‘Glee’ Recap: Extraordinary Merry Christmas

Glee Christmas Season 3S3E9: I just knew that the Glee we fell in love with was somewhere in there. It’s the Glee that takes liberties with its characters’ overdrawn characteristics while only driving us mildly crazy because it does so to a fruitful point. It’s the Glee that actually makes us feel something, instead of supposing spurts of sideplots bracketed by a few good songs is enough. It’s the Glee that indulges its vanities, but manages to bring us along for the ride.

This year’s Christmas episode let go of most of never ending side plots to give us a standalone episode that actually kind of worked. Of course, by kind of worked, we mean the heart is there, but as usual the organization isn’t. Unfortunately, that’s just something we’ve come to expect and, sadly, accept from the series. Still, they almost always know how to use the holiday season to an emotional advantage, and this year they pulled from a few of our favorite Holiday specials, like The Star Wars Christmas Special, The Judy Garland Christmas Show and It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown. It wasn’t exactly a Community-worthy homage, but it had its moments.

“You gave me a dead pig for Christmas?” –Rachel

“Well, not yet, it’s got to get fat first.” –Finn

The episode opens with “All I Want for Christmas is You” which set the tone pretty perfectly for the Merry variety show we were about to enjoy in place of an actual episode. It’s cute, it’s cheerful, and it’s covered in tinsel and one over the top smooch between Finn and Rachel. As usual, she’s got a case of the light switch personality. Last episode, she was sweet and caring and all about the good of the group, this week all she can think about is the 15 item list of things like spray tan, teeth whitening and baubles that she’s insisting Finn get her for Christmas.

Of course, Finn is a high school student in Lima, Ohio, so he doesn’t have the cash for these things. He gets her a Bono-approved gift: he pays to fatten up a pig and donate it to a starving African family. This of course elicits that famous Peanuts quip from Lucy, “I just want what’s coming to me. I just want what I deserve.” Yup, Rachel is certainly being a regular Lucy.

“But the Frosty story isn’t happy, at the end he melts and dies.” -Sam

“Sorry, Sam, but the phrase is ‘Merry Christmas,’ not ‘Morose Christmas.’” –Artie

Sue flips her character switch over to Grinchy with a heart of gold and enlists the glee club to help her entertain the folks at the homeless shelter. Now that her sister has passed, she’s doing good in order to distract herself from her sadness. If she hadn’t played that card, I’d be tempted to bring up her hateful Senate campaign against the arts. The club agrees, but when the local TV station needs the club to fill in for the Yule Log broadcast with a Christmas special, they drop the shelter commitment like a ton of bricks.

Meanwhile, Rory is spending Christmas in the States without family, so he sings “Blue Christmas” to make himself feel a little better. They appreciate the song (and so do I – I’m so glad they extended his episode order), but everyone agrees after last year’s difficult, robot-leg fueled Christmas, they need a cheery holiday. As they head into rehearsals, Rachel apparently forgets her own comments from moments before because she sings “River” by Joni Mitchell. Artie deems the song too mushy and demands happy songs and happy stories only. Sam, who’s just invited Rory to spend Christmas with his family in Kentucky, challenges Artie, saying the sad moments at Christmas are what help us appreciate the wonderful ones. But Artie’s daydream about Chewbacca and the spectacular, overgrown Christmas special he’s supposed to helm overtake Sam’s words of sanity. And yes, sadly Chewbacca was grossly underused despite all the hype.

“Oh my stars, more guests? I hope it’s carolers.” –Kurt

Just before the actual holiday special gets underway, Blaine and Rachel sing the cutesy little original song they’ve been promoting in every TV preview for the last week: “Extraordinary Merry Christmas.” Artie says it’s gold, and by “gold” he must mean “pre-teen pandering, empty and cute.” Hey, I said it was cute. Sue comes in and confronts them about ditching the homeless shelter, but they cannot be moved. The TV show must go on, but Quinn and Sam feel bad and decide to dish out dinner at the shelter instead of starring in the Christmas special.

While the special was pretty adorable once you resigned to the fact that they were, in fact, going to air the entire Christmas special in order in the middle of the episode. On a replica of the Judy Garland Christmas Show set, Kurt lives out his Judy Garland dreams while singing “Let It Snow” alongside his “holiday roommate” and fellow “bachelor” Blaine. This is one of those instances of over-indulgence that is just a little too charming to hate. Of course, as the special continues, the charm begins to wear thinner. Rachel’s overacting becomes a little over the top – even for her. Renditions of “My Favorite Things,” the Bruce Springsteen arrangement of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” played by Finn and Puck dressed like Han and Luke, and Brittany’s “Christmas Wrapping” which swapped The Waitresses’ line “I think I’ll miss this one this year” for “Couldn’t miss this one this year” without taking notice of the rest of the song’s anti-holiday lyrics, comprised the rest of the special up until Rory’s tiny role.

He was the Linus of this jumbled homage, sent on camera to read Frosty The Snowman, but he instead pulls out the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke – the speech from It’s Christmas Charlie Brown that ends “Peace on earth and good will to men.” And with that, I lost it. It wasn’t a perfect use of the reference, but it’s an effective one, both for the selfish glee club members and for the audience. Damn that holiday spirit, making writers’ jobs easier.

Meanwhile, Sue, Quinn, and Sam are running out of food at the shelter and just then, the glee club shows up, having seen the error of their ways, to sing one last song and donate their wasteful prop turkey and ski chalet holiday decorations to those less fortunate. Then comes the big song they choose as their closing number: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Now, I’ve never been a fan of this song. It always seems a little hostile and accusatory for a Christmas song, not to mention I can’t figure out who should feel included in this song. It sort of alienates the starving folks in far away lands and it alienates the listener who’s too consumer-culture obsessed to refrain from spending money on the Christmas CD where they found this confounding song. And to top it all off, the glee club sings the song to homeless children, which comes off a bit odd because it seems like they’re saying they don’t have it so bad (there are starving children in Africa) or that they’re singing about them like the kids can’t hear them. It’s all very weird. But, if you manage to stop listening to the lyrics and let the visual and the musical accompaniment wash over you, this was actually a sort of sweet ending.

Well, almost. We have to sew up the selfish Rachel story. She apologizes for hating the donation pig; she’s named it Barbra. Finn, however, felt bad for getting her something that she couldn’t keep, so he also got her a star and named if after himself so she would never feel lonely – which is way too sweet and insightful for the high school quarterback. He also got her earrings, but like the selfish girl in every Christmas special, she’s had a change of heart and the present makes her feel guilty. They both decide to return their presents to each other (she got him an iPad or iPod – does it really matter?) and they put the money in the Salvation Army bucket that both Sam and Rory are ringing bells for.

The smaltzy, sappy episode had to have put a few of you off. There’s no way it didn’t. But there’s one thing I appreciate about a Glee Christmas episode: they’re really willing to go for broke. There’s no boundary on how candy cane-ridden and gum-drop-covered their Christmas specials will be. And, for the most part, it’s okay with me. Just as long as they refrain from bringing back the weird non-existent (or so rare and/or expensive that is might as well be non-existent) miracle technologies. We’re filled with childlike wonder on account of the holidays – we weren’t born yesterday.