A few things to note:
1. The writers of Community are refreshingly unafraid to embrace Christmas as Christmas. There’s no distracting “holiday” talk, at least not of the remotely serious variety.
2. They neither ignore the religious component of the holiday, nor do they deny the obvious sentimental value that the season has for ‘everyone else’. It’s simply another example of the genuine pluralism that Community so excels at – as opposed to, say, the wishful-thinking conflationism of shopping at Target these days. And unlike pretty much every other sitcom with a self-consciously diverse cast, Community manages to milk the ‘differences’ for comedy (and wisdom) without turning the characters themselves into caricatures. Which is not to say that the culture wars don’t get a funny and even-handed airing – both the Christian who constantly feels obligated to remind everyone about the reason-for-the-season and the “bitter shallow hipsters” who hide behind walls and walls of sarcasm come across as equally self-righteous and party-pooper-ish. BUT when Shirley, the outspoken Christian on the show, goes back to grab the menorah (in the background) at the end of the episode, I found it to be a truly touching example of Grace in Practice. And her line in the closing song is pretty classic too, devoid of the know-it-all defensiveness that she displayed earlier in the episode, and more the sort of statement of fact that most such specials tend to completely avoid. Again, Community is the only (network) show of its kind right now daring to portray self-identifying Christians as anything other than judgmental bozos.
3. Though not without a little sap, I found their take on the whole “real meaning of Christmas” gush-fest pretty fresh, i.e. instead of reducing the holiday to a big group-hug, they went with “the meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning”. A little preachy in its post-modernism, perhaps, but on a scale of one-to-Rudolph, it’s thankfully mild.
4. The LOST gag is phenomenal. And dare I say profound?
5. Anyone else think that Abed’s singing voice is uncannily similar to John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats?!
6. When was the last time you heard the word “Episcopalian” in a (claymation!) sitcom?!