Skip to main content

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.

Please email me for response:

Popular posts from this blog

Katie Lee Packs Her Knives: Breaking News from Bravo's "Top Chef"

The android has left the building. Or the test kitchen, anyway. Top Chef 's robotic host Katie Lee Joel, the veritable "Uptown Girl" herself (pictured at left), will NOT be sticking around for a second course of Bravo's hit culinary competition. According to a well-placed insider, Joel will "not be returning" to the show. No reason for her departure was cited. Unfortunately, the perfect replacement for Joel, Top Chef judge and professional chef Tom Colicchio, will not be taking over as the reality series' host (damn!). Instead, the show's producers are currently scouring to find a replacement for Joel. Top Chef 's second season was announced by Bravo last month, but no return date has been set for the series' ten-episode sophomore season. Stay tuned as this story develops. UPDATE (6/27): Bravo has now confirmed the above story .

BuzzFeed: Meet The TV Successor To "Serial"

HBO's stranger-than-fiction true crime documentary The Jinx   — about real estate heir Robert Durst — brings the chills and thrills missing since Serial   wrapped up its first season. Serial   obsessives: HBO's latest documentary series is exactly what you've been waiting for.   The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst , like Sarah Koenig's beloved podcast, sifts through old documents, finds new leads from fresh interviews, and seeks to determine just what happened on a fateful day in which the most foul murder was committed. And, also like  Serial  before it,  The Jinx may also hold no ultimate answer to innocence or guilt. But that seems almost beside the point; such investigations often remain murky and unclear, and guilt is not so easy a thing to be judged. Instead, this upcoming six-part tantalizing murder mystery, from director Andrew Jarecki ( Capturing the Friedmans ), is a gripping true crime story that unfolds with all of the speed of a page-turner; it

BuzzFeed: "The Good Wife Is The Best Show On Television Right Now"

The CBS legal drama, now in its sixth season, continually shakes up its narrative foundations and proves itself fearless in the process. Spoilers ahead, if you’re not up to date on the show. At BuzzFeed, you can read my latest feature, " The Good Wife Is The Best Show On Television Right Now," in which I praise CBS' The Good Wife and, well, hail it as the best show currently on television. (Yes, you read that right.) There is no need to be delicate here: If you’re not watching The Good Wife, you are missing out on the best show on television. I won’t qualify that statement in the least — I’m not talking about the best show currently airing on broadcast television or outside of cable or on premium or however you want to sandbox this remarkable show. No, the legal drama is the best thing currently airing on any channel on television. That The Good Wife is this perfect in its sixth season is reason to truly celebrate. Few shows embrace complexity and risk-taking in t