Christmas specials in the sitcom world are a particular breed. Often very predictable, heartwarming, and uplifting, these stories are often meant to showcase the best and brightest of the universe that they are centered around. For the past few years, Community's Dan Harmon has found an alternative use for the Christmas special, weaving a dark-but-hopeful underline message into a yuletide send off.
Season's one big focus was a much lighter sentiment, simply establishing that every single one of these characters has a completely different idea of what Christmas means to them from a traditional and religious perspective. The group wasn't so dependent on each other. Being a family just didn't register to them on a spiritual level yet and it was fairly self evident that they were far more comfortable appreciating their own individual traditions. Season two progressed into some of Community's darkest territory, showcasing the hidden anguish behind the cheerful and upbeat facade of Abed Nadir. This time, you see a dramatic change in the way that the characters handle the holidays. The group puts their plans on the back burner to go on this journey with Abed, and you know that all of them feel some degree of loneliness in their own lives as well. Besides being absolutely gorgeous, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" served the purpose of stripping Abed (and Troy a bit as well) of their invincibility status among the group. These characters are all emotionally naked and the wheels have been set into motion. The night ends, and Jeff and Britta retreat to one of their respective apartments and spend Christmas night together.
Now we are in season 3, and in the real world, things are getting dark. Community's ratings are poor and the network is benching the show. This year is the year of suffering for the Greendale students, and particularly Jeff. The duality here is that despite their suffering, the study group appears largely content with their problems, or maybe they are simply happier ignoring them. Only Abed is drawing attention to this darkness. His isolated emotions about the holiday and the ideals he is holding onto are ultimately what draws him to seek out the glee club instructor Mr Rad.
The theme of the special lies in one of those unspoken truths about the December holiday season. These are times of joy and family, but for people who are not complete, they can be the most bitter and empty times of the year. For those people who feel alone or lost, any attempt to acknowledge the holiday is painful and leads to mistakes.
The secondary theme was Glee, and even with such a strong message about displaced people, "Regional Holiday Music" will probably always be known for that first. I watched through this episode twice, and I think the first time, it didn't quite register to me how perfect of a concoction the pair up was. Community and Glee are often compared for their similar stories. Both shows were attempts at sitcom parodies by seasoned writers. Both shows are about a rag tag group of misfits aired in the same pilot season, so there was a bit of rivalry at first.
There is an overused quote among Glee fans, "By it's very definition, glee is about opening yourself up to joy." That quote is mucked up a bit by Troy in this episode, so they were aware enough of it to actually play with it. If you've ever watched an epode of Glee, you'd know that the quote has a tendency to get misplaced between shoddy characterization and excessive teenage drama. They forget about joy, but the very name of their show is centered around it.
Compare that to a show like Community, which is masked it's optimism well in a shroud of pessimistic and flawed characters. The episode in a nutshell is about masking your pain or facing it head on. The study group got caught in a placebo drugged like state in which they were so intoxicated by lowball ambitions (regionals) that they were unable to communicate rationally. Becoming this big bad team wasn't enough to take their hurt away, It only delayed it temporarily. It wasn't until they openly communicated and treated each other kindly that they were able to have a truly merry Christmas. Where would you get in this world without love, communication, and acceptance? You might have a shot at regionals, but not at repairing your own heart.
On a less "philosophical" note, There were two fantastic parts about this episode that I think are worth mentioning. The first is the more obvious. All 7 study group members were lured into the Glee club by their weakest attributes. For Abed, it was his personal history with Christmas coupled with his love for TV tropes. For Jeff, it was his lack of shame. Annie initially resisted on a purely logical level but got swept up unexpectedly in the romance of it all. Shirley was taken by religion, Troy was lured in by his dedication to friendship, and Pierce by his need to be respected. The last of them was Britta. She was only taken after she was the last to stand, once again left out and ignored by her peers. Once she finally "made it in", she was the most overly eccentric of all.
The second of these was a lot more technical, and was pointed out by a Tumblr blogger under the username reidock. He shared:
" During tonight’s episode, this was slipped in during Troy and Abed’s Christmas Invasion under the lyric ”If years were seasons, this December would be the December of our December.”
This is the entire series’ master story circle. The whole thing. If you don’t know what that is, read this article. Basically this is the master arc of the entire series.
You’ll notice something else: as per Dan Harmon’s story structure, it’s broken into quadrants. These quadrants correspond to story and emotional landmarks that stories should hit at certain points. They also correspond to seasons of the show. Each of the pictures in quadrant 1 (upper right) are from season 1, quadrant 2 from season 2, and so on. There’s only 4 quadrants. So I guess if we make it to season 4, that might be all we get.
Also: each of the small circles after the highlighted one (tonight’s episode) is grayed out with static, representing the uncertainty of the show’s future. Also remember the lyric this came up under: ”If years were seasons, this December would be the December of our December.”
"Regional Holiday Music" stands out as a Christmas special, not because of the creative musical stylings for funny jokes, but instead by the time and care put into it. It has all of the symbolism and creative construction of a literary novel packaged in the form of a sitcom. All I can really say is that this show needs to come back sooner rather than later. Community has more than earned it's place among the NBC Thursday lineup, and has proven week after week that it intends on continuing on until it has completely re-defined what a sitcom is.