Episode 310: Regional Holiday Music
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.
*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).
*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.