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Community Review: "Comparative Religion" (Episode 1.12)

TV Reviews Joel McHale
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Community Review: "Comparative Religion" (Episode 1.12)

Arrested Development was the best sitcom of the past decade. If you've paid attention to either our list or one of the various other ones out there, this is starting to look like less an opinion than a certain level of fact at this point, so generally agreed upon that it's not that controversial. That being said, while the show is certainly a situational comedy in the literal sense, part of its greatness was to transcend and, frequently, ignore typical sitcom tropes. Single camera, laugh track free, contuity based—these are all small parts of how the show broke away from its genre. It became the best of its genre by not really being a part of its genre, throwing off the shackles of its conventions and blazing new trails.

One part of why I like Community so much is that, while it learned some lessons from Arrested Development, it's also a lot more of a conventional sitcom. Community shoots on location, leaves the laugh track off and has certainly been developing a level of continuity between its episodes, but as for the episode plots and characters themselves, those are traditional sitcom material. This hybrid between the two has kept the show interesting, seeing how far things can go while never forgetting its roots. The streak of great episodes we've had is as much a result of pandering to these sitcom expectations and twisting them out of place as it is from anything else.

"Comparative Religion" follows this pattern perfectly and the pay-off is an episode that fits together with elegant, classical plotting that's matched by over-the-top wackiness and one-liners. The episode is intentionally a traditional Christmas, or holiday I suppose, special. As the semester closes down, Shirley plans a Christmas party for her new "family," and soon learns that she's the only real Christian amongst them. Will she learn to accept their differences in a truly Christian manner, or will she try to convert them to her religion in as blunt a way as possible? Of course, she'll do the latter and then end the episode with the former, but the plotline allows her to tackle the old-fashioned Christmas coming together of a family while still pointing out that, ultimately, that sort of cloyingly religious way of thrusting the holiday onto people is past its time.

Linked to this plot is Jeff entering into his first fight. At first defending Abed and later just kind of standing up for his right to hit douchebags, Jeff ends up challenging the local bully to a good old, American fight after school. This is of course another cliched plotline, but it doesn't matter. The way the show takes this, from Jeff's absurd training sequence to the obvious conflict his fight causes with the proselytizing Shirley, isn't particularly original but its jokes along the way are. Britta's interpretation of things as a big gay love-in and Chase telling Jeff to learn punching by imaging him as annoying keep the old formulas fresh.

These two plots collide in the end, when Shirley is confronted with the intolerance of her ways and joins the rest of the gang in watching Jeff fight. Jeff has, unfortunately, learned the true spirit of Christmas by now and refuses to throw a punch, making him soon get walloped. But then, for no particularly good reason, the fight expands to everyone, creating a Festivus miracle. Turns out that the "family" who fights together, stays together. They also apparently punch Jeff in the face together--it's all good.

With another amazing set-piece and some spot-on, if not particularly revelatory observations about religion, Community delivers the funnies once again. A damn good way to finish off the year. Here's looking forward to what the show brings us in 2010.

Stray Observations:
- "Time to visit our loved ones. Some of us will travel as far as three miles."
- "That guy wasn't gay, he had a moustache."
- "Ho ho ho, merry happy..."
- "One might even say I'm Jewish."
- What do you guys think of Father Solstice? I'll answer for you: he's great. Everything that's good about Father Christmas is good about him, but he also gets a little go-cart thing.
- "You picked the wrong day to correct my Spanish, no-sleeves."
- So ... why do you hate me and Jesus?
- "To me religion is kind of like Paul Rudd."
- "I'm not mad, I'm disappointed." "That's mom for mad."
- "Guys, guys, are we really going to let religion divide us?"
- Britta seeing everything as gay reminds me of a lot of idiotic interpretations I heard in college ... though generally not from students. Then again, sometimes from really annoying students.
- Apparently Jeff is the only person as bad at learning Spanish as I am.
- "The dude doesn't show up, we're definitely going to Applebee's"
- "Appropriate night / slow on ground / left and right...function with relative ease" - a lyrical masterpiece
- O Christmas Troy!

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