Episode 211: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
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.
- "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!
- 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."