'Glee' Playback: The New Directions Celebrate 'A Very 'Glee' Christmas' - Rolling Stone
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‘Glee’ Playback: The New Directions Celebrate ‘A Very ‘Glee’ Christmas’

The show tackles holiday songs with help from special guest k.d. lang

Justin Lubin/FOX

Last night Glee drew from its holiday disc, Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album to highlight the seasonal spirit in Lima, Ohio — and even one Sue Sylvester. The songs were mostly standards (a notable exception involved — wait for it — a k.d. lang guest vocal), and the episode felt rather standard itself, with a mix of oddball and heartstring-tugging scenes. Here’s how it broke down.

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“The Most Wonderful Day of the Year”
The New Directions set the mood with this peppy tune as they decorate the choir-room tree and wrap presents. Mike and Brittany break out their dance moves, and it looks and sounds like a scene out of a Christmas movie (or department store commercial) — but not for long, because Ryan Murphy loves his ironic subtexts. The kids quickly confess to Mr. Schuester that the tree was stolen from a car roof (Finn), the (empty) presents were grabbed from department store windows (Puck) and the decorations grabbed from a dead neighbor’s home (Santana). What’s more: nothing has changed for them on the social ladder at McKinley since their victory at regionals. The most wonderful day of the year, this isn’t.

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“Merry Christmas, Darling”
Rachel brings Finn to the auditorium, where she’s set up a winter wonderland of trees, lights and falling snow in an attempt to win him back. In true Rachel style, she gives him a gift that entitles the recipient to one song of her choosing — and manages to keep it together when he refuses. “Whether it’s a heart attack or heartbreak, just like on Broadway, the show must go on,” she says, launching into the Carpenters’ wistful song. Also in true Rachel style, she nails the sentiment with her restrained take — but we’d love to move past Rachel’s phase of singing Lite-FM ballads while watching everyone in bliss around her.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
Blaine interrupts Kurt’s studying in the one room we’ve seen of Dalton Academy (it’s a common room! it’s the Warblers’ rehearsal space! it’s a study lounge!) for help rehearsing the flirty tune. Though generally pointless in the scheme of the episode, their duet on its own is full of sweet harmonies and has an ideal undercurrent of romantic tension. Like “Teenage Dream,” it’s another great twist on a song commonly sung about a straight relationship. Mr. Schuester makes a surprise visit at the end. “Someone special?,” he asks Kurt of Blaine. “No, just a friend,” Kurt responds. “But on the upside, I’m in love with him and he’s actually gay. Call that progress!”

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“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
Mr. Schuester, Ms. Pillsbury and Coach Beiste discover that Sue has rigged the teachers’ Secret Santa by making sure hers was the only name in the protein powder tub they drew from. (“I hate Christmas, but I love gifts!,” she explains.) They steal her collection of gifts back, and to get revenge, she dons the trademark green makeup and Santa suit of the Grinch to destroy the Christmas set-up in the New Directions’ room. An unexpected guest spot from k.d. lang (in voice only) soundtracks the scene with a sinister take on the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! tune in a weirdly fitting moment — it’s about time the glee club’s grinch looked the part, after all — that nevertheless fell a bit short of being fully realized.

“Last Christmas”
In her final attempt of the fall to win back Finn, Rachel accompanies him to the Christmas tree farm and tries to seduce him with wintry aphrodisiacs and by telling him that she wished for him last Christmas. He’s still hesitant, and she reflects that back with Wham!’s Christmas song, which Glee released as a single this time last year. It’s significantly less Eighties and upbeat than the original, and Rachel’s vocals are a bit diva-esque for the simple pop tune. There are sweet moments, though, and we genuinely felt bad when Finn officially breaks up with her.

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“Welcome Christmas”
In the episode’s other main subplot, Artie is doing everything he can to be a good boyfriend and preserve Brittany’s continued belief in Santa Claus — including taking a trip to the mall so the New Directions can share their wishes with the big man. (Santana: “I want bling. I can’t be any more specific than that.” Mercedes: “I want a pony, and a doll that laughs and cries…” Quinn: “Do you have anything for stretch marks?” Mike: “I want Channing Tatum to stop being in stuff.”) Brittany’s one wish: for Artie to walk again.

The boys enlist Coach Beiste to dress like Santa and break it to Brittany that Santa’s magic isn’t advanced enough for her wish. Convincing as Beiste is, Brittany is still heartbroken when she gets back to school and Artie takes her home, missing the New Directions’ note-perfect performance of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! song. The layered harmonies and simple sentiment — “Christmas will always be, just so long as we have glee!” — tie the episode up with a bow, smoothing out the bumps that came before it. The glee club finds Artie able to walk, in small bursts with the help of a new device from a mysterious donor (a secretive Coach Beiste). Sue, newly thawed from the performance (in a loose parallel of the Grinch’s path of self-discovery) enlists them to decorate Mr. Schuester’s house on Christmas Eve. “I thought you hated the holidays,” he says. “No, I just hate you.”

Bottom Line: With a two month winter vacation ahead of it, Glee packed in hijinks and heart in the name of Christmas cheer. And, as is typical of both the show and its star glee club, the right motive was always there, even if execution fell short on some of the songs. Overall, “Christmas” was a fine cap to 2010. Up Next: On February 6th, Glee meets Michael Jackson in a Super Bowl episode that’s sure to be epic.

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