In honor of the holiday spirit, we're going to accept that Glee's "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" has almost nothing to do with anything that we've seen all season, except to give us a soundtrack to round out the year:
"All I Want for Christmas Is You":
Mercedes starts off by singing as she decorates the choir room Christmas tree, appropriately channeling her inner Mariah. Then – as is par for every choir room performance – everyone spontaneously breaks out into song and dance. At least this time they're appropriately employing tinsel, wrapping paper and gifts. It's utterly joyful, and Rachel proclaims it the "best Christmas ever" after Mercedes hangs mistletoe over her and Finn.
Sue summons Artie, Kurt and Blaine to her office. "Wheels, Porcelain, Other Gay," she addresses them, "the Yuletide is upon us." After forgiving them for (among other things) ruining the American songbook one mash-up at a time, Sue invites the glee club to join her in volunteering at the homeless shelter. Once again, Sue's soft spot for her sister and the holidays brings down her guard ("I made plans to shoot reindeer out of a helicopter with Sarah Palin, but she cancelled. Apparently Todd gets fussy when she misses his ballet recitals.")
Rory is sad because expensive plane tickets are preventing his family from visiting him over the holiday, so he decides to honor them and the king (Elvis, that is) by crooning the lament of unrequited love that perfectly suits his vocals. Unfortunately, the performance is more entertaining to listen to; Rory spends the entire number standing awkwardly in the choir room instead of, say, flashing back to his loved ones in Ireland. The mood picks up quickly, though, because Schue has landed the New Directions a holiday special on the local PBS station, and nominated Artie to direct. Even though Artie swore he'd never sell out and do TV, he accepts as long as Star Wars is involved and he can shoot in black-and-white. Meanwhile, Sam bonds with Rory over being away from their families at the holiday and invites Rory to come home to Kentucky with him. Rory accepts and Sam becomes his "Christmas sponsor."
Rachel sings Joni Mitchell amid of flurry of fake snow and blue trees, but it feels a little phoned in and doesn't emotionally connect in the way that the original or other covers of the delicate ballad have. Artie tells her the song is too depressing and makes him want to kill himself, and it doesn't jive with his vision for their special. Namely, no sadness allowed! "The phrase is 'Merry Christmas,' not 'Morose Christmas.' That's the vision. That's what you have to buy into," Artie demands.
"Extraordinary Merry Christmas":
In an attempt to win over Artie, Rachel recruits Blaine help her out on a track, which, in the vein of other Glee original tunes, is a sugar rush of pop production. He approves wholeheartedly. Sue comes in to confirm their appearance at the homeless shelter, but Artie tells her no can do; they're double booked to be on TV. The New Directions are finally in a place to disappoint Sue, but some how it feels all wrong – Artie's mean isn't funny, and Sue's sad is genuine disappointment.
"Let It Snow":
Artie gets his wish: the Christmas special kicks off with a Star Wars-style intro and segues into black and white footage of Blaine and Kurt in their little chalet reflecting on the weather outside in a charming number that is a sequel to last year's "Baby It's Cold Outside." The retro slickness of the performance is a natural middle ground for the pair's individual styles and is both effortless and full of seasonal spirit. The two are also logical hosts for Artie's old-fashioned ode to the holiday.
"My Favorite Things," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Christmas Wrapping":
The boys are soon joined by more guests bringing song: Mercedes and Rachel stop by for some gift giving and an over-the-top chalet-appropriate Sound of Music sing-a-long. Then Finn and Puck enter, dressed "coincidentally" like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo and try to unlock their inner Springsteen for a cover of the Christmas classic. They're followed by the Cheerios' fitting take on the Waitresses' new wave hit, complete with ribbon dancing and Santa skirts. Itchy the Holiday Elf, a.k.a. Rory in an unfortunate costume, enters last and breaks from Archie's mold of an overjoyed holiday special to read a more meaningful holiday tale than that of Frosty the Snowman. In fact, it's the same Bible passage that Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
"Do They Know It's Christmas?":
Quinn and Sam opted to join Sue at the homeless shelter and take a moment to appreciate the better place she's in now, just as the rest of the New Directions show up, inspired by Rory's reading. To show their inspiration through song, they tackle the 1984 Band Aid charity single. The solos are spread around, and the glee club channels the emotion of the original for a fitting vocal cap to the night. After Rachel spent the episode trying to get Finn get her the right things from her Christmas wish list (Finn: "All I want for Christmas is you." Rachel: "All I want for Christmas is you, too. And five things on that list." Finn: "Holy crap, I'm dating Kim Kardashian."), Rachel sheds her egomaniacal side and takes Finn to join Rory and Sam in collecting money for charity. Never fear – she makes sure to toss in a "Happy Hanukkah!" to passersby.
Bottom Line: We would have preferred the entire episode to be the show-within-a-show in the name of keeping the hour focused and avoiding plot lines thrown in for the sake of giving the show's infinite number of characters something to do. All things considered, though, Glee was able to end 2011 on a relatively high note, considering the lows it's sunk to this year.