Season’s greetings, Greendale lovers! Christmas has come extremely early or extremely late, depending on how you look at it. Once again, due to the four-month delay engineered by the higher-ups at NBC who also brought Smash back for a second season (great job, guys), we are getting a woefully mis-timed holiday episode from the Greendale Seven. It really should also be called the Greendale Six at this point, because we are beginning Pierce’s two-episode absence from the show (Chevy will begrudgingly appear for his final paycheck in the Season/possible-Series Finale). He apparently is in “sensitivity training,” which is code for lazy writing. Seriously, Pierce misses a party on Christmas Eve because of a class he’s in? He has better luck at finding a bank open this time of year.
Anyway, Christmas has been an odd time for those at Greendale. What meant simply a holiday episode in Season 1 took on special significance for the show when Season 2 gave us the famed stop-motion animation Christmas fantasy. In Season 3, Harmon took his hatred of Glee to new heights with a mean-spirited Christmas musical episode. Personally speaking, I loved the Glee send-up, but did not care for the stop-motion episode beyond its dig at Lost. There, I said it.
So, this episode had less to prove for me, but I still expected something substantial. The writers chose to go in that direction by attempting this season’s bottle episode. Given that two of the arguably best Community episodes, “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Remedial Chaos Theory”, were also bottle episodes that put even more pressure on this one. And while I can safely say that this one is nowhere in the ballpark of either of those classics, it once again feels like Community and the Greendale gang. That makes three weeks in a row. If the last two episodes of the season can avoid stumbling, I may actually hope for this show’s unlikely renewal. Who knew?
The gang has decided to have their Christmas Eve party at Jeff’s pad this year. Annie arrives early to find Jeff’s home just as we remember it from Season 2…sterile, barren and very “short-term corporate housing.” Annie takes this as her invitation to liven the joint up with purple curtains and throw pillows. She also, to Jeff’s horror, brings Christmas presents. The rest of the group follows suit and leaves Jeff indebted to them. That is not the only thing he is indebted over. Annie reveals that she has heard through the grapevine that the group is going to receive a failing grade on the History Final which they co-wrote. Jeff is furious, because it means he cannot graduate a semester early. But as luck would have it, Professor Cornwallis is coming to their Christmas party that evening! Abed may be bummed that nobody wanted to join him at Nakatomi Sushi for a Die Hard themed Christmas party, but the chances drastically increased for A Clockwork Orange one with their very own Alex coming to share eggnog (I hope he laces it)!
Unfortunately, it does not quite go in that direction. After some pathetic brownnosing, Jeff learns that they do not have a failing grade, but merely a C-. That is pretty good considering Jeff blew off the paper in favor of going to see a super-secret Tom Waits concert and just assumed that the rest of the group’s work would weight the grade. However, that grade turns into a true F when he blurts out his anger with Annie for believing that a C- is comparable to a failing grade (she wants to be valedictorian). That F also could soon stand for “felony,” because “Kevin” (Chang) tied up the professor in roping to impress the group.
What follows is a surprisingly clever scenario where Malcolm McDowell is finally used as a Greendale antagonist. He pokes and prods the group in an attempt to cause them to turn on themselves. If just one of them unties him from the chair, that person will get an A while the rest of the group will fail. Eventually, it is revealed that the professor was never tied to the chair because “Kevin” does not know how to make knots. Cornwallis is just a lonely old man who likes spending his Christmases mentally torturing people. They all have such a jolly good time, nobody cares that the professor has been properly retied to his chair with a glass of Scotch while the rest of the gang opens their presents.
This was a pretty amusing episode. I don’t know if I agree with Abed that it was worth getting the popcorn over, but seeing Jeff have a tete-a-tete with Dr. Loomis (even if it was the inferior one) over a potential felony is the stuff of classic Community. I just wish that they had pushed the premise a little further. Cornwallis exposes a potential love triangle between Jeff, Troy and Britta when he discovers that the “damaged blond is dating the childish black one.” He even rightly notes that there is still heat between Jeff and Britta (certainly more than she has with Troy under the show’s current stewardship). But the plot thread is just dropped before they start dancing like puppets in his hand. Likewise, the “Type-A Lolita,” Annie, continues to have romantic tension with Jeff at the beginning of the episode when she tries to play house with him again. That too is dropped, but at least it is then later mocked in a very Harmon-fashion during the credits-bumper where Abed imagines the “darkest timeline.” He envisions Evil Jeff and Evil Annie making out in a courtroom after she beats the rap for a killing spree. It almost makes up for the fact that they returned to a well that Harmon covered up in the Season 3 Finale. Almost.
Still, even though it did not push the concept of an evil Oxford megalomaniac tearing them apart further, I was amused for all of the 20+ minutes and never felt any of the characters behaved abnormally. It was even…kind of witty. After three relatively strong episodes in a row, I am beginning to believe Community Redux has found its footing. With only two episodes left for the season, we will soon know for sure. I am calling it now that there will be another cliffhanger between Jeff and Annie.
Also, who is Chang talking to on the phone? In the last cliffhanger where Chang revealed (to no one) that he is playing a long con, I took the phone call to a mysterious benefactor as a simple one-off. But now, I believe it must be someone from the Study Group’s past. This is practically confirmed when Chang reveals that “Kevin’s” knotty plan was intended to get the Greendale Seven expelled again. Just in case it is revealed next week, I am calling it now that the man of mystery is Professor Duncan. He got name dropped last week and is the only missing side character from a few seasons back who would also be daft enough to help Chang. Plus, I would just love some more John Oliver on the show.