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Glee Recap: S03E09: Extraordinary Merry Christmas
"We begin in the Swiss Alps, in the village of Gstaad, in the perfectly appointed living room of Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson’s chic, swank chalet. The tree? Towering and oppulent. The fireplace? Draped in garlands. The stockings? Bejewled. Kurt and Blaine, the perfect hosts, have invited their friends to drop in, for an evening of Noel Coward-esque banter and fun, happy, cheer-filled songs."
With Artie setting the stage, the Glee crew produces the perfect old-fashioned Christmas (how I wish I could have been in that chalet!). As always, ambition tries to dominate, but goodness in the true spirit of Christmas prevails, creating a perfectly entertaining and heartwarming episode.
The Christmas Sponsor
At the core of this episode is the idea of the Christmas spirit, the one of togetherness and love. Rory is facing a Christmas without his family, who could not afford to make the flight out to Ohio. As Brittany and her family are going to see “gay Santa” (Rory’s understanding of Santa Fe), he may also be facing a Christmas alone. Luckily, he has Sam to help him out. Sam, having just moved away from his family, understands that even a little distance can be painful. So, being the good guy that he is, Sam offers to be Rory’s Christmas sponsor. Rory will spend Christmas day with the Evans’, and in the meantime, Sam will teach him what Christmas means in the Americas. Sam’s understanding of what Christmas is represents more of what Christmas should be, since my understanding is that us Americans are rather focused on the materialistic aspect, so is Rory really getting an authentic representation of an American Christmas? Either way, Sam saves the day and the two bond over shared circumstances.
Sue's Helps Urban Campers
While Sam is helping Rory get in the Christmas spirit, it is Sue, surprisingly, who needs little help doing so. She calls Artie, Kurt, and Blaine (“Wheels,” “Porcelain,” and “Other Gay”) into her office to "apologize" and ask for a favor. With the loss of her sister earlier in the year (last season, as it were), Sue decides to forgo her usually attitude and reach out to help by giving back at a homeless shelter. As Kurt, points out, Sue does not even believe in homelessness (having referred to them as “urban campers” in the past), so it is a true Christmas miracle. Even more startling is the fact that Sue is asking the Glee club to participate as well.
“Stumbles,” “Gelfling,” young “Burt Reynolds” (love the happy look of surprise on Blaine’s face at the moniker) act as representatives of the club and accept Sue’s proposal. They will use their power of music to brighten the holiday for the less fortunate.
While the Glee club starts off on the right foot, their path is quickly derailed. When Sue comes in to the practice room and tries to confirm their performance at the shelter, she finds that they are already booked for that evening. The New Directions have been selected to produce a televised Christmas special, and the taping is set for that night.
The Glee Christmas Special
How, you ask, does a glee club that was formerly struggling end up with such an honor? Good question. It all comes down to a series of coincidences. The manager of the local TV station needs a replacement for the annual yule log burning (licensing issues). Having seen the New Directions at Sectionals, the desperate manager’s thoughts instantly fly to them. Schue brokers the deal and instantly nominates Artie to produce. Though Artie swore he would never sell out and do television, he eventually agrees, but only given the following conditions are met.
- Chewbacca must be in the special. The Star Wars Holiday Special was the best Holiday Special ever, so that should be acknowledged with Chewie’s presence.
- The special be shot in black and white as an homage to the Judy Garland Christmas Show (the second best special). As Artie explains, "Some say Judy was high on pills and booze, but I say she was high on excitement and baby Jesus.”
The glee club gets caught up in the hype, especially Rachel. She auditions for the special with a beautiful, depressing Joni Mitchell song. Apparently, this is not in Artie's vision, which is laid out explicitly above (Rachel’s response to the rejection is pure perfection: "Are you telling me I'm not invited to Kurt and Blaine's for Christmas?"). Ultimately, Rachel just needs to find a new song and Artie will have to surrender, because, as she reasons, "Christmas is all about giving, and Artie certainly wouldn't be in the Christmas spirit if he didn't let me give my talents to the people of Western Ohio. At least the ones who don't have cable."
So the Christmas special unfolds as expected. Kurt and Blaine play gallant hosts to their friends on a blustery, snowy day amidst song, cheer, and quite a few wisecracks. To name a few:
- Kurt’s introduction of Blaine to the audience: "And this is my... um... best friend and holiday roommate."
- Kurt’s lament at the weather stopping him from bidding on Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry auction online.
- The gifts Blaine receives from Rachel and Mercedes: a little bowtie with Christmas trees on it and candy cane striped Capri pants.
- Puck and Finn entering dressed as Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo, complete with lightsabre, but pointedly saying that any resemblance is coincidental because it would be copyright infringement otherwise.
The special goes without a hitch and nears its end, when Rory enters as Itchy the Holiday Elf to read a “light-hearted, heart-warming, upbeat, happy Christmas tale.” Rory deserted his Christmas sponsor when Sam decided to go on to the homeless shelter instead of the taping. But Rory “searched his heart” and decided to remind everyone what they should be doing by reading the depiction of Jesus’ birth.
Rachel's Christmas Demands and Lessons Learned
With Rory’s reminder, the Glee club comes to its senses and rushes to the shelter, arriving late but bearing the gift of turkey (the decision may have been helped by the station’s ability to put the yule log back on air). Either way, we are treated to a sweet montage of scenes from the shelter, where Artie plays games, Rory reads, and Mike dances with the kids. All’s well that ends well.
