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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Community: Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas

Considering the big promotional push engineered for this episode, I think viewers had every right to expect a top-notch, consistently funny, Christmas classic. And while the episode didn’t quite conform to my outsized expectations, I do think that expectation was realized.

The nice thing about Community is that it takes all of its characters seriously, no matter how they themselves behave. It grounds the show so thoroughly that it allows them to do ridiculous things like all-out paintball wars and conspiracy theory spoofs without devolving into meaninglessness. Here, Abed is the central focus of the story, and the conceit is a doozy: he has somehow broken with reality and sees everything in stop-motion animation, a la the Rankin-Bass “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, et al.

It’s an absurdity of course, but notice that none of the other characters make fun of Abed, or really joke about his condition. They’re all genuinely concerned, even if they have different ways of showing it. (Pierce insists he’s just there for the cookies.) What humor there is comes either from Abed himself (“Sad Quick Christmas Song” was the best musical interlude of them all) or at the general absurdity of the situation.

The pace of the jokes really slowed down after the gang traveled to Winter Wonderland, and coming on the heels of last week’s downbeat episode at the bar, I can understand some people’s frustration that the show seems to be moving away from comedy. But look at a simple moment like Troy and Annie choosing to help Abed maintain his fantasy because they think it’s best for him. It’s a tender, heartwarming scene, but also hilarious because of the implication that the two are actually restraining Duncan in the study hall.

The show also somehow managed to take Christmas seriously without resorting to maudlin sentimentality. I think they really got to something at the heart of the season with the circularly-reasoned “Christmas has meaning because we attempt to give it meaning”, but it really feels true. Christmas for a variety of reasons has long felt more universal than Christianity, even if people like Shirley would rather we left the celebrating to those sticking to the traditional reasons behind the season.

Although, as Britta, robot or not, would point out, celebrating at the start of winter actually predates Christ’s birth. Maybe we all need something to hang on to when the weather turns cold.

That might too much heavy stuff to heap onto an episode featuring a Christmas Pterodactyl, but that’s the neat trick Community seems to pull off week after week.

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