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Recap / Community S1 E12: Comparative Religion

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Shirley is organizing a Christmas party — her first since her husband walked out on her — and is eager to celebrate the season with the study group, her new family. However, her eagerness is sorely compromised by the fact that the religious beliefs of the other members of the group do not mesh with hers. Jeff, meanwhile, finds himself dealing with a local bully, Mike, who eventually gets him so riled that he challenges him to a fight, which causes problems; not only is it Jeff's first fight, but Shirley makes it clear that if he fights on what she considers a special day, he's no longer invited to her party.

The Community episode "Comparative Religion" features examples of:

  • Acceptable Religious Targets: In-Universe. Jeff gets more flak for being an agnostic than Britta does for being atheist.
    Pierce: Agnostic! The lazy man's atheist.
  • Actor Allusion: Mike (played by Anthony Michael Hall) is described by Pierce as "used to be a nerd, now he's a meathead."
  • Actually Pretty Funny: The Stinger has Jeff walking in on Abed decorating Troy like a Christmas tree and singing "Oh Christmas Troy," a variant on "O Christmas Tree." He asks why they do this, and Abed responds that it's fun. Jeff thinks about it, and realizes that's actually a good point. Cue him joining in on the decorating and singing.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Specifically, Mike's group get their asses handed to them.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Chang when revealing that everyone has passed the Spanish test ... except for Jeff. Quickly subverted when he clarifies Jeff will still be passing onto the next Spanish class with everyone else.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Annie holding a flocking machine like a BFG in the climatic fight. That is all.
    • There's also Shirley angrily whacking one of Mike's flunkies with a giant candy cane.
    Mike's Flunky: Please, it's Christmas!
    Shirley: It's December tenth!
  • Big "NO!": Annie, when she thinks Jeff has flunked Spanish 101.
  • Call-Back:
    Troy: This nose smells like "special drink."
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Mike.
    Mike: Oh, you're funny. You're a funny man. Wanna hear somethin' funny, funny man? Knock-knock — My fist up your balls!
    Jeff: (confused) ...Who's there?
  • Chekhov's Gag: Everyone keeps reminding Shirley that it's December 10th and technically not Christmas. Later on, when Shirley witnesses Jeff getting beaten up and realizes it's her fault, she says it's not Christmas and tells Jeff to kick Mike's ass.
  • Christmas Episode: Even though, as everyone notes, "It's December tenth."
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • Parodied; Pierce claims to be using this to try and help teach Jeff fighting, but actually he just wanted an excuse to kick Jeff (and Troy) in the shin without them hitting back.
    • Played straight in the climax; everyone in the study group fights dirty against Mike's gang. Annie makes great use of a snow gun.
  • Covert Pervert: Abed seems really excited about getting 72 virgins in Heaven.
  • Dance Battler: Mike and his crew are apparently dancers.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Britta and the one girl in Mike's gang fight with each other in the climax. It's a pretty savage example, though, with Britta furiously banging the other girl's head against the snow.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Chang explaining his Bait-and-Switch Comment at the end just to make sure everyone gets his word play.
  • Double Entendre/Heh Heh, You Said "X": Jeff commends Pierce on not reacting to Shirley commenting on the Dean "shoving his PC-ness down my throat." Turns out the only reason was that Pierce didn't get it until Jeff pointed it out.
  • Dramatic Pause: Lampshaded by Señor Chang:
    Chang: [Everybody passed] Except... pause for dramatic effect...
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: The climactic fight scene.
  • Everyone Is Christian at Christmas: Very much averted.
  • Fighting Back Is Wrong: In this episode, Shirley tries to stress the Christ aspect of the Christmas holiday by attempting to forbid Jeff from fighting a group of bullies who picked on Abed. She gives Jeff and the other study group members an ultimatum: anyone who fights the bullies or attends the fight as a spectator will be banned from the Christmas party. Ultimately inverted when Jeff finally gives into Shirley's demands, saying "What Would Shirley Do?" and gets punched several times; Shirley joins the rest of the study group in beating the bullies senseless.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Shirley needling everyone as a way of bullying them into wearing the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets she got them for Christmas is an early indicator of her increasingly unreasonable and obnoxious attitude towards the faiths of others over the course of the episode.
