Glee – “Sexy”

“Sexy”

March 8th, 2011

Earlier today, TV Squad posted a piece from friend of the blog Ryan McGee about the role that continuity plays within serial narratives, which was actually partially spun out of a conversation that Ryan and I had about Fringe following its most recent episode.

To discuss continuity in Glee would be to open up the largest can of worms imaginable, only to discover that the can of worms has magically transformed into a barrel of monkeys while you were opening it. Continuity, or rather concerns over continuity, are usually one of the main reasons people end up linking to my “3 Glees” page. It becomes a sort of explanation, a way of understanding why the show is quite as schizophrenic as it is – the presence of three different writers’ voices, all with different interests and different ways of telling stories, could perhaps explain why the show tends to dart back and forth as it does.

And yet, I don’t think the goal of the theory (or the page which collects the theory) is to prove that the show is inconsistent, as if the show is on trial for this particular failing. While I will admit that character continuity is a growing problem with the show, I would argue that in terms of plot continuity the show has successfully embraced its hodgepodge existence.

“Sexy” doesn’t make any sense whatsoever if you consider it in relation to that which came before. The show’s treatment of sex has been almost stunningly inconsistent, at times glorified and occasionally moralized to the point of an after school special, which should make an episode designed around the very idea of sex (and the nuance often involved) hypocritical to the point of ridiculousness.

However, while “Sexy” is both hypocritical and ridiculous, it’s also quite resonant. Brad Falchuk, who dealt with some of this territory back in “Preggers,” doesn’t pretend that the show has been consistent in its depiction of teenage sexuality, allowing the series’ lack of continuity to become itself continuous. The episode doesn’t necessarily match up with what has come before, and it returns some characters to particularly one-dimensional states in order to achieve its goals, but the end result is an analysis less of sex in general and more the role that sex plays within this crazy, discontinuous world of Glee.

Which is a pretty impressive achievement, as ridiculous as some parts of the episode are.

The return of Saint Blaine is, on the one hand, concerning. It says that the fallibility potentially introduced when it was revealed that Blaine has no idea what to do in relationships was a temporary thing, and he’s right back to being an all-knowing figure who can help guide Kurt through this complex world of ours.

And yet, I like what Saint Blaine does in this episode. I like that it means Kurt gets knocked down a peg, allowed to seem a bit innocent and naïve in the face of the world around him. I like that it gives Blaine a scene with Mike O’Malley, whose Burt is always a highlight and was especially integral here. Sure, his speech to Burt was ludicrously mature for someone who performed an elaborate musical routine to a closeted assistant manager at the Gap a few episodes ago, and was clearly the “mouthpiece” moment where the importance of sexual education (especially for gay teenagers) is laid out in plain detail, but the scene landed. Between Criss’ sincerity and O’Malley’s desire to be the kind of father who respects his son for who he is, we got a quiet and honestly contemplative scene which had a clear impact on how Burt considered his relationship with his son’s sexuality. After “Blame it on the Alcohol” had Burt somewhat reticent to the idea of Kurt being sexually active, I think that using Saint Blaine as a catalyst to an honest father-son talk about sex was cheap but incredibly effective. O’Malley and Colfer absolutely nailed that scene, and whatever “moral” was evident in Blaine’s speech was translated into a conversation that would actually happen based on what we know about these two characters, and which just a tremendous scene.

What Falchuk did a great job with was finding ways to use the show’s broader humor to its advantage. Holly Holliday is a ridiculous character in many ways, her outlandish ways a clear overstepping of boundaries, but her frankness is used as a catalyst for some really great stuff for Naya Rivera and Heather Morris as Santana and Brittany explore the nature of their relationship. Their “cuddle sessions” have largely been played for comedy to this point, even cheap comedy at many points, but the way Brittany’s desire for “feelings” resonates with Santana is very “real.” “Landslide” nicely captures its meaning in song, and their final conversation gives Rivera some really superb material which never feels as though it is undercut by any other element of the series. The characters remain the same as they were, Santana still fiery and Brittany still a bit slow on the uptake, but in that moment they both tap into the emotional core beneath those character traits to say what they really feel. It’s like Falchuk is cutting through the Gleeness of many of the show’s storylines, breaking down how real people would exist within circumstances the show has otherwise used for cheap thrills.

