Episode 112: Comparative Religion

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"Comparative Religion" -Episode 112

Like “Introduction to Statistics”, “Comparative Religion” represents the first installment in what has now become an annual tradition for Community, that of the Christmas episode. The significance of “Comparative Religion” extends far beyond that of a simple milestone in Community’s illustrious history, however. It serves as the capstone to the first half of Community Season 1, and so provides a short-term conclusion to the underlying story arc of early Community; namely, the transformation of the study group from an eclectic mix of troubled individuals muddling through a new life on their own into an eclectic mix of troubled individuals muddling through life together as a family.

While he serves as the primary motivator for the A story of “Comparative Religion”, Abed doesn’t actually take much of an active part in this episode. His reaction to Mike, the bully, is interesting to note insofar as it’s not much of a reaction at all. Abed appears to be largely unperturbed by Mike’s insults and aggression; he cracks a quip and shakes it off with no visible ill effects afterward. Indeed, Abed appears to be more excited by the fact that Jeff defending him was like a TV moment than by the fact that Jeff actually stood up for him without hesitation or coercion. This is emblematic of Abed’s issues as a character at this stage; he’s still relatively new to the concept of friends and group interaction, and so he doesn’t always understand or value the significance of his friends’ actions. This Abed is much more heavily reliant on the context of TV as a “blueprint” than the Abed we see two years later in “Regional Holiday Music”, who can attach an actual emotional significance to Christmas and quantify how he feels about the holiday to others. Abed simply isn’t often capable of such emotional connections in S1, and so he fails to comprehend fully what Jeff’s actions meant on a personal level.

Like Abed, Annie doesn’t play much of a role in this episode. This is rather fitting, as “Comparative Religion” largely concerns itself with pulling the group together in definitive fashion before the winter break. Annie took to the idea of a study group perhaps the strongest out of any member; this is something we don’t see elaborated upon fully until “English as a Second Language”, but it’s nonetheless an important point of her character. As she already loves being a part of the group and wants it to continue, there’s no need for her to play a prominent role in the episode; she’s already welcomed the group as her family. There are a few minor character points for Annie worth noting. The first is that she appears quite proud of her religious heritage; she doesn’t hesitate to leap to defend Judaism when Shirley or Pierce treats it with disrespect. Her Jewishness is a minor character trait, but one which will recur repeatedly, and Community concretely establishes how Annie feels about her religion right from the get-go. Annie doesn’t get offended by other religions, but she won’t let hers get drowned out by Christmas or Christianity, either; note her line “Christmas can even be a Hanukkah thing” during "That's What Christmas Is For" in “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”. The fact that Annie is generally Shirley’s closest friend in the group is also reflected at the early group table scene; when Shirley assumes all her friends are Christian, it’s Annie who speaks up to inform her of the truth. As other members here have observed, Annie will continue to be Shirley’s closest friend in the group, even though the reverse isn’t true.

Britta is another character who operates mostly on the sidelines in “Comparative Religion”, though she has a slightly larger ancillary role than Annie or Abed. In another delightful change from stuffy, no-fun early S1 Britta, Britta here gets to poke fun at the boys of the group the entire episode and relish in a bit of humor.  She razzes on the homosexual tendencies of fighting while Pierce and Troy play the “straight men” (pun intended) to her jokes, in a complete inversion of their normal roles. Britta also gets a significant bit of development in this episode, as it advances her (platonic) relationship with Jeff. Perhaps the greatest thrust of Britta’s S1 character arc is that she remains skeptical of Jeff’s intentions and morals, and often resists his integration into the group. However, in “Comparative Religion” Britta is the one who delivers the “Winger speech” to convince the group to go assist Jeff.  Over episodes such as “Spanish 101”, “Advanced Criminal Law”, “Intro to Statistics” and “Environmental Science” Britta has gradually seen that Jeff actually may not be just a polished turd, but rather has potential to be a pretty decent human being. In accordance with the strong theme of coming together as family that “Comparative Religion” carries, Britta thus sets aside her distaste for Jeff here in order to go to his aid. Britta and Jeff will fight from time to time, and she’s still got more than her fair share of problems with him, but they are never again on the same terrible terms as they were throughout the first half of S1, and this episode is the tipping point.

We also see a bit of Britta’s trademark hypocrisy expressed in “Comparative Religion”. When Shirley offers the group “WWBJD” bracelets, Britta thanks her and professes to be highly enthused and the prospect of wearing it around. However, she plans to wear it “in the pocket closest to my heart”, well out of sight and completely invisible to everyone around her. Britta clearly doesn’t much like the bracelet at all, but she nonetheless acts very grateful to have received it. As we’ve seen, Pilot Britta’s “honesty policy” is really a rather one-way street; she wants everyone else to be honest with her, but she will lie, even to herself, when it’s convenient.

