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Glee: "Furt"

It's accepted TV critic dogma that Glee's inconsistency is one of the things that holds it back from being the great series it could be. This is a view I largely agree with, but in some ways, the way the show marches all over the tonal map can be a benefit to it, when it wants it to be. That the show can zig from goofy musical numbers to surprisingly earnest moments to barely restrained satire (sometimes within the same episode)often  creates scenarios where the show seems to have abandoned even the most tenuous of realities it's constructed for itself. This leads to wildly implausible and self-serving storylines that do little but to create more insanity within the world of the show itself, leaving whatever happens to be the master plot and whatever happen to be the character arcs gasping for breath. Sam is a really nice guy and good boyfriend material for Quinn one week, and then he's a raging jerk the next. Tonight, he's both of those things within the course of TWO SCENES. And yet Glee's inconsistencies also work for the show on occasion because they can leave the audience just a little gobsmacked.

Maybe it's the holiday cheer taking hold of my soul or maybe this episode really was a strong one, but I thought "Furt" was an all-in-all solid episode of Glee. As with all episodes of this show, there's a laundry list of complaints one could make against it (and I'm sure I will at some point in this article), but sometimes, all an episode needs to do is provide a moment so weirdly, unexpectedly moving that it throws the rest of what happens into relief. A lot of the conclusion of the "Kurt's being bullied" arc was ham-handed and self-serving, particularly the way that the show continues to bulldoze over the unlikable sides Kurt used to have (and can still have on occasion) to make him a saint beyond reproach (and thus a less interesting character). I'm still not sure what to make of the "Sue's getting married to herself" story, other than the fact that seeing Jane Lynch and Carol Burnett together was a hoot (which was probably the point). But, damn, it's rare that an episode of television can make a hurried wedding between two middle-aged people who are rarely on the show into something so well-conceived and thrillingly moving. Much of Burt and Carole's wedding was taken from other, better weddings, but I didn't care. The emotions at the center of it, the emotions of two families blending their lives together and holding out hope for a little happiness, were just right. And that was all I needed.

In fact, let me submit something to you: Glee doesn't need to be consistent to be good. Hell, television doesn't need to be consistent to be good. I'd argue that the characters themselves need to have some sort of internal consistency (and Glee certainly has its problems with this, particularly with its lead), but if the situations themselves float wildly all over the map, the show's only real responsibility is to make these situations and moments as entertaining and inventive as it possibly can. If, next week, Brad Falchuk decides sectionals should take place atop an alien spaceship, then, by God, more power to him. Part of the problem with responding to Glee is that we (myself included) expect it to be more like a modern-style TV serialized drama, where the storylines build gradually and the characters garner detail and the finales bring everything to a head. But Glee has never really shown an interest in that. It's much more interested in being more like an old-school sitcom, where the characters are mostly consistent (again, with some problems) but the stories and plot points can change at the drop of a hat, mostly so the writers can do whatever's most convenient for them in the moment.

This isn't my preferred method of storytelling. It's not the method of storytelling that most behooves episode-by-episode Internet criticism (where half the fun is talking about where the story and characters have been and where they're going). Like most things on Glee, it's a throwback to an earlier, simpler time, when TV viewers were expected to largely just accept that there was a reset button hit between episodes and everything went back to the way it was. And if Glee wants to be this, is that really a bad thing? To be fair, the show makes enough feints toward continuity that it can be frustrating to have things seemingly happen out of nowhere. (As an example: Mike Chang pops up on the football team tonight, and it confused the hell out of me, until a number of you reminded me he was on the team before he was ever on the glee club!) It can be weird to have the story of Kurt and his bully go through three whole episodes (something of a record for Glee) but have something like Sue's problems with her mother arrive and leave within the space of about 15 minutes of screentime. Maybe if the show closed off all of its storylines within episodes, only keeping character relationships fluctuating, like a more traditional sitcom, it wouldn't seem as glaring when the three writers of the show treat a storyline in three glaringly different ways or drop a storyline and then pick it up several episodes later for no apparent reason.

