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Uncontrollable Christmas Cheer: An Advance Review of Community's Stop-Motion Animated Christmas Episode

There's something both innately comforting and deliciously off-kilter about this week's stupendous Christmas-themed episode of Community ("Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"), which uses the stop-motion animation of holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to offer an imaginative and emotionally resonant episode that explores the true meaning of Christmas (or any holiday, really).

Community has thrived at both satirizing and embracing certain comedic tropes, twisting them together into a malleable and winning format in which anything and everything is indeed possible, from a zombie attack to an all-out paintball war, transforming broadcast network comedy into an infinitely elastic form.

In this case, it's quite easy to accept that the Greendale gang would be portrayed as plasticine personages, as the episode unfolds from the perspective of meta-embracing Abed himself, who claims to have woken up that morning seeing everything in stop-motion animation.

Rather than see this as an adorable eccentricity or some holiday-related mirth, Jeff and Britta decide to get Abed some psychological help (or at least the closest thing: psychology professor Ian Duncan), even as he departs into a world of singing toys and frozen memories.

But this isn't just an out-there episode with no emotional stakes. Quite the contrary in fact.

By utilizing the familiar format of stop-motion animation, Dan Harmon and Co. take the viewer on his or her own individual journey back to childhood, even as Abed himself is forced to contend with some hard truths about growing up. The use of the Rudolph-style animation and seemingly traditional Christmas special storyline belie the true aching heart and bittersweet nature of the installment.

Just as last week's episode ("Mixology Certification") dealt with Troy seeing his friends not as adults but as equals (and just as inherently flawed and human as himself in the process), here Abed learns some valuable lessons about the adults in his life and about the true spirit of the holidays, forging a new tradition out of an old one.

The stop-motion animation isn't superfluous to the story but rather the raison d'etre. There's a reason why both the writers and Abed have chosen this style to tell this particular story, one that fits into both Abed's backstory and the psychology behind his so-called break with reality, embracing a child's fantasy vision of the holidays that is at odds with the truth of his situation.

The result is sweet, funny, magical, and slightly crazy and this winning Christmas special also contains one of the all-time great Lost-related gags ever on television. Our favorite Community characters, here rendered as an assortment of Christmas special archetypes: jack-in-the-box (Jeff), toy soldier (Troy), robot (Britta), wind-up ballerina (Annie), wizard (Professor Duncan), teddy bear (Pierce), baby doll (Shirley), and snowman (Chang). Fittingly, Abed's choice of role for each study group member is deliberate and apt and the gang attempts to decipher his logic in their own way.

Along the way, there are some songs in keeping with the traditional Christmas special theme as each of the cast members gets a chance to sing, with Danny Pudi's Abed offering an array of original holiday tunes. ("Sad, Quick Christmas Song" might be an out of the blue new favorite.) Yes, everyone from Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs to Yvette Nicole Brown and Alison Brie--whom I heard sing on stage just the other night--join in the Christmas cheer, with a series of alternately adorable, poignant, and hilarious songs.

The result is touching without being treacly, sweet without becoming saccharine, and perfectly within keeping with Community's penchant for fusing together humor and heart in equal measure. By the time the credits have rolled (after an adorable visual that I won't spoil here), one would have to be a Grinch to not to feel that we've been watching a true Christmas miracle in the making.

After all, Christmas is about more than just "Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls," as Lucy Van Pelt once said. The spirit of Charlie Brown's scrawny little tree is alive and kicking right here.

Community airs Thursday evening at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.


Brick said…
Oh, that's nice.
Anonymous said…
Brick is brilliant
Bella Spruce said…
Yay! Can't wait to see this!
Anonymous said…
Jace, was there ever a trace of "Artificial Intelligence" by Steven Spielberg when Abed and "Teddy" Pierce were discovering the North Pole? It really felt like a parallel on David and Teddy discovering the Blue Fairy.

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