I’ve been staring at the screen for a while now, trying to think of a way to start this review, and I don’t really have one. I’ve gone down the list of usual Christmas review devices. “You could pretend you’re opening a series of presents, and talk about how much Community means to you as you open each one!” says my brain. “No, brain! We don’t write for a mid-level daily newspaper in the Midwest!” I reply. And it goes on and on like that for a while, through various permutations of possible ideas. Writing an entire review to be performed to the tune of “Silent Night;” telling some weird story from my childhood about Christmas (that’s so 2010, am I right?); combining all of these into some weird mash-up; doing an entire review that’s a meta-review about the process of writing this review!
So let’s start here: Community is going away for a while (and I fully expect you guys to get this one to 10,000 comments, or I won’t understand life anymore), but it’s going away with an episode that reminds me why I love the show so much. This is a very personal thing—since humor’s subjective like that—but for me, this was the funniest episode since the clip show. With all of the spirited musical numbers, Christmas trappings, and Glee-bashing, of course I was going to like this episode, and of course I was going to think it was funny. But I was still duly impressed with just how funny this was and how the show turned its Christmas episode into, effectively, a horror movie. I laughed myself silly at this one, to the point where I was devolving into hiccups at certain scenes, and I’m glad we get to go out on an episode like this, one that plays around with form and makes me laugh.
So let’s break out the “12 Days Of Christmas” gimmick and see what we’ve got here.
(Everybody sing, goddammit.)
On the first day of Community Christmas, my Abed gave to me a British sci-fi DVD.
Okay, no. I’m not actually going to do that. Can you imagine how awful it would be if I did? But I’ve been reasonably grouchy this holiday season, and here was an episode that made me feel legitimately festive in the midst of all of the horror-movie trappings. I always like when Community burrows down through the layers of irony and gets at something that’s sort of raw and true and interesting, and here, I really latched on to the idea that liking things is okay. It’s too easy to get reflexively snarky and just make fun of stuff and not care too much. That’s the way we protect ourselves too often. Giving yourself over to something whole-hog means risking yourself, means that there’s a point where you’ll be disappointed by something or, worse, saddened when it goes away. Let’s say Community gets 12 seasons and a theme park (as Joel McHale has said on Twitter). Is there a point in the show where I’m not sitting there, saying, “Oh, hey, this isn’t as good as it was. Why did I like this show in the first place?” Or maybe the show gets canceled, and I’m sad because I don’t get to see new episodes anymore. The point is that it’s easier for me to temper that “like” with a constant sense of guardedness. Sure, I like this right now, but maybe I won’t in a few days or months or years. Giving yourself over to something is hard.
And I’ve made that point before. But here’s what “Regional Holiday Music” reminded me: Liking things is vital. Liking things makes life bearable. I’m not trying to say here that I’m a cold, guarded cynic, or that I have trouble giving myself over to things (some might say I have the opposite of that), or anything like that. I’m here to say that for as much as random people who stumble into comments to tell us that this show isn’t good or that it wasn’t as good as it was or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Nobody needs to like what you like. (Hopefully, a large enough number of people will like what you like to make sure that it stays in production, but, hey, we all know how that goes, right?) It’s enough that you like something, that you find something that makes you happy and people to share that something with. In some ways, the Internet has made this easier and harder than it was. Now, we can all come together to talk about how Community is the best, but that also makes us feel a little more alone when we head out to family holiday celebrations, and say, “Guess what? I love Community!” and everybody says, “What’s that?” or, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that one. Doesn’t it have Chevy Chase?”
I guess I should review the episode now, huh?
Fuck it. I don’t need to review the episode. You’ve seen it. You know what happened. There was a glee club virus that spread from study group member to study group member, starting with Abed. There were ridiculously funny songs, almost all of them original (outside of some traditional Christmas tunes). There was a number that existed almost entirely to provide us our weekly number of Alison Brie .gifs, then made fun of the fact that it was there just to provide us our weekly number of Alison Brie .gifs. Jeff turned toward Britta and let out a single note of song, and it made me laugh for, like, a minute straight, something that never happens to me. Abed got Troy to join glee by appealing to his love of secret missions, Abed and Troy got Pierce to join glee by appealing to his Baby Boomer self-regard (a joke I loved), and Pierce got Shirley to join by bringing out a choir of orphans who didn’t know Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth. (This, for me, was the best joke this season about Shirley’s hyper-Christian-ness. Song makes everything better!) The glee-club director, Mr. Rad (played by an enjoyably buttoned-down Taran Killam), killed the previous glee club in that bus accident from the clip show. Everybody got excited about regionals without even knowing what that was.
I think you also know what my response to the show on a qualitative level is: I loved it. The only episode I’ve liked more this season was “Remedial Chaos Theory,” but I thought this one was funnier. On the other hand, you knew I was going to love it because I like songs, I love Christmas, and I think that Glee is a fun show but also fun to make fun of. (The scene where the study room had been turned into the choir room from Glee was one of my favorites here, particularly Pierce confirming everybody else could see the piano player off to the side.) One of the problems with reviewing television week to week is that you already pretty much know what I’m going to say: I liked it! I didn’t like it! I thought it was okay! That makes it harder and harder to come up with new stuff to say, makes it easier and easier to over-rely on gimmicks or bullshit pontificating.
But if you’ll allow me some bullshit pontificating (groan!), the moment for me that crystallized just why this episode worked so well was when Britta came out as the Mouse King—after previously having been made a mute tree for the pageant—and began to sing the song she already knew with the lyrics that were in her heart. On one level, this was another scene designed to remind us that Britta is—indeed—the worst. On another level, this was a quick nod toward any scene where two speakers convince an unruly mob of people of diametrically opposed ideas, as Mr. Rad and the Dean got the crowd to call Britta the worst, then cheer her self-expression. But on another level, this was another scene about liking something, about getting into it enough to do something stupid. We never see Britta infected by the glee virus. We never see her join up with the others.