Things, admittedly, get a bit more complicated when we get into Will, Holly and Emma. The show has never done a good job of convincing us that Carl and Emma are an actual couple, and the Will/Emma pairing has obviously been kicking around since the beginning of the series. And in the episode’s one major misstep, the show pushes Emma into some enormously naïve territory for the sake of the parallel with her students. I’ve probably written about this before, but it’s a challenge that any multi-generational show with thematic elements has to deal with, and Falchuk fails here. While it’s one thing to suggest that the students are naïve about sex, or to even suggest that Emma has intimacy issues, the degree of her intimacy issues was exaggerated beyond belief. Stuff like “terrified of the hose monster” is something that I don’t buy Emma thinking, yet alone Emma revealing in a moment of emotional release. And for the show to then throw Holly into the role of therapist (as Carl worries about his marriage), and for Holly to just outright ask Emma if she’s still in love with Will, was the sort of storytelling that does not actually make any sense. It’s a rush job, an attempt to get to the point at episode’s end where Carl and Emma reevaluate their relationship and Holly decides she wants Will (now that she knows that Emma is interested).

Some of those smaller details are silly, sure, but I find Paltrow enormously winning on this show and like this particular love triangle. That last scene between Holly and Will is much like their best scenes in Paltrow’s last episode, or Will’s scenes with Kristin Chenoweth’s April Rhodes – they’re not just about Will, or about a theme/storyline, but about two real human people. It appears to be Falchuk’s speciality, as scenes which feel driven by plot still feel as though they are being driven primarily by character. Just take the example of the reveal of Finn and Quinn’s relationship at episode’s end: that could have felt like a cheap plot twist designed to create drama heading into regionals, but the way it was written and played made it more about these two characters and their motivations for being there.

This was a ridiculous episode on many levels. The “Afternoon Delight” performance was loony (and, let’s face it, stealing a joke from Arrested Development and neutering it in the process), the Warblers’ foam party in an abandoned warehouse was unnecessary, and Sue Sylvester was plenty ridiculous in her early scene. However, in all instances there was a sense of isolation: the whole episode was not taken over by these moments, allowed to largely focus on real world consequences which stem from those moments. Carl and Emma’s performance is silly, but it leads to an honest (if, as noted, rushed) discussion about their marriage. Sue’s behavior was bonkers, but it was a brief appearance that Blaine (who experienced Sue for the first time, in a charming bit) could spin into a performance that would spin into the father/son sex talk at episode’s end.

And yes, Holly’s performance of “Do You Want to Touch Me” was way over the top, and Will’s “Oooh, this is sexy” faces were terrifying, but it was a catalyst rather than the point of the episode. With Ryan Murphy in the director’s chair, this was not a subtle outing like “Duets.” Instead, it was an interesting back and forth, in that brief moments of excess were even more excessive (perhaps because of Murphy’s direction) while the quiet moments were even more resonant than usual (which is something Falchuk has done well in other episodes “about” things, like “Grilled Cheesus”).

Yes, the episode reveals many of Glee’s concerns over continuity, and many of the lessons Kurt learns about sex from Burt are things I wish the show could have learned in previous episodes. However, I think it also shows the ability for the show’s most divergent parts to co-exist – as ridiculous as parts of the episode were, it never felt as though they kept the show from going somewhere more grounded, and in some ways the whiplash worked in the episode’s favor. I think the show has had much better episodes, on the whole, but I found this episode to be very meaningful while also delivering some charming absurdity.

And no matter how many Glees there might be, I think that combination is worthy of praise.

