Episode Title: "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"
Writers: Dino Stamatopoulos & Dan Harmon
Director: Duke Johnson
For the last three seasons, "Community" has been one of the best comedies on TV. And to celebrate Christmas this year, we're taking a look back at the instant classic from the second season, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas."
Clearly inspired by the Rankin/Bass stop motion animated Christmas specials, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" has a personal significance for me. This was the episode that made me realize just how much I love "Community;" for the characters, the actors and the writing. Among sitcoms, it's truly the complete package.
Taking place almost entirely in stop motion animation, the episode begins with the Greendale study group having lunch on the last day before winter break as Abed (Danny Pudi) tells them that he sees everything in stop motion animation; which he assumes will lead to the most important Christmas of all time. His friends are noticeably bewildered by his statement, although Britta (Gillian Jacobs) is clearly the most worried about his mental state. Abed doesn't help himself when he belts out a brilliant Christmas adaptation of the "Community" theme song in the parking lot before he's tazered by campus security.
Although Jeff puts up his usual emotional walls of bluster and sarcasm, it's telling that he and Britta are present for both Abed's impromptu musical meltdown and his mental evaluation by Professor Ian Duncan (John Oliver). Someone who didn't care about Abed wouldn't be there. As the defacto villain of the episode, John Oliver was very funny as Duncan attempted to transform Abed's unique delusion into a case study that would allow him to escape the confines of Greendale. Duncan has his own agenda and he's willing to risk Abed's sanity to achieve it.
Eventually, Britta tricks Abed into attending a therapy session with the rest of the study group and Duncan. And when Abed tries to walk out, Duncan convinces him that he is a "Christmas wizard" and he offers to use "Christmas-nosis" to transport Abed to his own personal winter wonderland… where the atmosphere is 7% cinnamon. Abed also relates the transformation of the study group into Christmas versions of themselves: Jeff in the Box, Britta-Bot, Baby Doll Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), Baller-Annie (Alison Brie) Troy Soldier (Donald Glover) and Teddy Pierce (Chevy Chase).
The study group's alternate selves are an intriguing glimpse of both how Abed sees them and how they see themselves. Annie fishes for compliments about being thin and graceful before being told that she's "fragile and tightly wound." Similarly, Britta assumes that her robot status is because she's "progressive and kick-ass;" while Shirley states that it's because Britta is "heartless and godless."
Right away, Abed takes control over the narrative despite Duncan's attempts to force a trip to "The Cave of Frozen Memories." And one-by-one, the study group is kicked out of the fantasy. Shirley is the first, for declaring that she already knows the meaning of Christmas that Abed is looking for. Jeff is next, as his counterpart is consumed by humbugs who feed on sarcasm. But it is Britta's departure that is almost heartbreaking. With the power of his words, Abed has created a winter wonderland that would have put the old Rudolph and Frosty specials to shame. However, Abed's words can also destroy. And it's a skill that he uses in song while confronting Britta for tricking him into therapy.
“Britta-Bot programed badly, wires with fraying ends. Functioning mad and sadly, no faith in herself, or friends."
The truth of that song cuts Britta so deeply that her animated avatar sheds tears. It's an incredibly sad and amazing moment, because by that point the audience is invested in the stop motion counterparts as deeply as they are with the live action characters. And the show accomplished that in about 12 minutes of screentime.
From The Cave of Frozen Memories, the story seems to morph into a "Polar Express" analog, as only Annie and Troy remain alongside Abed (after Pierce leaves to take a leak). Abed let's it slip that he and his mom always celebrate Christmas on December 9 by watching the old Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer special and he rejects Troy and Annie's assertions that today is the ninth of December.
When Duncan returns with knowledge of what triggered Abed's mental episode, Troy and Annie valiantly keep him from prematurely breaking Abed's Christmas fantasy and they allow him to make it to the North Pole. By the end, Pierce returns out of loneliness and only he is present when Abed arrives at Santa's workshop to discovers the meaning of Christmas… which manifests itself as the first season of "Lost" on DVD. Hilariously, Abed defines it as a metaphor for a lack of payoff.
Duncan reappears and confronts Abed with a letter from Abed's mother in which she (harshly) states that she won't be visiting him this year because she wants to spend time with her new family; whom she says Abed will get to meet… someday. It's not a note written with a lot of love. I'm speculating here, but maybe Abed's mom found that being direct with her son was the only way to get through to him. But it sends Abed into a catatonic state, which is embodied by a block of ice around his body.
Fortunately, the rest of the study group returns for their friend and they confront Duncan for trying to use Abed's mental episode for his own gain. They even argue that Christmas is "the crazy notion that the longest, coldest, darkest nights can be the warmest and brightest" before ejecting Duncan from Abed's Christmas fantasy with a song… and an exploding Christmas pterodactyl.
Freed from his ice prison, Abed comes to realize that the meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever they want it to mean. Abed also embraces the study group as his surrogate family and they agree to keep the delusion going through the holiday. The last scene contains another fantastic moment. As the study group watches Rudolph together, their live action counterparts appear in the reflection on the TV screen.
This episode was unexpectedly moving and hilarious throughout; everything a great comedy should be. No show on TV mixes humor and heart as effectively as "Community" does; and this may be it's finest half-hour. If you're looking for faults in this episode, there are none. Even if this was a stand alone Christmas special, it summed up the holiday more effectively than any other program I've ever seen.
In short, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is a masterpiece and well deserving of all of the praise that it has received. Perfection on television is hard to come by, and when it happens the way that it did in this episode, it should be celebrated and remembered for years to come.
So, Merry Christmas to all fans of "Community" and to everyone else. Be happy and be safe with your family and friends.
Crave Online Rating: 10 out of 10.