I only started watching NBC's Community in between the first two seasons, at the behest of my brother. Courtesy of the magic of DVD, I raced through the first season and a half, having most recently watched "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," which originally aired on December 9, 2010.
For the sad uninitiated, Community takes place at a community college where seven disparate folks from seven different walks of life have come together in a study group. The requisite "craaaazy guy" (ala Urkle and Balki) is Abed, a Pakistani/Polish-American who wants to be a film director and has Asperger's syndrome. This oftentimes leads him to make meta comments about the show, suggesting that sometimes his view of reality skews towards seeing his life as a TV show.
"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" has a cold opening where everything in it is stop motion animation--to us, anyway. We are seeing the show through the third person limited narration of Abed, who conjectures that everything is now in stop motion because this is the most important Christmas ever (after, you know, the first one). As the plot unfolds, the dialogue of his friends starts to make it clear that they do not share his view--that the episode is taking place in the normal continuity of the show, and those around him do not see things in animation.
Ultimately, Abed is (marginally) treated by the (marginal) psychology teacher, Professor Duncan. They decide to go, in Abed's delusion, anyway, to Planet Abed, where everything is Christmas. Slowly, we realize that Abed's friends are gamely playing along in an attempt to be there for him in his strange time of need, if not understand him.
Reaching Santa's Workshop, it is empty and cold. Professor Duncan (dressed as a warlock) returns, saying that he knows why Abed has had this break from reality: Abed's mother, divorced from his father, always used to visit on December 9 (the airdate of the show). They would watch a Christmas movie together.
But this year she has sent a card saying that she cannot make it--that she has a new family, that he is a man now, and he should understand.
The show turns surprisingly poignant at that point--doubly so since the sad emotions are being communicated by claymation dolls. Yet the emotions are real.
Stop motion Abed is consumed by ice, literally... but also a heart-felt metaphor for what has caused his break with reality. Abed's mother, the person who kept the Christmas spirit alive in him, is now gone. The show--a comedy, mind you--suddenly is sad, having cut into the viewers heart. Abed's friends return and sing of the meaning of Christmas, thawing him: that it can be whatever you want it to be, so long as you are with people you love.
It is sappy. It is effective. It is true.
I expected the show to then turn back to its normal photography, but it instead cut back to their study group meeting room, all still in stop motion animation. Fixed, healed, Abed wonders if the stop motion should stop. He is interrupted by a friend who says no, that it should continue for the holidays.
We then see the whole clay group in Abed's dorm room, watching the end of a stop motion Christmas movie. "The End," the clay TV reads, and it fades to black.
In the screen, we see the real life cast of Community reflected back.
Sweet, heartfelt, sad, funny, and wonderful: can a 22 minute snarky hipster comedy be all that--and stop motion?
It truly is a Community Christmas miracle.