Troy is offered a heretofore unheard-of opportunity in “Comparative Religion”: the chance to impart some of his wisdom to Jeff. Early S1 Troy practically hero-worships Jeff; he’s seen by Troy as the mature, cool guy who drives nice cars, has an elite job, doesn’t care about school, and gets all the attractive women. In the one-sided relationship between Jeff and Troy, information and “lessons” typically flow from Jeff, the all-knowing font of wisdom (to Troy, that is) to Troy, his eager pupil. When Jeff gets himself involved in a fight, Troy is able to upend their normal dynamic and share his own life experiences with Jeff. Jeff’s shortcomings here illustrate for Troy a lesson that he doesn’t actually grasp until “Mixology Certification”; namely, that Jeff isn't really significantly wiser or more mature than Troy in a lot of ways. The groundwork for this realization was laid as early as the ending of “Football, Feminism & You”, but Troy’s own hero worship of Jeff keeps him from realizing his own worth for quite some time. One exchange at lunch between the characters is actually quite representative of this dynamic; Jeff says, “I guess it’s because I’m too charming and likable. Go ahead, call me a name,” and Troy replies, “I can’t”. Even though he has plenty which he can offer Jeff, Troy is too caught up in Jeff’s natural charisma and aura of coolness to contribute his own knowledge on a regular basis.

Troy isn’t the only character who is able to dispense an uncharacteristic bit of wisdom, however. Pierce also gets to impart a bit of his hard-earned wisdom which he acquired over decades as a business tycoon and, apparently, barhopper. When it comes to fighting, it turns out that Pierce is actually the most mature and knowledgeable of the entire study group. Much akin to other brief moments in early S1 where Pierce is able to offer some nugget of advice to the study groupers (“Social Psychology”, “Environmental Science”, “Politics of Human Sexuality”), here Pierce finds himself the best-equipped to teach Jeff valuable and important life lessons. This reflects the aforementioned trend of early S1 in which Pierce often had valuable advice to give as a result of his long and active life, a character trait which was largely suppressed by his transition into the villain role in S2. S3 Pierce appears to be returning to his S1 “Wise Pierce” self to a degree, and it’s nice to be able to look back on moments such as those I’ve discussed and see how Pierce is rising out of the darkness of his S2 arc and reacquiring aspects of the lovable, misguided old man he was in S1. Pierce has a lot to offer the group, whether or not they realize it, and indeed, they often don’t. Consider Jeff’s reception of Pierce’s advice in “Comparative Religion”; he’s skeptical of what Pierce says and doesn’t want to listen, just as Shirley was skeptical of Pierce in “Environmental Science”. In addition to his struggles with his place in the group and relating to the others, Pierce additionally must contend with the fact that nobody in the group really takes him seriously. Thus, despite Pierce having a lot to offer the group, they often ignore his advice completely. However, when individuals like Jeff actually listen to “Wise Pierce”, they typically find themselves learning real, valuable lessons.

“Comparative Religion” is a very important episode for Jeff, as it cements his status as a fully-fledged member of a brand-new family: the study group. Throughout the season, Jeff struggles with his presence at Greendale; he feels uncool, immature, like a joke, and embarrassed, among other things. As he tells Mike in this episode, “You’re just like this school. You’re obnoxious, you’re cramping my style, and you smell like French fry oil!” Jeff simply isn’t at peace with his place in life yet, despite his various misadventures over the course of the semester, and “Comparative Religion” is the episode that gets him there, if only for a brief while, by fully integrating him into the family of the study group. Jeff’s integration is made possible by Mike’s attacks on Abed, who lacks the understanding to defend himself. This compels Jeff immediately to rise to Abed’s defense, something which seems rather uncharacteristic for him at the time. It doesn’t really feel OOC, because Jeff and Abed have always had a close enough bond that we can picture Jeff standing up for Abed, but at the same time Jeff generally has to be coerced into helping friends rather than immediately rushing to their defense. However, two seasons later, this action has finally been explained fully. In “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”, we see that Jeff was bullied so severely as a child that he had to change nearly his entire life. The bullying dished out by “Big Cheddar” affected Jeff deeply as a person, and appears to have wired an instinctual dislike for bullies into his personality. Jeff steps up to help Annie when Simmons picks on her in “Debate 109”, he helps Britta when Chang is throwing his weight around in “Advanced Criminal Law”, and he rushes in to defend Abed with no reservations in “Comparative Religion”. His instinct to slap down bullies wherever they can be found thus drives his integration into the group family for the holidays, as it permits the group to show Jeff they really care about him by having his back in the fight. We thus see how Jeff really is kind of a decent guy at heart; his reactions to bullies are instinctual rather than rational decisions, and thus come from a “truer” part of himself than the jaded, sarcastic Jeff which serves as his defense mechanism.

Continuing with the theme of integration into a family that runs through “Comparative Religion” so deeply, it’s worth noting that Jeff is genuinely affected by the idea that Shirley is angry with him for “ruining Christmas”. Jeff may not profess a desire to be caught up in the tangled emotional problems the study group contends with on a regular basis, but he certainly has become fully involved with them by the end of the first semester, to the point where he can actually feel ashamed for disappointing a friend. This again shows us a bit more of Jeff’s true side; Lawyer Jeff doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks, and will do whatever he pleases no matter how it affects those around him. The Jeff who tells Mike he’s not going to fight him isn’t Lawyer Jeff at all; he stands down, despite what it may do to his reputation, because he doesn’t want to hurt his new family. It’s a profound moment for the character, and a very nice way to cap off Jeff’s arc for the first half of S1.

