Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Glee, including the most recent, “A Very Glee Christmas.”
After last week’s underwhelming episode, my fondest holiday wish was for Glee to sign off for 2010 by knocking it out of the park with a Christmas episode that would leave us all with warm, glowy feelings about this sometimes uneven yet nevertheless dazzling show that sometimes stumbles but compensates for it with its remarkable ambition. If a disappointing episode here and there is the price that must be paid for being treated to a full-fledged mini-Broadway-musical on my television screen on a weekly basis, then so be it. So many people are so quick to denigrate Glee when it falters instead of appreciating that such a staggeringly complex production actually exists in the first place. A weekly musical series is something I used to dream about.
Uncoincidentally, “dream” is also the word I would use to describe “A Very Glee Christmas,” which is, exactly as its title suggests, so very, very Glee. It’s big, it’s broad, it’s shiny, it’s musical, it’s candy cane colorful, it’s heartwarming, it’s campy, it’s sweet. It’s everything that makes a Glee fan’s heart go pitter-pat and the perfect way to close off this Glee calendar year. In short, it’s magical and unapologetically itself. In other words, you either accept a world in which Rachel Berry decks the high school stage up with the most expensive Christmas display imaginable–including multiple plastic evergreens and fake snow–and gets a full orchestra to back her up, in order to apologize to Finn, and that she carries on with her number, even though he leaves before she begins; a world in which Rachel and Finn break into song in the middle of an outdoor Christmas tree shop; a world in which Christmas can be stolen, or you don’t. Someone less kind might suggest that, if you are in the latter camp, you might be a bit of a Scrooge or even a Grinch yourself.
And speaking of the Grinch, the concept of retelling Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas tale by placing Sue Sylvester most literally in the role of the lean, green, mean, holiday-spirit-killing machine, complete with Becky as her rein-dog and Brittany as her Cindy Lou Who, is an unparalleled stroke of genius on the writers’ parts. This is Sue Sylvester at her teeth-gnashing, scenery-chewing best, and I love that, in the end, her heart may grow three sizes that day–or one and a half, at least–but she still very much remains herself, telling Will she hates him and giving him a present wrapped in a priceless insult. It is also interesting, in light of the bullying arc, that the humor in this episode regarding Sue generally comes less from her victimizing other people, and more from her being greedy and self-centered, which is a related but different issue. Brittany’s Santa Claus plot also dovetails with Sue’s story beautifully. Ironically, Heather Morris is given better material and Brittany more genuine character development here than in the episode that was ostensibly written for her. Brittany serves as the perfect symbol for childlike innocence. Of course she still believes in Santa. Her wish for Artie demonstrates a new level of kindness than we have ever seen from her, and the manner in which that wish is fulfilled epitomizes the magic of Glee. Those crafty writers actually manage to deliver a Christmas miracle in a mostly realistic form. It might be a stretch that anyone who works at that school could afford this technology, but then again maybe it was Santa who brought Brittany this present, after all. I’m glad that they never tell what “really” happened. That final shot of Bieste implies (but, importantly, doesn’t confirm) that it might have been her, but I’d like to think that it was Sue. Still, how wonderful is Bieste-as-Santa’s scene with Brittany? I love how very Bieste her explanation about the test run is.
“A Very Glee Christmas” is also extremely gay, in the best possible sense of the word. Glee has always been great–particularly lately–at queering “straight” songs by either changing the genders of their singers or shifting the context of the lyrics. Here, Glee makes explicit the “irony” that Christmas, with its showtuney songs, shimmery decorations, bright colors, huge emotions, and storybook magic is a holiday with an incredibly gay sensibility, no matter what many small-minded religious people would like to believe. And then, of course, there is Kurt and Blaine’s superb “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Who could have imagined, even a few years ago, that we would ever be watching two men overtly, sensually flirt while singing such a sexy, slinky song on a mainstream network, and on a Christmas episode of all things? Meanwhile, “We Need a Little Christmas” is from the gay musical favorite, Mame, and then later on, “You’re a Mean One, Sue the Grinch” is sung off-camera by k. d. lang, a famous lesbian musician, making this one of the most gay-inclusive Christmas episodes ever filmed. Even the plot-appropriate “Last Christmas” by Wham moment is just so wonderfully over-the-top and campy (not to mention the George Michael connection), and the kids’ rendition of “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year,” sung by the Misfit Toys in Rankin-Bass’ classic Rudolph cartoon–and surely countless gay children over the years have identified with the Misfit Toys–is the perfect song for these outsiders. Glee remains stunningly subversive. It just happens to have the uncanny ability to do so in such a matter-of-fact manner that it’s easy to miss just how groundbreaking it is, and that’s also the point it’s making. That this sort of thing shouldn’t be groundbreaking. That it should be as natural as singing a song.
Speaking of which, the episode deserves immense applause for its eclectic song selection. Instead of just aiming for all the Christmas carol cliches, Glee casts a wider net, including songs that aren’t covered as often, such as tunes from the scores of aforementioned classic holiday specials like Rudolph and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (I love how well the “as long as we have glee” line from “Welcome Christmas” works) and pop songs. And then the (arguably) only over-exposed song in the episode, “We Need a Little Christmas” (which, again, is a showtune that was, incidentally, written by a Jewish composer, Jerry Herman, though many people don’t realize it) is cheerfully and comedically cut short before they can finish, an early-in-the-episode promise from the show that this won’t just be the typical Christmas episode. This will be a very Glee Christmas. I would also like to take this time to acknowledge that Will Schuester is again written to be much more likable this week, with his dialogue to the kids in particular being more genuinely caring and teacherly than he has been in a long while. Overall, this isn’t only one of the best Christmas episodes I have seen in lo these many years but one of the finest episodes of this Glee season. Equal parts satirical, schmaltzy, charming, entertaining, showbizzy, genuine, wondrous, and kind, “A Very Glee Christmas,” from start to finish, is a true class act.