B+

Glee: "Preggers"

The two biggest complaints leveled against Glee so far by the folks who either hate it or are generally agnostic about its pleasures are that its storytelling is messy (something I could agree with, especially in last week’s episode) and that it’s too relentlessly chipper, not once earning its weirdly sentimental streak. “Preggers” goes a long way toward addressing both claims - though, to my mind, the second one was never really valid. At the same time, it gives us a better sense of what the show is going to be like from week to week, deepens a handful of the characters, launches some completely improbable story decisions and mostly turns the laughs over to Jane Lynch. It’s the best episode of the show since the pilot, and if you don’t like this one, it’s probably safe to say you can jump off the Glee train.

The most important thing “Preggers” does to help out the series is that it slows everything down considerably. Where last week’s episode seemed to take place over months and months of time, “Preggers” only takes place over 10 days at the most (and more likely over the course of a school week, considering it is roughly structured around the idea of building up to the big game at the end of the week). In the process of doing that, it comes up with a variety of storylines but makes sure that all of them run through either Will or Kurt (this week’s focus character), which makes the structure vaguely similar to Friday Night Lights, of all things, where there are always a lot of stories going on (sometimes as many as six or seven) but all of them have a connection to Coach Taylor. It’s not a bad structure for this show to ape, and it keeps the craziness toned down enough that it’s easier to just roll with it. While there are still a lot of things going on, they all seem to be a part of the same series, for once, instead of occupying a handful of different series of varying quality.

Also, the episode does a better job of making sure that its major storylines are focused on a handful of the characters, as opposed to last week’s messy attempt to deepen Mercedes. This week, the spotlight falls on Kurt and his relationship with his father (played by Mike O’Malley, of all people), which is the sort of stereotypically fractious relationship gay teenagers often have with their fathers. Again, this is something you’ve seen before, but it still rings true because, well, it’s still true. Gay teenagers still struggle to come out to their families, fearing the worst, and stereotypically masculine fathers still fret over the sexual orientations of their effeminate sons. The scene where Kurt’s dad tells him that he knew he was gay from when he was 3 and more or less tells him that he’ll try to be OK with it was more moving than anything involving the words “starring Mike O’Malley” has any right to be.

Glee, I think, lives in an essentially sad world where everyone’s trying to cover up just how little their lives have turned out like they expected they would via forced jollity. To my mind, that makes it the perfect expression of its Midwestern locale. Critics who’ve complained, for example, that the fact that Kurt dances to “Single Ladies” throughout the episode is a dated reference don’t get that he’s a gay kid in Lima, Ohio (or have forgotten that fact) and, well, that’s the sort of song he’d dance to. Would he have better musical taste after he leaves Lima to move to the city? Absolutely. But while he’s in Lima, Beyonce is pretty much it. The fact that these tones all mash up against each other – that we’re not supposed to know whether a scene is meant to be full of sentiment, snark or both – strikes me as a good thing about the show, but before this week, I wasn’t sure if the creators knew what their intentions were either, something that worried me. The Kurt storyline in “Preggers,” with all of its faux bravado covering up a fearful, sad core, convinces me that they have a pretty good idea of where they’re headed with all of this.

The stuff with Kurt joining the football team is probably going to be a dealbreaker for some. Indeed, I cringed quite a bit when the team actually started dancing on the field, even if it had kind of a goofy undertone to it, simply because Glee has been getting better at keeping its musical aspects out of its performance aspects and vice versa, and there was just no way to believe the refs would ever let this fly (unless the prospect of refereeing a 6-0 game had just driven them mad with boredom and the prospect of anything surprising happening was enough to wake them up). But I like the sentiment of the idea, sort of similar to what Buffy was getting at in the great episode “Earshot.” All of these kids are hurting in their own way (look at those vivisecting cuts between nearly every major character as Finn realizes, slowly, that his life and the game are slipping away from him and he has to do something), but that hurt turns them against each other unless they find a way to unite. Hence, dancing.

Not spilling the fact that Quinn was pregnant and likely by Puck has been hard over the past two episodes, simply because it’s the plot point that finally starts to crystallize just who Terri is. “Preggers” comes down firmly on the side of a woman who’s in over her head and guided by some very dumb and awful people (like her sister), rather than someone who’s outright evil. A dumb blonde isn’t my favorite stereotype in the world, but I prefer it to shrewish harpy wife, so I’m willing to go with this, particularly if Jessalyn Gilsig remains so good at playing a woman who’s always dancing two steps behind the very scheme she’s crafted. And if it brings Terri more fully into the world of Glee proper and plays her off of Quinn’s increasingly sad character, then I’m cool with that, too. A storyline where Will is falling for Emma but also agreeing with his wife to help out Quinn and Finn by raising their baby while Puck is trying to prove the baby is his is pretty soap-y, yes, but it also has a potential for emotional truth to it that the Terri fakes a pregnancy storyline has yet to acquire.

Glee still isn’t perfect, but “Preggers” is the episode that convinced me it was finally getting a handle on how to mix all of its tones. I haven’t seen any of the episodes beyond this one, so I’m as blind as you are as to whether the show is going to follow this episode or “Acafellas” (and God help us if it’s the latter). Glee is always going to have its big, goofy moments that won’t work for everyone (if you hated that football team dancing scene, I certainly don’t blame you), but as long as it has a handle on the fact that its core is essentially a sad one, that the series’ sentimentality is spouted as much out of desperation as a genuine sense that things might turn out well, it’s a show I’m going to keep watching and enjoying.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • As unbelievable as the things Sue Sylvester are from week to week, Jane Lynch is absolutely hilarious saying them, and the plot where she randomly became a commentator on the local news was maybe a little strained but still the very best kind of comic relief.
  • Anybody have any thoughts on the advancement of the glee club storyline this week? Having Rachel quit was a pretty telegraphed plotline, but it still works at continuing to erode Rachel’s essential likability (this role likely would not work with anyone other than Lea Michele) and fraying the relationship with Will. Similarly, we all knew the football guys were going to join the club, so it’s nice to see that finally happen.
  • My wife appreciates the Walter Payton name drop, Finn.
  • "Yeah, a gay team. A big gay team of dancing gays."
  • "I'll often yell at homeless people, 'Hey, how's that homelessness working out for you? Try giving not being homeless a try.'"

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