Billboard -- The one truth of "Glee" is the Christmas episode always involves a plethora of holiday sweet with just a dash of WTF. Last year we had that WTF as a midpoint retro holiday special segment, and this year they're going more the holiday movie route to spread the weirdness across everything. Sue tells us exactly how "Glee, Actually" is going to go -- five seemingly unrelated stories sandwiched between commercial breaks that all tie together in the end. And so it beings.
First up is Artie, who fell on the ice on the wheelchair ramp and is left frustrated about his situation in the chair. He falls asleep in the nurse's office and wakes up in a black and white world where he never had his car accident and can walk. Rory is there as his guardian angel (which leads us to question -- was Rory ever really there at all?). He leads Artie around an alternative universe of "Glee" where Tina is still goth and stuttering, Kurt was held back from all the bullying and never met Blaine, Schue is an alcoholic and Terri is still around and still faking the baby. Rachel became the school librarian and is only in the chorus of the local musical. You see, without Artie as an outcast who joined glee club, the whole thing fell apart. Artie tries to bring everyone back together with a performance of "Feliz Navidad" (the band is still on call, even in this alternative universe) to which Finn responds, "that was so gay." Even Kurt looked horrified. The real kicker is Quinn's abandoned wheelchair -- without glee club she still got in her accident and without the support of her friends, she died. He chooses to get back in his chair in the dream world, and wakes up accepting of his lot in life.
Next we head to New York, where Kurt thinks he'll be spending Christmas alone in New York while Rachel goes off on the Rosie cruise with her dads, but then Burt Hummel, the most perfect father on TV, shows up with a tree and a box of ornaments to brings some father/son Christmas cheer to Bushwick. They decorate with Kurt's mom's old ornaments, setting us up for Burt's big reveal -- he's been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Burt Hummel just can't catch a break. Over french fries and hot chocolate he emphasizes the importance of keeping the people you care about close, which segues into him revealing his holiday gift to Kurt is Blaine, who is waiting to surprise him for ice skating in Bryant Park with their traditional holiday duet. They skate and sing "White Christmas," complete with an almost-kiss mid-rink. However, despite Blaine's epic heart-eyes, we're still in no-Klaine land, even if Burt's watchful eyes and Blaine's promise to always be there for each other even if they aren't together says differently for the long-run.
Back in Ohio, baby Puckerman is still getting bullied for his mixed heritage, but big bro Noah shows up to threaten the jerks before whisking his little brother away to L.A. for the holidays to show him the grand Hollywood life. They drive cross-country with Jake in the sidecar of Puck's motorcycle, straight into the Paramount lot. Puck explains that, "when you're in Hollywood, if you're a Jew or a gay you've got it made," and then they simply steal guitars and play "O Hanukkah" to some showgirls and nuns, concluding the bonding moment with matching Jewish star tattoos. However, Puck's lie about his wonderful L.A. collapses at his "borrowed" mansion and they decide to turn right around and go back to Lima and make their moms hang out on Christmas day. The two women fight at first, but the boys remind them that their dad isn't worth it, and he did do one good thing, which is make them brothers and make the four of them family, like it or not.
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Meanwhile, Brittany is giving away expensive presents because she thinks the world is going to end. She and Sam decide to purify themselves by telling everyone how they really feel about them -- they think Tina shouldn't pursue acting, but that Marley is delightful. Then Sam brings in the Cheeros to sing "Jingle Bell Rock" with some extremely dirty choreography before he proposes to Britt. Coach Beiste marries them in the locker room, but of course, four days later, the world doesn't end.
At the same time, Sue pulls Marley's mom for staff Secret Santa and doesn't know what to get her. She goes to spy on her in the cafeteria, where we learn that Marley's mom is the only person who cares about Marley's eating disorder, and she's not buying anything for Christmas so they can save all their money for therapy sessions. Instead of gifts, Marley just sings "The First Noel" in the cafeteria, while Sue looks on. She decides to sell her rare Christmas tree to buy presents and cash for Marley's family.
Then, as Sue predicted, all the story lines come together. The Puckermans are in Breadstix at the same time as Sam and Britt, who find out from Beiste that they aren't legally married. Puck decides to give up his Hollywood dream to be closer to his newly-bonded family. In New York, Kurt, Burt and Blaine all watch sports together, with Burt and Blaine betting on when Kurt will give it up for his precious Vogue reading (Burt wins, of course). When Burt asks Blaine what his graduation plans are, Blaine reveals he's decided to apply to NYADA if Kurt's okay with it (he is). Back at McKinley, Marley's mom has bribed Becky and found out that her Christmas surprise came from Sue, so she brings Sue to the auditorium for a thank you performance of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The club members sing on a typical snowy-white set, but the song is also inter-cut with the Puckermans and Britt and Sam singing together, as well as Kurt and Blaine singing to each other as they domestically set up Christmas dinner in New York for Burt.
"Glee, Actually" was a bit rushed as it tried to cram so many stories into one hour, but even when "Glee" is patently ridiculous and insane like this, it has heart. It's about the family you don't get to choose (the Puckermans) and the family you get to pick (the Brittany and Sam union, the glee club as a whole), about accepting your challenges and the destiny that provides (Artie), and hardships and moving forward to the destiny that's inevitable (the Hummels and Blaine) and learning to find common ground (Marley's mom and Sue). Overall it's about the sacrifices you make for those families, because that's what families do. If only one time each year, "Glee's" heavy-handed lesson teaching is acceptable. It is the holiday season after all.
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