It’s hard to give yourself in to something completely—to really let yourself love something beyond the point of cynicism or irony. It’s hard to, say, love a TV show completely when it is in constant danger of cancellation and is in fact headed into a hiatus with no definitive end. Last night’s episode of Community, “Regional Holiday Music,” like many of the show’s episodes before it, explore the ways that the folks at Greendale often have to overlook their cynical tendencies for the sake of preserving their friendship, and ultimately, their personal happiness.
This idea ties into the very genetics of the show. It’s easy to assume Community is a cynical show—a show that uses pop culture riffing and rapid fire jokes to poke fun at sitcom conventions and genre tropes simply for the sake of saying “screw you, we’re joke machines.” But the truth is, Community is a show that always has its heart placed firmly on its sleeve. The show is one of TV’s funniest comedies, but there has always been an emotional core to the show. The constant parody that the show pulls (much of it this week poking fun at Glee) doesn’t come from a malicious place. The pop-culture references and genre stunts are always in service of the characters and the story. In many ways, this episode serves to let us know that Community has never been about making fun of everything; it’s about how hard it can be to open yourself up to something or someone and let go of your prejudices.
Just shut up and talk about the episode, you’re probably thinking. And rightly so. The story this week, like last year’s stop-motion animated “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” was driven by Abed. When Greendale’s glee club is taken out of commission, Mr. Rad (played by SNL’s Taran Killam) asks the study group to fill in. Everyone seems reluctant to the idea, but Abed decides to try to get everyone into the spirit. What ensues is essentially a horror movie, a riff on zombie flicks in which each member of the study group becomes “infected” by the power of song. Only Community could make a Christmas episode somehow merry and horrifying. Each character succumbs to the “virus” of gleeful singing by having their tragic flaws exploited (Troy will do anything Abed does, Pierce is swayed by an appeal to his ego and age, Shirley is sucked in by the power of singing children, Annie is trapped when standing up to Mr. Rad, and Britta just wants to fit in with the rest of the group). When the glee club show comes around and fails disastrously, Abed feels guilty for having put the group through this all in the first place and goes home to spend Christmas alone. Finally, in a genuinely moving scene, the group shows up at Abed’s apartment to spend the holidays together.
Maybe it’s just Christmas time that makes me get all sentimental and whatnot, but what makes Community a great show in my opinion is that for all of it’s jokes, for all of it’s parody and self-awareness, however alienating it’s meta jokes may be, the show often reaches something raw and visceral at the core of the issue. On the surface, this episode poked a lot of fun at Glee and had fun with Christmas musical tropes. But beneath its surface of jokes it acknowledged that Christmas often serves to highlight the fear of loneliness we all seem to carry around the holidays and how important it is to cherish the bonds you have. Sometimes it’s important to give yourself to something completely, even something as silly as breaking out into spontaneous, fully-produced musical numbers for the sake of being with your friends. After all, loving something fully and unconditionally allows for more happiness, and there’s nothing more validating than letting your inhibitions go completely and to enjoy the time you have with the people you love.
– With this episode, Community enters its indefinite hiatus. It may be a while until we see the gang at Greendale. It may seem grim, but there are a lot of reasons that Community could see a 4th season. For a succinct summary of those reasons, check out this article from The A.V. Club.
– Having spent a lot of time discussing the deeper aspects of Community as a show, I fear I missed pointing out that this episode was one of the funniest of the season, perhaps only overtaken by the show’s multiple-timelines episode “Remedial Chaos Theory.”
– Since this review has largely turned into a thought piece on Christmas (again, sorry about that, but it is a Christmas episode after all), I’d just like to take this opportunity to say Happy Holidays to everyone. Let’s all hope Community can reach six seasons and a movie.