‘Community’ – ‘Regional Holiday Music’: Filled with glee

Senior Television Writer
12.08.11 162 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Community” coming up just as soon as I pander to your demographic’s well-documented historical vanity…

The one-sided rivalry between “Community” and “Glee” has been going on for a few years now, and “Regional Holiday Music” was the logical, clever, funny endpoint to it. After a while, it’s no fun to keep busting on the big bad bully who doesn’t even know you exist, especially when the bully is now being made fun of almost everyone else, anyway. So why not get in one last(*), episode-length round of spoofing, this time filled with songs that display both the breadth of your show’s range and the depth with which you understand your characters?

(*) And also the last new episode to air before the show goes on an indefinite hiatus. It wasn’t planned this way, but there’s a definite sense of “Today, I take care of all Family business” to this one closing out the show’s “Glee” hatred.  

So there was a lot of humor at the expense of “Glee” itself, with Pierce’s confusion about what “regionals” are, and Mr. Rad taking most of the creepy subtext about Mr. Schue and putting it right up there in the text in bright neon letters. (Though they ignored a chance to have Mr. Rad rap.)

Mainly, though, the format was an excuse to do a musical episode, and to follow Jeff’s advice from “Modern Warfare” and come up with original music. (Lyrics by the writing staff, music by the show’s composer, Ludwig Göransson.) As with the Halloween episode and “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the songs neatly broke the episode up into individual pieces, each of them saying something about how each character sees him or herself, so let’s look at them that way:

“Glee,” by Abed and Mr. Rad:
Upbeat and peppy, neatly working with Abed’s pre-established like of liking things, while also repeating the word “Glee” a bunch for added meta effect involving the show’s most self-aware character.

“Jahovah’s Secret Witness”(**) by Abed and Troy: An excuse to let Donald Glover inject a PG-rated version of  Childish Gambino (whose songs are also co-written by Göransson) into the show, while also dealing with Troy’s inner struggle between his upbringing and his desire to be “normal,” and also between his desire to seem tough and cool and his own overflowing levels of sweetness. (If anything, he likes liking things even more than Abed does; he just has a harder time admitting it.) I also enjoyed Abed’s turn at the mic, particularly the lyric “On the spectrum? None of your business,” which called back to Jeff’s suggestion from the pilot that Abed has Asperger’s, which has been strongly implied but never really discussed ever since.

(**) That’s the spelling I was given when I asked for a song list. Could be a typo, or an intentional misspelling.

“Baby Boomer Santa” by Troy, Abed and, eventually, Pierce: Not only did it give the boys a chance to work through a wide range of musical styles as they ranged from the ’40s through the ’80s (Troy as Bob Dylan was my favorite, followed closely by them popping their collars to do the “Dancing in the Dark” dance), but it hilariously played on Pierce’s individual obsession with relevance and the larger issue of Boomer narcissism. Pierce’s entrance into the song, weeping and telling the others, “You’re welcome for everything in the world!” was fantastic, and my second-favorite conversion moment of the episode. We’ll get to my favorite in a minute, but first…

 “Teach Me How To Understand Christmas” by Annie: This was hilarious, and incredibly disturbing, as Annie’s youthful girl-next-door sexuality was pushed to its extreme limit with a number that has her dressed as a slutty Santa’s helper but exaggerating the Betty Boop/Marilyn Monroe mannerisms until she just sounds like a 5-year-old. Funny, creepy, and Jeff’s weakness for Annie no doubt helps him succumb.

“Happy Birthday Jesus” by the children’s choir and Shirley: This one is as obvious a joke as Pierce’s, but no less funny. Shirley loves Jesus so very, very much, and if there’s one thing that will break her resolve not to sing, it’d be a bunch of adorable kids singing about how the public school system has taught them not to pray and left them clueless about what the holiday is really about. Yvette Nicole Brown has the best singing voice in the cast, but beyond that, the build-up of tension before Shirley practically flew across the room to join the kids and praise His name was the episode’s single funniest moment for me.

After that, Britta gets converted without song in an homage to the end of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with her approaching what she assumes is an unconverted Jeff, only for him to sing in her face and Britta to respond with a scream, which leads us to…

“Planet Christmas” by the study group: Here’s Abed (the only one who didn’t really need to be brainwashed to join in) saving the day, and using Britta’s superhuman ruining ability for good rather than evil, exposing Mr. Rad in the process for the evil villain I’m sure we all expect Ryan Murphy secretly is.

And then things wrap up happily, with the gang passing up on their individual holiday plans to cheer up Abed and watch the terrible 1981 “Inspector Spacetime” holiday special. As with season 1’s “Comparative Religion” (where Shirley alienates the group with her proselytizing and insistence that Jeff not fight the bullies) and season 2’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (where the gang is convinced Abed has lost his mind), there’s a sense of madness that overcomes some or all of the group, but just when matters seem darkest, it all turns out okay and they gather together to enjoy the surrogate family they’ve created.

A fine addition to the “Community” Christmas tradition. Hopefully not the last entry in that tradition. (More on that in a moment.) 

Some other thoughts:

* Other “Glee” in-jokes included the sudden appearance of a piano player who looked an awful lot like the bearded guy (Brad?) who randomly turns up to accompany New Directions, the study room being furnished like the “Glee” music room, Jeff noting that not liking glee club doesn’t make them bullies (reference to various ill-advised Ryan Murphy retorts to musicians who didn’t want their music on the show) and I’m sure many more that y’all and the likes of Todd VanDerWerff, Ryan McGee and Myles McNutt can point out.

* Mr. Rad was played by Taran Killam, now best known for his “SNL” work, but tied to the “Community” writing staff because he co-starred in “Nobody’s Watching,” the unsold but memorable pilot about two obsessive TV fans that was created by Bill Lawrence and “Community” producers Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan. You can watch it here, here and here.

* It does seem to stretch the limits of credibility a bit that Shirley is able to spend so much time away from her actual family, especially at holiday time. Andre has apparently become the world’s greatest dad, but still. I actually think it would have been okay if, say, she had brought the two older boys with her to Troy, Abed and Annie’s apartment and sent them immediately to play in the blanket fort. Just some kind of nod that Shirley’s finding ways to balance her two families, you know?

And so… this is it. But – to quote “Avenue Q” (another critically acclaimed comedy in which Gen X’ers stick the pop culture of their childhood into a blender and pours the sweet confection that comes out all over a story of growing up and making unlikely friends) – only for now. This hiatus is only for now. Something else NBC tries will fail, not just because it’s on NBC, but because that’s how the TV business works even on the more successful networks. The “Whitney”/”Are You There, Chelsea?” combo won’t work, or “The Firm” will be just as big a ratings disaster as that TNT “Presumed Innocent” sequel turned out to be last week. There will be a hole on the schedule, and “Community” will come back to fill it. We will see the remaining 12 episodes of this season. And as has been analyzed ad nauseum elsewhere, there’s still a better-than-decent chance that Sony will make it worth NBC’s while to bring the show back for a fourth and final season.

Nothing’s over yet. It’s just on pause. And in the meantime, I’m going to figure out as many excuses as I can to talk about this show and its genius and why NBC needs to get it the hell back on the air as soon as possible.

So be disappointed but not despondent. And enjoy this clip from that first Christmas episode, featuring the magic of Farmer Ted as a bully with a mustache, shirtless fly dancers, the Forest Whitaker eye and the most badass song Florence and the Machine will ever record:

What did everybody else think?

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