“Silly Love Songs”
February 8th, 2011
“I need more than just a song to get my juices flowing.”
There are various reasons why “Silly Love Songs” has been pretty universally praised, and pretty universally considered to be a much better showcase for the show compared to the fairly middling, incredibly uneven Super Bowl episode. There are also various reasons why some of this praise comes in the form of a comparison to “Duets,” which I named one of my Top 10 episodes of television to air last year (and is certainly the best episode of the show’s second season thus far).
Those comparisons are earned, and in some ways “Silly Love Songs” is an even greater accomplishment if not necessarily a superior episode. Like with “Duets,” a simple construct is used to justify various musical numbers and unite the characters under a common theme; however, unlike that episode, the “consequences” of these songs are more broadly drawn, with an excess befitting the Valentine’s Day theme but also stretching the laws of science and delivering some real anvils in the process.
However, Ryan Murphy’s script never feels as though it allows those moments to get out of control, and the episode’s charm wins out even given its occasional lapses. The episode seems inconsistent if you think about it, and the rush to get characters into certain positions is problematically apparent, but I never felt that even if I thought it. “Silly Love Songs” successfully severed the connection between the heart and the head, never losing its steadiness and quite consistently entertaining in a way that the Super Bowl episode only managed at Halftime.
Puck and Lauren doesn’t make any sense, except when it does. Quinn and Finn’s attraction was rushed in “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle,” and was embellished with a backdrop of fireworks stock footage, but it still sort of felt real. It seems ridiculous that Blaine wouldn’t realize Kurt was in love with him, but the overly convenient explanation also makes him a far more engaging character. The context for Tina’s complete emotional breakdown is non-existent, but Jenna Ushkowitz actually got to sing live at the start of it. The ability for Mono to pass that quickly, and for both Finn and Quinn to catch it at the same rate, and that Sam’s reaction is entirely nonexistent, is pretty ridiculous, but…actually, that one I don’t really think came back around.
However, you see my point. This was not, like “Duets,” an episode which stuck with simple and executed it extremely well. This was an episode that did some somewhat ridiculous things but ensured that the consequences were recognizable human behaviors. Blaine’s musical valentine at the GAP was incredibly over-the-top, totally justifying Jeremiah’s horrified reaction, but the resulting conversation between Blaine and Kurt was the first conversation they’ve had where there wasn’t an air of superiority/authority/angelic around the former. The show’s musical numbers are all about action-reaction, but so often that reaction is simple stimulation (or, if you want to avoid it sounding too sexual, wonderment). Like Lauren says in the above quote, it can’t just be about “impressing” the audience: it needs to be about what the song creates, something more complex than simple pleasure. We need to feel something for these characters, to feel as though the musical numbers that have become the show’s hallmark are not actually about the show itself.
That was where “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle” failed: the opening number was clearly designed to appeal to holdover viewers, the halftime show was clearly designed to be a showcase, and even “Bills, Bills, Bills” was without any sort of function. It was Glee by Numbers, an episode which was driven by the musical numbers in and of themselves rather than their impact within the narrative. By comparison, “Silly Love Songs” still had a large number of musical numbers but they felt as though they were expressing something that we could at least tenuously locate in the narrative. This doesn’t have to be rocket science, as it’s not as if “Let’s sing Duets!” or “Let’s sing about Love!” are Emmy-winning writing constructs. But sometimes, when you let Artie play Michael Jackson’s voice and have Mike play Michael Jackson’s legs as they serenade their girlfriends with “P.Y.T.”, it is enjoyable enough that its artificiality begins to fade away.
“Silly Love Songs” has two closing numbers, in a way: both “Firework” and the eponymous Wings song play the role of encapsulating many of the characters’ emotions in the episode. It’s a smart move, one that I think is key to the hour’s success at overcoming some of its more excessive moments. It rightly implies that not everything can be tied up in the same song: Rachel can be the central figure of independence at the heart of “Firework,” belting out her personal worth despite Finn’s rejection, but then she can be the excited concertgoer supporting her friend during “Silly Love Songs.” After the Super Bowl episode laid out broad, sweeping morals, this episode let characters reach different fates, and brought them together in spirit while still maintaining certain divisions (Santana’s ostracism, for example).
And frankly, the final number was just sort of fun. “Firework” was resonant, and Lea Michele can sing, but “Silly Love Songs” better captured the sense of enjoyment that the episode was going for. I honestly don’t care if Glee always makes sense: I complain about some of the episode’s logic above, and I do think that parts of the Finn/Quinn storyline were hokey to the point of being ridiculous, but Santana the Candy Striper was probably worth it. For each ridiculous moment within a storyline, or for each over-the-top musical number, there was something which emerged from it which justified its existence. This doesn’t make the episode perfect, and it doesn’t quite match the subtle beauty of “Duets,” but it does make for Glee at its level best: charming, a little bit exhilarating, and capable of leaving us wanting more instead of feeling as though we’ve overdosed on enthusiasm.
- I really like Jane Lynch, but now that she’s won the Golden Globe and the Emmy, can she just retire? Because there’s one comparison between “Duets” and “Silly Love Songs” that can’t be ignored.
- My one outright complaint about the episode: that moment between Sam and Santana. Ridiculous.
- As noted on Twitter, I have long believed that any obnoxiously complicated relationship web should be known as a Love Rhombus.
- Interesting use of multiple voiceovers, which is somewhat risky: it becomes a sort of exposition, in that it rushes Finn’s sudden cockiness, Puck’s crush on Lauren, and Santana’s sense of revenge. However, Tate Donovan (yes, Jimmy Cooper) did a fine job getting the visuals paired with those voiceovers to really pop, and I thought that it was an effective shortcut rather than a blatant ploy.
- I don’t think this totally destroys the 3 Glees theory, but this was definitely working against Murphy’s typical pattern: heck, he even referenced Mercedes and Kurt’s brief relationship, which is the kind of narrative memory that he usually ignores for the sake of cheap thrills. I still think that this could be considered Murphy’s take on the “Duets” structure, though: curious if Falchuk gets a credit on a similarly pared down hour, and whether we see further differences.