S2:E11 It’s got to make other sitcoms feel sort of inadequate when Community can do an animated Christmas special and not only make us laugh uncontrollably, but also teach us something about the real “true meaning of Christmas.” I don’t see Charlie Harper pulling that off anytime soon.
Last night’s stop-motion animated Christmas episode has been popping up in the press since September and fans have been waiting all season to see what all the fuss was about. With all that hype, we could have had a mildly entertaining, cute little special that merited a sweet little smile, a sigh, and nothing more. Instead we got an episode that not only combined the ridiculous style of humor that characterizes most episodes of Community (see: Cartoon Toys with Christmas guns, Teddy Bear Chevy Chase), but also hearkens back to the old stop-motion Christmas movies we all know and love. By the time we reach Abed’s holiday conclusion, we’ve got enough warm and fuzzy to keep us going through New Year’s. Community has truly accomplished something wonderful: a stop-motion Christmas story for adults. Once again, my hat is off to you, Dan Harmon. (If you keep this awesome streak up, I’m never going to get to wear my hat.)
We’ve seen the photos that NBC has been releasing for weeks, showing Teddy Pierce, Troy Soldier, BallerAnnie, Baby Doll Shirley, Britta Bot, Jeff in the Box and Professor Duncan, the Christmas Wizard frolicking around in a snowy winter wonderland. How did our community college crew find themselves there? Well, Abed’s got the answer. Due to a repressed Christmas wish and a clear lack of holiday spirit from the gang and especially the Dean (“You may celebrate in designated holiday areas?” really?), Abed starts to see the world in stop-motion animation a la Burl Ives’ Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
To make use of his stop-motion vision, Abed dives into a song, adding Christmas lyrics to the Community theme song while dancing on cars in the parking lot until he gets tazed (see, Christmas movies for adults) by campus police. Ahh Christmas. Of course this doesn’t fly with the college, so Professor Duncan takes it upon himself to cure Abed to keep him from being kicked out of school (and to publish a lengthy research report). Abed doesn’t think it’s a delusion, and sees it as a call to find the true meaning of Christmas (he also takes a moment to clarify that they aren’t in fact, clay puppets, they’re silicone with foam bodies – good to know). This puts the whole gang in an imaginative exercise that takes them through Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas land on Planet Abed (its atmosphere is 70 percent cinnamon and it’s the most Christmasy place ever) – hence the title.
Though Duncan tries desperately to control Abed’s journey, Abed has an incredible knowledge of his imaginary Christmas land and with a song, he takes his misfit cohorts along with him on his quest for holiday truth. The gang is actually sitting in the study room as Abed’s imagination runs amuck, so Duncan comes in and out of the imagined land to check on Abed’s progress, but because it’s all Abed’s imagination Duncan’s constantly foiled by the endless supply of twists and turns Abed dreams up. Don’t worry Christmas Wizard, he’s got this.
The gang trots along the gum drop path and Abed warns them that the journey will be dark and dangerous, “like Wonka dark.” They head towards the Cave of Frozen memories, Shirley is upset that she’s a baby in Abed’s imagination. This brings up a squabble between the ladies about why they’ve each been given different Christmasland personas, and Shirley breaks the spell by calling out the session as therapy. Abed is scandalized and Duncan removes Shirley from the study room (or sends her away with his freeze wand and his Christmas Pteradactyl) because her dissent isn’t helping Abed. In a Wonka-esque twist, Abed sings Shirley off like he’s an oopma loopma and she just fell into the chocolate river.
Then, one of my favorite Abed inventions of the episode descends upon the group; humbugs. Oh yes, it’s a scroogism brought to life; what a Christmas miracle. Humbugs are attracted to sarcasm (ha!) so of course, Jeff can’t manage to shut up (because he knows he’ll have to leave and he can go get laid instead, bastard) and he’s devoured by the cranky bugs. Annie takes on the singing duties, using a play on words with “presents” and “presence” and desperately seeking approval for her clever lyrical invention. See guys? I can do it too!
As the gang continues along the path, they reach a canyon where the plants produce Christmas songs instead of oxygen (can I live in Abed’s Christmas world?) but don’t worry, it won’t cost anything because they only sing public domain Christmas songs. Britta reveals herself as a total scrooge – but are you really surprised? – and reminds us all that there are just about a million conspiracies behind the Christmas story. The episode uses her as the personification of all that humbug mentality that seems to be going around everywhere – Christmas is just a commercial holiday, or Christmas is a religious hoax, blah blah blah. When they reach the Cave of Frozen memories, Abed finally (with sadness) expels her from his winter wonderland not because her overwhelming logic can’t grasp the holiday spirit, but because she tricked him into group therapy. Abed’s send off song is surprisingly touching and Britta Bot’s teary eyes are almost more than I can handle. Abed, Troy, Annie and Pierce all escape to a Christmas train where Abed admits that he has a yearly tradition with his mom – they watch Rudolph every year on December 9. Troy notes that it is December 9, but Abed won’t acknowledge it. Duncan reappears and tells Abed he found his mother’s note – she’s not coming this year. Troy and Annie realize how deeply Abed is hurt and agree to hold back Duncan so Abed can finish his holiday quest for meaning.
As Annie detaches the rest of the train, Pierce bursts out of the bathroom; he’s stuck in the first train car with Abed. He’s surprisingly disarming as a little elderly bear whose feet squeak every time he steps (this serves to provide way more giggles than I should admit being a grown woman) and he admits that Christmas is sad when he’s home alone (his mother died earlier this year); for the first time all season, Pierce is actually lovable and I actually felt for the poor old guy. He helps Abed find Santa’s workshop where Abed bursts through the door like he’s going to bust some skulls, Pierce points to a random location and that’s where the present wrapped as the meaning of Christmas sits. Abed unwraps the box within a box within a box only to find that the meaning of Christmas is season 1 of LOST? He explains it’s a metaphor – “lack of payoff.” Burn. Too soon?
Duncan reappears, this time brandishing the actual apology Christmas card from Abed’s mother. He reads the message and Abed freezes in sadness. Of course, in true Community fashion, the whole gang reappears, ready to give Duncan the boot and help keep Abed’s Christmas spirit alive. Of course, being that this is Community and not an actual Christmas cartoon, they’re all brandishing “Christmas weapons” in a jollier version of last year’s modern warfare. They deliver a short and sweet message about not making Christmas about being logical, or right, or even (necessarily) religious; it’s about making one of the most dreadful times of the year one of the best times of the year and as long as they all support that delusion, they can enjoy the wonderful effects of Christmas. Aww. As they blow Duncan and his anti-Christmas mission away with their sparkly joy-filled guns, they sing a little sweet Christmas song; BallerAnnie even pirouettes her way into kicking Duncan in the face while singing about love. Kickass Christmas all the way.
This warms Abed’s heart and melts his little ice bubble. They all regain consciousness in the study room, but they’re still stop motion – ‘tis the season still! Abed thanks his Lost DVD and says he realizes that the study group is his new family. They all snuggle and watch Abed’s favorite Christmas movie together, and if you watch carefully as the end of the movie fades to black, you can see the reflection of the casts live-action selves in the television. Yes, this episode wasn’t an epic battle over chicken fingers and it took a little getting used to missing out on a bit of the physical comedy element of the show (although the animators’ ability to capture the cast’s expressions is sort of uncanny), you’d have to be a special kind of Grinch not to appreciate this wonderful little slice of Christmas comedy heaven.