First and foremost, let’s all chalk up Alex not knowing Jane, her sister’s, real birthday to her being characterized as a ditz and Jane being characterized as a micro-managing mastermind.
Disbelief suspended? Okay, let’s continue on then.
The episode opens with our favorite gang enjoying a night out at their regular bar. While there, they discuss the festivities, as it is the holiday season, and how the group will be spending Christmas with Jane and Brad. Although this prompts the question of why none of them are spending time with their families, it doesn’t really matter in the realm of their world. Max gushes about the amount of eggnog he’s going to consume, it being his favorite part of the holidays, and Alex is looking forward to unwrapping presents, since she has a sadistic addiction to the tearing of paper. It’s a concerning character trait, but one that adds to a long list of quirks that make up the enigma that is Alex.
When being asked to show their IDs to get their drinks, the bomb drops: Jane is a Christmas baby, her ID is fake, and she’s been hiding the truth as long as she can remember.
They all end up at Brad and Jane’s apartment where they talk about Jane’s lie as Brad complains about no longer being allowed to have older women fantasies about her. She tells them that it’s hard being a Christmas baby because parents believe they’re off the hook when it comes to gift giving and the day is no longer hers and hers alone. Instead, when she was younger, she came across two gifts under the tree. One was an Easy Bake Oven and the other was a pack of batteries for the first toy. Classic Christmas baby gift giving.
It’s funny not only because of Eliza Coupe’s earnest delivery of the line, but because of just how true the statement is.
This transitions into the subplot of the episode with Penny trying to choose the perfect gift for Pete. Dave decides to help her since he is a self-proclaimed “gift whisperer.” He shoots down her ideas of jams and antique fans for something a little more fun and a little more tailored to Pete. It’s a simple little subplot that gives Dave and Penny—often the misused characters—something to do that isn’t having the latter pining over the former. It also aligns itself nicely with the main plot.
We meet back up with Jane and Alex where they’re pursuing a day of Jane-mas, putting off celebrating Christmas so that Jane can experience her actual birthday on the day itself. This begins with Alex taking Jane out shopping where Alex has gone out of her way to erase any remnants of the festive feeling, including, taking down all of her Love Actually posters. This a nice little meta bit considering, if you don’t remember, that Elisha Cuthbert was in Love Actually. When Jane finally picks what she wants, Alex offers to gift wrap it despite her, as Jane put it, creepy little obsession with unwrapping.
Back with Brad and Max they’re trying to set up the apartment for when everyone gets back. After running to the store, Max catches Brad dancing along with one of those dancing Santas. But as Brad walks by, he catches the smell of eggnog on Max’s breath. Max confesses, saying it wasn’t his fault and we’re treated to one of the better flashbacks where we see Max innocently looking for snacks when all of a sudden someone knocks a sample of eggnog so that it flies through the air and lands on Max’s lip. This ultimately leads to him guzzling about a gallon of the stuff.
I really, truly, do not understand the appeal of the drink. Maybe I’m drinking it wrong, but watching Adam Pally as Max messily swish the drink around in his mouth, I was simultaneously grossed out just as I was laughing.
Brad ends up having to sober him up when he catches him hoarding the drink in a back pack with a straw connected to it. He dunks a sloppy Max into a sink full of water to do the trick, along the way learning, in one of the best gags, that Max didn’t vote for Obama and instead as a joke wrote down Casey Affleck. Brad looks at him disgusted and dunks his head back in muttering “every vote counts.”
I don’t know why that scene worked as well as it did, but it was one of the funniest moments of the episode.
Back with the less interesting Penny and Dave, we find them plotting Pete’s gift. Dave has come up with the idea to get him Arcade Fire tickets and leaving clues to find them. While hiding a clue he finds Pete’s gift to Penny which is a “big ass candle.”
Once everyone gathers for Jane’s party is where everything falls apart, like all good sitcoms, the disaster doesn’t happen until everyone is in the same room.
Alex’s compulsive need to unwrap presents turns violent as she accidentally stabs Jane’s letter opener into Max’s back, which is protected by his bag of eggnog. It punctures and sprays the drink out all over everyone and everything.
Discouraged, Jane leaves to walk about town to contemplate her feelings of being a Christmas baby. I’m glad they didn’t decide to have Jane be angry at Brad because it would have made zero sense and would have played into sitcom tropes. Instead, she finds a seedy bar where there is a league of individuals who are all Christmas babies and who always meet up to complain about others celebrating the holidays and to celebrate their birthdays in peace.
Penny’s storyline gets resolution when she tells Dave that she loved the candle, saying that it’s an inside joke and how it’s actually a very touching gift. Moved, Dave relinquishes his gift whisperer title to Pete. It’s just as ridiculous as it should be with Dave.
With Jane in the bar everything seems to be going well. She’s being told of a man who was given a bike and air for the tires as a gift for his Christmas/birthday one year when all of a sudden the group begins talking about a riot. They play on running through the streets with baseball bats and other assorted weapons in order to take down Christmas decorations to discourage those who are celebrating. Snapping back to reality, Jane realizes that this is an awful idea and claims that she has somewhere else she needs to be and books it out of there.
On the street is where she finds Brad, who’s been looking for her. He apologizes for her day not going as planned and she apologizes for leaving. I’ve talked a lot about how they’re the best couple on television without justifying why. Well, this scene is why. There were no unnecessary fights just to cause melodrama. Brad was genuinely concerned about making his wife happy and that was the plotline of the episode. They both are written to be well suited to each other, understanding the quirks and the crazy bits of each other and still being consistently, totally enamored with the other. It doesn’t hurt that Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. have wonderful chemistry.
It may have sounded last week as if I was nitpicking, and in all honesty, I kind of was, but there’s a reason. I am constantly touting this as one of the best comedies on television right now and because I do so, the flaws will be more apparent because otherwise I would only be singing its praises each week and how boring is that?
After all the complaining I did last week about the problematic nature of the show I didn’t expect my concerns to all be wrapped up so neatly so quickly. Showrunner David Caspe managed with this week’s episode to find the right balance between the sketch comedy atmosphere and grounding the characters as actual beings with nuance and depth. Is it the deepest pool of characterization? No, but it’s no longer shallow either. The episode had the touching—Brad trying his best to ensure Jane a good birthday—and the absurd—Max walking around with a traveling eggnog back pack.
This show is all about walking the tight rope. I cannot adequately explain to a person who has never seen the show what the show is really about. The basic synopsis always spits out the “a man deals with friends and life after he’s left at the alter” but that only covers the first two episodes. If you were to read that now it would appear that Alex would always be demonized. But this show isn’t a melodrama or a drama under the guise of a comedy, and I think Caspe would be proud of himself knowing that the show isn’t able to be labeled or boxed in. But the problem has never been the originality.
I know that they have an undeniably talented cast and a solidified fanbase. The question is how willing and able are Caspe and crew to expand their demographic, their narrative and tone?
More importantly, does it matter? Probably not, but it would be good for ratings if they were a tad bit more easily accessible.
It was a highly enjoyable Christmas episode that made up for previous week’s faults and a strong way to end before the break. Can’t wait for it to resume January 8th, 2013.