Episode 211: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas

 

 Occam's Blazer

211 – Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas

Every Christmas season I devotedly listen to Christmas music. This tradition began when my mother bought a few CDs of Christmas music we listened to as the holiday grew near. Over the years our collection of music has grown steadily over the years song by song and CD by CD and genre by genre. Currently, the playlist of songs included hundreds of songs and dozens of hours of music of varying types from religious and secular, traditional to modern, instrumental to choral. In the past few years, protecting and adding to this playlist has become a tradition itself, as my mother and I go to great lengths to make sure the list is preserved for posterity.

Time, like life, will always flow on and a way for many to give life meaning is to signify and make an effort to celebrate time passing. For many, like me, this takes form of celebrating holidays and performing and adhering to the associates traditions and rituals. These customs are created and administered by the one or more cultures associated with these holidays, but are ore personally enforced and enriched by close family and friends. The extravagant Christmas super-playlist is just one example of the Christmas of a tradition my family and I had. While for many major holidays there are some customs and activities that are prevalent throughout a given culture, many aspects of celebrating a holiday like Christmas can vary wildly from family to family creating deeply personal memories and associations. 

One day soon, how I celebrate Christmas will change drastically. I will soon have to celebrate it on my own. While this reality, like many aspects of growing up, scare me a bit, I am excited for it as well. I will be able to celebrate Christmas and other holidays in my own fashion. Using the largely positive experiences from my own family, eventually I can have my own family and mesh my traditions and celebration style with someone else's while also creating new ones, in a beautifully illogical way. However for some people, like Abed, who was unexpectedly thrush into having to celebrate Christmas on his own after his mother left him to have her own family. Abed was unable and unwilling to cope with this sudden and sad change, thus creating the whole purpose for the episode "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas".

There are many aspects of this episode which make it unique concept episode, even for Community. One is the title itself, which was one of the few titles of the show up to that point that wasn't based off a class or filed of study. Another obvious example is the animation style which is stop motion, not with clay, but with "sillicone dolld with foam bodies over ball-and-socket armatures." as Abed points out. The use of stop-motion animation does only seek to emulate Rankin/Bass holiday special, but to show how important the tradition of watching them with his mother and how Aben percieves the world. The animation style is closely tied to the music as well, which in large part is due to the excellent work by Ludwig Göransson. His work has alway been great, pariticularly in "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" where the score and songs help give the episode a festive, fantasic, and epic scope.

The structure of the episode, especially once Duncan and the study group reach Planet Abed, serve not only to plot in order to find the meaning of Christmas, but provides meaningful character moments as well in their interactions with Abed and each other as well as Abed himself. The fact Abed percieves the world in stop-motion animation in the first place, speaks to a common character theme of him primarily relating to the world via pop culture and his imagination while it also foretells of the negative impacts this would have on himself in season three. The self-proclaimed "Wonka-style" character elimination model of Planet Abed, has it's own dark self-interest with Abed destroying or removing anyone who gets in the way of finding the meaning of CHristmas, albeit in an imaginary setting. Willy Wonka, like Abed in this episdoe,  has a facsinating and sort of unsettling edge about him, in that he was readily willing to put people in danger to teach them a lesson in their very particular world-view. The quest to find the meaning of Christmas is done on Abed's terms with his own rules. Those who do not believe in him or wish to participate need not apply.

Abed has shown a capacity to use people in the study group to deal with his own family issues as well, dating back to "Introduction to Film" early in season 1. The trauma from his mother leaving him for her new family is certainly grounds for Abed to lose touch with reality, and sets the groung for what would happen with his character in season 3. He has manipulated the group for better or for worse, like with the menstual cycle charts we found out he keptin "Cooperative Calligraphy" that helped make the group more harmonious, despite being damn creepy and Abed' s propensity to be selfish and self-indulgent in his perception and activities would come to a head a season later in Virtual Systems Analysis. However, in this episode, Abed was able to overcome some of his flaws and grow. After the study group united to help him defeat Duncan's fight against celbrating Christmas, he was able to realize that Christmas now meant celebrating it with the study group. As Duncan said, "Reality always wins." but it can certainly become more palatable when gone through together with close friends.

