I love Community. I think this season has been stronger than its gotten credit for. I will miss it during its break, and hope to see it back and renewed as soon as possible. So it's with that love in my heart that I have to say: last night's Community was among the worst of the show's run. Not because it wasn't funny (it was, often) but because it was almost totally soulless.
The key point of the episode seems to be when Abed says "I just like liking stuff." It's a rejection of snark, of mean-spirited jokes and criticism. It's an acceptance that things can be good just for being liked, that the heart wins out. It's a celebration of, well, the idea of Christmas and the television Christmas special.
Here's the problem: the episode undercuts that at every possible point. When Abed says this, he's been brainwashed by the Glee virus that, through him and his weakness, sweeps through the rest of the study group, forcing them to behave in ways they don't want to. The episode doesn't conclude with the group gathering to like things, it concludes with them gathering around to watch the Inspector Spacetime Holiday Special on the grounds that it's so-bad-it's-good.
But more to the point, beyond the interpretations of the characters' actions, the show itself doesn't abide by the idea that it "likes" things, because the entire episode is a vicious attack on its theoretical rival, Glee. As much as I love Community and as much as I might laugh at the jokes initially, they come across as just mean, jealous of Glee's popularity and zeitgeist. I mean, Glee deserves it, don't get me wrong. But Community has built its reputation on loving, character-based satires. "Modern Warfare" wasn't great because it was it a specific parody of an action movie using sitcom characters, but because it used action movie tropes in order to discuss the characters in a different, interesting fashion - notably the Jeff-Britta relationship. "Regional Holiday Music" dispenses with that in order to simply target one particular show, and a show that Community has already attacked multiple times at that.
Critics of Community often describe it as a soulless endeavor, a meta-sitcom that does parodies and pop culture references without understanding the soul beneath what it's making fun of. This description has always struck me as more fitting of post-cancellation Family Guy or worse, The Cleveland Show, which not a compliment, instead of Community. Community, I thought, was closer to The Simpsons, a show which was in love with the forms and history of television, but not so much that it couldn't make fun of them. Last night's episode? Last night's episode was Family Guy - cheap, mean-spirited jokes with a fake, ass-saving swipe at meaning.