There are a couple of other shows lurking inside of Glee, ghosts of the shows that could have been. One is the deeply sentimental after-school special sans snark, the show that more often makes viewers cringe than say, “Hey, that was OK,” no matter the show’s intended audience of teenagers and young’uns. The other is the often very sad show about failed dreams and the people who cling to them desperately, usually best exemplified by Will Schuester and his realization of just how little his life has amounted to, outside of the fact that he seems to enjoy teaching and his students seem to appreciate him. That could be more than enough if it wasn’t for the fact that he wanted to be great at one time, but got sidelined by life and ended up as someone the teenage version of himself would barely recognize. That’s the guy we first met in the pilot, trapped in a flailing marriage and trying to right himself via returning to his show choir roots.
Both of those ghost shows popped up in “Blame It On The Alcohol,” right alongside the silly, snarky show that’s been dominant this season, the one that’s almost as interested in giant production numbers as telling a coherent story filled with recognizable character beats. “Alcohol” was far too overstuffed and could have easily been something like a two-parter or even a small arc (since the ending was so abrupt), but I didn’t hate it, like a lot of people I know seemed to. I thought it had both the best and worst of Glee comfortably rubbing elbows with each other, and that may be the best Glee fans and former Glee believers can hope for. It’s not hard to see ways the episode could have been better, but I sort of enjoyed it in spite of myself. (This was maybe due to lowered expectations, but hey, I'll take what I can get.) There are times when the show takes place in a heightened version of reality, and there are times when it takes place in a world that has no resemblance to reality whatsoever. The former is better for the show as a whole, and while the after-school elements were cringe-worthy, “Alcohol” largely situated itself on the right side of the believability scale.
For whatever reason (see: Fox thought it would be good to have a message episode), the students of McKinley are coming to school drunk in increasing numbers. Figgins has handed out five suspensions already, and in the course of commanding Will to help him out, he has to hand out a sixth to a guy who smashes his big, beer belly against the principal’s office window. So Will and the kids have to perform a song about the dangers of drinking for an alcohol awareness assembly, and they struggle to think of what they’re going to do. The rest of the episode has something like 500 plots, but they all spin naturally enough out of this initial setup that the episode doesn’t feel as chaotic as the show often can. It also wins points for the final message being, “We know you kids are going to drink, but for God’s sake, please be responsible about it. We’d rather you not die.”
The episode proceeds from there to a party at Rachel’s house—one she throws because her dads are out of town and Puck goads her into it. (All of this prompts a question someone on my Twitter asked me: If Kurt is having such trouble finding gay role models in Lima, why doesn’t he just turn to Rachel’s dads, other than the fact that the show doesn’t want to introduce them as characters when it could inevitably get two celebrities to cameo as them in the inevitable graduation episode?) The party section of this episode was easily its best part, and if it had dominated the episode, I might have actually given this the rare A. Throwing the kids together in a room would have been a good way to exploit the numerous miniature storylines between all of them and blow them all up over the course of a long, alcohol-fueled evening. In these scenes, the kids really felt like kids, not like miniature 30-somethings working out their childhood traumas via the world’s most bizarre LARPing session. It was great fun, and I hope the show notices how enjoyable it was and comes up with a way to revisit it. It didn’t hurt that the best number of the episode, Rachel and Blaine’s take on “Don’t You Want Me,” took place in this section or that Finn’s rather amusing (if over-familiar) dissection of the different kinds of drunk girls was also in the midst of this sequence.
The sequence ends abruptly, but not before spinning off two vaguely related plots. Blaine and Rachel kiss during a game of Spin the Bottle, but the kiss is surprisingly hot, leading Blaine to get just a little hung up on Rachel and leaving Kurt spouting bitter asides about how bisexuality is just a way for gay teenage boys to hold hands with girls every so often to feel accepted. At the same time, Blaine gets so wasted that he has to crash at Kurt’s house. Burt catches Blaine in Kurt’s bed—fully clothed, but still—and becomes understandably upset at the thought that his son is having a sleepover with a potential love interest without asking Burt for permission. Would Burt have required Finn to ask permission to have a girl sleep over? Yes. But would he have been more comfortable with the idea of Finn and a girl hooking up than Kurt and a boy? He doesn’t answer that. (At the end of this scene, Kurt tells his dad to educate himself so he can turn to Burt for advice when the time comes, which conjures up the unfortunate image of Burt thoughtfully watching gay porn and occasionally jotting down a note or two.)
