Considering how many Glee jabs Community has thrown in over the years, it’s equally heartbreaking and ironic that the final episode before its open-ended hiatus is Glee-tinged. And it treats the source material in a very Community way, mocking the mega FOX hit from a meta distance, yet embracing a lot of what makes Glee appealing to large audience.
When Annie dons a slutty Santa costume and prances around for Jeff in a naughty schoolgirl way, it feels partially like a mockery of the odd way Glee has of sexualizing its characters, but it’s also a way for Dan Harmon to provide some GIF-ready scenes that bring out the worst in fanboy objectivism of Community’s women (and I’m not just talking about boners). Yet when Abed finally convinces Troy to sing for himself, Donald Glover busts out a fantastic free-flowing Childish Gambino rap. When “Regional Holiday Music” isn’t targeting the world of Glee — like the numerous vague references to “regionals” — it’s celebrating its own.
Everyone gets their chance in the spotlight, too. The episode begins with the collapse of Greendale’s glee club — well, after the Human Being makes an appearance, decked out in icicles like a tuberculosis-infested lion. In the midst of singing their fifth-or-so mash-up, Jeff arranges for the group to be slapped with a copyright infringement suit, quashing their dreams of regionals. The members, which include The Apple Sisters’ Kimmy Gatewood, scream; one stabs himself in the hand with a fork. Long story short, the head of the glee club and human fro-yo himself Mr. Rad (SNL's Taran Killam) wants the study group to step up and represent Greendale at regionals. There’s nothing more important to him than seeing his vision of a reggae “Frosty the Snow, Mon” come to life, other than yelling at singers, and this is the only chance he’s got. The study group is completely against the idea, choosing to avoid super-perky activities in favor of watching the Inspector Spacetime Christmas special quietly. Well, that’s the other thing that acts as the undercurrent for the episode: Abed wants to spend his Christmas watching some great (though it turns out actually terrible) TV with his friends, and they all have plans.
Maybe Mr. Rad had a sneaking suspicion Abed was the weakest domino and would be the first to fall. He goes after him first, luring him with a piano melody and piquing his curiosity until Abed has no choice but to sing himself and comment on the shooting structure Glee uses for its songs. “Everything is cooler when cameras are spinning,” he sings — and he’s right, especially when it’s Abed doing the spinning. Next comes Troy’s song, the aforementioned doped-out rap video in which Glover demonstrates his prowess with verbal barrages. It’s also the only one of the songs that takes place in a fantasy world, not under the guise of people actually singing in a grounded place (though Annie does walk in on the boys and notice them speaking into flashlights, and they weren’t even in the dreamatorium). Glee goes back and forth with this, too, so it’s nice to see even the little touches made their way into the episode.
The recruitment strategies become downright creepy and manipulative after this. Abed and Troy put on a little show for Pierce, donning humongous Afros and hiring a guy who looks exactly like the Glee piano dude to mysteriously show up in the study room for accompaniment. Abed and Pierce lure Annie off to the side, with Troy waiting behind the door to remind her that the stakes aren’t just high, they’re extra high. Then Annie puts on her baby-talk routine for Jeff (she’s like “sexy baby” from 30 Rock) while Pierce sets a trap for Shirley, hiring a kids’ choir to sing about not knowing the true meaning of Christmas, and wouldn’t it be nice if someone in the vicinity would simply belt out the name of our Lord and savior. The group doesn’t really need Britta — Mr. Rad wants her merely to play a tree, after all — but one look at Jeff’s maniacal smile and overzealously colored sweater, and she’s covering herself in twigs.
Of course, what would a Glee-themed episode of Community be without someone singing a song where the words are located deep within a bodily organ? Once Abed realizes Mr. Rad wants the group to sign on for the long haul — not just regionals, but all the subcategories of regionals — he switches places with Britta and tells her to sing whatever song is in her heart. And as it turns out, it’s not really a song, just a lot of shouting and a few renditions of “Me so Christmas.” Mr. Rad is furious (“You are the worst!”), but the entire school now sees him as the megalomaniacal asshole he really is. Even the Dean, who once followed the man like a lapdog, is now ashamed that he trusted him enough to let him captain a magic carpet in a dream he had last night. The glee club is dead once and for all, and the gang can now gather in Abed’s apartment, watching the terrible Inspector Spacetime Christmas special, in peace.
I’m trying not to think of this as the end of Community, but if it is, it’s a nice way to end. Community finally gets its revenge on a show that’s seemingly only popular because it’s popular, and the last shot is that of the entire study group happy simply to be around each other. It doesn’t matter that they’re watching something terrible; hell, it doesn’t even really matter what they’re watching at all. It only matters that they’re together — and that us fans of the show have been there, too.