Glee – “Prom Queen”

“Prom Queen”

May 10th, 2011

Ian Brennan has always been the Glee writer most interested in embracing the series’ meta qualities, but there are two moments in this week’s episode where he goes one step too far. First, Sue’s list of most-hated songs the Glee club has performed were very clearly a bit of self-deprecating commentary rather than something Sue would actually observe – the notion of apologizing to America was particularly strange, greatly exaggerating the reach of “Run Joey Run.”

Now, note that Brennan wrote the episodes in which both “Run Joey Run” and the “Crazy in Love/Hair” remix appeared, so he’s picking away at himself more than the show itself. This was also clear when Jesse discussed the whiplash nature of his relationship with Rachel disintegrating, which was most evident in the Brennan-scripted “Funk.” In both instances, I found the commentary obnoxious, and it pulled me out of the scenes themselves and into the artifice of the series.

Of course, the show does this quite often, but it felt like “Prom Queen” had a particularly steep climb in regards to fully integrating the viewer into its world. This goes both for the episode’s climax, which was the topic of a huge spoiler controversy over Twitter a few weeks back, and the performance of a particular viral video sensation of questionable quality. I am not among those who asks that the Glee universe presents itself as cohesive or realistic, in part because the show is clearly built around their world extending into our own with concerts, downloads, and everything in between, but also because I think this meta quality has a certain charm to it…when used properly, and when used sparingly.

While it is unfortunate that the climax of “Prom Queen” had to be caught up in the online kerfuffle and thus rendered somewhat less effective, I would argue that the episode as a whole transcended Brennan’s obsession with the show itself to deliver a couple of strong moments which felt honest to Prom at McKinley High School.

And yes, that more or less includes “Friday.”

The best scene in “Prom Queen” is Artie’s failed proposal to Brittany, and mainly because Heather Morris is so damn good in it. The song makes sense (even if it was, in fact, written about a baby), the nature of the performance (a sort of impromptu jam band featuring only members of New Directions) was well within the realm of possibility, and the interaction between Artie and Brittany never once felt choreographed. Sure, Brittany’s nervous movement played into the blocking of the scene, but the way Brittany shies away and the nature of her nervousness just felt so real, with that “Oh My God” when the musicians first enter the room maybe being my favorite delivery she’s ever done (especially since it had nothing to do with one of the typical Brittany one-liners). I love the way she starts tapping her foot as if she can’t help it, and I love the way she bobs her head back and forth against her will, and I love the way she plays with her hair and looks to the ground. Effectively, this scene made me fall in love with Heather Morris, and more importantly it created a powerful connection between the scene and the piece of music.

While the recording of “Isn’t She Lovely” is available, it’s nothing without Morris’ performance, and seems like it’s missing something without Kurt conducting the performance with his whisk and getting incredibly excited at the idea of a prom proposal happening in his presence. It’s one of my favorite numbers of the season precisely because it works best when we see everything: the performances, the staging, the context, and even the “choreography” (as it were, given that it’s that much stronger for being somewhat haphazard in its organization). While Rachel and Jesse’s “Rolling in the Deep” was fine, it really works just as well as Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff’s “Rolling in the Deep,” which seems far less essential for me. The show is working at its best when the two sides of the coin are working together, when the clearly produced audio track becomes so connected to the character drama onscreen that we forget to think of them as two different entities.

The challenge of “Friday,” of course, is that it’s “Friday.” I saw some complaints about this on Twitter in advance of the episode, as its appearance on iTunes meant that the audio (but not the context of the performance) was available, which I think is part of the problem. Look, I don’t think “Friday” is a good song by any means, but I think that in context the song made perfect sense: I fully believe that a bunch of High School Seniors would embrace the irony of Rebecca Black, especially if it was worked into a dance remix as it was. Now, we can argue that Puck’s campaign to be Anti-Prom King might be hurt by his performance of this particular song, and the production was atrocious (especially whatever it is they did to Chord Overstreet’s voice, which sounded weirder than usual), but the actual context of the scene was fine: it was a party song, the first song to set the mood for Prom as a fun space. “Friday” would be a perfect icebreaker song in such an instance, and so I think it made perfect sense (even if I would not say that I “enjoyed” it as much as I might something less…well, annoying).