Alongside Jeff, Shirley is the character affected the most by the events of “Comparative Religion”. Throughout the course of the episode, she is angry, pushy, intolerant, and downright nasty at times. Shirley regards the group’s non-acceptance of Christianity as a personal offense, which seems quite unreasonable and selfish at first; and it is, after a fashion. However, there is also some rationale behind her reaction. Religion, specifically Christianity, represents the cornerstone of the personality Shirley built to suppress her deep-seated rage issues. By disrespecting Shirley’s religious values, the group thus disrespects essentially everything she stands for, and Shirley isn’t wrong to be upset about that. The main problem she faces in “Comparative Religion” is just that the group isn’t disrespecting her Christianity in this particular instance. Shirley’s nastiness is fully unwarranted here, because at the start of the episode she simply can’t comprehend that different religious beliefs can exist in the same space without pushing each other out. The group’s varied religious beliefs are much like their personalities in that regard; they’re seemingly diametrically opposed, yet all comfortably exist together on a regular basis. Shirley grasps this point by the end of the episode, as we see in “Tolerant Night”; the group’s rise above their religious squabbles in support of Jeff demonstrates to her that they can respect an individual’s beliefs and actions no matter what their religion is, and so Shirley realizes that her Christianity hasn’t been disrespected.

Another interesting point for Shirley in this episode is the underlying theme of Britta’s “Winger speech” to Shirley. It’s actually highly reflective of Andre’s speech in “Asian Population Studies”. Both characters indicate that they realize Shirley wants everything to be perfect, and then point out to her that nothing ever truly can be “perfect”; she’s just got to accept people as they are.

I can’t end this review without talking a bit about the simply phenomenal fight scene which ends the episode; it remains one of my favorite scenes from the entire show. I was expecting Shirley to jump in and kick Mike's ass; I was not expecting the whole group to, and was delighted by the result. I find it to be a standout example of Community’s excellent use of music, and it’s also very amusing to note how most of the group members' roles in the fight relate to their personalities. Annie does the smart thing and hoses somebody down with a snow cannon, Abed jumps around making Karate Kid poses and “hanging back”, Troy hits somebody with a reindeer head for some reason instead of just punching them, Britta wrestles with a woman partially in her underwear after talking about how fighting is gay all episode, Jeff tricks Mike into doing what he wants, and Shirley beats somebody with a Christmas implement. This scene has firmly convinced me that every show involving an ensemble cast needs to get them all involved in one big brawl at some point.

Random Thoughts/Favorite Quotes

  • The “PCness” gag is hilarious, and also something I’m kind of surprised they got away with. 
  • It’s the full intro! I love the Community intro, so any episode we get to see it in full is great. 
  • “That guy wasn’t gay! He had a mustache.”
  • This is the first time we see Pierce’s cult; it has since become a recurring subplot.
  • Troy: “You would never catch a Jehovah’s Witness saying ‘Jewey’”. Pierce: “Tell it to the birthday cake you never got.”
  • “Yeah, but we don’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas, and we can’t drink…but it helps.”
  • “Why don’t you just kiss him already?”
  • “I know guys like this Mike, used to be a nerd, now he’s a meathead. Tyson, Ferigno, Rosie O’Donnell.”
  • Annie appears to be the one who throws the paper ball at Jeff after he says he’s agnostic.
  • Troy: “Then, you look straight through his eyes, and deep into his soul.” Britta: “And then you move to Vermont!”
  • “I’ve got to write a paper about that!”
  • “Why’d she have to be black!”
  • Everything about the Forest Whittaker eye; both Jeff and Troy’s versions are amazing. 
  • Hannukah sweater Annie is pretty adorable. 
  • Mike is one of my favorite minor characters; I really hope he returns at least one more time. Everything he says and does is basically comedy gold. 
  • “Hey, if this dude doesn’t show up, we’re definitely going to Applebees, right? Because I’m getting in a fight no matter what today!”
  • “Dude, my life is a gym!”
  • The return of the Annie "NOOOOOOO!" and "You being our Spanish teacher? Ehhh."

 

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On the A. V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-419717559 (page 68)

 

Discussion:

  • In regards to Mike, Anthony Michael Hall really makes that character. His intense line readings are fantastic, in both this episode and his brief appearance in A Fistful of Paintballs.

    Edit: Also love this exchange:
    Mike – "Knock knock – my fist up your balls!"
    Jeff – "Who's there?"

  • Completely agreed; the awkward, intense rage that character has leaves me in fits of laughter every time.

  • Just the fact that Anthony Michael Hall plays a bully is amazing.

  • True, but also Edward Scissorhands.

  • that is truly inspired casting. 

  • i had no idea that was him until maybe the third time i watched it. it blew my mind.

