’Tis the season for holiday celebrations, which also means, on TV, ’tis the season for holiday specials. At this time of year, writers take a break from the usual workplace high jinks or procedural dramas to bring viewers something a little more heartfelt, maybe even cheesy, with a healthy sprinkling of twinkly lights.
Perhaps no recent show has struck that balance of schmaltz and pathos quite as memorably as “Community,” the comedy series than ran from 2009 to 2015 on NBC and Yahoo! Screen.
Danny Pudi, the actor who played Abed, appreciated the show’s unconventional approach to typical holiday fare — especially given that, for him, the holiday season is as much a reminder of the loved ones who are not in our lives as it is of the ones who are. Mr. Pudi did not have a relationship with his father as a child — they reconnected after Mr. Pudi’s own children were born, before his dad’s death in 2018 — and he felt that absence keenly around the holidays. So the sitcom’s approach resonated with him.
“There was this push-pull between comedy and just big ol’ heart with those episodes,” Mr. Pudi said. “There was always this underlying sadness.”
This is especially evident in the Season 2 special, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” Abed is traumatized by his mother’s cancellation of her annual Dec. 9 visit, during which they would watch the television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (a personal favorite of Mr. Pudi’s as well). As a result, Abed begins seeing the world in the movie’s stop-motion style; it’s a psychological defensive mechanism that his character commonly exhibits, relating more to fiction than to real people.
Abed breaks free of his fantasy by the episode’s end, coming away with some “Community”-style wisdom: “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.”
The show’s other Christmas specials — “Comparative Religion” (Season 1), “Regional Holiday Music” (Season 3) and “Intro to Knots” (Season 4) — are lighter in tone but convey a similar theme. My personal favorite is the Season 1 special, which ends with Abed and his fellow student Jeff (Joel McHale) singing a “Community” version of a traditional Christmas carol while they bedeck Troy (Donald Glover) with ornaments and tinsel.
Mr. Pudi noted that the show’s closing credits scenes, which often highlighted Troy and Abed’s quirky humor, would regularly trigger raucous laughter on set once the cameras stopped. This time, however, Mr. Pudi said, the vibe was different: “Donald mentioned he remembered us not laughing afterward, because it was really sweet and genuine.”
The scene gets at the heart of the show’s Christmas philosophy: The holidays are complicated but friendship can get us through.
In that spirit, here are some more classic holiday episodes to watch this season.