This episode wasn't all about Abed though, in fact the other characters are vital for this episode to work at all. Perhaps most importantly is the role Professor Duncan plays in this episode. Set up as a villian who enabled Abed to find the meaning of Christmas to fulfil his own avarice and self-interest seeing ABed's problem's as little more than interesting and publishable. As the episode goes on, Duncan relives his painful Christmas memories, he tries to downplay the meaning of celebrating Christmas at all. While his actions were certainly less than admirable, he wasn't totally off-base. "Reality always wins" in one way or another. The temporary insanity of things like CHristmas can be healthy, but Abed does need to deal with the fact his mother has moved on, and deal with other things in general. What Duncan says here takes a foreboding quaility when considering the direction Abed goes in season three.

This episode, being about half-way through season tow and half-way through the series as a whole to this point, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" protrays aspects of the characters with some qualities remaining earlier in the series, like season 1, that remain in the character as they slowly evolve. This is evident in both Shirley and Jeff in this episode. Shirley, like in all the Christmas episodes on Community, passive-aggressively brings religion into the celebration of Chrismas. This isn't the first time Shirley and Abed have had conflict involving religion, as this was the crux of "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples." There both Shirley and Abed were humbled, but "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" it goes to show how those lessons are not easily learned. Shirley is the first one to be elimiated from Planet Abed, being unable to stand particiapting in a celebration of CHristmas that wasn't similar to her views.

Jeff, like Shirley, also showed reluctance to be a part of Abed's therapy session, although for different reasons. Much like Jeff from season one, he didn't want to be part of it because he wanted to get laid. He refused to sincerely engage with Abed's quest, and was evicted from Planet Abed while being punsihed for his sarcastic ways in the most Burton-boner inducing way possible. With his interactions with Abed throughout season one, Jeff had some idea how intense and meaningful all this was for Abed, tellng Duncan "You are playing with so much fire." Jeff does care about Abed, but like throughout much of the first season, is reluctant to get involved. Jef and Abed certainly don't share the same views about the meaning of Christmas, but Jeff does have a agood aidea just how much it means to Abed.

However, both Jeff and Shirley do show some character growth in this episode. Shirley unites with the group for the final song at the end of the episode. Shirley also takes a menorah for Annie, which was a nice call-back to "Comparative Religion" where Shirley was less tolerant of the different faiths within the study group. Jeff also begrudgingly sings the final song and choose to stay with Abed. Jeff from early season one wouldn't have stayed, and would have enjoyed getting away from the craziness of the study group. His willingness to return to the group is an illustration of how long he's come in becoming close to them in this season, starting with "Accounting for Lawyers" earlier in the season.

Britta plays one of more affect parts of the episode, culminating in the singing of the song about Britta-Bot and her lack of faith in herself and friends. By trying to help and cure Abed, Britta misses the point of celebrating Christmas. In a way, this episode serves as a bridge between roles Duncan and Britta would play. With this episode being one of the last where Professor Dncan would play a large part, Britta assumes the role of a psychologist although with a different motivation. While Duncan was motivated to fix Abed for greed and fame, Britta is motivated by well-intentioned but incompetent intentions. While Britta was kicked out of journey to find the meaning of Christmas, she wasn't wrong in think Abed needed help. While trying to cure Abed of Christmas was the wrong way to help, Britta's sincere desire to fix Abed sets up what would take place in season three. Reality must set in for Abed eventually, and while Britta is certainly not a perfect filter, she has to strong desire and good intentions to help Abed become better adjusted.