  • OccamsBlazer

    On one of the Season 2 commentaries, they describe how Anthony Michael Hall is one of their favorite guests the cast like to quote. They say "My fist up your balls!" a few times a month.

  • v

     

     

    On this episode's commentary, they mention that he stapled that snowman to his forehead every take until he drew blood.

    "Dude, my life is a gym!!!" is one of my favorite one-liners the show has done so far.

  • Loki100

    I don't think Shirley is being so much pushy and intolerant, as much as ignorant and emotionally needy. Christmas is a season that obviously carries much emotional weight for Shirley, and this particular Christmas her entire family had fallen apart. She was trying to reach out for support, but her study group/surrogate family was far too preoccupied with Jeff's fight to help her through her rather difficult time.

    She initially rather ignorantly, but not maliciously, assumed the entire study group was made up of Christians. Then when she found out they weren't, she tried to be culturally sensitive, she just wasn't particularly good at it. Shirley always comes off as a woman who spent most of her life taking care of children in a fairly small community, and lacks the level of worldly experience that Jeff and Britta have accumulated by basically floating for thirty years. Attending Greendale is probably her first experience dealing with people who are, say, Muslim or atheist, or gay. Naturally she's going to say things that are offensive, not out of malice but because she's just not had the experiences necessary to see things from other people's perspectives.

    She only starts being really pushy when it seems like everyone cares more about Jeff than her. Shirley was trying desperately to create the same type of Christmas togetherness that her family had. Again, she's probably not even going to get to spend all of Christmas with her sons. With everyone being so focused on Jeff and his fight, she feels they are not reaching out to her. Not even the tiniest little bit, and so she starts pushing back against them.

    But, of course, Jeff eventually chooses Shirley over his own fight. Which is when she turns around and unleashes that pent up rage and tells Jeff to "Kick his ass." Once she feels that someone in the group is supporting her, she becomes fully on board with the fight.

  • Excellent points! I do feel that she was being rather intolerant, however. I'd agree that she was trying to be politically correct, but if intolerance is the end result that doesn't make it any more justified, just as Pierce's racism isn't justified just because he thinks he's being politically correct in calling Annie "Jewey".

    Shirley constantly denigrates the faiths of the others throughout the episode, and while she may not intentionally be seeking to undermine their beliefs, it's still the end result. Comments like "The Lord is testing me" and calling their religions "philosophies" are really emblematic of how she regards Christianity as the only "true" faith, and here she isn't able to suppress the need to communicate that belief.

  • Shirley is acting very selfishly here, it happens, but i think she didn't really realize how selfish she was for most of the episode.  She was trying to fill a void in her life with the group and was reacting hostilely because the group wasn't acting like her family would.

    (Though i wonder if the behavior was really that different.  the only time she seems surprised is not by the interest in jeff's fight but instead by the opening admission that not all the members of the group are christian.  i think a case could be made that her reaction to jeff's fight mirror similar reactions she would have had in the past to her husband and children wanting to do something else on christmas or other family holidays.  The difference is that her husband and her children would have always caved to her demands until the divorce.  jeff going to the fight then can stand in as a similar action as andre leaving her.  she is already trying to forget one man who left her and she doesnt want to have to deal with jeff another man who is leaving her.)

    Wow sorry big tangent.  But my point is that Shirley came into the first season with some of the biggest problems.  Divorce is very difficult especially on someone whose identity is so wrapped up in family.  This is very much an episode that showcases how shirley is attempting to use the group as a surrogate family but twists it to show that if shirley is to be a part of this family she has to grow up a little.

  • Loki100

    Yeah, I think that Shirley's arch can really be summed up by Andre in "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy" when he says that Greendale taught her to accept the bad with good instead of the cycles of trying for perfection, failing and then getting enraged.

    Shirley winds up having a much happier Christmas by accepting that she can have both her Christmas party with her friends and participate in Jeff's fight rather than have a Christmas party without Jeff because the fight would ruin the perfect party.

  • Loki, this fishstick backs up your point very well:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    She says things like Hanukkah holder, calls everyone's religions a 'philosophy' and emphasizes 'Jew' seemingly derogatorily, but we know Shirley doesn't intend malice because of the delicate dance Yvette does around it all.

  • Loki100

    Yes. YNB is an amazing actress, and in several episodes she manages to keep Shirley likable even when Shirley is saying or doing things that are just awful. Shirley can say Britta dresses like a streetwalker, but YNB makes sure that you can feel the character loves Britta even as she says it.

    (Although Britta kind of does dress like a street walker, but she pulls it off).

  • I think you've made a very important distinction here, which is that the terribly un-PC things Shirley says in this episode come from a place of trying to show her acceptance of the others (even if she mostly wants to show that acceptance to make herself look like a "cool" Christian.)  She just has no idea how to, since she seems very sheltered and doesn't know the right words for things.  My own mom did that when she first met my now-husband, who's a different ethnicity than us.  She wasn't trying to be offensive–she was, in fact,being overly-polite–she just didn't have the exposure to know how to deal with the situation and was too earnest to fake being knowledgeable and cool about it, the way Jeff/Britta would.

