Episode 310: Regional Holiday Music

Community3x10_0849

roare

Community Season 3 Reviews – Episode 3×10 "Regional Holiday Music"

I guess I just like liking things
 
On the surface, Regional Holiday Music appears to be a lot of things that it isn’t. It appears to be pretty light fare by Community standards – everyone sings a bunch of fun Christmas songs together, then realizes how much they love each other and how they want to spend the holidays with each other. It also appears to be a pretty scathing takedown of Glee, constantly pointing out that show’s most artificial and unrealistic tendencies. In a way, RHM is very much both of these things – unlike Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas before it, RHM is more interested in the festive side of Christmas than the darker side, and there is certainly a lot of fun had at Glee ‘s expense. But underneath the surface, there’s a lot more to this episode than a fun, silly takedown of Glee. Of course there is – this is Community Season 3, a season that, more than anything else, wanted to be about something. In short, RHM’s mission statement can be described in the Abed quote above. This is an episode that, despite its Glee-hating appearance, rejects cynicism. It’s an episode that completely debunks Jeff’s belief that “trying to make things brighter only makes more darkness”. In the midst of the dark, conflict-ridden, Regional Holiday Music is a bright light that serves to remind us that these people really do love each other, and all they truly want is to spend some time with each other. They just have to get through their own personal darkness first.

So let’s talk about that reject of cynicism. It’s something that’s been around since the show’s beginning – despite its occasionally snarky exterior, this is a show that is completely in love with the mushy idea that even the most lawyer-y of us all can find comfort and love with the people surrounding us. Regional Holiday Music would appear to go directly against that grain, devoting its entire running time to taking the piss out of another TV show – a TV show that’s literally called Glee. This is a common complaint I’ve seen against this episode. Many people feel that the show’s ruthless Glee bashing was uncharacteristic and something more akin to a soulless show like Family Guy. I sort of feel like those people are viewing it wrong, because I don’t think the show was necessarily endorsing the study group’s glee club hatred. If anything, the show was placing itself in Abed's viewpoint – the glee club may be kind of silly, but it's a silly thing that can bring his friends together.

And that’s really what the episode is about. It’s about Abed, and how all Abed really wants is to spend time with his friends for the holidays but fears the looming darkness hanging over their heads this year is going to prevent that from happening. Abed’s afraid for the group’s future, and he’s afraid to admit that he’s afraid. The group has entered a point in their relationship where their initial bond and friendship is beginning to wear off, and they're getting used to each other and even a little sick of each other. Of course, this upsets Abed. We see that through the entire season, and this episode is key because it's the episode that Abed decides to take action and do something about it. That's where glee club comes in – it provides an artificial sense of comfort and happiness that seems to be the solution to all of the group's problems. This is the only way that Abed feels he can reach out to the group and get across how all he really wants is for them to be together. It works for a while, but then at the Christmas pageant – after a certain awkward song – it all comes crashing down. Once again – just like in Contemporary American Poultry and Critical Film Studies, Abed's difficulty connecting winds up harming the group as a whole – this time, putting them in the hands of a psychotic, cardigan-sporting glee club killer. Worse, everyone’s suddenly left to deal with the reality that their group is, indeed, in danger of being torn apart.

 But then we get that final scene – the scene which, in my mind, elevates the episode from “a lot of fun” to “absolute classic”. All of the silly glee club artificiality is completely gone, and we’re left with a stark sense of realism – in great contrast to the rest of the episode. But it’s this scene that shows the group isn’t really in danger at all. Things are dark, yes, and it’s been a hard year, but the group still has each other, and they want to continue to have each other. In other words – they like each other, and they like liking each other.

This is why Regional Holiday Music is such a crucial pinpoint to Season 3’s story  – it's a reminder that the beating, happy heart that's always been at the center of the show hasn't gone away. It’s one of the show’s brightest episodes tucked into one of its darkest periods, a total celebration of holiday joy and fun grounded in the group’s fragile yet crucial bond to each other. For as much as it makes fun of glee, it also makes the point that it’s okay to like Glee, or glee club, or your study group, or Christmas, or watching terrible Inspector Spacetime Chistmas specials – it’s okay to like anything, just as long as you like something, because liking things is what makes life worth all of the darkness.  This also made it the perfect way for the show to kick off its first hiatus of doom, giving its fans the knowledge that things are dark right now, but they’re not going to be forever – because through all of the uncertainty and darkness, we still have this thing we all like together, and the bond of liking it. We still have each other. And that’s all that matters. See you all after regionals.

