Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Community 1.12: "Comparative Religion"

“Rumor has it that non-denominational Mr. Winter is on his way to the student lounge!”

-The Dean

I enjoyed this episode of Community more than I have enjoyed other recent episodes. I like that it expressed a message of tolerance, but without getting too preachy with it. Disrespecting people of other religions is called out as being ridiculous and not acceptable behavior, but so is extreme secularism and political correctness. I generally fall more on the political correctness side of the political correctness-evangelism spectrum, but extremes are never good for anyone, and that’s what this episode tried to show as the study group tries to put up with Shirley’s increasingly obnoxious attitude as she plans a Christmas party.

Before getting to Shirley’s side of the spectrum, though, we see political correctness taken to extremes. The Dean is making his last campus-wide announcements before winter break, and he’s being careful to be as secular as possible, even eschewing more secular symbols associated with Christmas such as Santa Claus. Instead, he’ll be going around campus dressed as “Mr. Winter.” Mr. Winter is later seen rolling through the study lounge shouting “Ha ha ha! Merry happy!” which most definitely cracked me up because it was so ridiculous.

Shirley, upset about the secularization of the holidays, gives each of the study group members bracelets that say WWBJD—“What Would Baby Jesus Do.” She starts on a diatribe about how Jesus is the real meaning of the holiday season, and the rest of the group just looks uncomfortable. Abed goes to get some cookies and is harassed by a bully, played by Anthony Michael Hall of 80’s brat pack fame. The bully want’s Abed’s Winterdoodle cookies because they’re the only cookies he’s not allergic to. Abed starts to panic, but Jeff steps in and tries to help Abed by using his gift of gab. Pierce thinks Jeff should have fought the bully right then and there, but Shirley is pleased that Jeff chose peace, especially during the holiday season. Britta just thinks fighting is gay.

Shirley is throwing a Christmas party for the study group, and the reset of the group is less than enthused. It turns out nobody else celebrates Christmas. Troy’s is Jehovah’s Witness, Annie is Jewish, Abed is Muslim, Britta is Atheist, Jeff is Agnostic (it kind of amused me how he got booed for that by his friends), and Pierce is part of some sketchy cult that sounds like a cross between Buddhism and an especially crazy video game. Laser Lotus? Really? Shirley, getting kind of exasperated, tells everybody they can bring a symbol of their philosophy to the party.

Jeff is kind of on edge about his Spanish final, because he is seriously in danger of failing the class. Having recently been a law student, Annie’s reaction to that news cracked me up. We lawyers/law students tend to be perfectionist overachievers like Annie, and the thought of failing a class would probably make most of us practically spontaneously combust, too. Jeff valiantly attempts the Spanish final, but the bully, of course, has to interrupt the test and put Jeff’s grade in jeopardy. He waltzes right into the room, looks at Jeff’s test, and starts correcting it. This is the final straw. Jeff wants the bully to meet him at 3 o’clock, by the bike rack, but not the one by the parking lot. He ends up accepting fighting lessons from the other study group guys after the bully and his minions taunt him even more later in the student lounge. I actually found the bully plot to be the least interesting part of the episode. Anthony Michael Hall’s performance was just so over-the-top that it wasn’t really funny.

Shirley is decorating a Christmas tree and singing carols (Yvette Nicole Brown can seriously sing, by the way) as Annie enters the room where they’re going to have the party. She brought a menorah with her, and Shirley hides it deep in the tree. Annie spills the beans about the upcoming fight, which upsets Shirley. Shirley rushes out of the room to stop it and leaves Annie with the Baby Jesus from the nativity scene. Annie puts Baby Jesus deep in the Christmas tree with the menorah. I thought that was a nice comeback on Annie’s part after Shirley had been so disrespectful.

The guys are teaching Jeff the psychology of fighting (especially the correct inflection of a rhetorical “Sup?”) more than they’re teaching him any actual fighting moves. Shirley interrupts the lesson to express her disapproval. Because of her recent divorce, this study group Christmas party will be the only Christmas party she throws this year, and she doesn’t want her “new family” to let her down. She tells Jeff that if he’s going to go ahead with the fight, he’s not welcome at the party.

Jeff ends up not showing up to the party, and it creates a lot of tension that nobody’s willing to talk about at first. Shirley starts singing “Jesus is a Friend of Mine, ”.and things escalate into everybody yelling at each other simultaneously, presumably about religion. Britta finally puts a stop to it. It was nice to see her get on her soap box for a good, close-to-home cause for once. She tells the group that there’s one thing they can all agree on- they want Jeff at the party. Everyone agrees but Shelly, who is still on her high horse about fighting not being appropriate for the holiday season. Britta walks out to go support Jeff at the fight, and everybody follows her.

The actual fight is just all great moments from beginning to end. First is Jeff trying out all the psych-out techniques the guys tried to teach him. There’s insults and “Sup’s” and a kind of scary stare. Jeff puts up his fists, ready to fight, and he sees the WWBJD bracelet. He suddenly has a change of heart and doesn’t want to fight anymore. Not because of religion, but because of his friendship with Shirley. He respects her “turn the other cheek” attitude. Shirley arrives just in time to see this happen. She also arrives in time to see the bully sucker punch Jeff. Jeff tries to keep going on about how he’s not going to fight, and the bully just keeps beating on him. This, in turn, gives Shirley a change of heart. She gives Jeff permission to kick the bully’s ass. The rest of the study group gets in on the action, too, taking on the bully’s minions and destroying Greendale’s festive winter display in the process.

After the fight, everybody’s pretty badly beaten up, but they go back to Shirley’s Christmas party, and Shirley sings more secular lyrics to the tune of “Silent Night.” Even though they’re all hurting from the fight, they’re happy to be together. Senor Chang crashing the party to announce everybody, even Jeff, passed Spanish completes the perfect moment.

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