  • Why, it's just like ¡Rob!

  • Holy Crap, SG Standard that there's some effective aversion therapy! 
    I'll direct my husband your way when he wonders why I am completely turned off by him now :-P.

  • Loki100

    One of the things that I think often gets overlooked is that Shirley is only 34, which means that the absolute oldest she could have been when she had her first child was 24.

    Britta was foot modeling and traveling to 14 countries, while she was at home, taking care of children. It sort of seems unfair, at least to me, that Shirley should be compared to someone like Britta on terms of tolerance and acceptance.

    I know my mother was, for most of my childhood, was a stay-at-home mom. Going to church, and other church related functions was basically my mother's entire social life, because outside of church there was really no way for her to make friends. Maybe I am just projecting onto Shirley, but I don't feel it is unreasonable to think Shirley would probably fall into a very similar situation as a very young mother.

  • Excellent point, avclub-c88e480b73f71a78df8a9839f870a0f2 .  I totally wasn't trying to compare her in any sort of value judgement sense, though.  I think faking-it Britta-style can be just as bad.  They're just different approaches and Shirley's ends up being more obviously awkward on the surface, but we know Britta's leads to things like "If you have to ask if it's homophobic to ask questions, haven't you already answered your own question?" which isn't exactly going to lead to peace and  understanding, either.

    (And in fairness, I approached things more from a Britta "be cool" perspective initially, which may have smoothed things over at times, but everything sure was a lot better once I learned to accept my own awkward cultural gaffes and point and laugh at them sometimes, so I've definitely experienced the limitations of the Britta approach in real life, too)

  • Loki100

    I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply you were doing that personally. I was more implying that fandom in general seems to overlook just how young Shirley was when she had her first child. Certainly raising two rambunctious boys as she has is quite an accomplishment, but it has left her with less time to do fun things and meet fun people. Jeff and Britta are only slightly younger than she is, but both have spent the time that she was raising children having eye opening life experiences that she hasn't.

  • Gotcha.  And agreed.

  • Great review, worth the wait.  I really loved britta in this episode.  There is still a remnant of her too cool for school persona but she is also much more light-hearted than she had been.  I think my favorite line of hers in this episode is "oh cmon, now you're just messing with me." i also love the effectiveness of the Forest Whitaker eye, because man that thing is freaky. 

  • Britta got some great lines in this episode.  In addition to getting to give the Winger Speech, Gillian's delivery of "I'm being punk'd, right?" is adorable.  Also, I think when they're clapping after "Tolerant Night" you can hear her say "That was nice!" which is a sweet compliment to pay Shirley.

  • Oh yeah, her hilariously skeptical "C'mon, I'm being punked, right?" is too funny.

  • This episode has possibly the longest chain of unbroken LOLs in the series and that's during their Little Rascals clubhouse meeting where Pierce and Troy teach Jeff to fight. It's not uproariously funny like Troy's timeline or the brawl at end of this very episode but it's just joke after joke that merges all the parallel stories:

    After Troy teaches Jeff about the rhetorical "sup" and the Forrest Whitaker eye and Britta gets in another jab about latent homosexuality, Pierce steps in:

    Pierce: Alright, I've seen enough. Let's see what we're working with. Go ahead, throw a few at the old paws.
    -Jeff lightly punches away with some lefty hooks much like Obama would
    Pierce: What are you, a North Korean seamstress?
    Jeff: Not if that's bad.
    Pierce: Get mad! Come on! If it helps, think of me as someone who annoys you.
    -Jeff throws a strong jab sending Pierce stumbling backwards
    Pierce: That's it, that's good. Britta put your blouse back on.
    -Jeff and Troy turn to look
    -Pierce kicks Jeff's shin
    Jeff: Awwwww. Ow!
    Pierce: Boys, this is not a game. You gotta be ready for anything.
    Troy: Dude, that is not cool!
    Pierce: Well that foxy black girl thinks it is.
    -Troy, Jeff and Abed turn to look.
    -Pierce kicks Troy's shin
    Troy: Owwww!
    Jeff: What are you doing!
    Troy: WHY SHE HAVE TO BE BLACK!!
    Shirley steps in: What is going on?
    Troy: We're trying to get Jeff ready for the fi-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeee-t. *turns to Jeff and whispers* "I couldn't think of another word".
    Jeff: Idiot! He meant we were fi——ting. It is hard to think of another word!

    All that's missing is Annie, but I want to believe she was absent just so they could do that glorious foxy black girl joke. And Britta's just in the background enjoying her theory playing out.

  • That whole scene really does flow fantastically well.

  • That's one of my favorite scenes in S1.

  • This episode has one of my favorite Troy moments.

    Troy: "I got punched in the face once. At first it hurt, but then I was like, This is a story."

    Jeff: "And a good one."

  •  

    "First time I got punched in the face I was like, oh no, but then I thought, this is a story."

    Chuckling even as I type this.

  • Ah, yes. I always get quotes wrong when I don't bother to look them up. And when I do look them up to confirm, I have it perfect.