Stray Observations
*THE SONGS! I didn’t get to touch on them at all in the review, so let’s talk about them here. I think pretty much all of them are fantastic, honestly. The original GLEE! song between Mr. Rad and Abed is a great little comic setpiece. The Troy and Abed rap is fairly impressive in just about any category, and Baby Boomer Santa is just a great scene overall – next time you watch it, be sure to check out the rest of the study group for some quality reaction shots. Teach Me How to Understand Christmas is…well, yeah, you know. I also feel the need to send some love to that song they sing at the Christmas pageant (before Britta ruined it, of course), because it’s weirdly catchy and is always stuck in my head even though there’s only like two lines.

*I also didn’t get to touch on Mr. Rad too much, but he was honestly one of my favorite one-time characters ever. Taran Killam played him perfectly. And yet, I don’t ever really want to see him again. He fit so perfectly into the world of this episode that it would seem wrong to include him outside of it. (Plus, he should probably be in jail or something).

Discussion questions
*How did you feel about the ending? I know some people feel it was a bit much and didn’t feel earned after the rest of the episode. It’s possibly one of my favorite scenes, but it doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention.

*Did the “body snatchers” angle bother you? The unrealistic elements of that aspect seem to be the most common criticism of the episode. 

*Do you think there’s any interesting subtext as to why each group member got the Glee virus when they did? I was thinking of including that in the review, but couldn’t really think of any. But I’d be interested to know if anyone else did.

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-1036137377 (page 206)
09/09/2013 – 07:15 PM – 27 LIKES

 

Discussion

  • Fun Fact: The piano guy featured in the episode is played by the same piano guy on Glee. I only learned this from a viewing with my sister, who did not have much else positive to say.

  • I thought they used a look alike double guy

  • imdb agrees with you.

  • Then my sister is a dirty liar, and I will make sure she doesn't get a dime from my will.

  • menocu

    Really really love this one and more than any of the other holiday episodes, this is the one I feel like I would make a perennial tradition (the BtVS episode Pangs is the only other show that has achieved this status in my household). The songs go a long way toward that- catchy, hilarious, diverse and they advance the plot- it's great work.

    And I love the "body snatchers" angle. I think the series is almost miraculous in the way they carefully escalated the craziness over 3 seasons- there's a clear line from a paintball fight that turns into all out campus wide warfare, to the whole school eating top secret army meat that turns them into zombies, to the implication that "there are other timelines," to this. I think most viewers can relate to their circle of friends going through a sudden change or latching onto a fad or new activity one by one, it's just escalated here. The only plot element I really scoffed at in seasons 1-3 as going too far was evil Abed trying to cut off Jeff's arm, to the point that he was plugging in a bonesaw in a crowded classroom. I definitely "get" how that functioned as part of the story arc for season 3, but I think there are a lot ways they could have played out those story beats without making it seem like a central character had suddenly, briefly, literally gone certifiably insane.

    I think someone did outline the pattern of when each person caught the virus, but I don't remember who. I think it basically goes from least to most cynical.

  • "baby boomer santa" is terrible. it's an awful song that should never be sung again.

    the others songs are all right. annie's song is very funny as a parody of those kinds of songs. 

  • I feel the exact opposite about this. "Baby Boomer Santa" is the only song in this episode that I think is worthwhile.

  • DavetheDouchebag

    Both of you are horribly, horribly wrong.

  • I'm assuming this means you hate all the songs and find the episode horribly overrated among this community.

  • DavetheDouchebag

    I like all the songs, you heathen.

  • SpongyandBruised

    The face that Pierce makes right before he starts singing is so wonderful.

  • the scene is funny. the premise is funny. i just think the actual song is unlistenable.

  • The song itself is a little dumb, but I think that might have been the point. I just really liked that whole scene, from the group's horror to Pierce's reaction to pretty much every face Troy and Abed make during that scene (the face Glover makes after he says 'Glee literally means Glee!' is delightful and I originally had it fishsticked but then I got scared Disqus would eat my review again).

  • Do you also get annoyed by how inaccurate the chronology is? But it was written by Troy and Abed, and they aren't historians….

  • i get the joke, love, but there's a limit to how far you can take making something bad for the sake of humor. eventually, it's just going to be bad.

  • menocu

    Oh god I love Baby Boomer Santa. I could literally sing the whole thing right now. And I could be, as far as you know. I'm going to ask my neighborhood karaoke dj to download it for the holidays.

  •  Oh God, I'm so happy I found an agreeabuddy on this! I really, truly hate that song.

  • This is why everyone thinks you're pure evil. 

  • you make me happy, narwhal.

  • The songs in Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas are better than the ones in Regional Holiday Music and it's not even all that close.

  • not by a thousand miles. i still sometimes insert the AUC theme song lyrics into the normal theme song, and "that's what christmas is for" is a showstopper.

