Community: Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas

“The meaning of Christmas is that we give it meaning. To me, it used to mean being with my mom. Now, I guess it means being with you guys. Thanks, Lost.”

As I said in our review of 'Comparative Religion', I'm not a big fan of Christmas episodes. I tend to find them too cheery, sentimental, and cheesy. I grew up in a country where MR James ghost stories were considered ideal festive entertainment. So it is no surprise really that I prefer my Christmas telly to be wrapped up in as much darkness as possible. But there are a few exceptions, and 'Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas' is one of them.

This was a sweet (but not sickly so) and heart-warming (but also often quite heart-breaking) tale that managed just as easily to break through my cynical armour as it did everyone else's, which is something of a Christmas miracle in Jeff's case because I'm sure his is made of adamantium. It is also further evidence that Community is unquestionably the greatest sitcom in the world today (with Parks and Recreation a very close second and Cougar Town third). Because not only is Community the type of show that is willing to do an entire Christmas episode in stop-motion animation, Community is the type of show that makes sure to include a Christmas Pterodactyl in its Christmas stop-motion animation episode. Yes, a motherf**kin' Christmas Pterodactyl!

Community is not the first show to dabble with animating its main characters (Farscape got there first as I'm sure Abed can tell you), but it is the first show I can think of that commits to the idea completely. Not once does it break from Abed's perception and return us to reality. The only time it does is at the very end when we see the real cast reflected in the TV screen. With not a single frame of live action footage, the success or failure of an episode like this rests squarely on the quality of the animation. Fortunately, the stop-motion animation here is wonderful. I don't know why, but stop-motion just feels more Christmassy than other animation styles. As Britta says, it just feels right.

Seeing live action characters in animated form is always fun (how great is Jeff's enormous forehead?), but even better is seeing them animated and then turned into magical Christmas characters. I never thought I would ever say something like this about anything associate with Pierce, but Teddy Pierce was just adorable. Using animation also gives the writers more creative freedom than they would have with a live action episode. With animation, the possibilities are literally endless. So now we can have our heroes journey through a magical winter wonderland and partake in chase sequences on top of speeding train. And of course, the aforementioned Christmas Pterodactyl.


It would've been very easy for this episode to end up as just a piece of frivolous Christmas fun. But the makers of this show have never been the type to let their wild ideas overshadow the characters. Abed is going through every child's worst nightmare: his mother had abandoned him for another family, and she lets her son know this via the worst Christmas card ever! Seriously, woman? You don't even have the decency to give him a call? We know from the film he made in 'Introduction to Film' that on some level Abed blames himself for his parents splitting up. This is the last thing he needed. You're the worst, Abed's mom.

It is understandable that Abed would seek shelter from the horrors of the real world in a fantasy. Abed is no fan of the reality. It is just confusing. Movies and television are so much better because they make sense. This is why he often tries to make life more like a TV show. He is trying to make life something he can understand and relate to. So when reality finally gets too hard to handle, he escapes fully into a fantasy world very much like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the animated Christmas special he used to watch every year with his mother.

Abed's odder than usual behaviour has his friends understandably worried. Britta most of all (she is the mother of the group, after all). So she tricks him into an intervention led by the villain of this story - Christmas Wizard Warlock Ian Duncan! At first it appears that Duncan is only interested in exploiting Abed for purely academic gain. But as the story progresses, his motivations take a darker turn. Like most of the characters on this show, he also comes from a broken home and sees Christmas as a yearly reminder of that. He is miserable at Christmas and he decides that Abed should be too, forcing him to confront the very thing he has been running from.

Which causes Abed to completely shut down, putting him into a catatonic state. But Abed's quest to find the true meaning of Christmas has inadvertently awakened the festive cheer in even the most cynical and sarcastic of his friends. Abed's mother may have moved on and found a new family, but so has Abed. The study group, this dysfunctional group of mismatched misfits, is his family now. And unlike his mother, they are always there for him when he needs them most with a great big improvised (and surprisingly catchy) Christmas song. And thus the evil Christmas Warlock is defeated and, after swiping a tree from a designated holiday zone, Abed settles down to watch Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his new family.


Excuse me, I think there is something in my eye...

Notes and Quotes

-- Okay, whose idea was it to have Jeff and Annie singing 'I love you' together? Not cool, guys. You can't tease us like that.

-- The recreations of all the regular sets were impeccable, especially the quad with the little Luis Guzman statue.

-- I can only imagine what anyone walking past the study room while all this was going on was thinking.

-- The speeds of the train are aloof, detached, distant, and Bjork.

-- This is the first episode since the pilot where the title isn't also a class name.

-- Of course Greendale, a school that prides itself on being so inclusive, would have designated holiday zones.

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."

Troy: "Who taught you therapy, Michael Jackson's dad?"
Duncan: "I am a professional, and you are interfering with a very fragile book deal... I mean, human being."

Abed: "Fair warning, guys. A journey through winter wonderland tends to test your commitment to Christmas. So when I say test, I mean Wonka-style. I'm talking dark. My advice: Stay honest, stay alert, and for the love of God, stay between the gumdrops."

Duncan: “Abed, how many fingers am I holding up, and more importantly, are they still made of clay?”
Abed: “Three, and I told you, it's not clay. We're silicone bodies with ball-and-socket armatures.”
Duncan: “Very interesting, and publishable.”

Four out of four motherf**kin' Christmas Pterodactyls.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

5 comments:

sunbunny said...

Such a fun episode. I'm sure it would be one of my favorites if I could watch stop-motion animation without feeling rather nauseous.

Duncan is a terrible psychologist. And Abed's mom is a terrible mother. Poor Abed. At least he has his little Island of Misfit Toys now. :)

Love the animated Dean. Although I always love the Dean.

Juliette said...

I love this episode. whoever came up with the Christmas pterodactyl is a genius. And I love the Dean saying Merry Christmas! at the end!

celticmarc said...

Wow Mark

This one REALLY inspired you; re-watching it today (I'm inspired too).

sunbunny, I'm with you with the Dean.

celticmarc said...

Ok

Re watching done.

Cute, brilliant. Community : where no sitcom has gone before, to boldly go beyond the ordinary and the conventional. Epic on its own kind.

ChrisB said...

Simply wonderful. Must be added to the list of best Christmas episodes ever.