Troy, Annie and Pierce are unique in that they survive to the end of journey. Troy is always supportive of Abed, increasingly to an unhealthy degree, enabling Abed's faults to the point where their relationship would be strained later in the series. Annie, supportive of Abed, can certainly relate to the "minefield of overlapping rituals." Both Troy and Annie going to great lengths to prevent Duncan from stopping Abed from finding getting to the North Pole also foretells how they would eventually beomce roommates later. Interestingly, the last one remaining is Pierce, who (much like Chevy himself) doesn't really have much idea what is happening. Pierce is just "here for the cookies" and delves into how CHristmas is a sad, lonely time for those who have little reason to celebrate or no one to celebrate with. Pierce staying with Abed ties into the fact his mother dies recently in "Psychology of Letting Go" and helps establish just how terrible Cornelius Hawthorne can be. His role in this episode, gives a nice respite to the Dickish Pierce arc in season two, and reminds us why the study groups tolerates him so much and are willing to have him back in the group.

For each member of the study group, Christmas means something different for each person. From a religious celebration to a time away from schoolplaying video games, with a differng amounts of "music and cookies and liquor and trees" for everyone. More importantly than how each person celbrates is that everyone can attach whatever meaning to CHristmas or any holiday they choose and celebrate it however and with whomever they want. "The meaning of Christmas is that is has meaning." is a perfectly circular summation of why sometimes it's important to celebrate living just becuase you are alive. Many holidays and celebrations and the traditions associated within are patently ridiculous and illogical, like cutting a tree and decorating it, or leaving food for a gift-bearing home invader that doesn't exist. However, every so often, becoming part of a collective insanity and denial of reality can be a healthy thing. Time and life flow on regardless. Holidays at there core are arbitrary. Attaching whatever meaning we choose to these holidays helps bring us together and makes our time on here a little brighter. It's an insanity I embrace every year, starting with my Christmas playlist, and listening to some simple Christmas songs.

Stray Observations

  • "I never know what you guys are talking about."
  • "What do you mean cave-like? It's a cave!"
  • "Where are we? Christmas Train?"
  • Strangely enough a lot of the best lines for me involved Pierce. It's a Christmas miracle!
  • Ludwig Göransson is a genius. His work throughout the series, including this episode, are a reason I love Community. The care he puts into scoring and creating the songs for this episode is astounding.
  • That being said, the songs in this episode may lack the timelessness of classic songs like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." or even the humor in the songs featured in the next Christmas episode "Regional Holiday Music." They work for me, and do a great job of emulating the improvisational spirit throughout much of the episode.
  • The use of Chang was limited but was a nice use of his character. His being fondled by Abed was a nice comic touch in an episode that was not dense with laughs. Also seeing Chang as a snowman in the background trying to see what was going on in there contributed nicely to his season-long arc of wanting to be a part of the group.
  • At the end of the episode, the Dean is shown as being exasperated at all the politically correct hoops he has to jump through. While recognizing and being tolerant towards other beliefs is important, it's refreshing to see a side of the Dean and his work that isn't so pun-filled and ridiculous.
  • The visual deliciousness of stop-motion animated food never spoke to me as it did when I was writing this, as I was so hungry.
  • This might have been terrible, and if it was I apologize. I'm too scared to go back and fix it at this point. Thank you for reading this!

Commentary Extravaganza!

