The best of “Community”: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
I figure I’ve already crossed the Rubicon with TV posts, so what the hell. How’sabout a new feature where I write about some of my favorite individual episodes of television? Warning: this will involve a lot of Community, X-Files, and Parks and Rec. In fact, let’s start with the first on that list, shall we?
Right now, no show consistently gives me as much pleasure to watch as “Community”. There are many reasons to love this show, and I’m among the many people hoping, pleading, praying for it to get at least one more season (let them graduate, dammit).
The very best episodes of Community are an unholy (holy?) mix of pop culture parody and touching, good-hearted fun. Much like its low-rated, NBC neighbor “Parks and Recreation”, “Community” has gotten better with age as each episode gives us a little bit more to love about its cast of characters.
At the heart of the show, I think, is Abed, which is why “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is my favorite episode.
On a lesser show, a character like Abed would be little more than a walking series of punchlines, a convenient generator of awkward situations. Indeed, Abed himself was a bit too much like this for comfort. But as the show continued, Abed became something more, the one character in the cast capable of being above the rest of the characters’ insecurities. His lack of social awareness allows him to keep everyone in check, and because he’s so damn sweet and sincere, it doesn’t become obnoxious.
But every once in a while, he has his own problems to face, and it makes perfect sense that his method of dealing with them would involve crafting an animated universe.
But the episode doesn’t skirt Abed’s emotional quandaries. The show, as a whole, has done a great job balancing the charming side of Abed’s social obliviousness with the genuine pratfalls that would be unavoidable. Awkward conversations have nothing on a 2o-something man having no ability to process his first Christmas without his mom.
And yes, it gets sappy. But sap is not inherently bad. It’s only bad when artists expect sappiness and sentimentality to carry an unworthy story. But when a set of characters like those in “Community” have endeared themselves to us as much as they have, they earn the right to tug some heartstrings.
And heartstrings it does tug. The expulsion of Britta showcases the sweetest and (inadvertently from his perspective) harshest aspects Abed’s personality; he spells out Britta’s insecurities in dealing with other people precisely. It would be brutal for anyone to hear this about themselves, and despite the stop-motion animation, the show lends the moment its due weight.
The episode ends on a perfect note: the characters standing by Abed, and then gathering around a TV to watch Christmas specials with him. Even the final shot is perfect, showing the reflections of the actors in the TV. It’s a subtle, beautiful reminder that nothing in this episode, canonically, was fake. This was how Abed deals with his emotions, and damn it, we’re along for the ride, willingly, to whole time.