'Glee' recap: Christmas special wraps up sweetness and sad
Whether the "Glee" holiday episode Tuesday night was, in fact, the best Christmas special ever (or even the best "Glee" Christmas show) is open to debate. (Have at it in the comments!) But it was certainly a lot of sweetness and fun -– sort of like eating all the candy out of your stocking and then immediately digging into the holiday cookies -- complete with the inevitable moment of regret: The McKinley High kids eventually remember the true spirit of the holidays, and give back by singing at a homeless shelter and helping those in need.
The chipper and the sad were in perfect balance and the kitsch factor was high in an episode that paid extended homage to two all-time holiday-special greats: "The Star Wars Holiday Special" and "The Judy Garland Christmas Show." (If you haven't watched them before, you owe it to yourself to check them out now.) With its show within a show, "Extraordinary Merry Christmas," presented itself as a prettily wrapped package filled with glinty bits of dialogue and stylish visual baubles and holiday-riffic singing and dancing (nine Christmas songs!). Then, if you dug deeper underneath the tissue paper, you found a bonus gift: a big heart.
The premise: Sue summons Artie, Kurt and Blaine (aka "Wheels, Porcelain, Other Gay" and "Stumbles, Gelfling, Young Burt Reynolds") to her office to ask them to "give back" this Christmas by singing for the people at the homeless shelter where she's planning to volunteer for the holiday.
"Now, Christmas isn't just a time when Jewish kids get slightly uncomfortable and dwarfs get jobs as Santa's helpers in demeaning nonunion commercials that make them quietly die inside," she reminds them. "Christmas is also a time to give back."
When the fellas remind her that she's said she doesn't believe in homelessness and considers homeless people "urban campers," Sue admits that she's just trying to fill the space left in her heart and her holiday after the death of her beloved sister, and that her original plans –- to "shoot reindeer from a helicopter with Sarah Palin" -– fell through: "Apparently Todd gets fussy when she misses his ballet recitals," she said.
Anyhow, the boys agree to get the newly reunited glee club to sing at the shelter. But wait, Mr. Schue has signed them up for another gig the very same night: The Lima, Ohio, PBS affiliate has been forced to cancel its annual yule-log-burning broadcast –- apparently disappointing Puck and many others –- and the station's program director wants New Directions to pull together a holiday special to fill the open time slot.
Artie, despite his reservations about selling out to TV, will direct. His vision? An unrelentingly cheery black-and-white special that mashes up elements of "The Star Wars Holiday Special" – "A precious jewel … every fanboy in the galaxy knows it's completely awesome" -- and "The Judy Garland Christmas Show" -– "Some say Judy was high on drugs and booze, but I say she was high on excitement and baby Jesus," Artie says. Anyone who doesn't buy into Artie's vision (Sam) is banished from the project.
Meanwhile, Sue's homeless people will go without song: The homeless don't have TV, she reminds the opportunistic members of New Directions. Rachel is demanding holiday "bling" from Finn, proffering a list of preferred gifts ("Spray tan? Teeth whitening?"). All Finn wants for Christmas is Rachel, who replies, "All I want for Christmas is you, too, and five things on that list." (Never mind, I guess, that Rachel is supposed to be Jewish.)
New guy Rory is spending his first holiday without his family: Plane tickets from Ireland are too pricey, and he's looking forward to a "Blue Christmas." And Sam is standing up for holiday misery -- it's "merry Christmas, not morose Christmas," Artie reminds him – and remembering those in need.
The New Directions' show within a show is pure, fluffy fun –- starting with the ridiculous character intros from the "Star Wars" special ("Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang, no relation!") and a faithful reproduction of Judy Garland's set and complete with '60s-esque singing and dancing, guests randomly dropping by, canned audience applause, fake snow, through-the-window shots, fourth-wall-breaking conversations with viewers, sponsor shout-outs ("Breadstix, now with even more breadsticks!") and winking references to old-fashioned mores, like when Kurt introduces Blaine as his "um … best friend and holiday roommate." Welcome to their "bachelor chalet," indeed.
Eventually, Itchy the elf (poor Rory -- at least Artie didn't make him dress as a Wookie!) comes in, purportedly to read a "rebooted" version of "Frosty the Snowman" in which Frosty keeps up the good cheer by not melting. Instead he reminds everyone of the holiday's true meaning, "Glory to God in the highest. And on Earth peace, good will toward men."
Ah, a corrective to all that greed. The kids show up -– edible prop turkey in hand -– to sing "Do They Know It's Christmas" for the families at Sue's homeless shelter, where Sam and Quinn (now apparently a paragon of sanity and morality) are serving up dwindling portions of holiday food. Rachel sees the error of her bling-obsessed ways. And we fade out on Sam, Rory, Finn and Rachel, ringing bells to raise money for the needy and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and, in Rachel's case, at last, a Happy Hanukkah too.
So many great songs. So many great lines. And I haven't even had time to mention the African sow-pig named Barbra! Maybe it really did rank among the best TV Christmas specials after all.
What did you think of this episode of "Glee"?
-- Amy Reiter
Photo: Mercedes (Amber Riley) performs in the "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" episode of "Glee." on Fox. Credit: Adam Rose / FOX.