rating: 4It is difficult for me to even accurately asses this week's episode. What should have been some holiday fun mixed with some (not so) underhanded jabs at Glee has been morphed by the network into a stand-in season finale. Yet somehow, through the wonderful Christmas magic of Greendale, it managed to cram its way into both categories. I don't think there are many sitcoms that want to push off with a musical special, but with a lack of other options, I'd say they did a fairly good job of bringing it home. The show works off an old reference from Season two's episode "Paradigms of Human Memory" (Remember when we had to fill in for glee club?). The brand spanking new glee club gets a cease and desist letter from an RIAA spin-off and an awkward but well deserved appearance by security guard Chang. Once again, and no we didn't really see the first time, the study group is called upon to save the day and fill in for them. After an initial "pass," which is quickly becoming the shows motto, each is slowly brought into the fold with some good old Christmas...glee. I'm just going to preface this by saying that I generally despise the musical format. Short of a little Umbrellas of Cherbourg I try to stay away from shows and movies that have a dance number quota. I also share Community's disdain for Glee's explicitly sexual, underage subtext and frivolous, even sickening enthusiasm. Even when a show can kind of pull it off, like that one episode of Scrubs, I usually shuffle it to the bottom of my list. But all of that cynicism aside, I really don't mind the odd song and dance number from the Community crew. Maybe that's because they use it as a cherry on top instead of the show's epicenter, or maybe it's because they keep them short and sweet, or maybe it's just because they're so damn good at it (and I'll take any excuse to see Donald Glover rap). Either way, I don't feel like I'm pulling teeth to get through it, and it was entertaining from the get go. And with its usual twist, the show manages to reinvent the sitcom format even as it pokes fun. After all, what Christmas comedy special won't start out by pretending that all everybody needs is a little Christmas spirit bump, so that when everything turns to shit you can turn to your girlfriend (or empty chair) and say you called it. Well, this episode calls it for you right at the beginning, and then they execute it perfectly. Christmas gets a little darker if you make it bright, warns Abed. And isn't that what the holidays are all about? You try to get your family together for a nice get together and it turns into Uncle Bobby crying because Grandma got his brother that Tonka set that he really wanted and your cousin puking from too much eggnog. I'm not trying to draw some profound allegorical implications here, I'm just saying we can all relate. Also, the show has the balls to call it "Christmas," because calling it the "holidays" is total bullshit. Not because other holidays don't exist, just because Christmas is by far the best one. There was a little bit of a leap out of character, both for the members of the study group, and for the show, but it was handled with the proper level of insight. As each one falls victim to the spell of the glee club, we are directed to the very insecurities that make them vulnerable. As a Jehovah's witness, all he wants to is enjoy Christmas for the first time, and he can, through the power of song. Pierce wants to be recalled as a legend, and when he finally he is, he is all but sold. Annie's biggest fear is that she'll devolve into a childish bimbo so of course that is what she falls victim too. Shirley is seduced by the power of Christianity and cute children and Jeff is forced to wear a sweater vest. But even Britta can't escape the fact that she is just awful at everything she ever does. And what better person to mastermind the whole thing then Abed who is the only one able to remain conscious of the fact that "regionals" is a totally made up turn reserved for dimwitted shows that lack plot trajectory. At this point in the season, we relish in watching all of the characters showing their vulnerability. Their insecurities have been well teased out in the last few episodes, so it is only natural for a show as clever as Community to subvert all of our previous expectations. Comedy, after all, is the incongruence of expectations and that's exactly what we got. So even as all of the characters flopped to their gleeful doppelgangers, it was fun to see what the worst possible outcomes of their personalities might look like. It's really another great example of the show working smarter not harder. Instead of getting bogged down by elaborate songs, they kept that part of the episode simple, and focused on bringing the entire study group to their logical extremes. Since my hand has been forced a little, I would like to talk a little about this season as a whole. It got off to a seemingly rough start, but in retrospect, the season's first episodes were just setting up a completely new direction for the whole show. They stripped away some of the "how many references can we pack into one episode" mentality in favor of fully developing what had been there all along. In fact, it wasn't until about halfway through that I realized I didn't really know much about the study group from the first two seasons, short of how a modern case of Asperger's syndrome might look in pastiche hyperdrive. We really got to see everybody bounce off one another in some stellar performances, and it has been rewarding to say the least. Now when there's an off-hand reference to froyo I can giggle not just because I too hate the recent necessity to freeze your damn yogurt, but because I deeply understand Troy and Abed's childhood obsessions. It's been awesome seeing the show grow up, but for now its time to let them go. But not without a proper Greendale goodbye from the cast (see below). I hope to see you guys in a couple of months, but I leave you with only this: Streets Ahead!