Glee, “A Very Glee Christmas”

If there’s any series that should be able to integrate the overwhelming joy that is supposed to come from Christmas specials, it’s Glee. The combination just seems so obvious, which is perhaps why I can’t really say that I’ll be too critical of this episode. But at the same time, there needs to be some kind of effort and for most of “A Very Glee Christmas, the plot explores the exact beats I expected it to. And really, I think that’s where I come down on the episode as a whole — it is exactly what I expected it to be.

“A Very Glee Christmas” is overly mushy, sometimes unbelievably silly, but still kind of charming. I mean YOU CAN’T DENY IT.

Before I discuss the episode itself, there’s an issue I feel like is probably pertinent to address, at least in some capacity, one that I thought more people would be talking about, but apparently I just save the series way too much credit in the first place. I understand the desire in wanting to do a Christmas episode and a Christmas album if you’re the Glee folk. Like I said in the opening paragraph, it’s a sure-fire win. However, for a series that continuously preaches inclusion and tries to present itself as a safe space for everyone, no matter their look, style or beliefs, isn’t just a little weird that this episode more or less glosses over the fact that New Directions has at least three Jewish members?

I’m not saying I wanted the whole episode to focus on a weird tension between Puck, Rachel and Tina and the rest of the group, but it just seemed odd to me that aside from one throwaway line from Rachel about not giving gifts, this was not an issue. It apparently didn’t matter for Puck or Tina that Will had no interest in celebrating their beliefs or ideals. You’re telling me they couldn’t have done a fun little runner with Puck trying to keep up the spirit of Hanukkah in some way?

And in the end, I think the reason this episode doesn’t touch the beliefs of a few members of the glee club because even though it continuously reminds us about the Christmas spirit, it doesn’t seemed particularly interested in relating the Christmas spirit to Christianity. Glee‘s view of Christmas is obviously more in-line with the pop culture view of the holiday that focuses on great looking trees, helping the needy and singing songs (well, the ones that don’t have any religious undercurrents).

I don’t know how to feel about this. I don’t think that Glee should be diving into a religious discussion during its Christmas episode like Community sort of did last year, but even on the surface, there’s no recognition of minority beliefs, and I find that problematic in a lot of ways. Glee is a series that does its work on the surfaces of issues and to more or less exclude or disregard the Jewish folks’ beliefs with a throwaway line seems like a poor decision.

But really, the episode’s inability to address that religious diversity is in-tune with the rest of the episode, which would rather continue to explore the overly sentimental and obvious moments that come along with pop culture images and ideas of Christmas. Of course Brittany believes in Santa Claus. Of course Sue would feel it necessary to rig Secret Santa so that she could keep all the presents for herself because she wasn’t given any gifts by her Nazi hunter mother as a child. And of course the glee club would try their damnedest to make sure these find sappy, heartwarming conclusions.

I don’t really blame this episode for exploring those moments, like I said, I expected them. Brittany believing in Santa had it’s moments, mostly in how it actually kind of made sense that her reasoning for believing was entrenched in her desire to remain optimistic about the world, but before long, it stopped being about Brittany and instead turned into an excuse for the series to present us sight gags — the group on a mall Santa’s lap, Coach Beiste dressed up as jolly Saint Nick — and an overly schmaltzy ending with a pathetic caveat that basically saw the episode trying to back away from the move as soon as they introduced it.

From the very second the episode introduced that Brittany wanted Artie to walk, I knew he would. And I dreaded the rest of the episode because I really didn’t want the episode to do something so stupid and cheap as if it served as some Christmas miracle. Even worse, the series went there, but then had Artie throw in a line about how he couldn’t use this overly-expensive contraption — apparently purchased by the billionaire Beiste — “all the time.” Which is code for he will never use it again, unless Glee feels like it wants to manipulate the audience.

I also suspected (and again, this isn’t me trying to be smart, just pointing out how obvious this episode is in execution) that Sue would serve as some sort of Grinch character, because that’s just how Glee roles. However, I didn’t suspect that Sue would literally paint herself green, have Becky dress up as that damn dog and ransack a room full of presents on their way to charity set to a song from the Grinch story. Yeah, this part of the episode had no room for subtly either, and more importantly, tried too hard to rely on the emotions people feel for other Christmas specials instead of creating their own memories. People love Glee, people love Christmas, and this episode should have been able to tap into something to create their own moment. Glee can do celebrations, just take a look at “Furt” for god’s sake.

This is why the only parts of this episode that really work are the ones that aren’t as obviously uplifting or manipulative. Glee kind of works best when it is exploring the tensions between the overtly bombastic covering up for the sadness underneath, and that’s why it’s nice to see that Christmas doesn’t make Finn forgive Rachel and especially nice that Christmas Will feels like crap because he’s been a terrible person for the last calendar year.

For whatever reason, I’m fully invested in Finn and Rachel as a couple, apparently more than most people, so although their little melodrama over the past few episodes has been kind of dumb, I still enjoy it. I love that Finn loves Christmas so much and Rachel’s attempts to woo him back using that love were a great example of how Rachel’s manipulative ways can be played as charming instead of as dreadful. I think the last handful of episodes have done a lot of heavy lifting in making Rachel a much more likable person after the crackhouse incident, something I had honestly totally forgotten until Austin Morris pointed it out to me on Twitter. God that was awful. But if there’s anything “A Very Glee Christmas” does right, it’s the exploration of how Christmas doesn’t fix everything between Rachel and Finn.

Moreover, after being so angry with his characterization for the first half-dozen episodes, Glee has also improved Will over the last few episodes as well. Instead of admitting that he’s messed up and then following up that statement with an even worse decision, he’s mostly just been doing the former part lately. He’s miserable and for the most part, it’s his own fault and this episode emphasizes that nicely by having Will try to throw himself into getting the gifts back from Sue. He has nothing else, he has no one to buy gifts for and even though no one does deserve to be alone, Will kind of needs to be.

Which, of course, is why the ending to this episode completely undercuts the few quality moments Will has here. He arrives home to his empty, dark apartment, ready to drink another beer. And at that moment, the episode should have ended. It would have emphasized that hey, sometimes you can have all the Christmas spirit you want, but the holiday doesn’t give it back to you. That would have been an impressive, maybe even somewhat ballsy moment for the series to end 2010 on.

But this is Glee and this is Christmas, so of course Sue stops being the Grinch and the whole glee club is there to help decorate Will’s tree. It’s supposed to be a heartwarming moment, but my cold, dark heart wanted something a little more challenging I guess.

But hey, this is a Glee Christmas episode. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be. I could criticize it all day, but I imagine this is exactly what most of the viewers wanted and you know what, good for them.

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