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Community Recap: Frozen Memories

With his constant, fourth-wall-challenging commentary, meta-awareness, and occasional Robocop-vision, Abed has always been the most problematic of Community’s coterie of characters. For some of us — though clearly not all of us! — his reminders that this is all a fiction occasionally make it difficult to connect with the show’s rapid-fire insanity. In many ways, then, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” was directed right at respectful fence-sitters like us: If you don’t like the intermittent intrusion of Abed’s POV, it seemingly said, why not an entire episode from that pop-culture-soaked POV? Oh, and did we mention that it’s a Christmas episode, done entirely in stop-motion animation? You crazy for this one, @DanHarmon!

So, right: Like the memorable paintball and, er, discussion-starting zombie episodes, this was an All-In-er. And, as we’ve said, Community’s fear-free willingness to push all their comedy-chips into the center of the (study-room) table is to be commended. Like the genre digressions that have come before it, “Uncontrollable Christmas” nailed the little details: the nostalgia-tugging herky-jerk movements, those big, sad clay (we mean “silicone”) eyes, the inherent deliciousness of animated cookies. The premise — Abed wakes up and the world is stop-motion, thus convincing him that he must discover the true meaning of Christmas while everyone else thinks he’s nuts — was slightly strained. But it was consistent: The aforementioned Robocop vision, among other small cues, have convinced us that Abed sees the world very differently from the rest of the characters. What was challenging about this — and about last week’s still-tough-to-process Emo Episode — was the dramatic stakes injected into what could have been a harmlessly lighthearted fantasy, making it quite heavy-hearted in the process: Abed celebrating his entry into the world of his favorite Christmas specials by dancing on the hoods of cars ends with him getting tased. Jeff and Britta — quite rightly! — assume a psychotic break. The study group involves the wonderful (and woefully underused) Professor Ian Duncan (John Oliver, delightful with visions of Oliver Sacks–ian sales dancing in his head) and stages an intervention therapy/hypnosis session to help their friend.

“This isn’t going to be fun, easy, or safe,” Abed announces to his pals as they embark on a journey into his deluded, charming mind. Self-appointed “Christmas Wizard” Duncan tries to steer the gang to the Cave of Frozen Memories in hopes of discovering something both “fascinating and publishable.” But Abed hijacks his own inception, reimagining the gang in more animation-suitable garb (Jeff-in-the-Box, Brittabot, Shirley as a baby for some reason) and leading them past Planet Holly and Planet Jolly to the frozen tundra of Hoth Planet Abed, where the atmosphere is “7 percent cinnamon.” While the setup is out there, the jokes, at least, are aces: Jeff, unable to control himself, is devoured by a swarm of cynicism-starved Humbugs (“Wow, somewhere out there Tim Burton just got a boner,” he snarks before being reduced to bones). The singing path of Carol Canyon, while treacherous, isn’t expensive thanks to “public domain.” Oh, and there’s a remote control Christmas Pterodactyl that swoops into remove truculent non-believers.

One by one, Abed’s doubting friends are picked off and removed from his quixotic quest — some, like Britta, in particularly harsh ways. Between last week’s sad, drunken hookup and being serenaded by cartoon Abed as a “liar with fraying ends,” we’re starting to wonder if Harmon and Co. have it out for our favorite scold. (And, to be honest, a lot of our criticism of this episode comes from the fact that yet again we’re being told that being an adult is terrible — it sometimes is! — and that the only recourse is a one-way animated train ticket to Gloopy Town. Wait — what’s that noise? A swarm of humbugs!) After an extremely well-done confrontation on the train to the North Pole, Abed and an empty-bladdered Pierce make it to the end to discover the meaning of Christmas. And it’s a season-one boxed set of Lost. Abed: “It’s a metaphor. It represents lack of payoff.” Ya burnt, Lindelof!

But, to their credit, Harmon and co-writer Dino “Star-Burns” Stamatopolous push past the reference joke and go straight for the heart (of the island?). Every year Abed spent December 9 with his mother. This year she sent a card telling him she has a “new family” now and won’t be coming. “The meaning of Christmas is that Christmas has meaning,” Abed intones, getting his Chopra on. It used to be about his mom, now it’s about his friends. (The closing song allows it to have different meanings for different folks, including “two weeks of video games” for Troy.) And then the gang unloads their hallucinatory weapons (including Troy’s kick-ass candy-cane nunchackus) on Duncan. All is well.

And you know what? It kind of is. We’ve made peace with the fact that Community just might not broadcast on the frequency necessary to thaw our icy hearts (which were no doubt misplaced somewhere in the Cave of Frozen Peas — take it up with our therapist, a.k.a. Michael Jackson’s dad!). But this was another ballsy, pretty brilliantly constructed episode in a bravura season full of them. Credit the little glimpse of the real cast in the TV at the end, credit the self-destructing pterodactyl, or credit the eggnog we’ve been sipping all morning, but we’re perfectly happy to set our personal crazy trains to “Björk” and leave the rest of the jaded nitpicks to Jeff Winger. Happy holidays, Community fans. Here’s hoping you all enjoy your own delusion, er, we mean Christmas!

Photo: NBC