  •  

     

    I didn't mean to show off or something. I just like how sometimes Troy speaks in this stream-of-consciousness, totally unstructured way, where you can tell threre's no filter between his thougts and his words. This is one such case; my personal favorite is still "And how about I pound you like a boy that didn't come out right." (I have very juvenile tastes, what can I say)

  • Oh, I didn't take it as showing off. I'm grateful! Now I'll remember it correctly.

    And Troy's stream of consciousness speaking is probably my favourite thing about him. Lines like that make up a lot of my favourite Troy moments. (With a healthy dose of crying in there too.)

  • "Ho. Ly. Crap."

  • Loki100

    One of the things I dislike about the next two Christmas episodes is that they focus on Abed (granted, there was no way to do those episodes without focusing on Abed).  I love the fact that Abed is Muslim, as there are almost no other Muslim characters on TV, and the few that are trend towards stereotype. It's made me incredibly sad that Abed's Islamic identity has been so completely backgrounded in seasons 2 and 3.

    He was a wonderful example of someone who is Palestinian throughout season 1.

  •  

     

    But is Abed's Muslim identity really addressed by the show? I get the feeling Abed is Muslim in the same way Troy's a Jehovah's Witness – that is, in name only. Except for Shirley, nobody appears to define themselves much by their religion, which accounts I guess for why she feels so isolated and defensive.

    The only time the show worked something vaguely Muslim into a story was with Abed's burqa-wearing cousin Abra, and there, they seemed to fudge things in a rather embarrassing way – in that they appeared to try really hard to not acknowledge the religious aspect, while also not being very sure how to make a joke.

  • "I get the feeling Abed is Muslim in the same way Troy's a Jehovah's Witness – that is, in name only."

    Yep. After all, he's a Muslim who loves Christmas.

    I kind of like that it's not addressed head-on. Some shows would deal with their Muslim character by inverting the expectation to the opposite extreme with PC-ness that whitewashes any identity or color they might have. Abed is a Muslim and that's that. As George Carlin would joke about, he "happens to be" a Muslim. In Messianic Myths, he initially balked at Shirley's Christian YouTube idea but it wasn't because he's Muslim (without hesitation, he said he'd be happy to do it as a Muslim), but rather, being the pretentious filmmaker he is, he objected on the grounds that he'd be seen as preaching and not telling a story.

  • Loki100

    Actually that's what I like about it. Troy's being a Jehovah's Witness comes up when it is appropriate (such as his birthday), and the rest of the time it is just regulated to the background. Community is exceptional in its handling of age, race, gender, and religion. All those aspects of its characters are present, but they don't dominate (other than Shirley's religion and Pierce's age). It's very true to life.

    A storyline about Annie doesn't have to be about her being young, female, or Jewish, but those elements are not ignored either. It feels, to me, that Abed being Muslim has been ignored.

  • Abed is only half Muslim. Don't forget, his mother was Polish, and, based on the way he related her to Christmas in Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas, she was probably a Christian. Plus, he clearly has a great affection for Christmas, as he is the driving force in two of the show's Christmas episodes and gets the ball rolling in the third.

    I could see his upbringing being focused on the religion of one of his parents (Muslim, based on the "72 virgins when I get to heaven" joke in this episode), but with a healthy smattering of Christianity from his mother's side. This how it has worked out in my half Jewish (said the whole word!), half Christian family, so maybe I can relate to this aspect of Abed somewhat when it comes to going both ways around the holidays. 

  • SG Standard Good point (sing about it?).  Especially since it was his mom who left, it seems like things associated with her or that allow him to feel closer to her a very special in his mind.  So I can see why he would primarily identify as Muslim, since his dad is is primary parent, but have a huge soft spot for Christmas.

  • There's never been any indication that he's a practicing Muslim; it was good for a few funny jokes in Season 1, but it hasn't been mentioned much since then. It's not the sort of thing that you would know if it weren't explicitly stated; Abed is just generic brown nowadays (which is fine by me, since there aren't enough non-stereotypical roles for Indians, and having an Indian playing an Arab is a little weird anyway).

    The obvious contrast here is with Annie's Jewishness, which comes up organically at relevant times without having to drive the plot when it's mentioned. Part of that is because Alison Brie actually comes from a Jewish background, I'm sure, and it's probably more convenient to write a Jewish character than it would be to write a Muslim character.

  • Yeah, it's true that Abed's Islamic identity isn't often a real point of the character. I do feel that this may be somewhat attributed to the fact that, as SBT observes, Abed just isn't much of a practicing Muslim.

    Still, I'd agree that they could probably do a bit more with it, though it's understandable that they steer away from doing so; sadly, Islam is not exactly something you want to put onscreen for a broadcast network if you want to attract viewers and avoid controversy.

  • Loki100

    While I think it is obvious that he isn't a particularly strict Muslim, I'd just like for it to be a part of his identity. I know from personal experience how wonderful it is when a character on TV represents some aspect of yourself. As someone who is autistic, I dearly love Abed (even if he isn't officially diagnosed or anything) because I can relate to so many of his experiences. I have a friend who is an atheist, and she loves Britta because there aren't that many openly atheists on TV. I might not be Muslim, but I can see how people who are Muslim would probably dearly love a nice, caring, funny, more or less normal Muslim character. Plus it just makes the world of Greendale more interesting.

