Seven episodes into season five, Glee is still telling a story set last spring, which makes it difficult to do a Christmas episode. The solution? Have Sue (Jane Lynch) record an introduction in which she says the latest installment, “Previously Unaired Christmas,” was the first holiday special made last year, but considered “too controversial” to air (while putting coal in stockings for Lynch’s award-show competition). Now, though, it’s been edited so it can finally be broadcast.
This does adequately explain how there was still a Christmas special last year and another this year set at roughly the same time. But it also takes us out of the story and reminds us that Glee is just a television show. It would be one thing for a variety series to this; it’s quite another when a serial dramedy does so, interrupting flow and feeling very fake.
Yes, Sue’s statement is a total lie, “Previously Unaired Christmas” being freshly filmed only months ago. The most obvious tell is that Heather Morris and Cory Monteith do not appear as Brittany and Finn, respectively, the former actress no longer being on the show, and the latter having passed away. Their unmentioned absences make the premise impossible to accept. Add a very staged way to get Santana (Naya Rivera) in the New York scenes, as her character had not moved there yet, and no mention of Brody (Dean Geyer), whom Rachel (Lea Michele) is serious with at this point of the story, and it just doesn’t hold up.
Now, Glee has always been a little bit cheesy, and some might say that’s part of its charm. The tongue-in-cheek reference when Rachel tells Santana she should drop out of college and come live with them is a fun little poke. And the matter of having religious displays at a public school is brought up and dropped, acknowledging that ridiculousness of the premise, kind of works. But Glee can do better than this, and it leaves one with a sour taste after viewing.
The story begins in New York when Santana brings gifts for Rachel and Kurt (Chris Colfer). She stays a few days in their apartment, and the three get temp jobs working as elves at the mall for an alcoholic Santa. Santana ends up filling in for the red suit, which is both antastic and a terrible idea. They try to salvage the situation with the help of a new “friend” (Bryce Johnson, Popular, Pretty Little Liars), but he just gets them drunk and robs them, leaving Kurt in a naughty, pretty wrong state.
The songs in this thread are good, if thin. “Here Comes Santa Claus” is a pretty straight-forward take, and “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” is mostly lip-synched, but at least the staging for both is fun. It’s less thrilling that this trio sings “Away in a Manger” with the McKinley crew, a trope that is already feeling tired, but overall, the NYC plot is enjoyable fluff.
In Ohio, the New Directions compete for the best Christmas tree in the school and to participate in a living nativity scene. The former of those stories just gives the show an excuse to tug the heart strings, as driven winner Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) finds compassion and hands over the prize to poor Becky (Lauren Potter), who really wanted to win but didn’t understand the assignment of a “green” tree. This also gives us a tame “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” The latter is where the offensiveness that Sue referenced at the start finally becomes apparent.
See, Unique (Alex Newell), Marley (Melissa Benoist), and Tina all want to play the Virgin Mary. That’s weird, because they choose to audition with a mostly-out-of-character, scandalous, vaguely Jamaican rendition of “Mary’s Boy Child.” Marley wins, but she realizes Kitty (Becca Tobin) holds the role in high regard, and so the girls get even worse with “Love Child,” a hilarious and very wrong number, to force Kitty to step in and save the day.
As far as making one feel the Christmas spirit, “Previously Unaired Christmas” does that in the most basic sense, with the annual softening of Sue and the generous acts by others. But the quality of the musical numbers is definitely down, and the tale feels unnecessary and not quite in keeping with continuity. As such, perhaps it would have been better for Glee to take a year off, as much as the format of the series lends itself to holiday cheer more than most shows on TV.
Glee will return February 25th on FOX.