Friday, December 9, 2011

3x10 "Regional Holiday Music" (Better Than Some Journey Medley)

"Regional Holiday Music"
Original Airdate: December 8, 2011

This may surprise you (and it may appall you), but there was a time in the not-so-distant past where I was obsessed with Glee. In fact, I once wrote an entire essay-length blog post about how Community drastically shifted that viewpoint. Regardless, I do still watch Glee semi-faithfully each Tuesday night. Instead of watching it with rapt attention and sincere awe, Glee is my Gossip Girl - a show that is full of so many plot holes and gaping inconsistencies, and whose content is not meant to inspire deep thought, but is pure and unadulterated entertainment only. I accept the show for what it is, and understand that (because of that) I shouldn't expect too much. The same doesn't hold true for Community, in case you were wondering. Dan Harmon's show is held to a higher standard than Glee - so high that they actually exist within different dimensions - because it has consistently proven to be a smart, witty comedy, where the musical dramedy about McKinley high has proven to be fluff, on its best days. Here's the thing about parodies (and gentle jabs at pop culture): in order to do a parody right, you have to capture what the show, person, event, etc.'s most unbelievable and laughable qualities are. You have to highlight these, and assume that your audience notices these qualities too, otherwise the parody falls flat. Why a sketch like The Miley Cyrus Show makes me laugh so much on SNL is because Vanessa Bayer does a fantastic job in exaggerating the already laughable qualities that make Miley Cyrus who she is. And I like watching her poke fun at Miley, because I can sit there and point to the television and say: "Yes! That is so true!" And this is why last night's episode of Community hit such a high note (pardon the pun) with me as it jabbed Glee. I'll pick out my favorite jabs throughout the review, so no worries there. But let's first discuss the plot of the episode.

"Regional Holiday Music" is the most bittersweet episode of the season, and perhaps the series in general. Obviously under normal circumstances, we would be lamenting the lack of Community on our televisions, but would know that - come January - the study group would faithfully return to Greendale. Since this is unfortunately not the case this year, it was a dark episode for a lot of us. And speaking of dark references, this is what Abed enters the cafeteria at the beginning of our episode confirming. The film student has bought a copy of the holiday episode of Inspector Spacetime (I love that they have holiday episodes! I'm more than a lot excited for the new Doctor Who Christmas special), and wants to watch the movie over Christmas break. Sadly though, the study group already has plans solidified, which leads Abed to disappointment. Jeff, however, informs him: "I think what we've learned, Abed, is that attempts to make the holidays brighter lead to a certain darkness." And I can't exactly argue with Jeff there - their first two Christmases proved to be a little dark in their own rights - but the most important thing that Jeff failed to mention was that in spite of the darkness, the group always finds its way back to each other in the end. At the end of both "Comparative Religion" and "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" (and at the end of this episode too), the study group realizes that they need each other to get through the dark times. The darkness then, isn't this bleak sort of darkness that you would assume it to be - it's the kind of darkness where life gets rough, and you feel like giving up, but then you see six faces looking back at you and realize you can't.

At any rate, Abed's discussion about their dark times this season is interrupted with the entrance of the (five) glee club members into the cafeteria. And if Greendale's glee club is the representative face of college glee clubs around the television nation, New Directions should just call it quits now. There is one common straw between Glee and Community - everyone hates the glee club. (However, unlike Glee, Greendale doesn't magically acquire ten new members when they need to compete at Sectionals. Just saying.) And no one hates the glee club more than Jeff, remember? As the five members start to perform a terrible mash-up, the study group recalls when they filled in for the absentee club last year (because that club got hit by a bus and died), and wonder if they were truly as awful as the current glee club is. Jeff - in his crafty jack rabbit-y ways - has filed an anonymous tip that the glee club is using copyrighted materials to perform. Just as the study group celebrates, the glee club dissolves into an uncontrollable meltdown. And, rightfully so, the study group sneaks out of the cafeteria.

