Glee has a bad track record with Christmas episodes, which is odd, because Christmas and Glee have a lot in common – they’re both sugary sweet, crammed with clichés and full of people taking the opportunity to give teenagers life advice. This one’s better than the last one purely because unlike last year’s Christmas special, this wasn’t an excruciating struggle to sit through. The premise is explained at the beginning by Sue – five seemingly separate stories tied together at the end like Love, Actually. There’s a key difference however, Glee’s version ultimately fails to bring the stories together through anything more than a shared song. The final impact is that no story enriches another and thus all feel shallow and bitty.
The first of these separate plots involves an AU fantasy sequence where Artie was never in a wheelchair. To me, AU plots just indicate a show has run out of ideas – a concept the rest of the episode seems to support. Artie never had his accident, so he never joined Glee Club – meaning Glee Club never took off and each Glee Club member was worse off for it. I’ll accept that Artie might be the reason Tina can talk and Becky has self-respect, but apparently no Glee Club meant Will became an alcoholic, Kurt fell back a year due to bullying and Quinn died. Oh, and Rachel inexplicably became a librarian. We get the predictable realisation that Artie is the glue that holds Glee together but this whole sequence is probably the most contrived way of getting to a conclusion the show has ever seen.
Next we have the Kurt-centred portion of the episode, during which Burt comes to visit him in New York. Of course, it’s lovely to see Burt Hummel in New York with his son at Christmas, but it’s sullied by the reminder that Kurt can’t have more than one episode of happiness when Burt reveals he has early stage prostate cancer. The relationship and acting between these two is great as always, but it feels like we’re circling back to Burt’s health issues just to have something to do with them. Burt’s present to Kurt for Christmas is Blaine, who he meets at the ice skating rink for their annual Christmas duet. I can’t fully express my confusion about this narrative decision without pounding my head against my keyboard, but I would have thought the last thing anyone would want after hearing their father is seriously ill would be to sing and dance with a cheater ex-boyfriend.
Puck arrives to pick up half-brother Jake to spend Christmas in LA in an entirely forgettable few minutes. It’s going fine until it’s predictably revealed that the home Puck is claiming is his own is actually that of a pool cleaning client’s, who arrives home early and kicks the brothers out. The two of them then find their way back to Lima and decide to share Christmas together despite the fact their mothers hate each other, but the unusual family does reconnect at dinner at Breadstix on Christmas day through badmouthing Puck and Jake’s absentee father.
At this point we then have Brittany and Sam, the couple that has divided Glee fans into angry Brittanna shippers and… well, everyone else. I actually found myself smiling through most of this sequence. I don’t know whether I genuinely enjoyed it or was simply amused by the sheer idiocy of the pair – but the gist of it is that Sam and Brittany both believe the end of the world is ripe and dedicate their last few days on earth to telling their friends how they really feel about them, getting (fake) married and presumably having three days of end-of-the-world sex, which I imagine is pretty damn good.
To round off Sue gets the final segment, in which she picks Marley’s mom, Billie Rose, for staff secret Santa and wonders what to get “the woman who has eaten everything” (one of my favourite lines). Sue of course stumbles across Billie and Marley having an emotional chat about how they can’t afford a Christmas tree or presents because the money is going to be spent on therapy for Marley’s eating disorder (continuity!) Realising her selfishness, Sue sells her ridiculously expensive Christmas tree and uses the proceeds for a tree and gifts to the family on Christmas day. Marley and Billie really are an engaging duo, but does Sue have to have the same Christmas storyline every year? It’s also kind of similar to the season two Christmas episode where Beiste buys Artie the mechanic legs.
Musically, nothing really stands out as good or terrible (much the same as any other episode this season). Glee has definitely exhausted the supply of Christmas songs that don’t make us want to kill ourselves at this point though.
In conclusion, Glee, Actually is an amalgamation of bizarre or recycled plots sprinkled with our least favourite Christmas musical numbers, but then Christmas is all about watching the same movies and listening to the same songs over and over again, so maybe nobody particularly cares. It’s a generally watchable instalment if you’re merry with holiday spirit and surely better than last year’s offering.
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