Of course, the whole issue surrounding Kurt’s stint as Prom Queen was itself a topic of conversation as of late, and it was tough to separate that whole scenario from the episode itself. I think this is partly because it is one of those storylines that feels like it is checking off the boxes to get to a certain point. You have Blaine sharing his own prom experience to create a bit of foreshadowing, you have Burt emphasizing the importance of not being too ostentatious to create a bit more foreshadowing, you have Karofsky apologizing to create a false sense of security, and then you have the silent, largely uncharacterized student body showing their cowardice in doing by secret ballot what they won’t do to Kurt’s face. It’s heavily choreographed, and that line about secret ballots from Kurt is a bit too “on the nose” for its own good – it captures too well the big picture, which was a bit too easy to focus on in such a broad sequence.

However, as with this storyline’s previous appearances within the series, there are those moments of “reality” which manage to connect beyond the plot itself. Mike O’Malley manages to ground everything Burt says, Max Adler was great during his apology (even if Kurt’s side of that conversation felt a bit preachy to me), and Chris Colfer definitely stepped up to the plate during that final sequence. Even as the show went to a split-screen that falsely tried to connect three different storylines which were less related than they wanted to pretend they were, the plot momentum the show has had late this season largely shone through: Quinn and Rachel’s side remains underdeveloped and showed it, but Brittany and Santana continue to resonate, and Kurt working up the courage to accept his crown was played with the right amount of delay (as in it took him a while to build himself up to it, and nicely called back to Blaine’s anxiety as a reason to avoid accepting his victim status).

This is never going to be a realistic show, but I have always argued that its excess from a narrative perspective is fine with me so long as it feels as if it relates to the show’s high school setting. Sure, it was a bit contrived for Finn to get so jealous at the dance that he would get into a fight with Jesse, but that’s a thing that actually happens in high school all the time. When the show goes for big storylines, like Kurt’s coronation, it does start to step into its own little world where these things are “realistic,” but so long as it doesn’t seem as though it fundamentally alters the show’s characters I consider it just one of those things you need to accept about the series. In this instance, as much as parts of the episode – like Sue’s unnecessary torture methods on poor Artie that proved useless – threatened to pull me out of the narrative, there were other moments that gave “Prom Queen” meaning that isn’t wholly trapped up in the show’s cultural capital.

And that’s what I’m watching for, even if it means getting “Friday” stuck in my head for a few days.

Cultural Observations

  • The other two Prom songs were a bit more obscure, but it’s a fun dance track for Blaine (“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You”) and an emotional ballad for Rachel (“Jar of Hearts,” which I first heard on So You Think You Can Dance a few seasons ago), so that’s well within the show’s patterns. I would agree with Cory, though, that Darren Criss “should maybe cut it out with the faces. Maybe.”
  • While I know that cultural references are a key part of the show, would Santana REALLY know where the Hell’s Angels handled security for the Rolling Stones? I feel as though the character would speak in generalities in that instance, so the specificity seemed strange.
  • Was I the only person surprised to see the Bully Whips actually continue to be a thing? And yes, it’s sad that basic continuity remains surprising on this show.
  • The whole storyline with Sam and Mercedes doesn’t actually constitute character development given that it was just the same sort of non-committal character work they’ve done with Mercedes all season, but I liked it well enough, perhaps because I was totally someone’s Sam at my high school prom (albeit without the whole “Prom on a Budget” angle).
  • Always interesting to see a show, clearly filmed before a major pop cultural event, referencing that pop cultural event in the context of a major storyline.
  • Sure, I didn’t like that Sue was there and took some time with that silly interrogation storyline, but the absence of Will from the bulk of the episode was sort of welcome.
  • Without spoiling Buffy Season 3, I kind of like how this offers an absolute counterpoint to “The Prom”: two awards given out in lieu of being able to say something to that person’s face, one driven by a deep appreciation and the other by deep hatred.
  • Another fine directing job from Eric Stoltz, who continues to be that Eric Stoltz.
  • There’s a lot of questions in the Kurt storyline that I’m going to just sort of throw out there. What do we think that Kurt’s attitude with both his choice of attire and his pressuring Karofsky to come out? Should Principal Figgins have even read the result (and was there someone on the Prom Committee who was part of it, which might explain how it got to him in the first place)?
  • One thing I am sure of: while I know the song was sort of planned in advance, “Dancing Queen” was a bit on the nose for me. I have a fairly unironic affection for ABBA, in the right context, but something about it just felt off.
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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Glee – “Prom Queen”

  1. Pingback: Reaction to Glee's Prom Queen Episode | Ifelicious Thoughts

  2. Agreed: Brittany’s “Oh my God,” was great. However, I was more drawn to her “Best. Prom. Ever!” line. I think it not only captured the moment (I’m totally on board with your defense of “Friday,” by the way), but also advanced — or even legitimized — her character somewhat. I saw strength in that joyous outburst: She’d embraced her hurt feelings and turned them into confident independence. Only after that had been accomplished was she willing to go back (at least to be photographed) with Artie.

