Community season 2 episode 11 review: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas

It’s Christmas in the Community-verse and time for a little treat, Tim Burton-style...

2.11 Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas

What with it being the time of year when even the most sensible shows ditch their storylines in favour of some festive schmaltz, it seems even the guys at Community couldn’t resist a Christmas special, but with a twist. It just wouldn’t be Community if the episode didn’t reference the classic yuletide specials of the Seventies, with just a dash of Tim Burton.  Ladies and gentlemen, Community presents Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.

Essentially suffering from a psychotic break, Abed arrives at college convinced that the world has become a cutesy stop-motion universe, a place where Annie’s eyes are even bigger than usual, and Pierce is almost human, a world complete with special title sequences and original songs.

The gang decide to force Abed, in all his stop-motion glory, to find the true meaning of Christmas, and therefore, the reason for his breakdown, with some guided and compulsory therapy. Unfortunately, their mental health professional of choice is Professor Duncan (John Oliver), the world’s most unbalanced therapist.

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Through one of the most depressingly magical journeys ever created, we discover that not one of the gang has ever had anything approaching fun at Christmas, that Troy will be spending the holidays fake-murdering people, and that Abed’s mom won’t be making her annual Christmas visit this year. Or ever.  With the help of some Lost season one DVDs  (it’s a metaphor for lack of payoff) Abed discovers the true meaning of Christmas is nothing but the endless search for the true meaning of Christmas. Meta much?

With more than a few nods to the genius of Tim Burton, from much of the animation style to the darkly humorous musical numbers, Uncontrollable Christmas is the perfect festive Community episode. Quirky, sarcastic, and featuring the unwitting sexual abuse of a snowman, but warm and smart at the same time, the episode is a joy to behold.

Much of that joy comes from the animation itself. It’s absolutely perfect and full of fantastic visual touches, from the glimpses of the library whenever a character leaves Planet Abed, to the Christmas Pterodactyl and flesh-eating Hum Bugs, and Jeff’s fixed sarcastic face, to mention just a few.

As has often been said in these very reviews, the Community team pay an enormous amount of attention to the soundtrack of every episode, and Uncontrollable Christmas is no exception. The original songs, including new lyrics for the title theme, are pitched to perfection. The ejection songs, in particular, are spot on, funny and tinged with mean. Tim Burton is very proud indeed.

The inclusion of songs also means that the cast have to do some singing, and it’s a very pleasant surprise to find out that Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) has what can only be described as a kick ass voice. It’s perhaps less of a surprise to discover that everyone else doesn’t, but that’s half the fun, no?

While this episode owes much to Tim Burton and 70s TV, there’s plenty here that’s uniquely Community, not least Ex-Senor Chang’s sexually frustrated snowman. But what makes this a show that only Community could get away with is the simple fact that it’s 100% animated. How many other live action shows will be doing animated episodes this year? A sign of the confidence of the production team, as well as a nod to the affection so many hold for the classic specials of our childhoods, it’s a concept that most shows wouldn’t even consider.

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And even better, it’s Abed-centric, includes some of that Ken Jeong magic, and Pierce is actually bearable, surely qualifying it for inclusion on the Classic Community Episodes list.  

It’s an episode that plays to the series’ strengths, smart, contemporary comedy in a more traditional sitcom setting, recognisable archetypes that do unrecognisable things, and as many TV/movie /pop culture references as they can cram into 22 minutes, and pulls those elements together to produce a familiar feeling, but totally original episode.

There simply isn’t another show that could successfully pull that off, leaving Community, as always, head and shoulders above the competition. If this series still hasn’t made it into your top ten list, it’s possible you need some guided therapy of your own.

Read our review of episode 10, Mixology Certification, here.

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