This Christmas season, The Fulcrum published a feature on must-see quirky Christmas specials. You can read the full article here; below is my contribution, on the virtues of Community‘s classic “Regional Holiday Music:”

Dan Harmon’s surrealist sitcom Community, chronicling an unlikely group of friends at America’s worst community college, is beloved for its metafictional structure, pop culture references, and simultaneously heartwarming and sarcastic take on friendship.

Community’s third season Christmas episode is equal parts deranged holiday special and caustic satire of Ryan Murphy’s Glee.

Facing a Christmas alone, socially awkward Abed falls under the influence of Greendale Glee Club director Mr. Radison (SNL’s Taran Killam). With the annual Christmas pageant around the corner, Abed must use the magic of song to bring some holiday cheer to his cynical study group.

Unfortunately, the Glee Club turns out to be a death cult.

Glee was still a ratings juggernaut when this episode originally aired, and “Regional Holiday Music” is not a loving send-up. “Not liking Glee Club doesn’t make us bullies,” Jeff declares at one point. “And implying that is reverse bullying!”

Although its target has been off the air for over a year, the parody doesn’t feel dated. The episode’s script is clever in its own right, and draws from the characters’ established personality traits (Abed’s chronic loneliness, the study group’s self-absorption) to form a solid standalone special that contributes to the dramatic arc of the series.

“Regional Holiday Music” isn’t your standard musical holiday extravaganza. The songs are intentionally awful, the jokes are caustic, and cynicism reigns supreme. “Maybe forcing things to be bright just makes the darkness underneath even darker,” Abed concludes.

It’s the lack of false cheer that makes the show’s redemptive moments feel so  genuine. As the study group joins Abed for a viewing of the Inspector Spacetime Holiday Special, a timeless moral emerges: Christmas doesn’t need to be a big production, if you have friends to share it with.

Originally published in The Fulcrum as Holiday specials you should have seen; Dec. 2/2016 (Iain Sellers, Madison McSweeney and Anchal Sharma)

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