Or is it? Another running theme of the episode is Rachel’s quest for the perfect holiday. Having spent the Christmas before trying desperately to win Finn back to no avail, Rachel’s is beyond determined to make this holiday count. “All I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share,” she tells Finn.
And what is Rachel’s fair share exactly? Thanks to some inside intel from Kurt, she realized that Finn had no idea what to get her, so she provided a list accordingly (Note: I’m surprised that Blaine was as helpless at picking a gift for her as the other boys. Socks? Really?? You would think he had learned something from Kurt). The list contains items to improve her chances at a NYADA audition. Things like major jewelry. And a spray tan. And all Finn has to do is pick five items from those many choices!
After many hints that Rachel might like a gift of jewelry for the Christmas special, Finn decides to give her the present early. But it is not the bling that she expected. Given that all of the items on the list were out of his budget, he had gotten creative. Finn adopted an African sow pig that will be fattened up and then eaten and gave a picture of that pig to his vegan girlfriend for Christmas. To put it lightly, Rachel is not impressed.
After Rory’s reminder about what the Christmas spirit is truly about, Rachel changes her tune. She apologizes to Finn and shows him that his present to her has a place of pride in her locker. She even went so far as to name the pig after her idol, Barbra Streisand. However, Finn had taken her words to heart earlier as well. Since her present would not last long after it was fattened, he decided to give her another gift: a star name Finn Hudson. Why?
"Because there's already a star named Rachel Berry. And she's right here on earth and she's brighter than any of the other stars that are up there. So I just wanted to make sure that whenever she feels lonely she can just look up at the sky and no matter where I am she can know I'm looking down on her."
As an old Randy Travis song says, “sometimes stars, they often fall.” For a little more permanence closer to home, Finn gives Rachel the sparkle she wished for in a pair of diamond earrings. He sold his letterman jacket on Ebay to afford it. For Rachel, it seems all too much. In the true spirit of the season, Rachel and Finn decide to give back and sell their respective gifts (excepting the sow and star, of course) and give the money to charity. They visit Sam and Rory where they are collecting donations and happily join in the bell ringing, and the world is restored to rights.
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Grading the Songs
With a Christmas special imbedded in a regular episode, Glee was able to fit in more songs than usual while still maintaining its substance, which was quite a feat. Like last year, the Glee Christmas Album, Vol. 2, features songs from the episode as well as some additions. While I will only be grading songs that were featured on air, I would recommend the entire album for any good Christmas music collection. This one in particular has a nice mix of originals, standards, and unique favorites, all with a special Glee twist applied. And again like last year, one performance was released with the episode rather than the album, which I would strongly recommend you pick up as a single on iTunes.
All I Want for Christmas is You - A-
Who does not love this modern classic? Amber Riley performs it with more feeling than Mariah Carey, and her voice certainly does the original justice. The imperfect rating comes simply from the fact that there is very little to differentiate this from the original track.
Blue Christmas - B
Damian McGinty does has a lovely voice, and he croons beautifully with this Elvis classic. That said, the pace is a tad plodding in a fast paced episode. I think the song’s beauty would have come through better if the arrangement was shortened.
River - A
The mandatory Lea Michele ballad! Again, I had never heard the original, but as last year, a beautiful melancholy Christmas song comes alive with her voice (the comparison between this year and last must be drawn, as Michele performs on the same stage with the same fake tree background). The gorgeous lyrics and delivery kept me transfixed from beginning to finish. Also, I loved her green dress.
Extraordinary Merry Christmas - A+
I love the blue dress Michele wore for her audition reprise even more! This song may be too infectious for some, but it has already become a Christmas must for me. The energy is pure, classic Glee, and the voices of Michele and Darren Criss blend so perfectly, who could not like this one? Just beware: the visual performance has so much cuteness in it, you might become physically ill with happiness.
Let It Snow - A
This song most exemplifies a spin on a standard. Last year’s Klaine duet was better vocally, but the production value on this song makes it just as good. When you hear the jazzy take you may find it strange at first, but seeing how it fits into the retro special as an opening number complete with jazzy dance steps, you can easily see why it was produced that way. My love of Kurt and Blaine can only grow with more numbers like these (and a side note: Darren Criss was made for these kind of retro numbers. He certainly has the flair, and the delivery in his acting is down pat).
My Favorite Things - A-
Overly dramatic is the name of the game for this performance. But again, it all fits with the theme. Having seen the performance even just once, a replay of the single will have you reliving every movement. A great display of all four voices included (Criss, Riley, Michele, and Chris Colfer, for the record).
Santa Claus is Coming to Town - B+
When you have Cory Monteith and Mark Salling in your cast, a rocked-out version of a Christmas song is a must. Last year it was “Jingle Bells”; this year it’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” A good vocal, this song is nothing too special. My favorite part? When Darren Criss busts out his harmonica playing skills (one of his many musical talents).
Christmas Wrapping - A
Initially, this was my least favorite song on the album. I had never heard the original before, and I found the repetitive lyrics a bit irritating. But repeated listenings made this a quick favorite. Heather Morris’ voice is infectious, and the performance complete with Cheerios, Santa dresses, and ribbon batons makes this a winner.
Do They Know It's Christmas - A
Yet another song I had not heard prior to this episode. I love how well it gives multiple cast members the chance to shine. You have Monteith and Michele, of course, but you also have moments for Criss, Colfer, Riley, Salling, Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Naya Rivera. A pure group number at its best. Hopefully with the reunion between the New Directions and the Trouble Tones, we will have more well-balanced songs like this one.