  3. Tim

    Once again, you’ve crystallized my general feelings as I watched this episode. I wasn’t quite as frustrated with Brennan’s self-reference as you were (mainly because I’d already faced that in the season 2 opener) – and I wonder if that didn’t dampen your enthusiasm for an absolutely brilliant “Rolling in the Deep” that reminds us what real stage performers do with the music in this series.
    Agreed on Artie’s “Isn’t She Lovely” (a song I truly despise, but it just didn’t matter because of both Heather’s AND Kevin’s performances; his devastation hit me in the gut) – that’s two shows in a row where he’s had THE musical moment.
    Why “Friday” worked and “Dancing Queen” didn’t: Simple. They played “Dancing Queen” as background music for a montage (could have just played the ABBA original and it wouldn’t have mattered) and made “Friday” a Glee number. Very frustrating as I have always loved “Dancing Queen” and the original “Friday” makes me violently ill.
    Oddly, I thought Sue was much less of a problem in this episode than many others this year. Of course her tirades in Figgins’ office are almost always a comedic tour de force (“That was the punchbowl that my grandmother drowned in!”), but what really gets me is that when Sue’s adrenaline is really supposed to be up – in this episode, pulling the boys off the dance floor – she becomes someone altogether different, tense and almost feral. There’s no hint of condescension when she tells Quinn, “Sucks for you, sister!” – just a set jaw. The few times when Sue does drop her guard – whether it be with Jean, her mother (I will not apologize for loving that storyline, silly as it was), or in these on-the-verge moments – are the times when I’ve actually felt connected with this character.
    Cory Monteith may not always be pitch-perfect with his singing, but his acting in this episode was. (In fact, did he actually sing at all in this episode?)
    One observation about Brittany-Santana: if their relationship doesn’t stay as is – and Artie’s hopeless romanticism makes me want Brittany to go back to him – would the writers have the guts to let that relationship fail on its own as a result of Santana’s manipulation? After all, Artie may have been an idiot in the way he said it in the Rumours episode, but what did he say about Santana’s and Brittany’s relationship that wasn’t true?
    The Quinn-Rachel storyline continues to be problematic in its whipsaw ambiguity, but it has been ever since “Sectionals.” I’m actually getting a little Stockholm Syndrome on this one and learning to enjoy it.

  4. High School Student with Weird Internet Habits

    I’m in high school. Last month there was a talent competition 10 senior boys participated in – one of them sang “Friday” dressed up as Rebecca Black (while another guy came on stage and did the rap part, in a plastic car). He won. (And another guy sang “Baby” dressed as Justin Bieber, and another one sang some female lovesong or another ironically.) So I can totally believe Puck, Sam and Artie would sing “Friday”.

    There’s also a boy at school who gets picked on a lot (for being shrimpy, immature, and totally oblivious, among other things), though he doesn’t really realize he is since he has little understanding of social cues. He was voted onto the student council ironically; everyone laughed and clapped each-other on the backs when he won. So I can absolutely believe Kurt would be voted Prom Queen, too.

    High school kids are douchebags.

  5. Eric

    Why would the Prom Committee, (who, like the rest of MKHS, theoretically despise the Glee Club and the kids in it) have the Glee Club provide entertainment at the prom? Wouldn’t they have hired a band, or maybe the Warblers? ;-)

  6. James

    The best part of the episode: seeing Lea Michelle being slapped in the face.

  7. i love glee so much, the scene in this episode that makes me cry is the part where Kurt and Blaine, Santana and Brittany, and Quinn and Rachel, run out of prom because they had a problem with the prom king and queen results. the music in the background of this scene makes me cry.
    i just love glee so much i wish i could be apart of it, because being part of something special makes you special… right. i’m 16 going 17 and i have never had a prom, becuase i am from the Uk and we do things differently, which is stupid. everytime i watch the prom episode i feel like i will be getting ready to choose my dream prom dress, and be asked on a date.
    glee will be with me forever, as it has been their when i was in year 10 (sophmore), in the uk we have a year 13, so i will be 17 at my prom because i am the one of the youngest, out of 250 students, time is going so slow, i have wanted a prom for as long as i can remember. Glee your the best and i love you xxx FOREVER

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