Phew. I hate to be the guy who says things like, “Now, that’s more like it!” (I think it makes me sound like a high school basketball coach who’s just relieved he’ll still have a job after his previously winless team guts out a win against the crosstown rivals.) But that’s more like it.
It’s been kind of weird being one of the few people arguing that Glee has kind of lost its shit this season but still arguing that the show is capable of being fun, enjoyable television. I think it’s because the show is so defiantly for its cult and pretty much no one else (regardless of how large that cult is), but it stirs up such huge passions on both sides of the spectrum that sometimes, it’s hard to say, “Guys, it’s just a TV show.” The series’ fans will often accept nothing less than outright fealty to its awesomeness, while those who hate it (often sight unseen) think it’s ridiculous to suggest that anything so out of the “good TV” norm as an inconsistent musical about high school kids, filled with often hoary jokes and covers of often irritating pop songs could ever be even WATCHABLE. And, yeah, it’s been so long since the show was THAT good (probably since “Duets”) and it’s been THAT bad so often recently that I was starting to think I’d temporarily taken leave of my senses in liking the show that much for that long. Or maybe all the show had, ever, was novelty, and we were all just fooling ourselves.
Fortunately, “Silly Love Songs” is a fine example of the show at what’s very nearly its absolute best. There’s nothing too heady here, but if the show has one tone that it’s nailed almost completely consistently, it’s the feeling of teenage romance, the sense that the person you’re in love with is the ONLY PERSON you will ever be in love with—at least for that week—followed almost immediately by the crippling feeling of heartbreak, of losing that person too soon. Teenage life moves fast and is filled with heightened emotions. And like most musicals, Glee has always been at its best when it embraces those two sides of its characters’ lives. As such, “Silly Love Songs,” which is pretty much just an excuse to play around with the show’s many romantic pairings among its glee club characters, is a lot of fun without trying all that hard.
In some ways, this episode, like “Duets,” feels like it was set up as a way to cut costs. Sure, this is a show that can never be cheap, what with the huge music budget and all, but after an episode as overloaded with spectacle as the Super Bowl episode, this one feels almost tiny. It takes place entirely on standing sets, with no location footage (so far as I can tell). The one scene not shot on a standing set was probably a sponsored one (by the Gap, in case you couldn’t tell). It has no guest stars, really, beyond recurring players Ashley Fink (as Lauren) and Darren Criss (as Blaine). Outside of Will, most of the adult cast members, including Sue, don’t even appear. And, I mean, the songs can’t have been cheap, but Katy Perry will license her music to just about anybody, and, really, how expensive can the back catalog of Paul McCartney and Wings be? What’s interesting about all of this is that this and “Duets” are almost unquestionably the best episodes of the season, and both don’t try so hard, don’t push so much for envelope-pushing TV. When Glee isn’t trying to be the biggest, most popular show on TV, it can tap back into the core that made it so addictive in early season one, when it was just a show about loser kids with big dreams and the neurotic teacher who was their guide toward minor stardom.
Also like “Duets,” this episode has a heavy focus on the kids choosing songs to sing for glee club rehearsal. In that episode, they were picking songs to sing in various pairings, which allowed for the show to do scenes between characters who didn’t normally pair off, like Santana and Mercedes. Here, the kids are choosing love songs to sing TO the objects of their affection, and while it seems sort of odd that Will would make the assignment this explicit, I’m willing to go with it because the conceit is charming enough. The episode strikes a nice balance between the characters who don’t have love and don’t terribly want it, the characters actively in pursuit of a special someone, and the characters who are happily coupled off. In particular, it allows the writers to shift the humor focus away from Brittany, who’s been the most reliable laugh generator for the first half of the season but is starting to get overplayed, and move it over to Santana. Like Brittany, Santana’s a pretty old TV archetype, the schemer who’ll use her feminine wiles to get her way, but Naya Rivera is so good at playing all of her bitchy asides, and the writers are so good at coming up with them that it’s very funny all the same. (I particularly enjoyed that early string where the club members recounted the nasty things Santana had said to them, concluding with Rachel saying Santana had told her she was destined to star in the original Broadway cast of Willow: The Musical.)
Anyway, the story’s pretty basic. Valentine’s Day is coming. The kids, being kids, are all worked up about who’s with who and who wants to be with who, come the big day. Finn decides to set up a kissing booth to kiss every girl in school, the better to get to Quinn, who kissed him immediately after winning the conference football championship. Sam—rather, CHORD OVERSTREET!—is worked up about the way Quinn and Finn are looking at each other. Puck’s got a thing for Lauren, not just because of her curves but more because of her insane, badass confidence in herself. Kurt’s excited that Blaine’s going to be singing a song to his big crush for Valentine’s, though as soon as Kurt gets his hopes up and Blaine won’t identify his crush, I’m pretty sure everybody in the audience said, “Oh no.” Rachel’s still missing Finn. Mercedes is fine being single (and never getting storylines, apparently). Something about Artie and Mike Chang being friends even though they’ve both dated Tina? Also, Will is mostly just there to direct traffic, which is a fine role for him to have in episodes like this.
It’s impossible to state just how enjoyable all of this is, as the characters bounce off of each other, and the show plays out its many romantic permutations. Valentine’s Day is often a good holiday for teen-based shows, simply because it’s a time of year when teenagers get particularly worked up about their love lives (or lack of same). I mean, yeah, everybody gets worked up about love around February 14, but teenagers are particularly good at treating every relationship like it’s the only one they’ll have ever. That gives these teen shows a boost of both humor (because, well, they’re being overdramatic) and pathos (because we can all remember feeling like that). In particular, I found myself enjoying the revisiting of the Quinn/Finn/Rachel triangle, something I never thought I’d be saying. Unlike in season one, the show made the draw between Finn and Quinn palpable. It’s not just because of who they are anymore. It’s because of the fact that they’re two attractive teenagers, and attractive teenagers like making out and stuff. The episode also did a good job of balancing the various sides of this triangle (or rhombus, if you count CHORD OVERSTREET!), giving good time to the feelings of everybody involved and treating them with the respect the show is able to manage at its best.
