If you’re reading this, you’re a fan of Community. You know it likes to be imaginative. We’ve had an action genre episode. A Goodfellas homage. A canon zombie apocalypse. A KFC-themed space simulator. But this episode takes it to a completely different level. These theme episodes are pretty dangerous; for most people they seem to fall in the “amazing” or “bad” camp. But somehow, creating a stop-motion episode was one of the smallest risks they’ve taken. Hear me out.
The episode starts in the cafeteria, in stop motion animation from the get-go. Naturally, that causes conflict. It isn’t normal. But it is fun. Stop motion is one of those classically nostalgic mediums. We all have a favorite stop motion piece, and they’re a very special niche in our pop culture. To me that’s always been because the animation straddles this line between tangible and cartoony that allows it to be both extremely emotional and very relatable.
The attempt to bring Abed out of his delusion only pushes him farther into it, as the journey to find the meaning of Christmas begins a “Wonka-style” journey. This eclectic mix of cartoons and reality is perfect here because the consequences to the characters aren’t seen as harmful physically, but they can still be very emotionally impacting. The sequence succeeds in pointing out the flaws in Jeff, Shirley, Duncan, and Britta. Abed’s own withdrawal from his pain draws out those of his friends, and we can’t help but feel the hurt (especially during the Britta Bot song). The episode gets darker and darker as the group realizes the only way to get Abed through this is to guide him within, not try to pull him out. Abed’s psychological break is almost frightening, and framing it in animation visualizes it and makes it all the more enthralling.
But the most crucial moment for the animation style is the climax of the episode. When Abed gets to his darkest place, when he thinks he has no one left to be with for Christmas, the gang comes in guns blazing and sings a carol to push him out to the other side. Now, Community has proven it can do dark and funny episodes without clay (or silicon something something, I heard you Abed). Last weeks episode was proof enough of that. But in a normal episode, a smaller gesture would have been a significant enough group moment to serve as a climax. This episode enables the full-on face-melting musical number that had me crying and laughing. It’s a grander ending that couldn’t work in many other contexts. But the claymation causes it to remain tactile. It’s what makes this episode such a surefire hit: it both tops the homage levels of previous episodes while remaining just as relatable (if not more) than those episodes, all thanks to the place stop motion has in our pop culture.
“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” captures the classic sentimentality of traditional stop motion and sticks it in a very real and surprisingly dark situation with the characters we know and love. It’s both a successful homage and a touching and chuckle-filled episode of Community. An instant Christmas classic.
- I tried to look for Snowman Chang during the scenes because I heard he popped up a lot, but after I caught this one I got too wrapped up in the episode. 🙂
- “You really expect me to tarnish the high five for that?”
- The title sequence only gets better each time I watch it. So so so so good.
- “Its atmosphere is 7% cinnamon.”
- “Get what I did with the word ‘presents’?”
- “Will it cost a lot to walk through here?” “No no, it’s public domain.”
- “And Jehovah Witness Bay!” “Thanks for adding that man.”
- “Can you two commit to something for a change?!” “Let’s sing it.” “Yeah. Let’s sing.“
- And now after the quotes I’d like to put one last serious comment: I’ve seen some people point out some discrepancies with the delusion versus the real world. For instance, the note from Abed’s mom is very harsh, and not something you’d expect from a real mother. I’m beginning to think that some of the dialogue is semi-imagined. For instance, I bet the reading of the card was just how Abed interpreted it. That starts the dangerous path of trying to guess at what else might be imagined, but I’m going to try and just think that that’s the only imagined dialogue. Then we can also say that stuff like the intense wind and crunch of the snow were imagined, but the rest was real.