Oh, Marti Noxon, you had fun writing this one didn't you. The Buffy vet, who serves as a consulting producer on Glee this season, made her episodic writing debut with "Extraordinary Merry Christmas," a near-plotless throwback to The Judy Garland Show's boozy, high-as-a-kite holiday special (and old-timey variety specials in general). And why not? Last season, they turned Sue into the Grinch (literally) and gave Artie fake legs (literally). Why not deliver a holly-jolly Christmas by serving up some Yuletide chestnuts and the best of '60s TV (accents! corny jokes! canned laughter!)?
But in case you missed the story stuff, or forgot it, or blocked it, here's what you need to know: Mr. Schue picks Artie to direct a throwback Christmas special for Lima's cable-access station, which interferes with the glee club's promise to help Sue serve at a homeless shelter (this year, she's the anti-Grinch), but they show up anyway to sing the Band Aid classic "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Also, Sam and Rory bond over being alone for the holidays, and Rachel learns the true meaning of Christmas (and to love the pig that Finn bought her because it's the thought that counts).
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The rest of the 30 or so minutes was filled by Artie's trippy vision, filmed in black and white, hosted by Kurt and Blaine (introduced as "my best friend and holiday roommate" in their "bachelor chalet") and starring all of New Directions minus Quinn and Sam. It was... oddly mesmerizing, hilarious and kinda weird, even for Glee. Look for the episode to divide Glee fans. There are those of us who don't mind a Rocky Horror hour, or hallucinating/huffing at the dentist... and there are the rest of you. Us? We liked the experimental special-within-the-special.
So given all that, we decided to rank the night's performances by how Christmas-y they made us feel, starting with the lump of coal.
9. "River" Nothing wrong with Joni Mitchell, and "River" doesn't make us depressed the way "Christmas Shoes" does. But if we're ranking songs in order of which gave us the warm fuzzies, this ain't it. Maybe if Rachel had been singing it for a particular reason instead of just auditioning it for Artie? Very un-Joni-like.
8. "Blue Christmas" Glee Project winner Damian McGinty is especially adept at handling slow oldies like this one, but can't they let Rory sing something fun? Cheerful? Up-tempo? Heck, just let him move around a bit instead of standing still in front of the choir room. (If you've been watching carefully like we have, you'll note he's a way worse dancer than Finn! Why aren't they exploiting it?) "That song was so depressing; I may actually be dead," Santana says, and the way Rory delivered it, we kind of have to agree.
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7. "My Favorite Things" 'Tis the season to The Sound of Music! If only we had a pillow to throw in the air like Maria! This cheer-up classic was delivered with gusto by wonder quarter Rachel, Kurt, Blaine and Mercedes, and it put smiles on our faces...but technically it's not a Christmas song, and there was so much more cheer to come.
6. "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" Pretty much every pop act in the last two decades has failed at crafting a new holiday classic (except for Mariah Carey, see below). Glee fares a little better with this original number, thanks to spirited performances by Rachel and Blaine, the bells in the background and the Santa shout-outs — it's almost enough to cover up how very generic the song itself sounds.
5. "Let It Snow" Kurt and Blaine perform it within Artie's special, and producers thankfully didn't feel the need to modernize the track. A little less production goes a long way when it comes to a good yuletide number. Plus: The pair bust out some pretty smooth dances moves straight out of an Andy Williams' variety hour.
4. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Mixed with images of New Directions giving wrapped gifts to homeless children, the final song of the episode is certainly feel-good and familiar enough, it's just not our favorite Christmas song, leaning more toward "Christmas Shoes" in sentiment. Still, it would have been a nice ending to the episode.
3. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" Yes. Put a tambourine in Finn's hand more often! He and Puck manage to take the schmaltz down just a notch (even while dressed as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo) and infuse Artie's throwback with some much-needed rock. Thanks to Puck's dorky, toothy grin and Finn's high energy, this much-covered rendition still packs a cheesy and powerful Christmas punch. (And producers, if you need any more proof Cory Monteith needs to cover Bruce Springsteen, look no further.)
2. "Christmas Wrapping" The Waitresses' 1981 song about a woman too busy for Christmas may be a little too new wave-y (and obscure) for some Glee watchers (even though the Spice Girls did cover it), but hello? The Cheerios decked out in Santa outfits? Twirling ribbons? Brittany bouncing around front and center? Christmas wish fulfilled.
1. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" Is there any better way to start out a Christmas episode than with Mercedes tackling this Mariah Carey piece of pop perfection? No. Sure, it had no point in the episode, but (clearly) we like watching these kids romp around to holiday music. And since we even fondly remember the Olivia Olson version from Love Actually, of course we love this one. If it doesn't get you on your feet, try checking for a pulse.
What did you think of the episode? Which songs put you in the holiday spirit? Which made you feel like the Grinch? Was Artie's vision great or bizarre? Or both? Tell us in the comments below.