On The 9th Day of Christmas: Community-“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

Leave it to the most sarcastic, meta-hungry TV show, perhaps, in history to create a half-hour that best expresses the joy in an unrefined embrace of the holiday spirit–while still poking fun at the pomposity of the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays dispute at multiple turns–and the value of believing in Christmas miracles even as are cast into the adult world.

The Most Important Christmas Was Today…

“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” opens on a classic Dean announcement as he eagerly wishes the campus a happy holiday while making sure that the college recognizes no specific holiday. As there’s no hiding the medium, it’s instantly clear that this is a concept episode–specifically, an hommage to the beloved Rankin-Bass yuletide specials, most famously Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Abed notices it immediately (after all, it is his fantasy we are in) and shares his delight to a mostly concerned Study Group. Britta takes special concern and, with Jeff along for the ride, shuttles him to John Oliver’s Dr. Duncan who is way too eager to intervene and score a book deal, and if time permits, help his friend.

After a “sad, quick Christmas song” over the titles and brief banter with a snowman who turns out to be Senor Chang, Abed is promised by Britta-text the “meaning of Christmas” in the Study Room. Unfortunately, Britta has Britta’d the whole thing up by arranging an ambush intervention with Duncan at the helm. Abed is angered at first, but decides to lean into their roleplaying–and, no doubt, chomping at the bit to bring his friends into Abedworld–he allows Duncan to transform the table into a spaceship bound for Planet Abed.

Britta Bot, Programmed Badly

Once safely landed, he transforms the group into misfit toys (Annie’s a ballerina, Troy, drummer boy, Shirley, a baby, Jeff, jack-in-the-box, Britta, robot, and Pierce, a teddy bear). As Duncan’s Christmas Wizard repeatedly tries to hurry Abed into a “Cave of Frozen Memories,” Abed engineers detours. Along these side paths, Shirley is removed from both fantasy and room for her anger-fueled and Jesus-y protests (cast off by a “Christmas Pterodactyl,” no less) while Jeff’s sarcasm leaves him prey to a hive of humbugs (basically piranha/locust hybrids) and he leaves for a date.

When Abed finally allows that they have reached the “Cave of Frozen Memories,” Dr. Duncan’s no match for Abed who turns his pop-psychology raygun back on the professor, forcing him to recall his father’s abandonment and run crying out of the room. Abed takes this chance to also rid himself of Britta, not because she doesn’t believe in Christmas, but for lying to trick him into therapy. He’s got a point. By the way, did I mention that all these ejections are given the full Wonka treatment, with Oompa-loompa-esque songs sending the gang on their way? It’s meta wrapped in meta hiding yet more meta in an infinity-themed collection of Russian dolls–who are also meta.

Not-Quite-Strangers On A Train

On the train, Troy, Annie and Abed go into some dark confessionals about their powerful connection to Christmas in spite of growing up, respectfully, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, and Muslim–you know, standard sit-com stuff. Sidebar: this is subtly a terrific Abed/Annie episode as Annie is one of the few who supports Abed’s journey throughout the trip and who helps him escape from John Oliver’s Chrismas Wizarlock. I’m not someone prone to shipping; however, I was unabashed during the show’s run at professing my wish these two would become a couple. The show, while addicted to the somewhat (very) creepy Annie/Jeff romance, would occasionally hint at the unlikely pairing off with a tender moment or a hand-hold. But however nice it would be to have such a casual portrayal of love on the spectrum, they work better as an affectionate duo and their sweet exchange of mixed-religion holiday stories is a reminder of just why Abed, Troy, and Annie would make for the ideal roomies they would become later on in the series.

Anyway, out of the trio of future flatmates’ heartfelt discussions emerges what’s actually eating Abed Nadir. His mom, from whom he inherited his Christmas love, who always visits him every year precisely on December 9th, has not arrived. Before that truth is given its chance to sink in, Duncan, now exposed as our villain, a Christmas Warlock complete with pick-up artist fashion, pops in and after a surprisingly stirring and cinematic action sequence using the location of a speeding train to thrilling effect, Abed finds himself alone (well, with Teddy Pierce) in a windswept barn of a Santa’s workshop, mostly empty save for a brightly appointed present with “meaning of Christmas.” After a few unwrappings, it turns out to be a DVD of the first season of the television show Lost.

