'Community' recap: Merry Christmas, Abed
Gather ’round the big-screen TV, kids, have I got a Christmas story for you: About an NBC show that created a heartwarming holiday classic with a touch of bittersweet irony and enough sly nods to keep pop-culture junkies happy. Hey, it wouldn’t be “Community” otherwise.
It’s the last day of the semester, and the gang’s gathered in the cafeteria for some holiday cheer. Did I mention that we’re in stop-motion animation land? Only Abed (Danny Pudi) can see it, however. The rest are worried about him. Perhaps a little song and dance (What is this? “Glee”?) featuring Abed and the opening credits will help. Or not. One tasering later, Abed comes to, surrounded by his friends and Professor Duncan (John Oliver), who’s ready to help, especially if it’s publishable in reputable journals.
It turns out that Abed is looking for the meaning of Christmas. But first, another number -- the “Sad, Quick Christmas Song” -– and the appearance of the acid-tongued Snow Chang (Ken Jeong). Ah, Chang, we’ve missed you these last few episodes.
Professor Duncan, who claims to be a wizard (and bears a striking resemblance to another wizard), offers to put Abed into a state of Christmas-nosis and take him on a magic journey to Winter Wonderland. Before you can wave your magic wand, they’re in Christmas Outer Space, headed for Planet Abed (“The most Christmasy planet in the universe -- its atmosphere is 7% cinnamon”). Once there, Abed transforms them into Christmas versions of themselves: Jeff in the Box (Joel McHale), Troy Soldier (Donald Glover), Britta-bot (Gillian Jacobs), Teddy Pierce (Chevy Chase), Baller-Annie (Alison Brie) and Baby Doll Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) -- “Baby what? What the hell?” My sentiments exactly.
Another song and they’re off to the Cave of Frozen Memories, via Gumdrop Road and Carol Canyon (where the poinsettias’ rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sounds like a Chipmunks 45 sped up to 78 rpm). And as per usual, Chang is in the background, sort of tagging along, but not really part of the group.
A mouthy Baby Doll Shirley gets ejected by a remote-control Christmas pterodactyl (batteries not included). Jeff is next -- consumed by sarcasm-loving humbugs. By the time they’re done, all that’s left is a Tim Burton-like set of bones. With hair. Then it’s on to the cave, where Duncan has a holiday-related meltdown, Britta gets ejected for tricking Abed into the therapy session, and the rest take the ramp down to the Pine Tree Station. Then it’s all aboard the polar express past Menorah Mountain and Jehovah’s Witness Bay and memories of Christmas past. Turns out that Abed’s mom is Polish, loves Christmas and visits every Dec. 9, when the two of them watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Perhaps it’s all in Abed’s head after all. Duncan pops by with some more holiday cheer, Abed turns him into a warlock and Troy gets off the best line of the night -- “Who taught you therapy? Michael Jackson’s dad?”
Abed puts the engine into Bjork overdrive. Nice touch, that. Next stop: Santa’s Workshop, which turns out to be abandoned, with just a few sad little toys left. Oh, and one beautifully wrapped present tagged “Meaning of Christmas.” It’s like a matryoshka doll: box after box and finally … the first season of “Lost” on DVD. OK, you’ve lost me there. I’ll have to take Abed’s word for it: “It’s a metaphor. It represents lack of payoff.” Whatever.
Turns out the whole thing’s a mechanism for Abed to escape a Christmas card from his mom. You see, this year, she’s not coming. She has a new family and a new life.
Poor Abed. Sad, alone and encased in ice. But not for long. His friends return and are soon singing (Shirley’s got a fantastic voice!) and pelting Wizard Duncan with their magic Christmas weapons. Especially loved Pierce’s candy-cane machine gun. With all that love in song -- including a little duet between Annie and Jeff (shipper alert!) -- Abed begins to thaw. The remote-control pterodactyl makes an explosive return and Abed realizes the true meaning of Christmas: It’s “the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want. For me, it used to mean being with my mom. Now it means being with you guys. Thanks, ‘Lost.’ ” Awww.
Extra credit: “Troy and Abed in stop-motion.”
A tip of the Santa cap to Dino “Star-Burns” Stamatopoulos & Dan Harmon, who wrote the episode, and the animators. And the cast and crew. What a fantastic gift for “Community” fans.
-- Alison Dingeldein
Photo: "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" on "Community." Credit: NBC