Dean Pelton and Mr. Cory Radison (played by the extremely talented Taran Killam) confront the study group and attempt to convince them to replace the club once again for the holiday pageant that week. The group rightfully declines the offer, and throughout the scene, the Glee-seque acapella background music plays. (Here's the original music, and you can compare for parody's sake):

Additionally, Taran Killam does a fantastic job throughout the episode as "Mr. Rad" (an obvious parody of the sweater vest-wearing, insanely optomistic and clean-cut "Mr. Schue"), and I sincerely hope that he returns in the future. After the study group agrees not to let Mr. Rad convert them to the dark side by joining the glee club, Abed finds himself drawn to the cafeteria by the sound of a piano playing. Mr. Rad is, of course, at the instrument and manages to convince Abed to get the study group involved with the Christmas pageant. Now, typically, Abed is the last person you'd expect to be sucked into Mr. Rad's schemes - we've spent the past few seasons, after all, attempting to be convinced that Abed is either a) a robot, or b) insane. Even though both of these are refuted, we usually believe that Abed is devoid of any emotion whatsoever because he never seems to have any emotional attachment to individuals. But as we learned in last year's Christmas episode, this time of year is difficult for him, and he is thus vulnerable. In a way, his drive throughout this episode mirrors Annie's in "English as a Second Language." Both of their drives are to keep the study group together because they are afraid they'll fall apart otherwise.

We then proceed to a musical duet between Mr. Rad and Abed, which continues to highlight the eccentricities of Glee (how DOES the piano keep playing the song? Why is everything cooler when cameras are spinning?), and ends with Abed telling the choir director that he will recruit his friends for the pageant. Excelsior! In his apartment, Abed manages to convince Troy to join forces with him, and the two perform an awesome rap (I wondered if they'd ever have Donald actually rap on the show). One interesting and fun element to note is when Abed raps the line "If years were seasons," this awesome clock appears:

(Notice the clock spans significant episodes in the seasons? Brilliant show is brilliant)

The rap ends with Annie entering the room and realizing exactly what has happened. Rightfully so, the young woman backs out of the blanket fort in fear. This leaves us with Pierce, Annie, Britta, and Jeff as un-converted. However, this will soon change. As the study group enters their room, we are met with the second-greatest jab at Glee this episode. The study table has been removed, and choir risers have been put in its place. Elsewhere, across the room, OUR BEARDED ACCOMPANIST BRAD (it's not really Brad, the accompanist character in Glee) is at the piano. Hilariously, Pierce asks: "Can everyone else see him?" (Because Brad is typically joked at as being invisible and unimportant by Glee characters). Troy and Abed can't understand why the group is so against joining glee club. "Glee literally means...glee," Troy explains (which is also a nice callback to the musical show - if  you remember before season 1, FOX aired a few different "What is Glee?" commercials to promote the show). 

Troy and Abed interestingly target Pierce to join the group next. And it's intriguing how each member of the study group is lured, and who they are lured by. Let's take a rundown quickly:
  • Abed is lured by Mr. Rad, who appeals to his desire to unite his friends for fun during a dark semester
  • Troy is lured by Abed, who appeals to Troy's desire to do everything with his best friend
  • Pierce is lured by both Troy and Abed, who appeal to his vanity (and also I think to a desire to have fun with them - we've seen how Pierce is jealous this season of their friendship)
  • Annie is lured by Mr. Rad, Troy, and Abed, and she's practically cornered 
  • Jeff is lured by Annie, who appeals to his weakness for her
  • Shirley is lured by singing children, who appeal to her desire as a Christian to maintain the sanctity and truth of the season
  • Britta is lured by Jeff who... well, we don't really know how Jeff lured her. Potentially by assuring her that if he can be in glee club, so can she.
At any rate, once Pierce is lured, the next one to become converted is Annie. And the young woman uses her powers of seduction (or...well, we'll get to that) in order to lure Jeff into the club. She emerges in a little sexy outfit and Jeff's reaction is hilarious because his jaw pretty much drops and he sputters: "Whaaaaa?" Alison Brie then does a fantastic job at channeling Lea Michele-as-Rachel Berry (the inflections in her voice, and her gestures were spot-on), before she delves into what her idea of "sexy" is - a Betty Boop-esque number. It's hilarious because Annie's idea of seduction is to look and sound as young as possible (even though clearly Jeff thinks she's sexy because she's "an intelligent woman"), which then spirals completely into exaggeration (also a nice shout-out to the suspension of disbelief that Glee numbers often have). At the end of the performance, Annie hasn't actually managed to convince Jeff to join the glee club. So it begs the question: if that didn't convince him, what did? 

