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Glee Recap: Christmas, Now With Less Death

This will be relevant in a second, I swear: I’ve been on a massive Doctor Who kick lately. And I’ve found myself comparing it to Glee more often than not. To be fair, I compare Glee to most every other show on television at one point or another, mainly because I think about it on a daily, constant, obsessive basis — we all have crosses to bear, and this is mine. I’ve been trying to suss out how a show about a time-traveling alien could possibly feel more realistic than a show about a high school choir and young artists in New York. Sure, Doctor Who frequently changes its rules, drops story lines, and jumps between crawling and sprinting. It’s very, very pretend, but it isn’t trying not to be. The parameters of the story — to say nothing of the planet and the year — are always shifting. But it’s always about a man who travels through space and time, trying to rescue people and getting by with help from his friends.

Glee never claimed to be a straight-up drama; even though it frequently lapses into that territory (or tries to), it started out as a dark comedy with farcical elements from the first episode onward. But it used to be hemmed in (in a good way) by the premise of a show choir of underdogs trying to make good and by the continued emotional arcs of its core characters. That organizing structure and commitment to emotional realism and character development are long gone. Hell, we don’t even know what month it is. Or what happened to some of last season’s major plot points. Ryder’s vow to quit the Glee club after Unique catfished him is maybe the most egregious example, but there are certainly others.

I’m not saying Glee can’t be fanciful — the musical numbers alone require a huge suspension of disbelief. But it has to care about the stories it’s telling us, and it has to provide some sort of grounding core. When the show that sometimes has dinosaurs on spaceships feels more real than the show with its feet planted on Earth, real Earth, our Earth, something has gone terribly wrong.

But on to last night’s episode!

Jane Lynch (as herself) opens the episode by explaining that this is actually last year’s Christmas special, unaired because of objectionable content. Unfortunately, this introduction didn’t help large swaths of the Internet realize that the episode was actually set in 2012, when Kurt and Blaine were still broken up. The confusion led to some real ire from fans later in the episode, when Kurt gets a ball gag stuffed in his mouth by a hot, bisexual Santa. But we’ll get to that.

My main problem with the prologue is how it kicks down the fourth wall for the sole purpose of trolling the audience. Winking at an audience is fine — a successful example I can think of off the top of my head is The Office’s Michael Scott asking the documentary crew during his final episode to call him if the footage ever airs, a nod to the fact that the show had gone seven years without ever explaining why the folks at Dunder Mifflin were being filmed.

But there’s a difference between a rare aside like that and an entire prologue that rolls its eyes at common fan criticisms: perceived censorship by Fox of gay sex and kissing (I think last night’s episode proved that Fox doesn’t care who does whom, but that doesn’t negate the outrage of many Klaine and Brittana shippers) and Glee’s total disinterest in maintaining character continuity or resolving its story arcs, among others. It’s ongoing throughout the episode. The show acknowledges that the Living Nativity and decorating contest are basically total farces, points out plot holes as if they’re punch lines, drops characterizations on its head, and makes sure you know they know what they’re doing. It’s not accidental. And it’s not a well-placed disruption or two anymore — it’s a steady stream of what feels an awful lot like contempt for the audience. But hey, there’s 100 percent less prostate cancer, fake teen marriage, and child death than last year’s Christmas episode, and because this is Glee, we’re grading on a curve.

Plus, I actually found myself charmed by the opening number (even though it was buried twelve minutes into the episode) sung by Kurt, Santana, and Rachel, in full-on sexy elf gear. It was probably Kurt playing the child-size toy piano that won me over, but any rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” that can make me overlook the lyric “Santa knows that we’re God’s children” is pretty remarkable. The three of them are mall elves (although Santana takes a brief, funny crack at playing Mrs. Claus) for the holiday season, which seems to primarily involve having Orange Juliuses thrown at them by entitled children and covering for their drunk co-worker (who happens to be Santa). Sounds about right for Manhattan at Christmas. 

It’s here that Kurt, Rachel, and Santana meet Cody, a full-time sexy Santa and part-time robber. Kurt, retroactively single and apparently very down to mingle, invites him back to the loft, grinds up on him as they sing “Christmas Don’t Be Late” (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type), and ends up making out with him. Rachel and Santana pass out from overly cooking-sherry-ed eggnog, and when they wake up, they find Kurt in his room, gagged, shirtless, and tied up with Santa suspenders. Like this. I think it’s safe to say that this will be the GIF that launched a thousand fan fictions. Seeing Kurt portrayed as something other than elderly or prudish is always a win in my book, and I hope it happens more often. Ideally with Blaine, but this is Glee. “Beggars can’t be choosers” is basically the tagline.

Back in Lima, plans for the “annual” classroom decorating contest are under way, led by Tina and Sam — poor Tina, who only gets to lead in the imaginary version of Christmas, but never when it’s real and matters. It will never be easy to be Tina Cohen-Chang. The most exciting part of the contest is that it gives the New Directions kids the opportunity to perform their first entirely hummed number! I’m not sure why I was so excited about this — certainly more excited than I’ve been about manufactured or overhyped numbers like the 500th —  but consider this my official call for more humming in 2014. Or maybe even kazoos. I would also accept a number in which the New Directions temporarily became a recorder choir. (Why Glee has failed to take advantage of any of my million-dollar ideas thus far is beyond me.) And all that humming pays off: The New Directions win!

Meanwhile, Becky is stomping around, yelling about how horny she is. Here is a direct quote from last year’s Christmas recap: “I can’t decide if this is more problematic for its misogyny or for its lack of sensitivity toward people with disabilities. This is a dilemma I often have while watching Glee.”

(Then I cried at a Macy’s commercial.)

The decorating contest isn’t the only thing keeping the McKinley kids busy: there’s also a Living Nativity pageant, just as there is at every American public school each year. There’s a contest to see which girl gets to play Mary, which makes sense, since that’s literally the only good part in Christmas plays, and since Mary competition is notoriously cutthroat. (Seriously.) Mr. Schue cheerfully announces, “I’m happy to help you judge your potential virgins.” Tina, Marley, and Unique launch into “Mary’s Boy Child. Points for using a lesser-known carol, although I guess Glee is well and truly almost out of Christmas songs to choose from. Their performance leads to the following sequence of events:

Girls: [Remove top layer of clothing.]

Mr. Schue: [APPLAUDS.]

Just when I think it’s impossible, you out-creep yourself, Mr. Schue. Mazel tov. Anyway, then everyone sings “Away in the Manger,” which is so Jesus-y it includes a verse specifically asking the Lord into your heart and stuff so, yeah, that doesn’t feel out of place on secular television at all.

And that’s it for Christmas — and for the first half of the season. Glee’s winter hiatus is a long one this year; the show won’t be back until February 25, when it returns to its old Tuesday time slot. Will a return to 8 p.m. mean fewer ball gags and fisting jokes? Will there ever be a Nationals? Only time will tell. I’ll wait for the show’s return like I always do, with a mixture of morbid curiosity, resignation, and, improbably, hope. See you in February, Glee. Bring it on.

Photo: FOX