Troy (Donald Glover), Abed (Pudi), Duncan (John Oliver)

If you’re looking for something a little different–yet also strangely familiar–this Christmas, check out tonight’s cool Yule episode of Community (NBC, City, 8 p.m.). The cast members–cartoon characters at the best of times–have all been rendered as stop-motion puppets in an homage to those classic Rankin-Bass holiday specials like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that date back to the ’60s.
NBC has several EPK clips at their media site showing moments from tonight’s episode as well as behind the scenes peeks at the miniature sets used in the stop-motion animation renderings. Executive producer Dan Harmon talks about the “huge emotional value” those hand-crafted specials delivered back in the day, as well as how quirky they were, pointing out that “weird light sabre sound” Rudolph’s nose would make whenever it lit up.
The episode, titled, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” is all from the perspective of community college student Abed (Danny Pudi). He explains to the other members of the study group that they’ve been animated, warning them to step between the gum drops.

Some cast members are pretty radically transformed. Jeff (Joel McHale) becomes a Jack-in-the-box; Pierce (Chevy Chase) a teddy bear (complete with cleft chin). Britta (Gillian Jacobs) gets turned into a Britta-Bot, perfect since she is a little stiff and tightly wound.
The most radical makeover is Senor Chang (Ken Jeong), now a roly-poly Snow Chang. The whole gang add up to a new island of misfit toys, which Harmon says is pretty much the idea behind Community anyway.
This is one of those shows I keep hearing people rave about (that Halloween episode, where they all turned into zombies, generated plenty of buzz), yet, on a tough night opposite stiff competition, it continues to struggle in the ratings. Maybe tonight’s episode will goose it in the ratings and lead to a Christmas miracle. Shows that take creative chances deserve all the good will they can get.

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