'Community' preview: EP Dan Harmon makes sense of Abed's stop motion Christmas

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Our anticipation of the "Community" stop motion animated Christmas episode makes us a bit nuts. After all, who doesn't fondly remember watching a claymation Rudolph learn that his shiny red nose would come in handy for Santa? 

And now one of our favorite shows is doing its own take on the medium.

"I love those specials," says "Community's" creator and executive producer Dan Harmon. "They have huge emotional value to me, because most of them are on the theme of awkward people realizing that it's okay for them to be awkward. That's what the 'Community' version of it is, as well."

In the holiday episode, Abed (played by  Danny Pudi) wakes to find himself in a stop motion winter wonderland. The gang soon joins him for what ultimately becomes an exploration of Abed's brain.

"It's a weird art form. It's about being meticulous, but also being completely off-the-wall," Harmon explains. "And that's very Abed. The idea of stop motion animation - total control over a completely creative environment - and what that says about him."

It's amazing just how spot-on the clay versions of the cast really are and Harmon says that it took a bit of serendipity and a lot of thought to capture each character's stop motion doppelganger.

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"You're making a million arbitrary choices in the likenesses of these characters," he says. "What is it about Joel McHale on 'Community,' not on 'The Soup,' that's popping out about the character? When you look at the doll for Jeff Winger, if you split-screen them next to Joel McHale, obviously you're not looking at the same face. But, what is it? Is it the angle of the eyebrows or is it spiky hair? The kind of expression on his face? We were very excited about those opportunities."

To us, "Community" is like a TV sitcom test lab, which gives a nod to "the rules" while at the same time challenging their boundaries. Somehow the show makes action thrillers, space themes and zombie movie lore work while still preserving the characters' storylines. Harmon promises the Christmas episode was conceived in the same vein.

"Doing your story in a different medium is a great way to send a signal to the audience that, hey, these guys are real," he says. "Because look how consistent they are, even if you put them in outer space or have them be stop motion for an episode."

Watch a few sneak peeks below:

"Community's" stop motion animated Christmas episode airs Thursday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
Photo/Video credit: NBC
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