Everything about Shirley's luring is perfect. And when I say everything, I literally mean it. After Shirley is lured, that leaves Britta as the last man standing, so to speak. She still believes Jeff is glee-free, so she confronts him (and obviously he manages to convince her to join). Now, the only issue that I had with this episode was mentioned by @misssara11: Regionals never come before Sectionals in Glee. That is the one and only minute tidbit that I had issue with. We learn that Mr. Rad isn't satisfied with merely keeping the study group for the pageant - his intention is to keep them in glee club... forever. And it's then that Abed realizes he is definitely the sane one in this situation.

In order to save his friends and Christmas (again), Abed convinces Britta (who we all know cannot sing, and who he knows full well) to take over his role in the pageant and sing whatever is in her heart. And I love that this year everyone has been sparing Britta's feelings, but at the same time acknowledging that she's the worst. Jeff didn't tell her in "Horror Fiction and Seven Spooky Steps" what "to Britta" something actually meant, just like Abed didn't tell her that he really wanted her to perform because she'd ruin the pageant. It's funny because in a weird way it's No one is allowed to pick on your sibling but YOU. And no one is allowed to call Britta "the worst" except for the study group.

Since Britta cannot sing, she manages to ruin the pageant and cause Mr. Rad to become enraged. This leads to a startling confession - he is responsible for murdering the first glee club! Gasp! In a hilarious attempt to evade everyone, he points into the distance and exlaims: "Look! Kings of Leon!" which is literally the best Glee jab in the history of Glee jabs. (And if you didn't catch the reference, here's the story behind it). So put that in your juice box, and suck it, Ryan Murphy.

Abed, disappointed with how the episode ended dark even though all of his intentions were for it to end otherwise, genuinely shows emotion at the end of the episode. This is terrific nuanced acting from Danny Pudi because normally, as Abed, he has to be very precise and meticulous in his facial expressions. But he softened his expressions a lot for that scene, and it made the audience (and the study group) realize that Abed is, indeed, human. But as Abed returns home to settle in - by himself - and watch the holiday episode of Inspector Spacetime we hear the soft singing of "The First Noel." It is heartwarming and precious that we end this Christmas episode with everyone together. It's also nice to mirror how sincere they are when singing "The First Noel" to Abed (as opposed to when they are performing at the pageant). Sometimes I feel like the study group realizes that they have one another to lean on, but never really comes to terms with what that means. They often get so caught up in their individual pairings or their small groups, or tangled in their intra-group issues that they forget to enjoy one another... to cherish one another. And the ending to this episode is perfect because it reminds them of this.

(Additionally, I cried. I can't help it.)

The episode ends with a little choir of children singing: "We'll see you all after Regionals." Which are when? Vaguely sometime in March or April? (And while the children's choir was sweet, it was also creepy because the last time I remember an episode ending with children singing was "Closing Time" in Doctor Who - and that clearly didn't end too well. I'm happy this one did!) And there's this nice parallel of the study group sitting in front of the television, much like we saw their reflections IN the television at the end of last year's Christmas episode. They're together, all together, and that's what makes it perfect.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- The end tag is FANTASTIC.
- "They're THIS CLOSE, Pierce."
- Taran Killam needs to return to the show. I'll bribe him. With everything.
- "That guy's like human fro-yo."
- "It's all a weird, happy, musical fog."
- "He is equal parts Hanson and Manson."
- "Glee is the answer when questions are wrong!"
- Joel (I knew from watching recent episodes of The Soup) shaved and got a haircut. Baby-face McHale is different. But applause, wardrobe department, for locating a green ensemble for him. Green is great.
- "Good point. Sing about it?" "NO!"
- "There's also Britta." "Britta's adooooooorable."
- "I realize the stakes aren't actually that high, but somehow that makes it extra scary."
- Although Jeff doesn't seem convinced at the end of Annie's performance, he does subtly check her out still. Just something to note.
- Apparently the study group already knew about Jeff seeing a shrink. I wonder how that happened.