  • No argument here. But Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas is a holiday masterpiece that almost nothing can live up to.

  • I think I disagree. But it's close. Which means I disagree on both counts.

  • I am interested in a full explanation of why you don't like it. Is it that the history covered is so reductive/Forrest Gumpy, or do you just not like it musically?

  • Sounds like the latter. Or maybe both.

  • it's musically abhorrent. even though the flaws are mostly (note: mostly) intentional, they're still grating to listen to. as a piece of comedy, fine. as a piece of music, it's just painful. i cringed when i first heard it. they ham up every line and every pastiche kinda just finds every bad cliche of every style. 

    the andrews sister bit is tolerable for a second, but god, the vocals on the rock'n'roll section is instantly grating. the bob dylan impersonation is more listenable, but unfunny (ugh, overdone). the disco section evokes the worst of disco (presumably intentionally), and the synthpop bit is just a bit weak (and the least on-point of all the parodies, unless i missed something). and when pierce starts singing, jesus, his vocals.

    i get the joke, but it doesn't make it listenable.

  • Not able to rewatch the episode right now to comment on the ending, but I would like to say that despite any "unrealistic" quibbles I may have with the body snatchers theme (and, really, I don't have many), the fact that it leads to this makes the whole thing totally okay in my book.

  • I didn't really love this episode that much when it aired, but I have such fond memories of it because of you all.

  • Abed may be the study group member who starts to spread the Glee virus, but I’d argue that Britta is actually the one this episode hinges on.

    Thinking that the virus spreads from the least (Abed) to the most cynical (Britta) character is an interesting idea, but I’d say it’s even more about realism: Abed almost always has one foot out of reality (especially at this point in season 3 when he’s well on his way to Evil Abed), on to Troy and Annie who can still play in the Dreamatorium, Pierce who believed his mother was in a lava lamp, etc, all the way down to Britta, who has to be, as Dan Harmon put it, the only sane person stuck on Gilligan’s Island.

    Within Regional Holiday Music, each musical number is supported by an invisible orchestra (“how your piano still playing this song?”) ‘till we get to infected!Jeff, who sings only one note at Britta to “infect” her. But like Todd said in his review, it’s likely that Britta actually never catches the virus, and is instead just going along with all the Glee glee to support her friends. Britta, whose deal is “above all else: honesty” is the least likely to suspend disbelief, whether with Horsebot 3000, or even in last year’s claymation episode, when Britta kept trying to pull Abed back into reality (“They will kick you out of school!”).

    So for yet another musical episode, it makes sense that when Britta’s finally up there on that stage, her awkward song doesn't cause invisible accompaniment, her terrible dancing doesn't catch on with the audience, and finally Britta kills the virus by, inevitably, killing the buzz.

  • This really is a great theory, though it does make me feel bad for poor Britta. Even if she did save them from the Glee virus (and a life of perpetual Regionals), she still had to fake that enthusiasm they reveled in (as well as wear that horrible body stocking. She worked it hard, I'll give her that. At least she had that lovely crown as a topper to rock.) She was still on the outside looking in, even if that was a very good thing this time around.

  • I agree. I think she just went along because everyone else was doing it. "Duh doy!"

  • I love this episode sooooo much and I've seen it dozens of times and I have all the songs memorized tyvm

  • It's one of my most rewatched episodes too. Something about it is just…so joyful and fun to watch.

  • I think joyful even literally means full of joy!

  •  Great review! I'll come back tomorrow with more, because now I'm so tired I can;t think straight.

    Do you mean the end of the story, with the group coming over to Abed's or the tag? Because I like them both (especially Chang getting clawed at by a cat).

  • Oh, I meant the ending to the story. Should've been more specific. But yeah, the tag seems pretty divisive. I like it too though!

  • A quote from this review still pops up all over if you Google me. It is too bad, because it is an awful quote.

  • So Todd is COMMUNITY SUCKS…

  • Good news – it doesn't come up on the first page.

    And apparently letting you and latoya watch Glee for them was someone's "best decision EVER".

  • This is probably the episode for which I have the least to say of the 71. It's copacetic, cromulent,…coniferous. While being hella pleasant, something about it just feels so rote and inessential. It's Community's deep breath before a head first dive into AC fatalities, Hulk outs, carnie banging vampires, bonesaws, and a Changtatorship.

    "For as much as it makes fun of glee, it also makes the point that it’s okay to like Glee, or glee club, or your study group, or Christmas, or watching terrible Inspector Spacetime Chistmas specials – it’s okay to like anything, just as long as you like something, because liking things is what makes life worth all of the darkness."

    Well put. That said, does anyone else find Abed's line to be sorta condescending? It's the way he said it.

