I honestly thought there wasn’t a new way to do a sitcom Christmas episode. For all I know, maybe this has been done before—maybe another TV character had a Christmas birthday. But it felt new to me, and the gang’s efforts to give Jane a truly Christmas-free birthday while wrestling with their own holiday-loving impulses spoke perfectly to the balance this show strikes between its characters being jerks and friends to each other. There are always many new attempts every year, but this is one of my favorite Christmas episodes of recent years (too bad it’ll probably be under-seen because of an utter lack of promotion by ABC).
So yes, there’s really only one plot: Jane has hidden for years that her birthday is on Christmas, information that somehow even Alex failed to remember (the fact that Jane insisted on moving her birthday at a young age plus Alex’s general aimlessness makes this twist just about plausible). Brad, insistent on giving her a truly Christmas-free day, tries to organize a celebration free of all the usual rituals and tinsel, and is confronted with overcoming everyone’s Christmas obsessions.
This would be a decent enough set-up for any show, but for Happy Endings it’s fantastic since everyone gets a truly strange compulsion (less so Penny and Dave, who are mostly off in their own sub-plot). Max seems less interested in the holiday himself (he is one of the chosen, after all) but he’s definitely interested in eggnog, which seems just about right—one shot of him swigging from a carton of nog and chasing it with open mouthfuls of whiskey is just the right level of disgusting. Brad can’t help but pop and lock along to a dancing hip-hop Santa doll, and Alex has a pathological, sexual fascination with the unwrapping of presents that gives Elisha Cuthbert her 500th amazing Emmy clip of the season which will certainly, sadly be ignored.
Typical for Happy Endings, nothing really goes anywhere. The plot gets resolved after a brilliantly farcical incident where Max’s backpack full of nog is burst in an attempt by Alex to open presents and Jane flees to a party of other Christmas/birthday people. Who turn out to be crazy, even by Jane’s standards, so that’s pretty much that. It’s everyone’s obsessively specific Christmas behavior that makes this episode such a winner, plus the happy but not at all corny friends-forever ending with the whole gang.
In our B-plot, Dave helps Penny shop for her boyfriend with an elaborate scheme that pays off (mostly offscreen) and tries to intervene because he feels Pete’s gift (a big-ass candle) is not worthy. Of course, he doesn’t know it’s part of some in-joke and ends up more moved by Penny than the whole thing. The show has been more obvious in previous episodes in winking at Penny’s crush on Dave, since she’s an over-the-top character who’s going to express such feelings more publicly. But I like this as a window into Dave’s closeness to Penny without getting too ham-fisted about it. The final implication, of course, is that Dave’s just happy if Penny’s happy. But I figure there’s more to it. We shall see.
I will admit I’m genuinely worried for ABC’s Tuesday comedy block, which is airing this week up against a whole bunch of repeats. It doesn’t really say a lot for the network’s love of this show, and there’s much rumbling about TBS snatching Happy Endings away to serve as a buddy to Cougar Town (we shall see if this turns out to be internet wishful thinking or something more). I just hope this show doesn’t get snuffed out while it’s in its prime like this. I hope it can keep churning out classics at least for the rest of this season.
- Jane’s fake ID lists her eye color as “frosted spruce.”
- Penny adds to Jane’s Christmas confession with her own truth-telling. “I’ve never done Pilates! I just go to a bakery every Sunday!”
- Brad and Max wanted to start a black circus. “You didn’t like Ringling Brothers for Brothers?” “It would have been the greatest show on Earf. Don’t you dare laugh at that.”
- Dave claims he’s the gift whisperer, but Penny is skeptical. “Like when you said you were the Horse Whisperer Whisperer, but you couldn’t get the DVD to work?”
- Max is upset that when Brad throws hip-hop Santa off the roof it’s allowed, “But when I do it with a balloon full of nickels it’s quote-unquote attempted murder.”
- Dave’s pretentiousness is always a great opportunity for skewering, even though Treme is great. “I feel like this is needlessly confusing, like that show Treme?” “No no, it’s not that, you see, Wendell Pierce is the main character. Let me back up, see, most people don’t realize New Orleans is the main character. Let me back up again. You see, jazz is derived from negro spirituals.”
- “I don’t know much about soccer, but I’m pretty sure you just traded Mandy Patinkin for a town in California.”
- Nice “I am Queens Boulevard” reference at the end there, Jane.