NBC’s Community this week goes into full-Glee parody mode with “Regional Holiday Music.” The Greendale glee club is disqualified, and the director, Cory Radison (Taran Killam, Saturday Night Live), asks everyone’s favorite study group to fill in. They resist, not wanting to be infected with the evil glee bug. That is, except for Abed (Danny Pudi), who thinks it might make the semester end on a light-hearted note. One by one Abed sucks each of his friends into the gig, but soon realizes that Cory has plans for them far beyond the Christmas pageant, or even Regionals, and Abed must get them out of this mess. Luckily, Abed’s friends forgive him in the end.
Glee is ripe for parody, of course, though most shows haven’t touched it. Ideally, this would be done with a loving hand, since Glee is groundbreaking in many ways, and dear to quite a few people. Instead, Community serves up a big heap of spanking, with no visible sign of affection. If any series other than Community did this, it would be cruel and dismissible. But Community is consistently brilliant, and “Regional Holiday Music” is no different. So for the remainder of this review, forget you are a Glee fan, and just bask in the glory of the witty, highly original joy that Community brings.
One cannot possibly judge “Regional Holiday Music” and the basis of realism or music quality. So what if Cory claims that after Regionals, they will go to Sectionals? It’s funny that he makes up a bunch of other competition names following. The music itself is not catchy or memorable, but it is all originally written specifically for this episode. It stays true to characters, and serves a purpose in the story. Thus, neither of these components will be the criteria when looking at this episode. Story and character is key.
The first person that Abed recruits is Troy (Donald Glover), of course, who admits that he does everything that Abed does. Then they go for Pierce (Chevy Chase), an easy mark because of his ego. Annie (Alison Brie) is simple to conquer with a little peer pressure, and she, in turn, uses her sexy wiles to court Jeff (Joel McHale). Never mind that Annie comes off as anything but sexy by overdoing the baby stuff; she is super cute and sexy in that outfit. Then Pierce resorts to black stereotypes, bringing in a choir to back up Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown). Finally, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) just won’t be the only one left out.
Each of the main actors gets a chance to shine in “Regional Holiday Music.” Brown’s contorting face as she tries to resist the allure of the singing children is comedy gold. Glover can handle the raps with flying colors. McHale allows himself to fully commit, something Jeff doesn’t often do in any situation. And, of course, Britta’s totally horrible wailing can make anyone hate music, made even more clever by the reference to her “Me So Hungry” bit from an earlier episode. Plus, she has a pretty singing voice when the cast does a carol at the end, so it’s just pure acting that she sounds so bad.
Perhaps because they are left out of the glee craziness in Community, the show lets the supporting characters take the end tag. Dean (Jim Rash) and Chang (Ken Jeong) use their names in “Carol of the Bells,” joined by a few of the recurring parts. It’s humorous, unexpected, and wonderful.
Also, nice reference to the last year’s claymation special when Cory shows Abed his plans for the show!
What “Regional Holiday Music” brings to mind, in retrospect, is just how in control of the group Abed is. At times, it seems like Abed is an outside observer, studying human interaction, while not really being a part of the species. But in this week’s Community, Abed manipulates his subjects. He isn’t a passive fly on the wall, but rather, the mad scientist controlling the conditions. And maybe he’s been doing that all along. He’s an enigma that cannot be defined, but he is also the true central point of the series, as much as Jeff might appear to be in early episodes. He will certainly be the catalyst at the end of the series. Very cool.
Community is now on hiatus. It will return sometime this winter or spring to NBC, though no return date is yet set.