So, Community. It’s not a program I’ve ever really spoken about on this blog before, which is in fact a crying shame: I love Community. I watched the whole series (bar the sixth season finale) over my long summer holiday this year – it’s the only show I’ve ever binge watched like that, actually. It’s very close to my heart, in any case; I really connected with it.
The thing is though, watching it during the summer, I didn’t really get the full seasonal experience of the Community Christmas Specials. So I figured I’d rewatch each of the episodes, and make a special blog post for the occasion.
After all, it’s the right day for it!
So, let’s get onto the ranking! There were only four Community Christmas specials, all of which were in the first four seasons, so there’s only four to rank.
4). Intro to Knots (Season 4)
Admittedly, this one isn’t amazing. That’s true of most of season 4 of Community, it’s got to be said; the ‘gas leak year’, where creator Dan Harmon wasn’t running the show, always felt weirdly off brand. It’s a problem exacerbated by reduced involvement from characters such as Pierce, and the mismanagement of other characters like Chang (the “changnesia” arc was always really very strange), as well as the unwelcome appearance of the ‘darkest timeline’ at the end of the episode.
Perhaps most damning of all, this episode simply isn’t very Christmassy – an extra shame, given that it ultimately proved to be the last Christmas episode that Community ever did. It’s understandable, I suppose, once stop-motion and musicals had been covered, but regardless, it feels like something of a shame. It’s far from the end of the world, because there is an entertaining plot here, that does, in fact, work pretty well; the Professor’s manipulative actions are grounds for a lot of good jokes, and the eventual twist is set up rather cleverly. It’s just that, as a Christmas episode, it’s difficult to consider this episode a resounding success.
3). Comparative Religion (Season 1)
There’s something rather fantastic about the first season of Community, which I count as amongst my favourite seasons of the program. I think part of it is the charm of the early days; the characters don’t quite know each other yet, the show is still settling into its groove, things are a little more “normal” in terms of the style, and so on and so forth. You can see that to an extent here – we’re still starting to get to know all the characters, and this is where we learn most of their religions. Pierce’s religion is legitimately hilarious, and the exchange between characters and discussion of religion works really well. (Also, another charming thing from the early days: the Dean’s insistence on avoiding discrimination by being as nondescript as possible.)
This is a brilliant episode, albeit perhaps not the most Christmassy – Christmas is, for the most part, a matter of setting here, something that informs the story, rather than being essential to it. The story of Jeff confronting the school bully could easily have been presented at another time of the year – but, actually, it works better by virtue of the fact that the episode is set at Christmas. It’s just more fun. The ending is particularly well suited to Christmas, actually; it juxtaposes the traditional Christmassy moral of people coming together with what actually happens – a great big punch up – to great comedic effect.
2). Regional Holiday Music (Season 3)
I kinda love musicals, to be honest. Particularly musical episodes of shows that aren’t typically in such a format – Once More With Feeling is a brilliant Buffy episode, and I am still waiting for musical episodes of The Flash and Doctor Who. So, absolutely, it was really fun to see a musical episode of Community. It was always going to be difficult for them to follow Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, in terms of presentation and style, but Regional Holiday Music does a stand up job regardless. It’s a lot of fun, and it retains the usual humour that Community does so well at.
Of course, being Community, there are elements of parody to the whole thing – biting sarcasm directed towards Glee (I’ve never seen it – is it really that bad?), lambasting the infantilization of women, and, of course, the entire Baby Boomer Santa song. More than that, though, is the comment on the grimdark nature of certain stories, and the fact that Christmas should, ultimately, remain a time of togetherness and positivity. Which is a nice message, methinks.
1). Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas (Season 2)
This is the quintessential Christmas episode of Community; there is surely no doubt as to whether or not this would be the top of the list. Its most obvious strength is its central conceit – the stop motion animation, which ultimately proves to give the entire episode a genuinely charming and undoubtedly Christmassy tone. I love the fact that Community does episodes like this – bizarre and wacky and off the wall, breaking the conventions of the genre, and really pushing their format as far as possible, whilst still maintaining a hilarious script.
What’s brilliant about this episode, though, is that it has real emotional depth to it, with some intelligent and poignant ruminations about the meaning of Christmas. I actually really like the conclusion that’s reached – “The true meaning of Christmas is the idea that it can have meaning”. That, in and of itself, is a really poignant statement, and I think it conveys a brilliant understanding of Christmas. It’s really wonderful.
“Christmas is the crazy notion that the longest, coldest, darkest nights of the year can be the warmest and brightest.”
Merry Christmas, everyone. (Even if it is still just December 10th!)