9
Dec
2010
Community: Season 2, Episode 11
Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas
Jordan
Here's the thing about Christmas: every person has their very own traditions that make it unique and completely different than any other Christmas. Every person has pretty much exactly the same Halloween experience (costumes, trick or treating, or maybe horror movies) and pretty much the same Thanksgiving traditions (eating a ridiculous amount of food while trying to avoid family contact as much as possible) but Christmas is a deeply personal Holiday, and messing with Christmas traditions is a dangerous game. Last week Community gave us a little peek into Abed's daily existence and the constant loneliness that he feels, and we all know that Christmas can be a very lonely holiday. Most of the best Christmas stories have small tragedies at their center, because at heart, Christmas is a time when we all band together to fight off the darkness and sadness that comes with the winter and with the end of the year, a time when people hope to surround themselves with friends and look forward, often mostly so they can avoid loneliness and looking backward at the mistakes they've made over the last year. Its this inherent sadness that allows people to transcend their darker impulses and come together to bring joy to those around them.

All of this is preface to my main point, which is that Abed is the perfect character for the show to center its Christmas episode around. The episode has an uphill battle from the start, though, in convincing us that its incredibly high concept (that Abed views everyone in stop-motion claymation animated format and needs them all to go on an adventure with him to the North Pole) is even remotely plausible, and it does this basically by telling us that Abed is insane. This is honestly a bit far to go for the sake of a Christmas episode, and the show seems to know this from the start. When the gang gathers for an intervention and some serious therapy with Professor Duncan, they seem to be taking Abed's sudden descent into madness fairly seriously (though Britta's "you'll get kicked out of school" worries seem like a bit too pat a way to raise the stakes for curing Abed), and they all seem very committed to Duncan's ridiculous plan to humor Abed into shedding his delusions. I was completely willing to look past all of this scrambling to make the concept work, especially since the show was making it abundantly clear that it was trying its hardest to pull it off plausibly. The show was flying close to the sun, and it did enough in my mind to keep its wings from melting.

Another problem I have to mention before praising the show for several paragraphs is the over-the-topness of the letter from Abed's mom. I think the idea that Abed's mom isn't coming for Christmas is kind of a classic Christmas special tragedy, but the letter she writes is so blunt and brutal and on the nose, it kind of takes away from the moment. I understand that this episode exists almost entirely in Abed's mind, and is characterized by heart-on-its-sleeve sentimentality, but this felt like a bridge too far, and was a slight blemish on an otherwise excellent episode.

Community manages to pull off its gimmick episodes as well as it does and as often as it does because while it is always dedicated to making an episode that fits well within the genre its aiming for, it also never forgets to tell a story about its characters at the same time. I liked the show commenting on the "costumes" Abed creates for them (saved me the paragraph analyzing the meaning of each of them), which all tell a little something about the characters, and the way the episode narrowed down the characters and took them each out of play in a way that slyly commented on their flaws made the moment when they all returned to help Abed even more moving. We know that Jeff is sarcastic, Britta is a party pooper, Shirley is self-righteous, and Pierce often checks out emotionally.And honestly, I've seen enough Christmas specials to know Pierce was still on the train when Abed thought he was all alone, but that didn't mean it didn't warm my heart when Pierce confessed that he decided to stick around because it gets a little lonely at home sometimes.

The truly amazing thing about "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" isn't that it pulled off the "animated Christmas special" while also pulling off the Community episode. I knew all along it would do that. What was especially awesome about it was just how sad it was willing to be. Abed's central emotional breakdown was realistic enough to understand his tragic quest to find the meaning of Christmas, yet moments of despair seeped in around the edges of the episode fairly frequently, from Duncan's flashback to his 10th Christmas at the Cave of Frozen Memories to Abed's cold, analytical and completely valid rejection of Britta's attempts to save him from himself. Britta really wanted to help Abed, but at a certain point she just couldn't let him go through what he needed to. She was just to grounded and stubborn to allow Abed's much needed flight of fancy (and brief insanity). And that was a really affecting, realistic, tragic moment between these two characters that just happened to occur in the middle of a Christmas Wonderland.

Basically, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" was just another reminder about how deeply invested I have become in these characters, their failings, and their attempts to come together and create an environment in which they can all grow and improve. These are all flawed people, but I understand each of their flaws, and more importantly, I understand the greatness, the beauty, and the inherent kindness buried deeply within each of them. And this is a show that makes me care about their struggles to be better people. When they all gather together at the end of the episode to watch Rudolph with Abed, it further cements them as a family. Each of these characters has been burned by the world, and each of them has failed in some real, significant way. If they spent their holiday alone, it would certainly be filled with self-loathing and a good long chance to look back on their mistakes and their regrets, and to let the cold seep in as the year comes to its close. But together, they can keep out the darkness, and can form their own, unique holiday tradition. And that is really what Christmas is all about.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"Fake murdering people is going to be my new holiday tradition."

-"You really expect me to tarnish the high five for that?"

-"I thought I made you." "Yeah, you made me need a cry in the shower tonight."

-"We're in Outer-Christmas-Space!"

-"Its atmosphere is 7% cinnamon." "Aww!"

-"Somewhere out there, Tim Burton just got a boner."

-"Damn. It got real in that memory cave!"
Tags: Community
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