On some level, I think, she isn’t infected; she’s doing this for her friends, because she knows it will make them happy. And even if the whole thing ends with the darkness underneath all of this becoming readily apparent, there’s still that moment when Abed and Britta save Christmas by ruining it. Everything gets torn down, but it brings everybody closer together, without all the forced jollity. When they get together to celebrate Christmas at Abed’s, instead of flying all over the country, the moment somehow feels earned, even though it comes out of nowhere and picks up on a plot point expressed many, many scenes ago. These people love each other, and sometimes that’s worth getting wrapped up in crazy musical numbers. On one level, they all joined glee because of a crazy musical virus (for which the stakes are pretty low). On another level, they did it because they couldn’t stand not being together.
That’s why we find ways to come together at the end of the year, isn’t it? And that’s why we’ve always had our brightest days on our darkest nights—since the beginning of time. We’re social animals. We need to remind each other that we still have our nearest and dearest, or our best friends, or our families, or our lovers, or, hell, the people we work with. We get together, and maybe it isn’t always the best and maybe it’s sometimes just the worst, but we do it because that’s something we do, and without it, we might feel a little less complete. Similarly, we all come here every week—a virtual study group that meets from around the world—to hang out and celebrate something we love.
This loops around to the theme expressed in the season première and in many of the episodes since, I think: There’s nothing wrong with being happy. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying something so much that it strips away all that irony and cynicism. And there’s nothing wrong with loving anything so much that it feels like it could pull your heart out of your chest and toss it on the floor. We build ourselves up to not do that, and then we build up the armor so thickly that we have trouble finding what’s underneath. We use that as an excuse to lash out at people who do feel stuff, who do like things (and I am, of course, mostly saying this about myself). It’s hard sometimes to remember that the world isn’t a place to glide through, so nothing can touch you. It’s a place to be experienced.
So I hope all of you have a happy holiday season. I hope you have a 2012 that makes you so happy you burst. I hope we all meet again in February or March, rather than in June or July. I hope that you’ll have something happen to you this month that makes you smile, and I hope that you’ll be with people—or things—you love, even if you find those people out there in the middle of a digital wilderness. I hope that as things get darker and darker—both as we draw farther away from the sun and as we face the prospect of no new episodes until Unspecified Return Date—you find ways to turn on some lights.
Loving things doesn’t come naturally to me. I have a hard time with abandonment issues, and I have a tendency to hang onto things too hard, rather than just step back and let them be. (But, hey, I’m still married, so I’m doing something right.) But I love this show, and I’m awfully fond of you guys. (I’d say I loved you, but you’re probably all super-gross Internet people.) I wish you all the best for this season and for the end of the year, I hope you enjoyed the episode as much as I did, and I bet we’ll see each other again, real soon.
Let’s keep the lights on, eh?
- In honor of the season, let’s bring over my two recurring categories from Glee:
- Just tell us about the songs, VanDerWerff, God!: Well, the Troy and Abed rap was very funny, of course, and it was nice to see Danny Pudi using his dance talents in the first song with Mr. Rad. And, of course, I’ve expressed my enjoyment of “Baby Boomer Santa” and the birthday song for Jesus. But my favorite was possibly Annie’s song, because it took the basic idea of the Christmas sexpot song, then deconstructed it. The final verse, concluding with “Boopy boopy boop doop sex” may be my favorite thing ever.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ’bout Community: Look, do I even need to do this section? Probably not. Fill in your own thoughts. IN YOUR HEADS, PEOPLE. IN YOUR HEADS. WE DON'T NEED TO TERRIFY ANYONE HERE.
- When Abed comes into the apartment to recruit Troy, he’s humming “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” from The Stingiest Man In Town. This is why they pay me. For these insights gleaned from all of the years I listened to that album with my mom as a kid. (I got very excited when I thought Danny Pudi or Dan Harmon or someone was just as much of a fan of that obscure Christmas musical as I am, but then I realized they probably just saw the shitty Rankin-Bass version. Boo.)
- Favorite Glee bashing moment: I just loved the whole character of Mr. Rad. He was such a great deconstruction of everything that makes that show’s Will Schuester both irritating and, on occasion, fascinating.
- I like that Mr. Rad promises he’ll put the characters together into combinations they never dreamed possible, then… the show splits off into Troy and Abed, Jeff and Annie, and Shirley and Britta, for the most part.
- The reason for the season? It’s J.C. Penney’s.
- I do like that the show did, essentially, the flipside of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” They’re both about Abed doing something at Christmastime, but where that one was a small and sad little piece about how the holidays can be a lonely time of year, this was just packed with liveliness and jokes—and was about essentially the same thing.
- I shared some ideas on fan campaigns to save the show here, but if you want to write a snail mail letter (and that's by far the most effective way to show your support for the show), the best place to send it is to Robert Greenblatt, c/o NBC Universal, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City CA 91608. Go buy stamps!
- In case the above wasn’t indication enough—and I know I Britta’ed this review—I’m so glad you guys come here every week, and I’m so glad you spend so much time arguing about this show. I find your insights and jokes invaluable, and it makes it easier to pretend that everybody in the world loves this show as much as I do. Happy Hanukah, festive Kwanzaa, merry Christmas, awesome Ramadan, and super-happy-ass New Year. (Did I miss any?) I’ll see you all soon. Promise.