Abed’s Mom’s “New Family”?!

As Abed informs Pierce and us–somehow with the fourth (and third) wall yet intact–it’s a metaphor for “lack of payoff.” Duncan pops up with his villain’s reveal, a card from Abed’s mom has sent a letter telling him she won’t be coming and that she’s with her “new family.” As bad as Duncan is for using Abed’s pain as a weapon against Abed, can we quickly pause to acknowledge what a truly shitty move this is on Abed’s mom considering how acutely familiar she would be with how this would cause him (her human son, remember) to spiral out? That’s cold, Abed’s mom. Seriously, you can pinpoint the moment his heart tears in two. And that frigid atmosphere literally encases Abed in ice.

And it is at this point that Dan Harmon’s heart grows three sizes that day. The remaining Study Group busts in, sings an unflinchingly upbeat ode to the joys of Christmas and a meaning that goes beyond its religious trimmings–the notion that “it’s good to be nice.” They proclaim the glory of the season both religious and secular, blow Duncan away, and unfreeze Abed, who now gets the meaning of Christmas, the idea that Christmas has meaning, while also deftly offering up a convincing defense of the meaning of Lost itself.

Thanks, Lost!

My inner-Jeff Winger wants to mock this with some tossed away barb (“oh how very layered”), but seriously, how beautifully meta-Christmas is that? How many shows could pull off redeeming another show’s controversial series finale while using it as the central message of its own first holiday special? This show can, in any case. Speaking of Jeff Winger, it’s just plain cool that in the holiday spirit, the usual Winger speech is delivered as a team by the whole Study Group. They are layers, they’re real, and they’re spectacular! (foreshadowing tomorrow’s installment perhaps?).

For the most part, the episode commits to the format–as is Community‘s way–but there are fleeting moments where the show reveals the human actors through rips in the very fabric of the medium. These little reminders that as detached from reality as the episode portends to be, there is a real drama happening between the characters of the Study Group, even as we see it through the pop culture-stanning eyes of Abed. It makes the ending when the rest of the gang decide to remain experiencing the world through Abed’s clay (excuse me, silicone dolls with foam bodies over ball & socket armitures) delusion. As the camera pans, fittingly, to a TV, we see in that screen-within-a-screen’s reflection the faint images of the seven main members of the cast.

Memorable Quotes

Dean Pelton {opening lines}: “It’s that very special time of year, Greendale–a time for me to remind you that your school acknowledges no specialness to this time of year.”

Abed: “And this is the most important Christmas in the history of the Universe. I presume that’s why we are stop-motion animated”
Jeff: “I say we let it go…”

Abed: “If I can find the meaning of Christmas, things will go back to normal.”
Jeff: “Asterisk”

Abed: “Why would I want to be in a school that hates Christmas?”
Jeff: “He’s got a point… kidding!”

Prof Duncan: “I can help you find the meaning of Christmas, right, guys?”
Jeff: “Yes, this feels safe”
Prof Duncan: “Shut up Winger.”

Pierce {repeated line}: “I’m here for the cookies!”

Abed: “We’re actually descending on Planet Abed now. It’s the most Christmas-y planet in the Universe. It’s atmosphere is 7% cinnamon”
Annie & Shirley: “Awwwwr”

Duncan: “Ouch! You’re actually grabbing my arm in real life, delinquent!”

Pierce: “Ah, I didn’t want to go home. It’s depressing there this time of year.”

Abed: “It’s the first season of Lost on DVD.”
Pierce: “That’s the meaning of Christmas?!”
Abed: “No, it’s a metaphor. It represents lack of payoff”

Abed: “Thanks, Lost

Watch Community‘s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (Season 2, Episode 11) here.

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