Whether or not you can like an episode of Glee increasingly seems to have plenty to do with just how much you’re willing to forgive the show completely rewriting itself in order to pull off whatever it wants to do in that week’s episode. Normally, I don’t have much trouble getting on board with the reality change of the week, but for some reason, the fact that Rachel was in the celibacy club—no matter how much the show insisted it made sense within her current character arc—really bugged me. I think it has something to do with the fact that Rachel’s insistence that abstinence was just impractical to suggest as the ONLY way for teenagers to stay STD and pregnancy-free felt so refreshing all the way back in “Showmance.” She was the kind of no-nonsense, overly dramatic girl I might have gone for in high school, and now, she was joining the celibacy club because the show needed to give its female lead something to do. It rubbed me the wrong way.
There was a lot of stuff like that in “Sexy,” which was another very, very messy episode in a very, very messy season that’s more than tried my patience with the show and sometimes made me wonder why the hell I used to enjoy writing about even the bad episodes of the show. But more than enough of the episode was good as well, particularly the stuff dealing with the relationship between Brittany and Santana, of all people. And, hey, there were some nice, heartfelt little scenes between Burt and Kurt, though the show rarely has trouble with those scenes. So long as the episode focused on the respective journeys of Kurt—toward a greater appreciation of the role sex could play in his life—and Santana—toward understanding just what her long relationship with Brittany could mean—it was one of the better episodes of the season. So long as it focused on anything else, it was a mess.
On the other hand, this WAS an episode with an elaborate “Will Schuester’s miserable love life” plot, so even if every other element of the show had been absolutely terrific, the ceiling was probably a B+, grade-wise. Will’s love life just hasn’t worked as a plot for ages now (if it even ever has since the pilot), and while I like the idea of Will hooking up with Holly, Matthew Morrison and Gwyneth Paltrow are missing the kind of burning, sexual chemistry that would have made the whole thing seem inevitable and worth hooking up the main character with a big movie star guest character as a story development. (In the “Kiss” tango scene, Morrison stalked around, glowering, like he’d forgotten to pick up cat food at the local Von’s and had to get it before the store closed in five minutes. This was many things. “Sexy” was not one of them.)
Let’s add on to this the fact that Emma is apparently married, but we haven’t seen her husband since October, and even when he was more of a “fixture” on the show (which is difficult to say about a character who’s appeared as little as Carl has), his relationship with Emma made no sense as anything other than a plot device. Now, as it turns out, Emma and Carl haven’t consummated their marriage at all, and this has something to do with the fact that the show has combined Emma’s germ-phobia and virginity into some sort of terrifying psychosexual pathology that doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t resemble the somewhat levelheaded person she used to be. (The plotting in Will’s love life is the one place where the show attempts to have even a modicum of continuity, for whatever reason.) Anyway, Carl is necessarily upset about this, and he’s also upset when Holly gets Emma to admit that she still has confusing feelings for Will, so he resolves to let her stay in the condo while he stays in the Radisson where all of the good big-name Glee guest stars go to hope their pilots for the fall are picked up.
I guess there’s maybe a version of the Carl/Emma/Will triangle that makes sense. There’s probably a version where the show confronts Emma’s fears head-on and shows how someone confident and self-effacing like Carl (well, I assume he’s those things, since John Stamos is those things) could be good for her in a relationship sense and bad for her in a marriage sense. And there’s probably a version where Will really does do his best to get over her and is already on his way to doing so when she’s single again. All of this is TV boilerplate, but all of this can be fun if executed well. Unfortunately, this love triangle is one of those things that Glee sets down every so often, only to pick up again when it gets bored with something else and remembers it has other stuff in its giant box of overwrought toys. Will doesn’t feel like a character anymore; he feels like a collection of inside jokes people are making on the Internet.
But, OK, the stuff with the kids was better, right? Well… not exactly. Puck and Lauren wanted to make a sex tape, and this storyline came and went so quickly that it didn’t really qualify as a storyline. On the other hand, I’m back to finding these two vaguely charming, so I’ll allow giving them some silly scenes together here and there. More problematic, as mentioned, was Rachel deciding to join the celibacy club with Quinn, presumably to keep an eye on the Quinn and Finn revisit, simply because we’ve played this particular set of notes so many times that it’s not particularly interesting to do it all over again. I know that Ryan Murphy gets bored with leaving couples as couples, but the constant couple hopping just doesn’t work, particularly if the characters keep going through the same two or three permutations. (And the less said about all of the other characters also joining the celibacy club, the better.)
