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.
- 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?!