So, no, you can't exactly absolve Glee of some of these sins, but some of the onus has to fall on viewers and critics, too, who keep expecting the show to be something it's never really wanted to be all that much because that's what we expect an hour-long TV show to look like. I mean, sure, I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but criticizing Glee for, say, having Burt and Carole get engaged and married within the same episode (as I was initially tempted to do) isn't really playing fair. The show wants to use traditional tropes and storylines to make jokes, sing songs, and get at larger emotional truths. When the jokes are funny, the songs are entertaining, and the truths are heartfelt, then there's no reason to ask the show to act more like a serialized drama. It's only when everything's misfiring, as it has been plenty of times this season, that it becomes easier to pick on the show for not being what we want it to be instead of living up to what it wants to be and meeting it halfway.

So, yeah, I think "Furt" is a largely terrific episode of television. In particular, I thought the Burt and Carole wedding was very well done. There's a genuinely sweet chemistry between Mike O'Malley and Romy Rosemont that was exploited well here, and even though seeing all of the characters dance down the aisle feels like a ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff at this point, seeing Burt and Carole dance together down that aisle was nicely moving. The same goes for the two's speeches, which, yeah, maybe talked about their kids (particularly Kurt) a little much, but, hey, if you'd been a single parent that long, you'd probably talk about your kids a lot too. What rang through this scene was always the sense that these two people had given up on having something like this for themselves again until they abruptly found it staring them in the face. O'Malley and Rosemont emanate that sense of stunned luckiness, of finding the love of your life all over again after you've stopped looking, and the whole act featuring the wedding is one of the show's finest accomplishments.

The other major story arc (OK, THE major story arc) of the episode involved the conclusion of the Kurt gets bullied storyline. Finn's always had a weird, regressive homophobia that seems at odds with his doofy, genial character. (This is probably the point.) It comes back tonight, as he begs off of helping turn the tables on Kurt's bully with the rest of the glee/football guys (that Mike Chang can be super threatening), then gets worried someone will see when Kurt tries to teach him how to dance for the wedding. Of course, the bully does see, and when he makes a limp-wristed gesture at the two, Burt demands to know what's up, taking the issue to Sue (who's still principal because the show embraces continuity for no apparent reason sometimes). It almost seems like the episode wants to make this storyline about how people SHOULD react in situations like this. If you see your friend being bullied for being different, be a leader and stand up for him, the show says. If your kid's being bullied, make a ruckus with the school. If your student's being bullied, punish the bully, not the student. These thoughts are all well and good, but too much of the storyline was didactic and relied on playing the exact same beats of every "Finn is terrified of being perceived as gay until Kurt teaches him a lesson" storyline the show has ever done before (usually in Ryan Murphy episodes).

Yet, again, the climax is so sweet that it doesn't matter. Sure, it makes little to no sense that Finn would give over his wedding toast to solve a largely unrelated personal matter, but it sort of works in the sense that these two families are blending together. (Honestly, it probably would have worked better if the show had figured out a way to divorce this plot point from the wedding itself and set it back at the school somehow, but there probably wasn't room.) The musical number devoted to Kurt (on his father's wedding day! sorry, I'll stop) is nice, and I admire the show for admitting that sometimes having your friends and your family and teachers like Will and Sue (who hates bullies, in a character trait that somehow works, perhaps because she always wants to be the alpha bully) at your back isn't enough. Sometimes, you just can't stand the harassment and have to go somewhere else. Which is what Kurt does, as he heads off to Dalton Academy just in time to be the club's competition at sectionals (right, those). Now, this is television, and we all know Kurt will be back at some point (this ain't Mad Men), but I do like the acknowledgement of the fact that even in the Utopian fantasy of a Glee wedding episode, things don't always work out like you'd want them to.