  • The Fundamentalist: Shirley. It speaks volumes that there's someone who's an active bully in college (to the point of initiating a fight) yet is not the worst person in the episode.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted. We learn that Britta is an atheist and Jeff's agnostic, but neither is particularly bitter or obnoxious about it. Both go out of their way politely to accommodate Shirley's overtly Christian holiday plans, and Shirley's actually the most obnoxious when it comes to other people's beliefs here.
  • Hollywood Jehovah's Witness: Zigzagged. Troy is revealed to be a Jehovah's Witness and as such doesn't celebrate Christmas. However, you couldn't really tell that he was a Jehovah's Witness if he didn't say so. That being said, he also claims that Jehovah's Witnesses can't drink, which isn't true—the writers were thinking of Mormons, with whom Jehovah's Witnesses are frequently confused.
  • Hypocrite: Shirley demands that everyone bend over backwards to accommodate her religious beliefs and lifestyle while simultaneously demonstrating dismissive and intolerant attitudes towards everyone else's religious beliefs and lifestyles. She eventually gets called out for this.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Following the Dean's "Mr. Winter" announcement, Shirley expresses irritation at the Dean "jamming his PC-ness down my throat." Shirley proceeds to spend pretty much the rest of the episode forcing her beliefs on everyone.
    • The Last-Second Word Swap example; Jeff's not impressed when Troy can't think of another word to replace 'fight' ("Idiot.") but then, when he tries, he can't think of a replacement word either.
    • Britta spends the episode insisting that fighting is just a way for men to release their pent-up gayness, before gleefully going after the only girl in the fight scene.
  • Insistent Terminology: Annie takes offense whenever someone says "a Jew" instead of "a Jewish [person]". Of course, anyone saying "Jew" is doing so in a vaguely offensive context...
  • Ironic Echo: Shirley is frequently rebuked for taking her Christmas party too seriously, with everyone reminding her that it's only December 10th. When she finally joins in the fight, one of Mike's buddies tries to escape an ass-whooping from her by pleading that it's Christmas. Her response? "It's December tenth!"
  • I've Heard of That What Is It?: Troy goes along with Pierce's joke about Billy Joel but then turns around to the others mouthing "Who is that?". Annie signals that she doesn't know either.
  • Jerk Jock: Mike.
    Jeff: Are you perpetually on your way to the gym?
    Mike: Dude, my life is a gym!
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Hilariously subverted and lampshaded:
    Shirley: What is going on?
    Troy: We're trying to get Jeff ready for the fi-iiiiiii.... iiiighhhh... t. (whispers) I couldn't think of another word.
    Jeff: Idiot. He meant we were figh— ...ting. It is hard to think of another word.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Jeff seemingly calls out Troy and Abed on The Tag, during the tag.
    Jeff: Why do you guys do stuff like this?
    Troy: Because it's fun.
    Abed: Yeah.
    (Gilligan Cut to Jeff joining them)
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Jeff has never been in a fight before. He's also willing to let the guys beat him up for Shirley's sake. Then Shirley tells him to kick their asses. Cue Jeff turning on his fighting skills.
  • Look Behind You: Pierce uses this trick on Jeff and Troy in the Teach Me How To Fight scene. He kicks them in the leg while they are looking away.
  • Low-Stakes Blood Knight: Mike the bully talks tough to the rest of his crew while waiting for Jeff to show.
    Mike: Look, this dude doesn't show up, we're definitely going to Applebee's, alright? Because I'm getting in a fight no matter what today, I'm telling you right now...
  • Mama Bear: Shirley tells Jeff to fight back when she sees him beaten to a pulp. Then she joins in the fracas, happily beating the tar out of everyone who wants a piece of Jeff.
  • Motionless Makeover: Oh Christmas Troy! Oh Christmas Troy!
  • Not So Above It All: Jeff joins in with "Christmas Troy" after Troy and Abed casually point out that they do silly things like that because it's fun.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Chang when Mike walks into the Spanish final to menace Jeff.
  • Political Overcorrectness:
    • This can be the only explanation behind the creation of "nondenominational Mr. Winter," who spouts seasonal greetings such as "Merry Happy!".
    • Another example is "Sensitive Night", which is, as its own lyrics state, is a "tolerant rewrite" of "Silent Night" (though it's presented in a nicer light here than the above Mr. Winter).
