Until now, there had never been a “Glee” episode that included references to and/or appearances by Chewbacca, Sarah Palin, Kim Kardashian, Judy Garland and Itchy the Elf. But Tuesday’s yuletide-themed episode of “Glee,” “An Extraordinary, Merry Christmas,” gave us all of that and more in a single hour of television.
It was truly a Christmas miracle.
Of course, it was a Christmas miracle that was heavy on holiday music and exceedingly light on plot. The closest things we had to storylines were the New Directions’ attempt to pull together a public television holiday show; Sue Sylvester’s uncharacteristically altruistic effort to recruit volunteers at the local homeless shelter; and Rachel’s selfish gift-giving demands on Finn.
By the way, on that last subject, it was wrong on at least two levels that Finn gave Rachel a pig as a Christmas gift when she’s technically Jewish. And no, it didn’t really help that he later joked that, because she named the pig Barbra, that made the sow a “kosher pig.”
But we don’t have time to get into a religious debate about “Glee.” We have nine — nine! — musical numbers to assess.
Mercedes and New Directions: “All I Want for Christmas is You”
The ubiquitous Mariah Carey song actually sounded much more vibrant and fresh with Mercedes (Amber Riley) handling lead vocals. All the choreographed decorating was a little cliche, but when a number sounds this yule-tight, I’m not going to complain too much. Grade: A-
Rory Flanagan: “Blue Christmas”
Damian McGinty, the token Irish member of the “Glee” ensemble, is still adorable. And he sang this Elvis Presley number just fine. But he didn’t sell it. His fellow Gleeks looked totally bored every time the camera captured them allegedly seeming quietly moved by his performance. When the song ended and Santana rudely announced, “I might actually be dead right now,” I sort of knew where she was coming from. Grade: C+.
Rachel Berry: “River”
Like “Blue Christmas,” this also was a sad number. But Lea Michele, veteran show choir showstopper, knows how to make the emotion in a song soar. Plus, the fake snow — which all by itself would have easily cleaned out director Artie’s $800 budget for the holiday special — made Joni Mitchell’s merry melancholia that much more lovely. Grade: A-
Rachel and Blaine: “Extraordinary Merry Christmas”
This was an original holiday song created especially for “Glee.” And it’s a credit to the songwriters that it sounds like something that might have been a cover. Bright, happy and buoyed by the irrepressibly cheery Darren Criss, this absolutely made the episode bubblier. Grade: A-
Blaine and Kurt: “Let It Snow”
This was the point when we transitioned into the black-and-white holiday special, based on “The Judy Garland Christmas Show” and, to a lesser degree, “The Star Wars Holiday Special.” Blaine and Kurt played hosts, welcoming us into their ‘60s-era split-level with a charming tap dance. We vote like. Grade: A.
Rachel, Mercedes, Blaine and Kurt: “My Favorite Things”
After a dippy gift exchange (candy cane-striped pants for Blaine — really?), the old-timey conceit of the “Glee” holiday special starts to get old. But the vocal combo of these four almost saves it, even though this, uh, favorite from “The Sound of Music” technically isn’t a holiday song despite its frequent, inexplicable appearance on Christmas CDs. Grade: B+
Finn and Puck: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”
Finn dressed as Luke Skywalker. Puck came as Han Solo. Then they sang the Springsteen version of this yuletide classic in competent but toally unmemorable fashion. Grade: B-.
Brittany S. Pierce and co.: “Christmas Wrapping”
This Waitresses track happens to be one of my favorite holiday songs. But I can’t say I ever imagined it being performed as part of a yuletide ribbon twirling routine. Diverting but, again, not hugely memorable. Grade: B.
Full cast: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
Once the holiday special wrapped, the New Directions gave into their December guilt and headed over to the homeless shelter to help Sue, the redeemed Quinn and Sam distribute food to the needy. Naturally, they did this while singing the ultimate expression of holiday sanctimony, the Band-Aid charity single that has become a seasonal staple. I love this song, but I also can’t ignore how condescending its lyrics are. I mean, didn’t it seem weird to watch our “Glee” kids grinning happily while crooning about the “clanging chimes of doom”? When they got to the “Feed the world” part, it felt a little better. Grade: B.