As with all things, including the holidays themselves, Community was a buffet of mixed tones. Sometimes you got sharp, barbed satire. Sometimes it felt more like a loving homage. That’s why the show’s four distinct holiday-themed episodes are a perfect option for this decidedly mixed holiday season. Whether you want to soak in the nostalgia of claymation, overdo it on the saccharine sweetness of holiday sing-songiness (and Glee), or experience some light kidnapping and a brawl, there’s an option for you. Tis the season, right?
Let’s take a deeper look at those episodes (in chronological order), which you can stream on Netflix.
Season 1, Episode 12
Community was an earnest show about the magnetic pull of a good friend group — even if it is a friend group made up of differing ideologies and personalities that bump up against each other constantly. Especially during the holidays, when Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) learns that her second family doesn’t view Christmas through the same Christian lens as she does, creating conflict as she looks to overcompensate and overcomplicate for her first post-divorce Christmas.
From Pierce’s (Chevy Chase) revelation that he’s a “level five laser lotus,” to the non-denominational Mister Winter, and an appearance by Anthony Michael Hall playing a bully 30 years after he was John Hughes’ go-to nerd, this episode is chock-full of stand-out moments, but the true jewel is how it culminates with the one-two punch of a Christmas brawl and a heartwarming sing-along. Deck the halls, indeed.
“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
Season 2, Episode 11
The show’s second holiday episode, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” is the clear runaway of the bunch and the obvious winner for the award of “Most Likely To Be Confused For An Actual Children’s Christmas Special,” since the whole thing is a claymation winter dream. Just maybe don’t actually play it for the kids. Or do, it’s your prerogative.
The sweetest of the holiday episodes, it sidelines the group’s dysfunctions to allow them to come together to help Abed (Danny Pudi) navigate his way through heartbreak while, at the same time, dealing with Professor Duncan’s (John Oliver) efforts to exploit this breakdown to gain professional acclaim.
Even though the study group goes about helping Abed in the most ludicrous fashion (imagining themselves in an adventure that’s ever so slightly a knock on The Polar Express), the heart of the episode is unmissable, showing empathy for the pain of being away from family at the holidays, a reality that many can relate to during this season. In the end, everyone dons corny Christmas outfits and sings songs, and that’s before the episode gives us the greatest Christmas gift of all in John Oliver’s delivery of the phrase “remote control Christmas pterodactyl.” Have yourself a very merry remote control Christmas pterodactyl, won’t you?
“Regional Holiday Music”
Season 3, Episode 10
The third-holiday episode, “Regional Holiday Music,” riffs on Glee and hilariously goes to the darkest place of the bunch. Remember Glee, that Ryan Murphy show about horny acapella nerds that reinstalled ’80s hits in your brain on a weekly basis? Don’t lie! Anyway, in light of the loss of two Greendale Community College glee clubs (how they’re lost is something you should see for yourself), the study group is called upon to replace them by the equivalent of “human froyo,” Mr. Rad (Taran Killam). What comes next feels like a more musically inclined and less blow-torchy version of The Thing as the study group starts acting quite strange (hey, the show and that movie even share Keith David in common). Really, this episode has the feel of a traditional holiday horror movie, which really heightens the fun of it all.
Come for the bad songs, stay for the tremendous Glee running gag (“They were this close to regionals!”) and shockingly dark turn by the time the credits roll.
“Intro to Knots”
Season 4, Episode 10
The fourth and final holiday episode, “Intro to Knots,” is the loosest and weakest of the bunch (a sentiment held towards the Dan Harmon-less fourth season in general), focusing on the group essentially holding their professor hostage in order to negotiate a grade change. Because what’s more festive than being held at a dinner against your will!? Probably fighting at dinner, which also happens during this episode.
The group is in rare (terrible) form in this episode, almost immediately turning on one another for a better grade that their professor dangles in front of them, fully aware their collective selfishness will likely tear them apart. And he’s right! Annie, a perfectionist who’s on track for valedictorian, is threatened by the sudden revelation that one of her friends could snake it away from her and guesses everyone but Shirley (“You put Britta ahead of me?”) because her ego won’t let her see she also deserves it.
Luckily, because the group is who the group is, nothing (not petty disagreements or ill-advised creative switchups) can tear them apart. Except NBC… and cast departures… and I digress. The group really takes a journey to this point, feeling more like a family instead of a group pushed together by a common classroom goal (which is maybe why this episode feels a little off… though, season 4 gonna season 4). That’s why, by the end of the episode, their professor has failed to pull them apart. Doesn’t that give you the warmest of fuzzy feelings?
All in all, the four Community episodes are about the length of a Lifetime movie you could throw on but they pack a thousand times the (intentional) comic punch and sincerity. If the holidays are about being close to the folks you find most familiar, loving, and sincere, why should your holiday entertainment be any different? Do yourself a favor this holiday and give yourself the Christmas gift of watching Community.