It's the holiday season and Glee's iTunes sales are down, which means they need an episode that's chock full of songs and light on plot more than ever. Since the musical numbers are often the highlight of the show, there's nothing really wrong with that, but it almost seems like Glee went out of its way to make the musical numbers in "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" extra bland.
The show opens with Mercedes leading an elaborate and entertaining performance of "All I Want For Christmas is You" simply because it's a fun song and it's impressive that she can belt it out. Rachel jabbers about how this will be the "best Christmas ever" and tells Finn she's made up a list of Christmas gifts he can get her, though she's Jewish, yes? (Poor Lea Michele is also forced to say this line: "We might have spent our entire decorating budget for the year, but with something that looks as absolutely fabulous as this, I have to say, brav-ho-ho-ho.")
This is one of those episodes in which Sue is somewhat less evil and forgets that she hates New Directions. She summons Artie, Kurt, and Blaine (who gets excited when she calls him "Young Burt Reynolds") to her office, and say she wants New Directions to accompany her to the Lima homeless shelter. After Rory sings "Blue Christmas" because he misses his family, Mr. Schue bursts into the classroom and tells the kids that the local PBS affiliate wants to feature a New Directions Christmas special in lieu of the Yule Log. Artie, who's serving as director, says his vision is to produce a show that's a mix of the Judy Garland Christmas special and the Star Wars holiday special. (Cue the much-hyped Chewbacca cameo, which is just a quick cutaway to a dream Artie had in which Chewie tells him "It's not Christmas without Chewbacca!" So true.) Artie claims that Star Wars fans love the 1978 holiday special and it's unclear if he's being sarcastic or if Glee fears the wrath of George Lucas.
When we return from commercials, Rachel is singing "River" complete with fake snowfall in the auditorium. Artie says it "makes me want to kill myself" and explains he's envisioning a fun holiday party in the living room of Blaine and Kurt's chic Gstaad chalet (if those two words only remind you of Roman Polanski, you've probably been reading too many feminist blogs). Rachel gets into Artie's good graces by performing the duet, "Extraordinary Merry Christmas," a typically cheesy and upbeat Glee original, with Blaine.
The idea of showing the full Glee Holiday Spectacular within the episode is fun, but unfortunately it isn't executed very well. Kurt and Blaine's black and white "Let It Snow" duet and the first few minutes of retro banter are entertaining, but by the time Mercedes and Rachel arrive at the door the skit's already getting annoying. "My Favorite Things" is unbearably cloying, and though they provide a break from the unfunny '50s lines, Finn and Puck's performance of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and a Brittany-led version of "Christmas Wrapping," don't improve things much. Finally, Rory, who's playing an elf, reads the biblical verse about Jesus' birth used in A Peanuts Christmas Special and the kids (including Puck and Rachel) realize they should really be keeping Christ in Christmas. It's easy to blame Matthew Morrison for this mess since this is the first episode he's directed, but for whatever reason, the Holiday Spectacular just doesn't come together. There's a lot of potential for humor with a teen boy-directed mash up of the two holiday specials, but instead of delivering moments that are actually funny, the show just amplifies the worst parts of old Christmas shows. Also, the whole thing has almost nothing to do with Star Wars. There isn't even a Wookiee or a Bea Arthur cover.
The group meets Sue, Quinn, and Sam at the homeless shelter and performs "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Throughout the episode Rachel hints that she wants diamond earrings from Finn (even saying at one point, "All I want is what's coming to me! All I want is my fair share!), and he finally delivers. However, Rachel decides a lovely boyfriend, a symbolically adopted pig, a star named after Finn, and earrings are too much for one girl. Rachel and Finn return their Christmas presents for each other and donate the money to the Salvation Army. It's a nice sentiment, but all in all, it's a rather unextraordinary Christmas. If you're still in need of holiday cheer, I recommend re-watching last year's "Baby It's Cold Outside" duet and marveling at Darren Criss and Chris Colfer's ability to make this gross song sweet.