

Harmon was a fan of Williams on “The Wire,” and jumped at a chance to bring the star to “Community.” The casting of Williams came first, and then a character was created to find a way to bring “Omar” to Greendale Community College. Williams was only available for three episodes, due to his commitments on “Boardwalk Empire,” but it was a memorable, if all too brief, run.

“I want to add a layer of intensity to ‘Community,'” Harmon told me on stage at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2011, as he announced the guest casting. “If we’re too cartoonish sometimes, then let’s add the opposite of cartoonish. Let’s add a little element of ‘The Wire’ to ‘Community.'”

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