The ‘Community’ Christmas Specials – A Retrospective
In yesterdays article, which you may have missed due to reasons of apocalypse, we commented on the general piss-poor quality of television holiday specials where many shows will forget what they’re supposed to be doing in favor of dull, schmaltzy lessons about family and the usual crap TV likes to peddle in the holiday season. Fortunately there are exceptions to this rule, most notably Community. Unfortunately the thickos running the networks have depraved us of that treat this year, so it’s time to look back…
Season 1 – Comparative Religion
Of the three Christmas special episodes this first one is possibly the weakest. In hindsight it feels as though the show is yet to accept their role as the torch bearer for clever, satirical comedy – like South Park but without the reliance on potty humor. Not that they don’t dip their feet in the waters. The episode opens with the Dean applying heavy political correctness to the Greendale holiday season, which rubs Shirley up the wrong way as she wants to celebrate a traditional Christmas with her new friends. She finds an unexpected challenge in this when she finds out Annie isn’t Christian as she assumed, but Jewish. Also Troy, Abed, Britta, Jeff and Pierce are Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, atheist, agnostic and part of a cult respectively.
The characters attempt to please Shirley even while she’s struggling to accept their religious differences. In a reversal of themes for Christmas fodder it’s not promoting family togetherness instead of materialism. Instead it’s Shirley’s drive for a traditional family Christmas that causes conflict with friendship eventually becoming more important to the characters that the usual ‘TV family’. This ties into the other plot that takes up the rest of the episode.
At the beginning of the episode Jeff intervenes in an argument between Abed and the new school bully Mike (played awesomely by Anthony Michael Hall). Initially Jeff tries his usual dismissal of the jock but Mike’s persistence leads to Jeff accepting the challenge to a ‘fight’. Shirley tells Jeff that he’s not welcome at her Christmas party if he goes through with the fight as it isn’t in the Christmas spirit. Eventually Shirley accepts that supporting her friend is more important than imposing her own tradition and they eventually bond over a non-denomination party. Not a very Christmassy plot but it has a joke about Anthony Michael Hall growing out of his ‘nerd’ image and a fight backed by Florence and the Machine, so it’s awesome.
The message about not forcing political correctness on people in order to ‘protect’ everyone can wind up doing more harm than good is well presented but it’s a shame that Community didn’t take the theme further. Still, plenty of fun to be had here.
Season 2 – Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
This second Christmas outing for the Greendale Seven throws itself fully into the Christmas Special satire. The Dean has once again forced a non-denominational cloud over the college but this is quickly over-shadowed by the fact that Abed is seeing the world as a stop-motion animated special. In order to find out what has caused Abed to slip further into delusion than normal they encourage him to go along with the notion and take them to the North Pole in order to find the true meaning of Christmas.
The first thing that makes the episode work is that they never pull back on the sitcom comedy to make room for the Christmas material and vice versa. The two meld together in a highly effective way that have become part of the success series. Even more impressive in the degree of character work that is done in what could have justifiably been a one-off gimmick episode. Abed is the obvious candidate with the event that caused him to hide in an animated fantasy world, the revelation of which at the end of the episode is downright heart-breaking. The rest of the characters get a look in with each being confronted about their own holiday hang-ups, Britta being noteworthy as she is confronted by her lack of warmth around the holiday season.
The animation is exceptionally when produced for the one-off animation episode. Although the character models are quite simple they so perfectly represent their real-life counter-parts that the quality of the episode goes up a notch. Although the Oompa-Loompa style songs aren’t among the best the series has produced it’s a pretty minor quibble in such an exceptional episode.
Season 3 – Regional Holiday Music
At this point the series was facing the axe (not for the first or last time…sixseasonsandamovie!) and this was the last episode to be screened before it was unceremoniously shelved. Putting aside the usual political correctness sub-plot or spoofing a specific trend in the very narrow sub-genre of Christmas specials (pretty sure an It’s a Wonderful Life parody is all we’re missing at this point) Community has gone after Glee. Although they’ve taken pot-shots at the pointless and popular-for-no-reason musical series this is akin to a carpet bombing. Everything in this episode takes a shot at Glee, mercilessly taking apart the gimmicks of the show. The first major musical number spells it out plainly with lyrics commenting on the panning camera movements and the lack of subtly in the use of the songs. Even better they target the trend of people being condemned for not liking Glee because it’s “fun”.
If you don’t love the songs in this episode you’ve got issues. There’s a huge range of material with Abed and Troy performing a gangster rap, a montage of music from the baby boomer decades and Annie trying to seduce Jeff with baby talk (the scene that launched a million gifs). Considering how much fun the cast is obviously having and how much they throw themselves into the performances it’s clear that this is a job that means a lot to them even when it was under threat. Almost every line in the episode is pure gold.
Even though the episode is almost completely focused on trashing Glee there’s still some rather obscure gags for geeks to enjoy such as parodies of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Star Wars Holiday Special. The real Christmas message doesn’t rear it’s head until the final scene in which the spirit of the holiday is perfectly encapsulated in an almost dialogue free moment. Fantastic stuff.