All right, readers, now it's your turn. See that comments section below? Follow my Twitter? Then you get to dictate what episodes we watch over hiatus! (Or in the very least, dictate which ones you'd like me to write about). Every week, I'll select a few episodes, and you can choose which one you'd like to read about for the following week. For next week, your choices are as follows:

  • 1x01 - "Pilot"
  • 1x04 - "Social Psychology"
  • 1x06 - "Football, Feminsim, and You"
Drop me a tweet, a DM, or a comment and let me know which one you'd like to read first! (Chances are I will end up doing them all at some point). Thank you ALL for being amazing readers, and even more amazing Community fans! We'll get through this hiatus together. :) Until next week, then!


  1. I think we will see Mr. Rad return. The study group has been accumulating enemies throughout the season: Annie Kim, Todd, Vice-Dean Laybourne, Professor Kane, and of course their evil counterpart's from Troy's timeline. :-) I think we'll see many of these new characters (well, not the evil counterparts) return to make life hard for the study group.

    Also, I mentioned this on Twitter last night, but the clock really reminds me a lot of Harmon's storytelling embryoes (as discussed in this Wired article. If you look at that clock as an embryo describing one overarching story spanning four seasons, then we're precisely at the sixth step: "pay a heavy price for it." That fits nicely with Jeff's observation that it's been a dark semester, the accumulation of enemies, and the recurring motif of alternative, evil versions of themselves. Not to mention the hiatus. In fact, it almost makes me wonder if the hiatus is in fact a weird storytelling gimmick.

  2. My first law school exam is on Wednesday. But, I just found your blog. Thanks for such detailed and insightful recaps of my favorite show (and, more importantly, for a wonderful way to procrastinate)! Six seasons and a movie!

  3. I adore this recap, mostly because it's making me want to watch this episode again.

    I fully agree that Shirley's luring was absolutely perfect and I am still stunned at what a wonderful singer Yvette is. And the way Chevy played that scene as Pierce was so understated and really quite wonderfully genuine. I want me a Pierce to keep!

    As for how Jeff was enticed I honestly think it was something entirely non-sexual in the end that did it - but I can't wait to see if we'll find out.

    I think my favourite part of the episode was the Abed/Troy rap - I didn't catch any of the spoiler tid-bits that came out before the show aired so that was such a great surprise. Troy is my absolute favourite.

    Thank you for taking the time to recap this for us all :)

  4. Your episode reviews are fantastic. I'm going to make them either my 1st or 2nd stop in reading about this brilliant series, depending on how quickly Alan Sepinwall posts to

  5. @John - You know, I hadn't really thought about the idea of the study group accumulating enemies before, but you're seriously right about that. I really like the idea that each study group member has an adversary that is outside of the study group. And I love that storytelling method that Harmon has constructed.

    @Greg - Thank you so much for reading! One of my good friends is in law school currently so I know how stressed she is about exams. I'm honored that you took time out of your schedule to read. :)

    @Avecia - The Troy and Abed rap had me dying of laughter. Still probably my favorite musical moment from the episode (save for the ending). I do really love everything about the methods by which the group was enticed. I definitely think it speaks to their individual characters. Thank you for reading!

    @Ben - Seriously honored that you put me in the same category as Sepinwall! Thank you for reading and I hope that you enjoy. :)

  6. When Jeff turned around to Britta (the last holdout) and starting to sing, it reminded me of the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers from the '70s (with Donald Sutherland). At one point, a survivor approaches another in the open and appeals for sanctuary. The other person turns around, points at the first and gives out an alien scream used by the pod people in the movie.

    Which fits in the slow conversion going from one other another where each becomes gleeful and a pod person.