But, darn it all, I liked this episode anyway. And most of that stemmed from the fact that Santana and Brittany are in love. The show started this relationship as a joke, and then it gradually became a joke the show played a bit more seriously. And tonight, it became something that the show played mostly straight (pun not intended), a story of two teenage girls who are attracted to girls AND boys and mostly each other. Theoretically, giving most of the melody on “Landslide” over to Gwyneth Paltrow should have robbed that scene of any sort of emotion whatsoever, but the tears in Santana’s eyes and Brittany’s guileless smile made it all work, in spite of everything the show threw at it. What’s more, that scene where Santana finally put it all on the line and said everything she was feeling, only to find out that Brittany really does have feelings for Artie (and it’s all so complicated), was one of the better scenes of the season. These two crazy kids have a connection, but it’s nothing so clean and “true love” as some of the other pairings on TV. It’s weird that what might be the show’s most compelling romantic pairing started as a joke, but, hey, sometimes the actors take the writers weird places. And that’s a good thing.
I also enjoyed Kurt’s struggle to understand his own sexuality. Realizing that you’re attracted to people is one part of becoming a sexual being, but realizing that, yeah, you have to have sex with them too is another, and Kurt’s woefully unsure of how he’d even begin to proceed here. Granted, this whole thing returned Blaine to his status as the greatest person who ever lived, knowledgeable and wise about all things, when the last two or three episodes suggested that he wasn’t as all together as he seemed. Also granted, this storyline involved an elaborate number performed in a weird combination of an ‘80s video for a movie soundtrack tie-in and this weird off-Broadway show I once went to where they dropped foam on everyone. (I was really tired, so maybe I hallucinated this.) But the central scenes here—which all involved Blaine having Kurt’s best interests at heart and trying to get Burt to realize just how much his son needed to have a straightforward talk about sex—somehow bumped right up against too preachy without ever crossing the line of too preachy. This is a show that loves its soapboxes, but it’s also a show that utilizes those soapboxes pretty well when it wants to.
So, yeah, “Sexy” was a mess for much of its running time, but I found myself charmed by it anyway. It made good use of a few of the characters who I continue to have affection for, and it was “about” an important subject—teen sexuality—without making its final messages so overwrought (as the last new episode did with teen drinking) that it became easy to roll your eyes. When Glee is about these kids questing for identity, it’s often very, very good, and this episode had more than enough of that material to survive all of the stupid stuff around the edges. It’s not perfect TV, but it’s largely enjoyable and it doesn’t make you roll your eyes too often. That’ll have to be enough for now.
- Music thoughts: Perhaps perversely, my favorite non-“Landslide” performance was “Afternoon Delight.” Yes, the show stole the basic bones of the gag from Arrested Development. But my stars were all of the actors—particularly Lea Michele and Mark Salling—funny in this number. It was a nice reminder that the show can blend music AND comedy and can do so winningly. I was less excited by the first Gwyneth number (“Do You Want To Touch Me”), though that was more for the incredibly stupid Will reaction shots. (Heather Morris continues to be a national treasure with her dancing, however.) The Warblers numbers continue to feel like they’re connected to utterly nothing whatsoever, and Blaine turning on all the girls, just to turn them down, felt a touch douche-y (unless his choirmates got some play, in which case, nice work, Blaine). And “Kiss” wasn’t bad if you could overlook the fact that it wasn’t Prince and WAS Morrison attempting an awfully strange falsetto and Paltrow sounding incredibly affectless. The staging was fun, however.
- I actually don’t mind Paltrow’s ACTING as Holly (and I get that’s not why everyone’s annoyed with her in this part). She’s often very fun, and she conveys just the right note of enthusiastic dorkiness when delivering her lines.
- Jokes based on Lauren’s last name seem to have less and less oomph as the show makes more and more of them.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: Let us continue to sing the praises of Heather Morris, who looked like liquid sex whenever she was dancing and somehow make a tank top featuring a kitten in a pirate hat look somewhat alluring. (And you all already know how I feel about Naya Rivera.)
- Sue was in but one scene tonight, and I didn’t mind it. It was a little silly, yeah, but I liked seeing Blaine’s reaction to meeting her for the first time AND his lack of problems with taking Sue’s information to improve the Warblers’ performance at regionals.
- Are we ever going to see Carl again? Or will this go down as one of the all-time great examples of the writers realizing they just didn’t give a shit about a particular plot and finding a way out of it in the laziest way possible?
- Oh, Lord, I should probably say something about that final scene between Quinn and Finn, but I just can’t bring myself to care. Go nuts in comments, though!
- Next week: Original songs! Jeff Winger will have his day.
- "... and for those who are older and terrified of the hose monster."
- "Wait, cucumbers can give you AIDS?"
- "My sex tape with J.D. Salinger was a disaster."
- "I wish you and I were that close."
- "It's about sneaking out for a nooner."
- "We're cuddle monsters."