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure: Both Annie and Shirley show a startling lack of basic knowledge of each other's faiths. Definitely Rule of Funny taking place here.
    • Shirley, when presented with a menorah, refers to it as a "Hanukkah Holder." When Abed brings a Muslim dish to the party, Shirley asks if she's allowed to eat it, since she's a woman and all, though she may have just been fishing for an excuse not to eat it. Given her notable reluctance to embrace the faiths of the other members of the group in the episode, she's also using this as an excuse not to have to engage with it.
    • Annie when handed the baby Jesus and asked to complete the setup of a Nativity Scene, instead places it in a nearby Christmas tree. Although considering that the first thing Shirley did when handed Annie's menorah was to insensitively stuff it into the Christmas tree where no one could see it, Annie's possibly doing this deliberately out of spite.
    • Also a non-religious example: neither Troy nor Annie knows who Billy Joel is.
  • Rite of Passage: According to Pierce, being punched in the face is one for men.
  • Running Gag: "It's December tenth."
  • Sentimental Music Cue: Starts playing near the end of the episode when Britta delivers a speech to Shirley about her heavy-handed use of her religious guilt on the group. Lampshaded by Yvette-Nicole Brown (Shirley's actor) in the episode's commentary: "Doesn't it make you feel?"
  • Serious Business: The Christmas party for Shirley, which she treats as if it were actually Christmas day when, as she is frequently reminded by everyone, "It's December tenth."
  • Shirtless Scene: Mike's gang in the climax:
    Mike: Shirts off, boys!
    Britta: I'm being Punk'd, right?
  • Shout-Out: The Dean saying "Merry Happy" is a satirical example of Political Overcorrectness, but it might also be a reference to Kate Nash, whose song "Merry Happy" was used in near the end of "Interpretive Dance" later in the season.
  • Ship Tease: Annie is incredibly horrified when it seems like Jeff failed the Spanish exam and incredibly happy when it turns out he didn't and he passes with them.
  • Significant Reference Date: The episode was aired on December 10.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Mike.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Mike has one girl on his gang, just because.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Troy and Pierce get the 'PC-ness' Double Entendre at the exact same time.
  • Take That!:
    • Being agnostic, as opposed to actually having religious beliefs.
    • Downplayed when Jeff compares religion to Paul Rudd. He can see the appeal and would never take it away from anyone, but nor would he ever stand in line for it.
  • Teach Me How To Fight: Troy and Pierce have to teach Jeff how to fight Mike.
  • Team Mom: Deconstructed; Shirley usually fulfills the role in a more benevolent fashion, but here she explicitly does so in a passive-aggressive and emotionally manipulative manner designed to guilt trip and browbeat her friends into doing what she wants to do how she wants to with little consideration for their thoughts on the subject. It's also pointed out that she's not actually their mother, no matter how much she acts like it, and so has no right to do this sort of thing.
    Jeff: Oh, come on, Shirley, don't be mad.
    Shirley: I'm not mad, I'm disappointed.
    Jeff: That's "mom" for "mad"!
  • To the Tune of...: "Comparative Religion" ends with the group performing an inclusive, secularized rewrite of "Silent Night."
    Shirley: Sensible night, appropriate night / Snow on ground, left and right...
  • Turn the Other Cheek: Jeff attempts this ("What would Shirley do?"), but it turns out that Shirley would rather Jeff "kick his ass!" Time to have An Ass-Kicking Christmas!
  • True Meaning of Christmas: The study group learns that the true meaning of Christmas is their being together as a surrogate family.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: "I'm gonna put this in the pocket closest to my heart!"
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The team eventually call Shirley out for her guilt-tripping ("You're a guilt machine!") and her insensitive, obnoxious and hypocritical attitude towards both their religious beliefs and Jeff's fight.
  • What Would Shirley Do?: Jeff eventually asks himself this when confronting Mike. He initially reasons that she'd seek a peaceful resolution. However, when Mike throws this peaceful approach back in his face, he receives confirmation of what Shirley would actually do from the source herself:
    Shirley: Jeffrey! Kick. His. Ass.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Jeff can be spotted breaking a prop over the one girl in Mike's gang.
  • Yaoi Fangirl: Britta. She encourages Jeff to work out his issues with Mike without fighting. (Though it's less active encouragement than relentless mockery of both the incident and her perception of fighting itself as homoerotic.)