Many of you might think of me as the “Glee” Grinch who swoops in weekly to steal away the joy you get from the show. That’s definitely not my intention, and I definitely don’t get a sense of joy at tearing down a particular episode that I dislike. Disliking “Glee” is never, ever my first option: in fact, I think it’s singularly capable of producing as much joy in my too tiny heart as anything on TV right now. So when I leave out my weekly emotional milk and cookies and get television coal in return, well, I get a little angry.

[Full recap of Tuesday's (Dec. 7) "Glee" after the break...]

A Very Glee Christmas” is almost entirely criticism-proof. Trying to criticize this episode is a bit like criticizing double rainbows. However, I’m tasked with answering the question, “What does it MEAN?” by the powers that be here at HitFix, so while I stared slack-jawed at what transpired tonight (in ways both good and bad), I still have to try and make sense of this episode as something more than a 40-minute commercial for the show’s Christmas album. Many of the show’s bad traits were on proud display tonight, but there was a sweetness at its core that, while violating most of what’s come before it this year in terms of tone, nevertheless represented a possible way forward that might actually work heading into 2011.

On one level, having New Directions literally identify with the Misfit Toys and the denizens of WhoVille is the type of on-the-nose reference that made “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” so groan-inducing. On the other hand, the transformation from outsiders that keep looking outward to a small society that looks to each other for what they do have as a collective is the story that the show’s been trying to tell (however clumsily) all season. It didn’t help that an episode in which everyone rallied around Kurt was immediately followed by an episode in which everyone hated each other, but fine: chalk up last week’s tensions to Sectionals and Kurt’s absence throwing off the group dynamic. See? I’m in the holiday spirit, people!

Without a specific goal in the immediate feature, both the group and the show could use the holidays as a time for reflection. And upon reflection, somehow Brittany has turned into one of the most three-dimensional characters on the show. (If you had her in your office pool for this category, well done. You just totally cleaned up.) In the past, the show has played both her intelligence and promiscuity for laughs. Her relationship with Artie has never really worked for me, but a lot of that stemmed from the show not really spending a lot of time addressing it. But tonight’s episode gave this couple time to finally shine.

Having Brittany believe in Santa starts out as typical “let’s make fun of Brittany for being stupid” storyline, but develops into something more than that when Artie decides to treat this approach as “innocent” as opposed to “moronic.” He soon gets everyone on the team (and, eventually, the teaching staff) to buy into this lie as a way to lose, if only for a little while, the cynicism of everyday life. Without Kurt’s storyline, it might seem silly that no one spills the beans to Brittany, but having all rallied around him at his time of need, the group now rallies around Brittany. Toss in that guileless nature leading to ask Mall Santa to have Artie walk (for his sake, not hers) was the icing on the cake.

It’s the type of storyline designed to give the “Glee” audience collective diabetes due to its overly sweet nature, but quite frankly, Brittany is far more interesting for thinking that Santa is magic as opposed to Britney Spears. I’d much rather see the football guys convince Coach Beiste to sneak into Brittany’s house dressed as Santa than the boys using her to ensure that they don’t prematurely ejaculate. A character like Brittany poses a risk but also an opportunity: as with many characters in her position, a show has to decide if it’s laughing with a character like her or laughing AT her. “Entourage” never seems to know which way to approach Johnny Drama, but “Glee” is starting to crack the Brittany Code, which I guess makes Ryan Murphy the Dan Brown of television.

By not mocking Brittany, the show gives its other characters a chance to see the world somewhat through her eyes, as ripple effects from trying to maintain her illusion spread like a Christmas virus throughout the school. (OK, bad metaphor, I agree.) But it’s not that it’s a magical Cure-All for everything ailing people – Kurt’s still essentially alone at Dalton Academy, save for his unrequited crush Blaine; Rachel can’t convince Finn to get back together with her, no matter how extensive her sociological study of Christmas may be; Will and Emma are barely on speaking terms by the end of the hour. Things are not reset by hour’s end, but many things are potentially reframed. And that’s a far more preferable way to approach things.

I don’t want to approach Wham!’s “Last Christmas” as I might Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” or anything, but there’s something about the show’s use of that song to evoke the schism between the show’s primary couple that suggests, however fleetingly, that the show’s put away Ren and Stimpy’s History Eraser Button for the time being. Normally I wouldn’t reward a show for actually remembering events from its past, but in the case of “Glee,” I have to encourage it all I can to try and keep this up. Often the show fails to draw a straight line through a single episode, never mind a season.

So “Glee” is starting to get the macro elements into place, even if the micro ones still are as hit or miss as the last crab cakes in an all-you-can-eat buffet tray. Sue’s Grinch storyline wasn’t as egregious as the one in which she married herself, but still put Jane Lynch in the type of storyline that suggests that she’s really angered someone on the show’s writing staff. Sue Sylvester is the Mercutio of “Glee”, a character so charismatic and so forceful that she often gets away from the writers, forcing them to reel her in late in the game. Sometimes it works (it did tonight, albeit just barely) but more often than not her actions are cast off like so many uneaten buffet crab cakes.

If I could pull a Brittany and ask Santa for one thing, it’s to figure out what the hell to do with Will Schuester in 2011. Because frankly, I didn’t buy the students all joining Sue to spend Christmas Eve with a man that by and large hasn’t done them a lot of favors. As I’ve stated before in these reviews, “Glee” works best when the students are in the foreground and adults appear as infrequently as possible. Having students interact with them is fine, but when it’s an adults-only scene, the show turns dull in a heartbeat. It may have started out as his show (in as much as his decision to coach New Directions provided an entry point into this world), but it hasn’t been his for a long time. “Glee” apparently just isn’t aware of that yet.

 

Some mistletoe-laden bullets about tonight’s episode…

*** A lot of great one-liners tonight, but Mike Change got Line of the Fall for me with his plea to Santa: “I want Channing Tatum to stop being in stuff.”

*** Does Brittany think that Abraham Lincoln emancipated the elves?

*** As breakout an ep for Brittany as this was, it was also a highpoint for Beiste, who hasn’t been a caricature per se but hasn’t really been fleshed out. Between her funny, worried banter (“That seems so harsh, and not at all like Santa!”) and her buying Artie that device to help occasionally walk, she finally made a true impact on the show.

*** I kept waiting for Puck to rail against the lack of Chanukah celebrations in Glee Club, but I guess post-prison and post-Kurt, he’s more sensitive on the whole. I thought he’d threaten someone with a dreidel before ep’s end. Oh well.

On the whole, I went into this episode expecting to be like the kid in McKinley High who shouted “YOU’RE MAKING ME HATE CHRISTMAS!” at New Directions. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the hour successful under the normal rules of television, it did have enough positive elements that I actually look forward to seeing if the show can keep them up outside of a theme-heavy episode such as this. And that’s a pretty big gift for the show to give me at this point. Sincerity isn’t the worst trait for a show like this to have as a default position, even if irony and black humor is “cooler.” And if an unlikely source like Brittany helps lead the way to a place in which New Directions is a place for its members to grow as opposed to merely compete, than I’m fine with that.

After all, I’m incredibly uncool.

What did you think? Was it fa-fa-fabulous or ho-ho-horrible? Did it seem like more a proper holiday season kickoff or a 40-minute album infomercial? Leave your thoughts below!