(Spoilers lurk below.)
This episode had a lot going for it: a strong theme, a wonderfully silly parody of classic Christmas specials, good character interaction, a brilliant use of Sue as the good guy, and it was even built on a lot of continuity from previous episodes. Despite all that, it was decidedly disappointing.
While most previous episodes this season have had a pretty big mishmash of plots and subplots, this one actually only had one overarching plot… there were just a whole lot of things going on with it. I like the conflict they set up between genuinely helping the needy at Christmastime by singing for the homeless versus seeking fame by “commercializing” their skills and producing a television special. What really allows Sue to be the good guy here (when it’s usually almost impossible to buy that) is that it’s somewhat believable that Sue would want to help the less fortunate because her sister was definitely among their number (we’ll try to ignore that Sue basically robbed the less fortunate last Christmas), and the glee kids are naturally really excited about the prospect of being on TV- excited enough that they forget what Christmas is really about.
This plotline starts strong, but begins breaking down very early. There’s no discussion among the club as a whole about whether they should perform at the homeless shelter or do the PBS special. In fact, there’s not even a scene where the club as a whole agrees to the homeless shelter performance. Sue hashes that out with only three of them: Wheels, Porcelain, and Other Gay (incidentally, I found Sue’s revolving nicknames for the club members pretty funny this time around, and I loved that Blaine actually seems happy with being called “Young Burt Reynolds”). Will, if no one else, should have insisted that they have a real discussion about what they want to do as soon as the conflict arose. This is doubly true since Will ought to be trying to mend fences with Sue as best as possible.
The plotline continues to break down as it introduces the individual character morals within the general theme. Rachel is portrayed as extremely materialistic, as she hands Finn a list of gift ideas for her, telling him to choose five. She mocks his attempt at giving her a “donation has been made in your name” type of gift, completely ignoring the fact that Finn simply doesn’t have a lot of money. This is early-first-season Rachel here in that she’s so completely blind to the feelings of others, but the materialism thing itself just came out of nowhere. Meanwhile, Sam tries to treat Rory to a real American Christmas by inviting him to spend it with his family, and feels betrayed when Rory doesn’t join him in ditching the TV special to do charity work (keep in mind that Rory and Sam just met). Quinn somehow also gets thrown in with the crowd that protests the TV special to do charity work, although I don’t remember her having a real defining moment in which she makes that decision. The problem here is the same one that Glee suffered with throughout season one: characters are acting out of character, in service of the plot. It’s funny, too, because so much of this episode is built on continuity. There are references to Sue’s sister, the previous Christmas episode, Artie’s directing ambitions, Rory’s loneliness, Sam’s poverty, Quinn’s insanity. Yet, the characters in this episode exist separately from the rest of the series, acting the way they act solely for the benefit of this plotline. The same kids who dropped their nationals preparation to help Sue deal with her sister’s death in “Funeral” would not so cavalierly blow her off. The same Rachel who cared enough about Quinn and Sam in “Duets” to throw a competition in favor of them would not be completely oblivious to her boyfriend’s problems. Sam and Rory have scarcely had enough time in the same series to be friends at all, let alone so close that Sam would feel offended and betrayed that Rory decides to go be on TV rather than go ring bells with him. I would actually be willing to believe the motivations of Sam and Quinn in protesting the TV special, if their concerns had had greater focus. I also don’t think that we needed the added drama of Rachel’s materialism and Rory’s betrayal of Sam. Both of those could have been dropped, and would have helped the episode a lot.
The theme of the episode has to do with commercialization versus genuine human kindness at Christmastime, the same theme as the far superior Charlie Brown Christmas (lampshaded as Rory reads the same Bible verses that Linus recites). That’s a fine theme, but it’s hamstrung in this episode by two things. One is that so little screen time is committed to it. It’s hard enough developing a plot in an episode of Glee when they usually have five or six musical numbers (which is why I argue that musical numbers should advance the plot), but this episode devotes two entire acts to the PBS Christmas special. There’s no way that the A plot could recover from that kind of theft of screen time. It just feels underdeveloped. The second thing that hurt the theme was the resolution. The glee kids are able to have their cake and eat it too, as they both do the TV special and show up at the homeless shelter just in time to do a song. That completely betrays the theme as there was no choice to make. Rory is apparently inspired by Sam to change his own lines from a recitation of “Frosty the Snowman” with a reading of some Bible verses. This, in turn, manages to convince Rachel that she should be satisfied with what she has and give to the poor. That’s just too easy a resolution.
That brings us to the kids’ TV special itself. It represents two acts during which the plot just stops cold, so it has to do a lot to justify itself. It starts out extremely strongly. The set is a gorgeous representation of a house set from the 50s-60s. The choice to have Blaine and Kurt as the “hosts” of the special was brilliant because it serves both as a throwback to the old TV specials that broke the fourth wall by having hosts of this sort, while at the same time it feels modern because our hosts are a gay couple. In the style of the parody, however, Kurt introduces Blaine as his “…friend,” and they describe their chalet as a “bachelor pad,” a descriptor that may have never been applied to a chalet before. Blaine and Kurt’s performance of “Let it Snow” was very entertaining and a great way to start, but it went on a little too long… which serves as a theme for the rest of the special. Most of the special consists of style parodies of TV from the 50s and 60s, mostly aimed at lame jokes, the studio audience laugh, and fourth wall breaks. This works for a while, but as the special goes on it loses its appeal. It’s essentially the same joke over and over again: “it’s the Glee kids but in a TV special from the 50s! Isn’t that funny!” Shortening this bit to a single act at most would have improved it a lot.
The references to the Star Wars Holiday Special were lazy. It’s like they thought it was enough to reference it without writing any jokes. That show has been referenced and made fun of so many times that you have to bring something new to the table if you’re going to use it, and I don’t think that shoehorning it into a 50s-60s-style Christmas special is enough. It actually hurt my enjoyment of the main parody.
All that said, this episode was meant to be kind of a fluffy, light interlude after all the heaviness of last week, which resolved a lot of ongoing plot points. That doesn’t mean its sins are forgiven, but I get the feeling that they weren’t trying as hard as they might have with this episode because of that attitude.
There was one really nice character moment here when Sam and Quinn are at the soup kitchen and briefly discuss what Quinn went through this season and how she’s recovering
The funniest joke of the episode was the callback to Artie’s gift last Christmas, as Tina refers to it as “magic legs that broke the next day,” which serves to lampshade the fact that we never saw the ReWalk again.
Question of the week: what happened to Shelby and the Troubletones? Neither was mentioned. For that matter, Sugar was not in this episode.
The music was average for the most part. The highlight was most likely the opening number, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” but I also loved it because it was good seeing the reunited glee club all having fun together. “Let it Snow,” despite going a little long, is a close second. I also enjoyed Rory’s performance of “Blue Christmas” (though he is no Elvis), and after this and his performance of “Bein’ Green” I wonder if maybe they’re going for a theme of “colors” with him. I would also like to note that “My Favorite Things” was previously sung by Lea Michele, though not in character as Rachel, as part of an advertising campaign for Dove shampoo… and it was done better there.