Look, I’m just going to say it: Glee isn’t what it used to be. In fact, with the exception of this fall’s Cory Monteith tribute episode, during which I could not stop crying, I’ve had to force myself to tune in this season. But while a lot of people are hating on Season 5, Episode 8’s “Previously Unaired Christmas,” I completely disagree. I thought it was excellent, and maybe exactly what the show needed. Here’s why:
The Weird Time Suspension
New York in Season 5 has lost its initial Gleemour (yeah, I just made that up, deal). Now that the NYC kids have actual lives there, the city holds an “everyday reality” that didn’t exist when Rachel, Kurt, and now Santana first moved to the Big Apple. McKinley is stuck in some weird stalemate: with Marley’s love life fluctuating from boring to “why doesn’t she care more that Jake cheated,” Tina trying on a new personality every episode, and Kitty being inexplicably nice. Sure, they swap around, but we’re used to that, too. And don’t even get me started on that time Mr. Schue sang “Blurred Lines” in the hallway —that alone needed to give the show a timeout.
“Previously Unaired Christmas” jumped back to winter of 2012. Once I got used to the fact that all Glee’s current realities were going to be suspended — meaning Finn hadn’t died, so Rachel was still OK, Kurt and Blaine weren’t engaged, and Santana wasn’t dating Dani — it was fun to take a trip back in time. I got to remember the characters as they were before this unsatisfying season began. McKinley’s newbies were still getting to know themselves, Tina wasn’t so bad, and Blaine had put down the puppet and slowly backed away. It was a nice vacation.
Oh No They Didn’t… The Jesus Thing
Present day Kitty has sort of abandoned that whole fun phase when she was super into the End of Days and she could destroy anyone in her path with a single look, and we miss that sassy version. Now, she’s nice (creepy) and dating Artie (creepier), and sort of floating in an anonymous pretty girl bubble where she sings and dances and just exists in the Glee club. These days, Bree has taken over as the mean Cheerio, and she’s just a shadow of Kitty’s former b—h self. Because the Kitty in this episode is back to being the oft-evil Jesus-loving gal, the Nativity storyline didn’t seem quite as random.
It also meant that her character was dependable enough as “the religious one” that when Unique, Marley, and Tina did their version of Diana Ross’s “Love Child,” there was someone to be offended. Glee has become so jerky and strained in taking a stand, or singling out some norm to violate, that there really aren’t any boundaries anymore. But with Kitty back as a God-fearing gal, we could be shocked by Unique’s “birth” of plastic doll baby Jesus, while the blonde newbie was downright disturbed. It was the perfect contrast.
Glee Was Fun Again
When Cory Monteith died on July 13, I honestly thought I would never tune into the show again. Glee has always taken on issues like gay bashing, teen pregnancy, and suicide, but I’ve never really felt satisfied with the way they do it. I understand the constraints of being a network television show, stuck between comedy and drama, tasked with being the show for teenagers to turn to, only partially voluntarily . But I don’t know how a show that has always been able to flip a switch between lightness and darkness can survive when its star, its founding reason for existence, has died in such a dark manner, from a drug overdose; when its fans can see that no matter how delicately or fluidly their favorite show treats life’s worst moments, it can never bounce back from such a loss.
By going back in time and airing a one-off episode in such a random placement, acknowledging the holiday happening in real life but holding off on shifting its show (whose current timeline puts it in springtime) too much to accommodate its regular holiday fare, it did fans a service. It let us enjoy Glee as a fun, tongue-in-cheek, silly show, instead of as a bible for how teens should deal with everyday life (songs not included). And when you add in the bizarre turn of Pretty Little Liars’s Bryce Johnson as sexy santa, the episode feels like kind of a Christmas miracle.