Cultural Observations

  • I get why people are skeptical of Paltrow as a recording artist, and to some degree as a performer in general, but I really am quite charmed by Holly. The dialogue’s lame, but it’s supposed to be lame, and Paltrow doesn’t appear as though she’s fighting the material. She’s embracing it, and little scenes like Jazzercise are just neat bits of color which make the character a charming presence. I’ll be perfectly content when she makes a play at moving one step closer to EGOT at the end of the summer.
  • No real standout musical number (from a music perspective) outside of “Landslide,” which is much more to do with “Landslide” and much less to do with Glee (although I thought the play on the Dixie Chicks version was perfectly acceptable).
  • I guess you could technically fold Puck/Lauren into the above storylines, in that Puck realizes the error of his ways and actually finds the right connection to actually be with Lauren, but it was a bit slight. Still, it follows the same pattern: sex tape talk is broad comedy, but then it becomes a real character beat. It’s a bit rushed, but Puck’s little speech was well done.
  • I’ve yet to listen to the original songs, so as to put myself into the shoes of the judges who will surely give them the win at Regionals despite how crummy the songs might be. Looking forward to it, though.
  • Without the video, just listening to the track, I challenge a layperson to tell Will and Holly apart on “Kiss” – what did Morrison DO in that recording session?!
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16 Comments

Filed under Glee

16 responses to “Glee – “Sexy”

  1. Tom

    One glaring inconsistency was Rachel’s pro-celibacy stance in this episode. In “Showmance,” she said something along the lines of this: “Most studies have shown celibacy does not work in high school. Our hormones are driving us too crazy to abstain. The second we start telling ourselves there’s no compromise we act out. The only way to deal with teen sexuality is to be prepared. That’s what contraception is for.”

    So when did her change of heart come about?

    Continuity problems is an understatement. The writers don’t seem to recollect much at all these days, and end up creating baffling contradictions that never end up making sense. The quality of the show seems to be declining quicker than I thought it would.

    However, I did like the episode somewhat. Gwyneth is a hoot, and I’m glad she’s been taking the role to heart. Hope to see more of Holly in the future.

    • Jennifer

      The change of heart came from Rachel being pissed off/dumped by Finn. Some people revenge fuck, Rachel “focuses on her career.” It’s not like she doesn’t have urges, but she is Deliberately Choosing To Focus On Not Boys, Dammit!

      What I thought was odd in the episode was Brittany and Artie (and Puck, and Lauren, and most of the rest of the cast) suddenly going back to Celibacy Club at the end. WHAT?

  2. Steve

    As Dorothy Gale once famously said to Professor Marvel: “It’s just like you could read what was inside of my head!” It’s uncanny the way your writing can hit the nail on the head so often. For me, the most cringe-worthy moment of this multiple personality disorder episode was watching Jayma Mays try to play some real emotional pain at Emma’s reaction to the “instant” break up with Carl even while Gywneth Paltrow’s Holly Holliday is making a crack about her keeping her legs together. I’m beginning to think that the way season one held together as an emotional whole was just a fluke or something. I’m just not enjoying this show as much this year.

  3. When I think about last nights episode -it kind of feels like a bad dream.
    Maybe at this point I’m focussing on the stale parts of the show like the creeper warehouse, getting annoyed with Blaine and Kurt (btw nice comment about Blaine’s personal consistency, knowledgeable all-knowing to unaware and back).

    I’ve always enjoyed what you describe as using characters as a “mouthpiece” and Blaine was certainly one, granted, I’m sure Ryan Murphy saw the material, why was gay sex just reduced to “drinking at a party and fooling around”. That’s like ammo for people who see being gay as just sex, drinking, clubs, etc. A little regressive, but didn’t Kurt tell Blaine that he was a romantic?

    The Burt and Kurt scene was hilarious and nicely done though.

    I did like Santana’s realization and coming to terms with her feelings for Brittany, and haven’t we all been there, spilling our hearts only to get a maybe or if. I’m glad Brittany didn’t just fall into her arms.