  • The voice of the security gaurd who tasered Abed was Harmon's. 
  • Dany Pudi's singing the altered theme song took several takes becuase he "had to get in the proper Christmas spirit." as Ludwig politely put it.
  • The idea of using stop-motion animation was determined before the story with Abed was created.
  • The idea of using Abed as means to justify the use stop-motion animation was determined by all ten writers as a group.
  • Chevy Chase, reaching the point of self-parody had little idea what was going on with the episode, and couldn't comprehend it was from Abed's point of view.
  • Harmon and co. joke about Cheny being a Baby-Boomer, perhaps planting the seeds of Baby-Boomer Santa" in "Regional Holida Music."
  •  According to Harmon this episode was "a miracle of bureaucracy and disarray." Jeff Gaspin, then the boss of NBC said Community reminded him of Family Guy and that they should do an animated episode. Harmon and co. were then able to use his support in order to make the episode work.
  • The episode took 16 weeks to animate! For comparison, Dino's shows on Adult Swim usually take around a week to animate per episode, although they are only 15 minutes long.
  •  The episode was so far over budget Dan Harmonpersonally wound up eating around $100000 of the cost.
  • Dino was "instrumental in making Joel's puppet a little uglier than it should have been." becuase Joel commented on his looks.
  • Harmon says Britta-bot represents how therapists have told him that childhood "fired his circuitry in his heart" which is why Harmon has troubles in his relationships.
  • The scene of the train escaping the collapsing Cave of Frozen Memories was pain-stakingly filmed frame-by-frame with the train moving and cave collapsing simultaneously.
  • The Bjork joke with train speeds was added intentionally by Dan Harmon to make the episode a bit funnier.
  • One of the first vivid visualizations Harmon and Dino had for the show was Abed entering the abandoned Santa's workshop.
  • After the dig given at Lost as a mataphor for a lack of payoff, Damon Lindelof sent the writers room a Lost complete series Blu-Ray box set. He is a fan of Community.
  • Ludwig tried to have the cast perform the song together, but it didn't work. The whole cast had to sing individually.
  • "Christmas is the ultimate meta-holiday." Dan Harmon said "We are celebrating it becuase we like it each other."

 

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-656185220 (page 438)

 

Discussion:

    •  A great visual detail is the way you can see into the study room every time Duncan pops in and out.

      The whole episode looks fantastic, but the chase on top of the train is my favorite.

      "Somewhere Tim Burton just got a boner."

      I'll use this to plug Moral Orel – Dino's animated Adult Swim show – to anyone here who hasn't seen it yet. It's great, and pretty close in tone to AUC.

    • I love the chase on top of the train–when it pulls back to the wide shot it looks like an illustration out of a children's book.

      That's pretty cool about the crumbling mountain–I guess for some reason I'd always assumed that at some point the crumbling of the cave was just computer animation.  

    •  I forgot to give a shout out to John Oliver, who does some fantastic voice over work. I miss Duncan…

      "You're actually grabbing me in real life, delinquent!"

    • Damn you, this was great — not terrible. Rest easy, now.

    • I shall Old Snowy. Now tell me about the war!

    • Okay people we've been slacking with the hardcore Community discussion. Let's break it out. *cracks knuckles and hip bones*
       
      How does this compare to other Christmas episodes to you? How does this compare to the hallowed shows of Harmon: Taxi and Cheers? Which characters are pitch perfect? Are there any that aren't? 

    •  I'm very loath of Christmas episodes, because they can get awfully maudlin, so I'll say that this is one of my favorites, if not my absolute favorite.

      But then again, my idea of a Christmas movie is Die Hard, so…

    • This could be the most emotionally affecting episode of the show for me. The "Britta-Bot song" never fails to get me teary-eyed.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

      Ain't no need in gettin' teary-eyed
      Britta's the best, point blank peri-od

      …as Little Brother might say

    • I love everything about this episode. It's a modern Christmas classic. It's really too overwhelmingly great for me to discuss in any depth. 

    • That's a great review. You displayed why the episode doesn't fail even with its odd style: the character beats are near perfection, and Abed's plot is both touching and realistic, as well as the character reactions. It is absolutely ideal Pierce is the last one. 

    •  Re: Abed. This really is quite a disturbing episode when you think about it mre closely. I know that the Evil Abed plot this season didn't get too much traction with some commenters, but to me it feels like a natural extension of this episode. AUC shows both the depth of Abed's abandonment anxiety (something which the show established all the way back in 103), and the unwitting cruelty that he displays in his more anxious moments (one of the extraordinary things about the Britta-bot song, is just how cruel is seems).