    Seriously, this is a quote from the Homeland interview that just went up, "I can’t remember whether it was the seventh or eighth season of 24, but there was a character, an imam. I think it was one of two brothers, and they were Muslim immigrants in this country, and Jack Bauer was convinced that one of them was a terrorist. It turned out that he was wrong and that they were both actually completely innocent. I remember calls coming in from people saying, 'That is so dangerous—to portray an innocent Muslim on television. That’s a dangerous message to be sending out to the world.' Now on the flipside of it there were people who were like, 'Of course, you know, it’s crazy [to think all Muslims are terrorists].'”

  • It's cool that there's a Muslim character whose religion is so much not a big deal that it's only rarely brought up (much like with other characters' religions), but it would have been nice if it had been made a bigger part of his identity. He wouldn't need to be shown praying or anything, since religious practice is generally done in private or at the mosque. One way to accomplish it would have been to portray him as a non-drinker; he's been shown drinking twice, and both times it wouldn't have taken much effort at all to change that and have him not drink. As it is, it feels like it's shifted too far the other way from the "Muslim terrorist" stereotype, where his religion is downplayed so much that he's hardly a Muslim character at all.

  • -“I’ve got to write a paper about that!”
    I've been wondering if the show was already planting the seeds of Britta as a Psych major this early in the series. In this episode, she goes on about fighting as a way of expressing latent homosexuality. She hits on other psychoanalysis topics/themes in other episodes around this time (Physical Education and Contemporary American Poultry, I think. There might be a couple of others but I'm drawing a blank on the specifics.)

    I don't know if it was intentional or not, but it certainly fits the mold of each member growing as a person based on their experiences with one another. I suppose this post would be better if I knew specifically what I was talking about, but that's the price I pay for not bringing my Community DVD's to work with me. 

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    I think this Britta is still the smug, "militant," Guatemala-protesting Britta. What I appreciate about her psychology major storyline is that, while the group may laugh at her, she's actually quite insightful: she pegs Jeff as "guarded" and comforts Troy in Chaos, she makes pretty insightful observations about how Annie should handle Troy and Abed etc. It's as if, as she's getting goofier outwardly, Britta's turning wiser inwardly.

    "I've got to write a paper about that" is still superficial Britta. She's latching on supposedly progressive causes, without any real discernment. The great observation here belongs to Abed: "In boxing you fight for a purse. And a belt." Bonus: as in Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking, Britta is awfully quick to call people gay when it suits her.

    EDIT: Britta discovers her true need to help people by acting as a "mother" to Abed. She's genuinely and profoundly hurt in AUC when Abed rejects that help (good God, is that little song sad!). But her turning to psychology is only fully articulated in Geography of Global Conflict. It's a 2-phase process: she is first confronted with her poser nature when she finds out about her friend being tear gassed in Syria. Then she channels her need to help by helping Chang of all people to fulfill his dream of being a real police officer and tase a protester. I find it endlessly amusing that Chang has turned into a yardstick that measures other characters' humanity: Jeff proved himself to be a stand-up guy when he picked him up from the trash chute, and now Britta takes pity on him.

  • I love how you pointed out Britta's wisdom here. It's so true and something I'm very glad you helped me realize. It suggests that she's coming into her own both as a person on the surface, with her repressed goofiness coming to surface more and more, but also that beneath that she's coming into her own as a thoughtful, insightful friend, who's experience can be used just not for self-important purposes, as it often was for her earlier in the series.

    I love the growth of this character.

  • One more thing, I think Britta's diagnosis of Jeff's "edible" complex sums up wonderfully who she is at this stage in the show. On the surface she's a goof, a clown but she's actually very insightful as we see in her diagnosis being correct.

    She actually reminds me very much of my friend who introduced me to Community. My friend is a very devoted Christian, so they differ in that regard, but she's also very goofy, seems to have, at times, a poor grasp on the English language with ridiculous (there's a word she mispronounces as "ridicleeous") pronunciations of words (as well as one's similar to Britta's mispronunciation of "Oedipal"), and yet, beneath all that she is a very thoughtful and wise person. She's a Christian so her views skew more towards Shirley's actually, than mine or Britta's, but like Britta, beneath the goofiness, she can be very wise and is an excellent person to confide in.

    The point is, I feel that Britta is a realistic portrayal of that sort of person; just a goof but a pretty smart goof.

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    It's funny that your Shirley-like friend reminds you of Britta, since Shirley and Britta are a little snippy with each other these days. Both Shirley and Britta are insightful, fundamentally decent people wearing a mask of self-righteousness (Shirley the Christian, Britta the know-it-all progressive liberal/atheist), and I'm guessing they each get on each other's nerves precisely because they see themselves in the other's surface hypocrisy. Britta's been moving away from this, though interestingly, not with Shirley, an I'm not sorry. I love it when these two get in a fight: their confrontation in Cooperative Calligraphy was all raw nerves, resentment and pain, and their wacky encounter with vampire Jesus in Modern Movement was hilarious.