    The Emma storyline made me barf. The writers are set on making Will and Emma end up together, as i’m sure that with Gweneth only guest staring that won’t last. It seemed that they were so progressive, especially with her OCD come “Rocky Horror” but have reverted back.

    I still hate Quinn and although I like when other characters (Brittany, Santana, even my new favorite-Lauren) I’m guessing it’s too late in season 2 to throw Mercedes a bone. I can’t think of anything- aside from maybe when she joined the cherios, where her plot didn’t serve to simple advance another person’s plot. I think everyone except her has at the very least dated – since that seems to be the it thing- and even Kurt has a prospect.

    Did i mention I hate Quinn?

    They’ve drained all the like-ability from Finn. After the V-day episode he’s been just cocky- I believe to be what someone referred to as the writer’s simply using his character to be who other’s (Kurt, Rachael, Quinn, and Will) wanted him to be. After all of that, he hasn’t learned much and leaves a sour taste in my mouth whenever he’s on screen.

    This past episode, which I feel I can usually tell how an episode is from the preview, didn’t do anything for me at all. It was forgettable, and in my opinion, one of the worst episodes to date.

    As far as Original Song- yeah they may blow, but as stated before, within the context of the series it may fare well. I wonder how others feel about this:

    If every season/half season (because most shows only have 12/13 episodes per season but Glee has managed to gain more and the distributors are making bank sell $40 dvd of just a part of the season only to sell both of them together later) covers the road to sectionals and regionals, does this mean they’re going to place second and not go on to nationals? Otherwise it would seem that given the past seasons/half seasons they’d have to have a road to nationals or another few episodes to cover that. What do you think? (Sorry for the rant- I have a case of the Glee)

    • Jennifer

      I woke up in the middle of the night last week thinking, “Huh, when are they going to have regionals, because we need to have ‘em soon if they are going to nationals….”

  4. Andrew

    I’ve heard two of the songs. You may like Rachel’s ballad but the song “Loser Like Me” screams of High School Musical.

    Good review. And I agree that “the end result is an analysis less of sex in general and more the role that sex plays within this crazy, discontinuous world of Glee.” I hope the writers continue using the goofy and crazy world these characters live in to actually reveal what these characters feel and believe.

  5. Tausif Khan

    Myles are you going to review the DVD of Huge for Cultural Learnings? I am fan of the show but don’t want to get the DVD if the extras aren’t up to snuff.

  6. William Goodman

    I tuned into this episode last night after not really watching the show since ‘Duets’ and thought the episode was totally ridiculous, but ended up enjoying the episode more than I thought I would. I love Paltrow’s character and liked what she had to do in this episode.

    However, it still wasn’t enough for me to come back for another week. My relationship with Glee was been up and down to say the least, but even with this high, it’s still not enough for me to come back for another helping.

  7. Matt

    Myles, I just recently started reading your column and I just wanted to say it is great.

    Someone above posted on this and I was wondering the same thing. The only one with a reason for joining the Celibacy Club as a new member is Puck. I realize Lauren has a reason too but what about Artie, Brittany, and Santana? Are we just supposed to take it as a given that they were motivated to join? It just plays into the disjointed way the show does things.

    My next question kind of plays into the one above. I can’t remember if it was on this site or at HitFix.com, but someone mentioned that many of the developments that should involve dialogue are delivered with looks instead. If we go with that, what is the look that Santana gives Brittany/Artie at the Celibacy Club meeting? I’m very curious if that is going to be expanded on or if we’re just going to be left hanging. Also, did she join up as a way of saying that she’s going to be celibate until she can be with Brittany? Or is it her way of keeping tabs on them and waiting for a chance to destroy their relationship in typical Santana fashion? With all character growth, I hope the writers don’t throw it away and regress her like they’ve done to so many characters.