    • I thought much of what happened in season 3 was a natural extension of the group evolving. 

      What exactly is disturbing about this one? How disconnected he is? I know you listed reasons, but they're not that disturbing to me. I think someone imagining everyone is in clay-form is worse. That's a serious condition like schizophrenia. It's not as unrealistic as the zombie episode, but we love them both.

    •  Because it's basically an episode about a psychotic break. It's kind of odd how Duncan is the villain here – sure, he's self-serving and kinda scuzzy, but his "You're enabling a delusion!" is actually a pretty accurate description of the situation.

    • Semi-bored torontonian  , hey that's what I thought you meant. 
       
      It's funny that when a story is told well we go along with it, and it's a "touching" episode. From another point of view (similar to the clip show's clip) it's weird and disturbing. 
       
      Actually, Community since the first season has been crazy on paper, but when you watch it the events are presented well enough with great characterization that you believe anything that happens.

      Edit: Almost anything. Let's not quibble over that point.

    •  Oh, this doesn't mean it's not a touching episode! On a very important level, the group going along with the delusion and pulling Abed out of it on his own terms is a beautiful display of friendship*. But the root of the problem – which is Abed's tendency to wall himself up into a fiction when anxious – remains unaddressed. Jeff realizes how powerful this tendency is ("You are playing with so much fire…") but he admires Abed too much to realize how damaging it can be.

      *I think this episode and Advanced D&D work on a similar premise – when the group is only half-heartedly participating in a collective fiction, they fail, but when they go all in the succeed.

    • To find resolution with an episode where there's a psychotic break you need a damn fine ending and great emotion as well as purpose. 
       
      I think the episode being in claymation distracts from how weird the actual plot is. That and it's a Christmas episode (kinda like the Treehouse of Horror.)

    • Thanks Capt. Blicero! Your incessant but kind prodding finally encouraged me to get this done. I agree that the Pierce portrayed in this episode is one of the best in the series.

    • I'm not a big fan of this episode. I like Comparative Religion best, maybe because it's the least Christmas-y Christmas episode. I appreciate everything this episode is trying to do, and I love the idea of using stop motion, but it never becomes better than the sum of it's parts for me. I do love the rewritten theme song though.

    • This episode hasn't ever done much for me; I think it's because my family has never celebrated Christmas. I do love the bit at the very end, though.

    • It's not about Christmas. Todd's review and Harmon's commentary explain it much better than I could, but it's about huddling around whatever is familiar and comforting during a time of year when everything slows down, it's quiet and still, cold and dark, and "things are dying and need to be reborn" as Harmon says.

    •  Bongoes, when did your heart freeze over, and how can I help you melt it?

    • It was a cold December night… we ran out of wood for the fire, and I had to throw my prized collection of rain damaged notebooks into the fire to keep us warm. Eventually there was only enough heat to keep one person warm, and my family of twelve had to take turns sitting by the fire. My father handed me an axe and told me, the oldest child, to go out and gather wood from the forest. As I stood there, chopping down a young maple tree, I felt a chill come over me. My blood stopped moving, there was nothing to pump it. My heart had frozen over. I was three years old.

    • bongoes And you say that you're not such a good writer. For shame!

    • I'm really not.

      But I say I'm terrible at everything so take that as you will.

    •  bongoes : well, this shuts me up. That's some good writing!

    • bongoes So, you're good at some of the things that you say you're bad at. Hmmmm, well that turned my world on it's head. 

    • My crushingly low self esteem and general inability to express myself probably contributes to that.

    • Awww. Dang muffins, bongoes . You might have slightly a lower self-esteem than mine's and that's saying something. I'm sure, one day, you'll be a some big-shot critic or writer or something that you'd want to do.

      Anyways, I turned in my assignment two minutes late. *sing-song* Cuz that's the only way I turn in my internet assignments.

      I can see in focus now! Yes!!! I can stay up for one more hour to do another assignment.

    • Maybe I'll write something longer someday.