I'm less sure what to make of the other two storylines. Sam's so all over the map as a character that his weird, pseudo-proposal to Quinn felt creepier than the show wanted it to, and the series has wasted whatever chemistry the two had in "Duets" on scenes where Sam talks about how he wants to be the most popular kid in school. His pursuit of Quinn feels so mercenary that it doesn't feel real, and while I think the show is trying to do a "kid pursues a girl for superficial reasons, then really falls for her" storyline, it's not yet clicking. The same could be said for Sue's suddenly raised mother issues (at least they're not father issues). Carol Burnett's a great actress, and the show gives her and Jane Lynch some great lines to bounce off of each other, but the story eventually becomes so bizarre that the attempts to smuggle in genuine emotion feel forced. If Sue's mom had simply come back as the one bully who could bully Sue, this might have felt a lot cleaner, though I'll admit the conceit of Sue marrying herself offered plenty of laughs. (My favorite: Sue referring to wedding planner Marsha Dean by her full name throughout Marsha Dean's one short scene.)

Could we complain that Burt and Carole seem to have no friends and, thus, must invite the glee club to be their wedding party? Absolutely. Could we complain that the wedding often threatens to become more about the club than the couple? Sure (though the fact that I wished my wedding had been a musical extravaganza may say more about myself than I'm comfortable admitting). But should we? What I'm hoping for when I watch an episode of Glee is that the characters more or less act like themselves and there are more terrific moments than those that make me roll my eyes. Tonight, there were a good number of terrific moments, a few pretty good ones, and a surprisingly small number of eye roll-y ones. For a show that lives and dies by the second, that's pretty good.

Stray observations:

  • Ryan Murphy writes heartfelt well when he wants to. That he so rarely wants to is part of the problem with his shows, a lot of the time, so I hope he takes all of this to heart.
  • Most of the responses to my bafflement at Mike Chang being on the football team took the tone of shock that I had forgotten that was how he originally came to join the glee club. Honestly, though, have we EVER seen him in a football scene SINCE then?
  • Also, in Mike Chang news, I enjoyed seeing his weird, bug-eyed dance solo while walking down the aisle. Mike Chang always gotta make everything about Mike Chang.
  • I know I said all of that stuff about how each episode can be a self-contained unit and that's fine with me, but I do think the final moments with Sue's mom would have packed more punch if we had more of a sense of who Sue's mom was as a person and as a force in her daughters' lives leading up to that moment.
  • Why does Mike O'Malley get to be a regular and not Romy Rosemont?
  • We've talked a lot about how the show seems to have forgotten about Kurt as a character beyond the gay teen saint who can elucidate larger issues and give other gay teens a role model to look up to (and, honestly, this isn't a bad thing, overall, even if it kind of removes any drama from his storylines). But, man, I miss the side of the character that could be a little condescending, and it was nice to see that scene come out again in the first scene tonight.
  • Will is largely reduced to reaction shots again. For the first time all season, they don't try to shoehorn a storyline in for him (though he gets involved in the Kurt storyline in mostly noble fashion here and there). HE'S JUST SO PROUD OF HIS KIDS!!!
  • Straight men, talkin' 'bout Glee: Santana looked really hot in her wedding get-up.
  • Dropped in just to remind us of this fact because it'll probably be revealed to the whole group in a week or so: Finn and Santana slept together; Rachel doesn't know this and thinks Finn a virgin like her. Gasp!
  • "That's why we feed them glitter, Finn."
  • "My power rangers got married and divorced in so many combinations, they were like Fleetwood Mac." (Is this really a reference Kurt would make? Whatever. I thought it was funny.)
  • "Personally, I think you just set the feminist movement back about 50 years."
  • "I always forget that you have this rib cage that is kinda weird and adorable."
  • "I don't think you ever truly appreciated the sacrifices I made to be a famous Nazi hunter."
  • "Which I am sorry to say, I still think is bizarre."
  • "I can't shake the feeling that I'm inhaling a lot of dead skin."
Filed Under: TV, Glee

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