    One funny comment I saw on the HitFix.com website was that there should be a Burt cut-0ut in each scene to curb the insanity. I thought that was a great idea.

  8. Eric

    Since each episode of Glee is, essentially, a Broadway musical, is it necessary for the characters to be consistent from one episode to the next? While there is an element of serial story-telling to Glee, since each season progresses from the start of the year through sectionals and regionals, (and evidently nationals this year), it is not a serial-series like Buffy or 24, where each episode ( or at least most episodes in the case of BtVS) presents character development and plot development intended to build to the season climax. I don’t think the characters on Glee are intended to be realistic, three-dimensional, internally consistent characters. They are musical-theatre stereotypes, or perhaps cultural archetypes, who behave as they do in each episode to tell that episode’s story, whether that is consistent with the way they behaved in previous episodes or not.

    • Steve

      Eric, that’s an interesting possibility and if it’s true, then what I said above about season one’s “emotional arc” being just a fluke could be true, because for me, there were elements of the characters’s stories last year that did progress from week to week and seem to build as the season went on. Questions like, “Will Rachel’s edges be softened? Will she find out about her mother? What will happen with Quinn and the baby and Puck and Finn? What will Will do about Terry?” were all dealt with as the season built, first toward “Sectionals” and then toward the season finale, and all seemed to be as important to the show as the music was. When Will races towards Emma at the end of “Sectionals” and kisses her in the hallway, that felt to me like an emotional moment that was honestly earned by what had happened before, and I felt the same way with the “Bohemian Rhapsody” season finale. Maybe I was just projecting or something, but I’m just not feeling it this year. On the “Glee” website at the very beginning of the season I wrote, “Please don’t let this show get too full of itself and implode” and that’s what feels like is happening sometimes.

      • Eric

        I was obviously over-stating the case in saying there is no serial story-telling in Glee, but Glee does not seem to me to be a show about the characters, but rather about the Message of the Week, and the songs, and as a result the writers do not seem to worry about character consistency. They instead feel free to alter the characters to meet the needs of each week’s story. There was no reason for Artie & Britney to be at the Celibacy Club other than the fact that each show tends to ens with the Glee Club as a group.

    • Andrew

      I totally disagree Eric. I think they do try to be a serial.
      The thing is this show sucks at it. I love Glee and I take it for what it’s worth.
      The truth is this show really isn’t that good. That’s all there is to it.
      I love this show for what it is. Maybe it’s a marketing thing. That way fickle teenagers can leave for a month and come back later to watch.

      • Steve

        The more I think about this, the more I think that maybe the whole Glee thing would have worked better as movie or a mini-series that just ended at season one. You know, “underdogs overcome obstacles, some bad and good happens, hearts are broken and then mended, and folks come to a new place, all set to music. The End.” Maybe that’s why season 1 “worked” for me in a way this one doesn’t.

        • Andrew

          Oh, I totaly agree Steve. It should have ended with “Sectionals” or the regionals episode “Journey.”

          But at least with “Sectionals” Will and Emma had a happy ending. At least “Sectionals” was serial and had a happy ending. All I can say is I love this and I watch it every week but maybe too much of something isn’t a good thing.

  9. Jacki

    “Sexy” was the first episode that I absolutely hated. I did not like how they portrayed sex. I thought it was too much and they didnt teach people anything about sex. I also didnt like how all of a sudden Santana and Brittany are going to be lesbians. I know they have “fooled around” or whatever but I thought that was because they didn’t have boyfriends at the time. As far as the show being for teenagers “to leave and come back”, I am not a teenager, but I love the show and so does my mom because of the music. They reach a wide range of audiences because they sing songs from my mom’s time and music from right now. This is my first time on a blog or whatever you call this and I am surprised how deep you people go into this show. I think the actors/actresses are extremely talented. Most of them come from musical (broadway) backgrounds and I love to watch the show each week to see these actors/actresses take their musical talent to a new level. I give them a lot of credit.

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