The Kurt and Blaine thing is predictable, but, again, in a fun way. Everybody in the audience has to know from a long way off that Blaine’s in love with some other dude—who works at a Gap!—but Kurt’s so new to all of this that his pain and his ability to see the situation through both filter across Chris Colfer’s face so quickly that it’s a good reminder that the kid can play things other than heart-rending drama. Sure, Kurt’s sad, but this isn’t some sort of life-changing tragedy or situation. It’s a crush that he’ll get over someday, and it’s nice to just sit back and watch two kids who are in love (even if one isn’t ready to admit it just yet) fumble around how to behave around each other. I also liked the way the episode showed that Blaine was just as lost in the woods as Kurt was, as his theatrical stunt both got his crush fired and threatened to out him. Blaine’s so confident in himself as a gay guy that he sometimes forgets many other gay guys aren’t as confident, particularly in Ohio, where outing can ruin someone’s life. And, uh, his crush could get arrested for being with Blaine, what with the whole age discrepancy. Blaine may feel more mature than he is, but he isn’t ACTUALLY that mature. Up until this episode, Blaine’s been more of a concept than a character, but this episode nicely filled in some of what makes him tick.
But for me, the episode’s highlight was the very sweet, funny courtship between Puck and Lauren. Mark Salling, like Dianna Agron, is one of the show’s best actors, but the show often sidelines him (as it does with Agron), which is baffling. This may be because the writers have trouble writing for a self-professed bad boy, even though his escapades are straight out of Archie comics and not actually all that “bad” at all. But it’s always fun to watch Salling sing, and it’s always fun to watch him be smitten. Fink ends up being a good match for him, chemistry-wise, as she projects a confidence and certainty that makes it immediately obvious just what Puck sees in Lauren. The storyline also played out like both characters had something approaching real feelings. When Puck sings “Fat Bottomed Girls” to her (in the best performance of the episode), she likes being sung to, but she’s mildly offended by the song. So he switches up tactics, and by the end of the hour, he’s won her over, and they’re canoodling at Breadstix. There’s nothing mind-blowing about this. It’s just well-executed teen romantic comedy, elevated by the fact that the pairing, at least visually, is not exactly conventional.
What’s good about Glee when it’s good, what irritates me so much about the people who write it off without seeing it or only seeing half of an episode, is the fact that it directly taps into that feeling of being 16 and not knowing what’s around the corner but knowing it’s going to either elate you or devastate you. The best episodes play that elation and devastation off of each other. The worst episodes flounder about for some sort of emotional foothold. But when Glee just tells small, sweet stories about these kids and the ways they’re trying to cope with being in high school when they know they’re meant for bigger things, it can be terrific. Tonight was one of those episodes, and tonight’s episode was terrific. Here’s to a good February sweeps.
- Other performances I liked: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Lea Michele’s take on “Firework,” given my dislike of the song itself and my growing irritation with Rachel solo numbers. But the staging was nice and simple (just Rachel on a stage in front of screens displaying, well, fireworks), and the singing was good. The performance in the Gap (“When I Get You Alone”? I’m unfamiliar with this one) was good, too, as was the other Warblers’ number, though all of these numbers are hurt by the Warblers having so little definition as characters outside of Kurt and Blaine. Wasn’t as enamored of “P.Y.T.,” but you can’t win ‘em all.
- Speaking of which, I love the occasional, insane peeks into the Warblers’ history. It’s like the show realized they’re the Others of Glee and decided to give them an equally bizarre backstory, but play it for laughs. Good choice.
- I like to imagine that the scene where Artie sings and Mike dances ignited the fervor of millions of Artie/Chang shippers, who like to imagine a future where the two, married, perform classic R&B over morning coffee. More specifically, Artie drinks the coffee while reading the paper and singing. Mike must dance. He must dance always. Or Artie will tire of him.
- Another musical number: Tina sings “My Funny Valentine,” breaking down in tears as she does so. I was sort of amused by this, even as I had no friggin’ clue what it was all about.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: I mean, c’mon. Naya Rivera in this episode? It’s like the show is just taunting me at this point. (Also, Santana’s ridiculous mono scheme was very funny. And worked!)
- Part of the above is just an offshoot of the fact that the show’s costumers can now put Heather Morris and Rivera in something OTHER than the Cheerios uniforms and can again do so with Agron. The uniforms were getting unbelievably old.
- Forward progress, maybe: No one’s getting slushied after the football team won, under Finn’s leadership. Maybe the Super Bowl episode was a temporary respite from that storyline?
- When I mentioned on Twitter that both this episode and "Duets," the two best of the season, didn't feature Jane Lynch, numerous people pointed out OTHER good episodes of the show that didn't have Sue in them at all. Is there something to this, much as we all like Sue?
- The first time I've laughed at Will in ages was his rather confused reaction to Tina's performance.
- "Maybe it's because she's always insulting me like my mom."
- "Three weeks ago, you said you were sad I didn't have a lizard baby."
- "I just try to be really, really honest with people when I think that they suck."
- "The Warblers haven't performed in an informal setting since 1927 when the Spirit of St. Louis overshot the tarmac and plowed through seven Warblers during an impromptu performance of 'Welcome to Ohio, Lucky Lindy.'"
- "That's how we do it in Lima Heights."