  • menocu

    It's totally condescending. A lot of Abed's lines are. Abed can be a bit of a dick. "Some flies are too awesome for the wall."

  • Yea, whenever I see people referencing that line I always think "that's not coming out how you think it is!"

  • I agree with you to an extent, but like I said, I kinda liked that. It was a nice change of pace for the overall Super Important Season 3.

    (However, I would say Basic Rocket Science is even more inessential, but still fun).

  • "I mean, I realize the stakes aren't actually that high, but somehow, that just makes it extra scary."
    – I love Britta

  •  Great review /cheer.  Much like Redux, not much to say on this one that hasn't already been said.  The only thing that comes to mind is that again this season we have a direct parallel between the antagonist of the episode and Abed. 

    First it Cornelus Hawthorne and subtlely/not-so-subtlely influencing Pierce and Abed trying to counsel Troy against Jerry and the Vice Dean.  And we can also add in Abed's vision for the documentary vs. that of the Greendale Board and Dean Pelton himself.  And now we have Mr Rad teaming up with Abed to spread holiday cheer, but only so much as Abed will allow it.  Once things goes too far, he pulls the ripcord most deftly because he's Mr. Course Correction here– no one else. 

    But up until that point we really get an eerie mirror image of how bad Abed could be in his machinations.  Sure, Mr. Rad is more expressive, but in his need to share his delusional, contrived version of holiday joy with everyone by any means necessary, his dispassionate manipulation of everyone and everything comes to the forefront. There's the first Glee club and the bus crash, and immediately seeking out the study group once the next set of Glee club members go berserk.

    He's like Abed without the familial ties to his group members– recruiting new players to fulfill his fantasy the moment things start to fall apart.  But Abed knows Abed's kryptonite in utilizing Britta's chaos and that's that.  But it IS interesting how Abed decided to use Britta rather than come forward himself and end the recital.  He is the Mouse King afterall– he could have put a stop to things directly.  Perhaps he assumed Britta could be the scapegoat and sabotage everything to prevent the spread of the Glee virus without ruining the joy they had leading up to that "disaster." 

    In any event, I rather enjoyed the Body Snatchers elements myself– it's clear from the past episodes that the gang is DESPERATE despite their outward cynicism, simply desperate to avoid dwelling on the inner chaos in their group.  Things are following apart, people are potentially moving on, and they need anything to serve as a distraction to that. 

    And when I first watched the ending, it left me wanting more, but then I realized that was the point– it's poignant that everyone came back again for Abed to make sure he's OK given the fallout at the recital, but it's not enough– not like it was last year.  They're still all together and strong, but they need to change and move forward.  And along those lines, in retrospect it's interesting to see that the person most choosing to this right then and there is Jeff with his discussions on therapy and his past actions this season.  I guess between the baldness incident of Redux, meeting Big Cheddar, and killing Cornelius Hawthorne, he's decided to push ahead and try to make things better.

    And finally, if nothing else– Baby Boomer Santa is more than worth it because it gave us this moment:

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Doppeldeaner Count for this Episode: Abed and Mr. Rad, each of the gang's cynical phony side versus their Yuletide side versus their normal Season 3 states at the end of the episode.  The glorification of the Baby Boomer history in Baby Boomer Santa, the different costumes of Annie during her song, and Troy going undercover this Christmas.  It's interesting to note how little Britta has a doppelganger or duplicate element this season– ever since she decided to walk her new path and stuck to it, she's still pretty much Britta no matter what.  You tell them what for, Mute Tree /cheer.

    Merry October 19th Christmas, roare!

  • Great review, roare . As you say, there's a positive energy to the send-ups of Glee, and what I love about RHM is that it doesn't just combine Community and tropes of musical theater but that it's so committed to the idea, and all the musical numbers are so outrageous (without ever leaving the character-based sphere of the show, which is why it works). If the parody of Glee and less-thought-more-fun pop culture seems vicious to some, it's probably because they let the characters go so deep into it, not a gag here or there but merging essences in a way that's almost macabre. I realise now that, as you say, it isn't meant to be an attack on other shows, it's a legitimate attempt to show what would happen if our Study Group embraced that world, and that way of thinking. It really is a brainwashing: a fun, emotional release of one, but not natural at all. It's really fun to watch and… I would say to pick apart how each character changes, except it's so incisive and colorful in that regard that there isn't much need to look beneath the surface because it's all right there.

    I love "Baby Boomer Santa" and it's perfect, improv-weird satire. But "Christmas Infiltration" is the best, mostly because the transition from real life to pitch perfect rap-video fantasy is so abrupt and seamless. That seems like how it would actually appear in Troy and Abed's shared imagination, like they could just suddenly express themselves as hip-hop stars.