"Me so Christmas, me so merry."
"Regional Holiday Music" wasn't the last episode of Community, but a part wouldn't be too sad — more sad? — if it had been. There's been a lot of build up for it this past week by people like me, because not only was it the final episode for a few months (probably), and not only was it a Christmas episode, meaning it had to contend with "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," it was also a Glee-parodying musical. And it was all just so perfect.
To be honest, I'm not a big fan of the "Christmas episode." There are certain ones I enjoy immensely — like "Marge Be Not Proud," "Rapture's Delight," and "A Benihana Christmas" — but in terms of holidays, I much prefer the “Halloween episode.” On October 31, characters are allowed to act like someone else for an evening, literally in someone else's clothes. There's more freedom for writers to work with, and they don't have to worry about structuring in a sentimental ending. For most shows, the "Christmas episode" is all about sentiment, and usually not effectively so. (Have you seen the My So-Called Life Christmas episode lately?) "Uncontrollable Christmas" was, obviously, a Christmas episode, but it had the DNA of a Halloween one, too — the characters were literally out of their skin, in the form of clay. "Regional Holiday Music" had nothing to fall back on: sure, it was a musical episode, and therefore a gimmick, but I think the same story would have played out if the singing and dancing had been scrapped. It was an effectively emotional (and very simple, actually) episode, one that had me on the verge of happy tears by the end.
The plot was as such: Jeff sabotages the Glee Club out of pure spite and hatred, but because the Seven filled in for the club once before (after the original group’s bus crashed off a cliff, as shown in “Paradigms in Human Memory”), they're asked by Mr. Rad (guest star Taran Killam) to do so again. Everyone except Abed, the least cynical person of the group, is reluctant, but one by one, they all fall, with the other members of the Seven attacking their weaknesses. Abed convinced Troy through the power of secret missions and rap; Troy and Abed persuaded Pierce by flattering him with statements about how his generation practically invented music ("Baby Boomer Santa" might be the greatest song of all-time); Troy, Abed, and Mr. Rad got Annie by literally cornering her; Annie wrangled Jeff by performing a slutty, stupid song (And “Boopy boopy boop doop sex” might be the greatest lyric of all-time); Pierce swayed Shirley by having a gospel choir made up of young, doe-eyed children sing about, yet not sing about, Jesus; and Jeff made Britta go insane by belting out a single note and knowing that she can't be by herself for too long of a time. (We never actually see Britta brainwashed, so I think we're left to assume she put down her guard because she wanted to hang out with her friends.)
There’s no way the writers could have known that “Regional” would stand in as the show’s impromptu finale (yeah, yeah, I know, it wasn't actually the finale and the show will be back in the spring and maybe for another season, but it still felt that way), but it could have worked as one. With the exception of Mr. Rad (a creepy fill-in for Glee’s Mr. Schue, minus the rapping*) and a few quick scenes with the Dean, the entirety of "Regional" was about how well everyone in the Seven knew (the first half of the episode) and cared (the second) for one another, which has been season three's overarching theme. Watch the scene where Britta sang her heart’s horribly off-pitch song; while the rest of the crowd boos and the Dean acts disappointed that she’s in it, the other members of the Seven try to keep a smile on her face. Britta is just so damn proud to be front and center after Abed traded his Mouse King for her Mute Tree, and he's damn proud that he could make his buddy so happy. That kindness is later repaid when after Abed’s enthusiasm for the holidays begins to wane, Britta & Co. arrive at his apartment to sing carols and hang out together, watching the awful Time Day special of Inspector Spacetime. Christmas is a day to be with the ones you love, and they all chose one another.
(*As a living, breathing Glee fan — yeah, well, fuck you, too — let me just say that this episode NAILED the show's slightly disturbing, win-it-for-the-kids-but-actually-for-me Schue subtext. They also got the perfect guy to play the red-haired piano player, and Pierce asking what Regionals are over and over again was hilarious. Also to the also, I'm also convinced that Alison was impersonating Lea Michele; if so, she succeeded.)
“Regional Holiday Music” was also about how well the writers know us, the viewers. Take THE Scene after all, the one with Annie dressed up as Sexy Santa's Helper and her musical advances to Jeff. Some time back, Dan Harmon promised a GIF’able moment from Alison Brie, and I’m guessing this was it. Though I’m a Britta man myself, I totally get — and, let’s face it, participate in — the Internet’s fascination with Annie, and “Regional” managed to exploit that, by making things really creepy for us. Annie’s song begins promiscuously enough (VERY promiscuously enough), but it soon breaks down to baby giggles, incompressible mumbles, and her on the verge of eating of Mistletoe because "you smarty, me dumb." It was as if the writers decided, "You want an Alison Brie GIF? Here's one that you're going to feel really guilty about every time you look at it." Even when its responding to fan demands, Community still finds a great, new twist on an old idea.
Community began as a slightly alienating show written by comedy nerds for comedy nerds. The beginning was a little rough and it took some time for the show to find the tone it was going for. But once it did, in the middle of the first season, it’s been perfecting its formula ever since, toning down the off-putting irreverence and up the emotional engagement. Though there have been better, funnier episodes than “Regional Holiday Music,” I think in some ways it’s the perfect episode of Community. And a great way to go out, for now.
Thank you to everyone who's been reading these recaps since "Asian Population Studies." It's been a blast talking about Community with you, and I'll be back when the show is. Streets ahead, y'all.
Oh, and Reason #59, from "Regional Holiday Music"—Because of this.