Now that we're entering the Dark Timeline, when Community goes off-air for an unspecified amount of time, it's a relief that the series managed to go out living up to high expectations that its previous Christmas episodes have set. 'Regional Holiday Music', a Glee-savaging musical, might even have won the series a few more fans for one of its more accessible, but no less incisive, parodies of recent weeks.
Last week's episode stuck fairly closely to sitcom convention, earning a huge number of laughs along the way but sacrificing some of the unpredictability that makes Community at once so much fun but also so alienating to the masses. This episode found a solid middle ground between the two, softening its more subversive traits by picking on a target that most audiences will be familiar with and probably enjoy seeing skewered.
The series has taken aim at Glee before (the song and dance number in the season premiere springs to mind), but only in single gags. Mocking something that already claims to be mocking itself is a difficult task, but what made 'Regional Holiday Music' work was its suggestions that while Glee may claim to be a parody of itself, it is really just using that claim as an excuse to do the same things that every other high school musical gets criticised for: garishly broad emotional beats, ridiculous double standards (pretending to stand for the individual whilst happily mocking people for their weight, for example) and lazily rehashing popular music rather than doing anything original.
The original songs performed on 'Regional Holiday Music' turned out to not only be very funny - especially Alison Brie's reprisal of her infamous 'Christmas Idol' Hailey persona in an inspired deconstruction of super-demeaning, super-sexualised Christmas songs - but also pretty catchy and gamely performed by the cast. Donald Glover took the opportunity to bring his Childish Gambino rapping persona to the series (in more family-friendly form) with Danny Pudi as sidekick, while Yvette Nicole Brown once again got to show what a strong vocalist she is after shining on last year's claymation Christmas special. Just a shame she didn't get to do it for longer. While Joel McHale was left reacting, Chevy Chase's Pierce and Gillian Jacobs' Britta got numbers that played on how lousy their voices are.
What made the episode extra nice was how perfect an opportunity it provided to hang out with the entire gang for one last time before the hiatus begins. Most episodes forefront a handful of cast members and leave the others twiddling their thumbs, yet everyone got a chance to show off here. Annie's song will provide plenty of .gifs for the internet to warm itself to during the long, cold Community-free months ahead, while Britta ruined Mr. Rad's plans in a way only she could, simultaneously destroying the old 'sing from the heart' cliché (turns out it doesn't make up for lack of talent after all) and emphasizing that while the study group like being able to call Britta the worst, they're less happy when an outsider affronts their friend in the same way. Gillian Jacobs' awkward dance in a body-tight catsuit will also no doubt inspire plenty of internet attention, although probably not for all the same reasons as Brie.
Shirley's Christianity was once again made into a joke, although at least this time it was a strong one, which Yvette Nicole Brown played brilliantly as her character was led into temptation. The same goes for Pierce, whose reactions to the 'Baby Boomer' song were delightfully over-the-top. Only Jeff, the only character not to get a dedicated musical number, struggled to make his mark, but his takedown of the original Greendale Glee club was pretty terrific, as was his Donald Sutherland scream moment. (From a certain perspective, this whole episode could have been a play on the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers concept just as much as Glee). 'Regional Holiday Music' hit all the right notes as a Christmas episode, a Glee parody, and another sensational episode of a programme that will be sorely missed during its absence over the months ahead.
PARKS & RECREATION
At least we can rest safely knowing that Parks isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future. If 'Citizen Knope' is anything to go by, it may even be on the up, as this was comfortably the best episode of the season and one which balanced the series' most enduring qualities - cynicism-free sincerity and wonderfully absurd character humour - in a way which has proven a struggle in its third year. There have been some hysterical episodes and some heart-warming ones, but disappointingly few have hit both of those marks at the same time. While 'Citizen Knope' might not have hit the ridiculously high standard of last season's near-perfect April And Andy's Fancy Party, coming in second to that sort of competition is nevertheless quite an achievement.
One notable improvement was Rashida Jones' Ann Perkins being given something useful to do for a change: corralling the Parks Department employees into devising the greatest ever Christmas present for their absent leader, who had once again distinguished herself with a set of gifts perfectly tailored to each recipient. It is telling that Ann was the only character whose present we didn't see: compared to the vivid personalities crashing around the P&R offices, Ann's character development more or less began and ended as 'Leslie's best friend'.
It is the series' one major oversight, leaving a talent like Rashida Jones hanging around in the background of episodes or being made the butt of jokes because her lack of tangible character traits (other than being beautiful - how adorable was Jones' reaction to seeing once again how much Leslie loved Ann?) makes her a perfect, if slightly uncomfortable, punching bag. For a programme whose central appeal is how affectionate it is, putting anyone in that position feels like a minor betrayal of its ethos. Having her be the group's inspiring force was the most pro-active and engaging use of the character in some time, at least since she went on her singles dating spree last season.
As was the case with Community, the episode was a terrific showcase for the entire cast. Understandably, given the size of the ensemble, few of them got much extended screentime (further limited by how much was going on around Leslie, which should come as no surprise), but each moment they did have was sensationally utilised. The sequence in which Ann handed out Leslie's presents was a wonderful example: the camera jumped between each character as they opened their gifts, with both the object and the characters' reactions getting big laughs specific to their distinct personalities, especially April's painting of her slaying the Black Eye Peas ("It's a Christmas miracle") and Ron's remote control for closing his office doors. Jerry, of course, was just delighted with his beige socks.
Outside the P&R offices, Ben was on the hunt for employment, providing yet another opportunity to see the kind of insanity that seems to permeate Pawnee's every level of infrastructure. Adam Scott's Sahara-dry reactions become funnier in direct correlation to the absurdity of the scenarios he is thrown into (his lunch in 'Born And Raised' with Ben and a very drunk, very horny television hostess remains the funniest televised set-piece of any programme this season) and his interviews for a new job escalated in glorious lunacy, from the accounting firm so boring that his incredibly stupid joke (Calc-you-later!) became the tragic pinnacle of office humour, to the terrifying executive who hunted man for sport in his spare time.
His later encounter with Jean-Ralphio was a treat, pitting the most outlandish character against the most restrained and somehow ending up with the latter learning something from the former. Their chance encounter also led to the magnificent post-credits sequence, in which Jean-Ralphio was employed and fired within a minute by the accounting firm that Ben had rejected, all in a single-shot, walk-and-talk tour of the offices.
Despite being at the centre of so much of the episode's humour, Leslie was the least well served in terms of laughs. The cold open was her finest moment, sneaking back into her office to download work to do whilst serving her suspension and being caught by Chris, but even then she was comedically overshadowed by Chris' bumbleflex-inspired leap over a fallen chair. Her invention of a new spice (salgar) was a nice idea that didn't go anywhere, while her formation of a civil action group was a little too familiar a conceit in terms of the character going over-the-top in her dedication to her duties.
In truth, while more Amy Poehler is never a bad thing, she didn't have much to offer the episode other than what her character inspired in others. Considering that what she inspired were some of the best gags of the season, that's hardly a bad thing though, as well as being appropriate to an episode where the people around her realised it was time to return a little of all she had given them. 'Citizen Leslie' might not have embraced the Christmas aesthetics as thoroughly as many other series' have before going on their break until the New Year, but it had the seasonal spirit of generosity and goodwill it in spades.
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