“Blame it on the Alcohol”
February 22nd, 2011
“We take our craft serious.”
By the time students reach high school, afterschool specials are a laughing matter. Of course, simultaneously, the subject matter of those afterschool specials becomes infinitely more serious, as students are introduced to social problems which could very well affect many of them in their adult lives. For the most part, the only tenable strategy is to lean into the pitch, accepting that students will laugh and finding a way to spin that humor into something approaching understanding.
However, what happens if you’re a television show ostensibly aimed at teenagers (or, according to Ryan Murphy, seven-year-olds) which wants to do an episode about the dangers of alcohol? On the one hand, the show is interested in the comic potential of a drunk New Directions: it wants to see what Rachel Berry is like when she’s drunk, to indulge in the easy jokes created in such a scenario. Of course, it also wants to avoid glorifying alcohol, which means having characters serve as designated drivers, sober observers, and voices for the value of sobreity.
The success of “Blame it on the Alcohol” very much depends on what message we’re supposed to take away. As a piece of comedy, the episode is about as uneven as we’ve come to expect from the show, finding a few solid jokes but never quite landing. However, in terms of taking the introduction of alcohol and spinning it into something approaching self-reflection, the episode is actually fairly successful. It’s all a bit on-the-nose, and requires more than a little contrivance, but I was left with a greater understanding of these characters.
If not, necessarily, an outright appreciation for the episode in question.
“Blame it on the Alcohol” wins points simply by acknowledging that Will Schuester doesn’t have a life. It’s been one of the show’s biggest problems this season, and it’s a way in which the character is very similar to his arch nemesis, Sue Sylvester. Both characters are at their best when they are either basically absent from or integral to an episode. If they’re somewhere in between, operating as an agent within an episode for no particular reason, they are like Sue Sylvester in this episode: although there are attempts to tie her actions in with her musical awakening in “Comeback,” in the end she’s just a sociopath being a sociopath. Similarly, Will can often feel like a wet blanket being a wet blanket, acting for no reason other than the fact that the story demands it.
When you give Will a storyline, the character takes on the sad quality that was more prevalent back in season one, when he was stuck in a failed marriage and struggling to keep New Directions alive. While I will admit that it isn’t exactly breaking any new ground, at least this makes it feel as though Will’s actions are not simply extensions of that week’s story. Yes, it is very much by design that Will goes out and has an experience which over-intoxication which mirrors that of his students, but the idea of Bieste taking Will out on the town felt like something that might actually happen given their relationship to this point. We can chalk the musical number up to the Glee reality differing from our own, but the dynamic between these two characters has been building to this all season: by the end of those scenes, they even erased some of the ridiculousness of that kiss in “Never Been Kissed” with the charming little peck between friends.
Sure, it’s problematic that Will’s development is pointing right back towards Emma given the show’s well-known problem with rehashing previous storylines, but at least he’s pointing somewhere. I feel the same way about Rachel, to be honest: yes, Lea Michele playing drunk isn’t half as precious as the she seems to think it is, but that she got drunk for a reason (as part of her attempt to live enough to be able to write a meaningful song) holds a certain power over me. Even the way Ian Brennan brought this back after Rachel got sidetracked trying to turn Blaine bisexual was charming, a bit of “Rachel Berry Logic” which made me smile instead of making me want to pull my hair out. It was clever in a way that the show hasn’t often been this season, using the character’s inconsistency to its advantage by having her zag turn out to be a zig in disguise.
Again, the speed at which Blaine began to question his sexuality was ridiculous (although not the controversy that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Scooped tried to turn it into with one of his obnoxious blind items), but it seemed to have actual ramifications. Maybe it’s just that it meant another insightful father-son conversation between Kurt and Burt in which neither side “won,” or the fact that it continued to break down Blaine’s absolute perfection in early appearances, or the fact that Kurt finally seemed to have something approaching conviction, but I quite liked the situation it created. Sure, Kurt’s point of view regarding bisexuality risks perpetuating some fairly odious stereotypes surrounding the term, but I think we were supposed to think Kurt was being an unreasonable jerk in that scene. Maybe the show isn’t capable of properly addressing this kind of complicated issue regarding sexuality in what amounts to the episode’s B-Story (when you add Rachel and Kurt together, at least), but the result was more interesting than the characters have been in previous weeks.
As for the central storyline, the meta discussion of how alcohol affects teenagers, it was about as much of a mixed bag as one would expect from the show. On the one hand, there were some nice moments of honesty from Bieste and Will (both before and after their night out) which threw more mature viewers a bone in regards to the moral high ground taken by Will and his “No Drinking until Nationals Pledge”; on the other hand, there was Will’s “No Drinking Until Nationals Pledge.” In an episode where many of the other storylines had a certain amount of dynamism in terms of playing with dramatic subject matter or actual character motivation, the “Drunk Teenage Antics” were a bit too madcap for my tastes. Heather Morris got to have a lot of fun with “Tik Tok,” and I do enjoy when the show’s musical numbers become complicated for storyline reasons, but for the most part that just isn’t the version of this show that I most enjoy.
Which brings me back to the question of afterschool specials. One of the questions that I often get with a show like Glee is how I can take it seriously: it’s obviously a comedy, or obviously a lesser show, so why subject it to something approaching critical analysis? The answer can be found in “Blame it on the Alcohol,” in that parts are clearly just there to be silly: Finn’s tour through different types of drunks is far from sophisticated, vomit is the definition of a cheap gag, and the show’s glorification of alcohol is so cheesy that it cycles between actual glorification and parody so many times that I got dizzy. And yet, somewhere past all of that there was a story of a depressed man who has nothing in his life but a Glee Club through which he vicariously relives his youth, a gay teenager still fighting with a world which is (in some cases understandably) not prepared for his absolutist take on self-identity, and a young “princess” whose trip to womanhood might have actually benefited from a detour into her parents’ liquor cabinet.
These stories don’t resonate like they might on a more consistent (read: better) show, but the way they resonate on Glee continues to fascinate me, and “Blame it on the Alcohol” took its basic storyline in enough interesting directions to keep me engaged.
- I just purchased the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” for Rock Band a few weeks ago, and it was clearly the evening’s musical highlight. It’s not often the show features songs I legitimately like a great deal, so it was a nice treat, and Criss/Michele’s voices were very well-suited to the song. I’m fine with the show contriving reasons for Blaine to hang out with the McKinley kids so long as it means that Criss gets these parts over Monteith.
- I hope we get weekly work-in-progress songs from Rachel, if only because it means they’ll have to keep giving us live performances – until the song becomes commercially viable, they have no reason to auto-tune it to death, so Lea Michele can sing about her accessories as long as she likes.
- Speaking of which, am I the only dirty-minded soul who thought that the lyrics to Rachel’s ode to her hairband could have been describing a different sort of accessory for a while?
- I can’t speak from experience, but if an ex-girlfriend asked if I was seeing someone, looked at me with utter sadness in her eyes when I said no, and then said “Maybe you should,” I’d think she was a horrible person. Seemed an odd thing for Emma to say, all but telling Will that he should just get over her already – I’d think she’d avoid commenting on it entirely, based on previous character behavior, but that’s just me.
- Sue was awful in this episode, from her homicidal stair-throwing to her evil scheme forcing Will’s phone message into the public, but I’ve got to admit to smiling at the Grease homage.