Community: Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples

“I don't even believe in God, but I love me some Abed.”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then a bunch of other stuff happened, but that's not important right now. Community is well known for its meta sense of humour and the living embodiment of that: Abed. Through him, the show has been able to acknowledge and subvert the many sitcom clich├ęs and conventions of television. So it was inevitable that Community would eventually get around to producing an episode poking fun at meta storytelling.

With a teacher who knows nothing about the subject he is meant to be teaching, Anthropology 101 has become the class every student dreams of. No work, no tests, just goofing off and watching YouTube videos for an hour (Jeff must love it). Worried by everyone's apathy towards Christianity, Shirley asks Abed to make a pro-Christian video for YouTube. Something that will appeal to the younger generation. You see, religion just isn't cool anymore. It was at first, when God was very angry with all the fire and brimstone. But then he started producing more commercial material and suddenly religion was all mainstream and uncool. After some initial hesitation, Abed finds himself drawn to idea. But the story of Jesus has been done to death, which is why every Easter there are about fifty different Jesus movies on (including Ben-Hur, and everyone only watches that for the chariot race). So Abed decides to approach the story in a new way. And this is where things get mega meta.

Abed's idea is to do a Jesus movie for the post-post-modern world. Entitled ABED, it is an impenetrable story about a filmmaker exploring Jesus, a story that involves the filmmaker realizing that he is in some way Jesus. It sounds way more complicated when he explains it. Sharing my distaste for all this Charlie Kaufman bullshit, Shirley rejects the idea, but Abed goes ahead with the film anyway, taking on the persona of a Christ-like filmmaker with the dress sense of a Las Vegas magician and hair right out of a L'Oreal ad. Thanks to the almighty power of hype, he quickly develops a massive cult following before anyone has even seen so much as a frame of footage. Religion might not be cool, but ABED is. It's new and exciting so everyone wants to be a part of it, even if none of them understands why. Which only makes it even cooler.

And I've just realised I'm recapping rather than reviewing. Sorry about that, it's a common mistake, easy to slip into. 'Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples' is a good example of Community at its cleverest. There is a fine line between being clever and self aware and being so full of yourself that you inevitably disappear up your own backside. Fortunately this is Community not a Charlie Kaufman movie (yes, he is undoubtedly the Jim Belushi of this episode). This episode never crossed that line, it just stood next to it and dangled its foot over the other side in a mocking fashion. Of course there is a bigger difference between being smart and being funny. Just because a joke is cleverly constructed doesn't mean it will make people laugh. Fortunately this episode didn't have that problem. Mostly. There are plenty of good laughs to had, but they're more of the rib-tickling variety than side-splitting.

Hanging with the Hipsters

Pierce is feeling old. Nothing new there, Pierce is always feeling old. Because of his age (and ignorance, and bigotry...), Pierce has always felt like he never quite fitted in with the rest of the group. If Jeff is the dad and Britta is the mom (and Annie is that annoying little sister who tells on you), then by process of elimination Pierce is the baby of the group. And they treat him as such. So it is no surprise that he would seek out friends his own age. People he can relate to. People who will get and appreciate his terrible jokes and outdated cultural references. And those people just happen to be the school delinquents: the Hipsters. It's nice to see Pierce get a storyline all to himself, which is why it was annoying that the conclusion of this storyline was more focused on Jeff, rather than the character we've been following for the whole episode.

Josie Says...

In the beginning was the film, and the film was God, and the film was in God. And that's where things started to get tricky. While Abed's messianism is fascinating, I think we can also read this episode at a slant, focusing on Shirley's journey from hope to righteous anger and back around to hope again. Crushing the filmmaking materials is the modern-day equivalent of Jesus overturning the moneylenders' tables in the temple, for instance. Therefore, Shirley is Jesus.

Abed's film, of course, included that potential interpretation--the signal within the text that points us towards such a reading comes in the stand-ins for the viewer: the random students who say that the film is the same "backwards and forwards" and "the deleted scenes are the scenes, and the scenes are the deleted scenes." Abed, in pretending to be the messiah, turns out to be just a naughty boy, thus opening the possibility for Shirley to achieve her salvific potential.

Of course, that sort of radical re-reading demands a full accounting of the entirety of the episode, including Pierce's rebellion. And thus we come to the possibility that Pierce is, in fact, Jesus: faced with a series of temptations, Pierce eventually finds the moral core that allows him to do the right thing, and to realize that he has not been forsaken by his Father, played by Jeff Winger.

That Jeff Winger emerges as the Divine Architect should not be surprising, given that he is still, at heart, a temple moneylender (aka modern-day lawyer). Thus Abed is Jesus who is really Shirley but actually Pierce is sorta Jesus at a different phase which makes Jeff God but also a moneylender, destroyed by Shirley in her righteous anger against the pseudo-Jesus Abed. And therefore Dan Harmon is Ouroboros.

Notes and Quotes

-- It might have been a self-indulgent, over-hyped piece of crap, but I really would've liked to have seen ABED. I'm sure if it had survived it would've become a classic, like The Room.

-- I will never not find cars slowly crashing while people overreact funny.

Dean Pelton: “Abed, are you making a religious film?”
Abed: “All movies are religious to me.”
Dean Pelton: “Nice. But is it a movie about Jesus?”
Abed: “Is the Matrix? Is Robocop? Is Superman Returns?”

Jeff: “I'm Pierce Hawthorne's emergency contact.”
Receptionist: “So, you're here to pick him up?”
Jeff: “I'm here to be removed as his emergency contact.”

Three out of four Rapping Messiahs.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

4 comments:

celticmarc said...

Ahhhh

The one about the movie, or about Jesus ? Of the movie about Jesus ? Or Jesus doing a movie ? Or Abed filming a movie about Jesus doing a movie ?

A great ep that blew my mind. And by reading you both, I guess I wasn't the only one. Community at its best.

Juliette said...

Much more fun than Jesus of Montreal, not as much fun as the BBC's The Passion (which was a romantic drama about someone playing Jesus)

celticmarc said...

Whoah

Juliette, I thought about mentioning the aforementioned movie.....I admit that I loved it very much (but you have to watch in French, its original language, to fully appreciate it, especially the cursing scene) (ah, a classic).

Being a Montreal native, and still living here, it's still cool to pass before some of the places they filmed. Cool.

Cool, cool, cool.

ChrisB said...

Because I am fascinated by religion and its origins, I found this episode exceptional. It was extremely well written and acted and addressed some very real issues in a comic, yet meaningful way.

My take on Shirley was slightly different from Josie’s. 2,000 or so years ago, when Jesus was roaming the wilderness and preaching, most people thought he was either a harmless crank or crazy. Many of the religious people at the time failed to take him very seriously, and it’s easy to understand why. What do we think today when we see a man dressed in rags standing on a street corner professing himself to be the son of God? Others worried about the fact that people were listening to what he had to say.

I saw the beginning of this episode as an echo of that. Abed is proclaiming himself to be the new messiah, even if it is just for film. Most of the others are just indulgent of his film and his persona. Shirley is the voice of the established religion, uncomfortable with the idea that someone could come and upset the status quo, but more so that people are listening.

Yet, the whole idea is turned on its head when Abed is praying. The fact that Shirley overhears him raises questions. Why was she at that spot at that moment? Did God send her and, therefore, answer Abed’s prayer? Or, was it simply fate?

Finally, does it really matter, because now Shirley is listening to Abed. She is able to feel better by destroying the film and Abed can back down without losing face. The coda at the end as they sit together holding hands is a lovely comment on the entire episode. There is one concept that is identical in every religion currently practiced in the world; the idea that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Shirley and Abed are doing just that.