While both of those plots more or less make sense—though the Blaine-maybe-likes-Rachel? thing mostly just runs out of gas near the end with Rachel kissing him again and him realizing he’s gay when sober, apparently—the overarching one about alcoholism takes a number of strange detours, dropping off to visit sad Will for a while for some reason. Will’s feeling lonely, what with Emma being married to Uncle Jesse and all, so Coach Beiste takes him out drinking (on a school night!) to her favorite country bar (on a school night!), where he performs a number with the Coach and both get totally wasted (on a school night!) (at a country bar!). Then they stumble home, and Will gives all of the papers he has to grade A+’s for good effort before drunk-dialing Emma. I like this Will, and it’s the closest thing the episode comes up with that amounts to a vaguely anti-drinking message: Kids, if you drink too much, you’ll probably end up embarrassing yourself and violating the American grading scale even more than these grades do. This guy feels like a person with good points AND longings, not the erratically positioned saint/crazy person hung up on a girl he dated for a day of earlier this season. He’s got a nice, friendly chemistry with Beiste. He has some funny scenes with Figgins. I hope he sticks around but am pretty sure he’ll be replaced by a vampire or something next episode.
I realize all of this makes me sound like I liked the episode quite a bit, when I more or less just didn’t hate it, but I feel the need to overcorrect, when I see a lot of people dubbing it the WORST EPISODE EVER. Much of that stems from the return of the show’s after-school special spirit, which abruptly resurfaces in the late scenes. In some ways, this feels like an early season one episode. For all of the ways we praise the early episodes of the show, they were as erratic as these have been, just in different ways, bouncing between more earnest dramedy and after-school special parody (see: “Vitamin D,” still a pretty poor episode). The series hit a nice stride around “Wheels,” then rode that stride to the midseason breakpoint, but it still had clunkers mixed in there. This episode was less snarky about its after-school special roots, taking a hard left turn into the glee kids throwing up at the end of their assembly (something Figgins took for comic acting, mostly to give the episode a way to get out of an awkward storyline without something it’d have to pay off in the next episode), then ending up with a very treacly scene where Schu told the kids they could call him if they ever needed a ride when they were drinking, yo. I didn’t mind the message of the scene—again, I like that the show was sort of realistic about teen drinking—but it was executed so poorly that it became laughable.
And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the episode quickly realized it had more plots than it could reasonably close off in the space of a few minutes. It got out of the genuinely complicated Blaine/Kurt/Rachel triangle—again, something that could have become an arc—by having Blaine realize he wasn’t gay and having Rachel not be mad because the experience was “songwriting gold!” (She’s back to working on her original song, which has really, really strange lyrics about her headband. I continue to say Lea Michele is a highly underrated comic actress.) The storyline started out as something that seemed like it might be an interesting, complicated look at teenage sexuality and how it can seem formed but might be more fluid than most teens would give it credit for, then lost its nerve and took the easy way out.
But the episode had a tendency to take the easy way out all over the place. The party was exited too early. Figgins is oblivious to the glee club’s drinking. Schu’s little speech will almost certainly ensure this is never a problem again. Only the Burt and Kurt scene feels like it might return in a future episode (largely because the show has earned a certain degree of trust in how it portrays that relationship via serialized elements). “Alcohol” has bad MOMENTS—the number that gave the episode its title was one of the least enjoyable numbers of this season—but the underpinnings of the episode aren’t terrible, just overstuffed. On the list of Glee atrocities, having too much to say isn’t such a bad one, and when the lack of self-editing is mixed in with some funny scenes and performances and a return of the best possible interpretation of Will, well, it made for an episode that wasn’t great but was still mostly a good time.
- Other performance thoughts: I REALLY liked Heather Morris on “Tik Tok.” I didn’t buy the song being the one the club chose for the big assembly, though. It felt more like an excuse to squeeze a Ke$ha song into the episode and a way for the show to antagonize Genevieve Koski, its longtime arch-nemesis.
- Weird realizations: Mike O’Malley isn’t just starring in this show. He’s also moonlighting as a writer over on Shameless. Bizarre.
- How many episodes has it been since we’ve seen Terri? I thought it had been ages since we’d seen Burt, but he last appeared in “Furt,” which wasn’t all THAT long ago in television terms. Still, it’s unusual for regulars to sit on the bench this long.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: I generally think Lea Michele is very good looking (I know some of you disagree), but I was greatly amused by the dress Rachel thought would make good party-wear. It made her look like someone who dresses entirely with items purchased at Big Lots.
- Another weak point for the episode: The show continues to have absolutely no idea what to do with Sue. She mostly just turns up to stir up shit at this point, and the shit is rarely stirred effectively. At least the episode remembered she’s coaching another glee club, and her shoving the former coach down the stairs was kind of funny.
- "Is this song about your headband?" "Yes. It's called 'My Headband.'"
- "It tastes like pink. IT TASTES LIKE PINK!"
- "We take our craft serious."
- "That was a gallant effort."
- "Unfortunately, Kitty Dukakis could not be here because of indifference."
- "And now performing the hit song 'Tik And Also Tok' by artist Ke-dollar-sign-ha..."
- "I do think you need to see someone about your sex and love addiction."