  • Great! One thing: could you put the episode number and title in bold at the top of the review? It's what's been done for each one.

  • Crap, I forgot to; will do!

  • How do you even do that? I'm dumb with Disqus.

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    Fantastic review! Your point about Jeff's instinctive dislike of bullies is beautifully made. It proves once more just how well this show build its characters.

    You’re just like this school. You’re obnoxious, you’re cramping my style, and you smell like French fry oil!

    I think the french fry oil smell was the smell the Dean was instructing his cast to pretend wasn't there in his Greendale ad from Redux. I love these small callbacks (or maybe this one's only in my mind).

  • I think you might be right about that, actually. Great find!

  • "We thus see how Jeff really is kind of a decent guy at heart; his reactions to bullies are instinctual rather than rational decisions, and thus come from a “truer” part of himself than the jaded, sarcastic Jeff which serves as his defense mechanism. "  Nice point.  One thing that also goes to your point about the Troy-Jeff dynamic in this episode is the end tag.  I love that Troy's answer to Jeff's asking why Troy and Abed do the things they do is "Because it's fun."  I love that Troy has already become that guy by this point in the first season (jock Troy would not have been O Christmas Troy) and that Jeff joins in because deep down he likes having dorky fun with his friends and will do it with less and less protest from this point on.

    I enjoyed you character breakdown in the fight–I hadn't really watched it enough to catch what every single character was doing, but how great!

    I didn't realize until I rewatched this one on a random, non-Christmas-season day how much that tinkly incidental music they open all the holiday episodes with just makes my heart leap every time.  I love that music.

  • Agreed! We've often discussed on here how Community's integration of music into the show is a cut above that of most of its brethren, but it's always great to see it in action, and the Christmas episodes never fail to do so remarkably well.

  • Oh, and something I forgot: Pierce is playing the keyboard during "Tolerant Night". Yay for continuity!

  • OccamsBlazer

    Nice review! I liked the breakdown of the fight and the Shirley analysis.

    One thing I noticed in this episode is that Britta gives a sort-of Winger speech when she tells Shirley to be more accepting of everyone in the group. It's not as clever or humorous as a classic Winger speech, but it is truthful and effective.

    Also, Chevy Chase's reading of "Suck it, Nietzche." is one of my favorite lines from Pierce in the whole season.

  • Well done. This one got eclipsed by the subsequent Xmas episodes, but seeing all those hilarious moments listed reminded me that there is no such thing as a bad Community episode.

    'Sup? 'Sup?!? 'SUP?!?!

  • -This is the best gif I could find but it's an awesome bit of physical comedy by Pudi with the plate of cookies: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tum…
    http://28.media.tumblr.com/tum… – I like how they foreshadow Chang not being a real teacher with this exchange. "Soooo boring!"
    http://30.media.tumblr.com/tum…
    http://27.media.tumblr.com/tum… (Tuna, you made a great point about this, btw).
    http://25.media.tumblr.com/tum…
    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -I'm being Punk'd, right? – http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -Dan Harmon enjoyed the utter randomness of this on the commentary –http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -Loved Chang's unnecessarily obtuse revelation of Jeff's grade –http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -Pierce's self-important piano-playing expressions are always hilarious –http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -D'awwwwww – http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

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  • oh yeah if you've never seen My Bodyguard, the bodyguard that Jeff is compared to is played by Adam Baldwin, the best Baldwin brother that isnt an actual baldwin brother.

  • Pierce tells Jeff, "you're a man now" just like Jeff told Troy in 210.

  • Good review!

    One of my favorite S1 episodes. I love how real the discomfort about religion got. As glad as I am that no one was outright villainized and that they made it funny, I prefer almost any awkward debate on an uncomfortable subject on a TV show because that's what people who hang out but don't know each other intimately do. They slowly discover some painful rifts in their personal beliefs, and then try to figure out whether they can still stand each other. (As opposed to never bringing it up, like on most sitcoms.)

    Shirley's passive-aggressive assertions of her right to Christmas were great, as were the rest of the gang's unforced reactions. Shirley calling Annie "Jew" and Annie replying "Say the whole word!" was great, both for the characters and pretty much a summation of antisemitism in America (it just sneaks in there and pretends like it belongs) and how to properly respond to it without being cruel.

    I liked how it really felt for a minute like the group could fall apart, and how naturally the resolution to that came. The first half of S1 was all about the show surprising me over and over again, never falling into the rut like I expected but instead opening up into more of an ensemble show and into greater and greater possibilities.

  • sll03

    Bollocks.  I am very late to this party.  Great job on the review!  I award it 10 Winter Doodles out of 10, and that means we won't have to fight over them!  Unless you want more than 10, in which case we will rumble to the death because I LOVE WINTER DOODLES. 

    That really doesn't sound menacing at all, huh?  Jeff was totally right.

And FOR POSTERITY