On the one hand, it’s supremely satisfying to see “The Queen of England,” as Santana calls Kurt, express some actual teenage horniness for once. It’s shocking enough to see his genuine thanks to Santana for getting him the deluxe bachelor package at Dildo Island, but then he’s drooling over, grinding on, and eventually even making out with Sexy Santa in those brief moments before the camera cuts away from the indecency. But on the other, there’s something so exhausting about Glee’s brand of edginess, which is less like exposing the actual darkness of the world and more like the older neighbor boy telling you there is no Santa Claus.
It’s just tiresome waiting for Sexy Bisexual Musical Santa to rob Kurt and Rachel. Or for the kids to patiently wait out that charmingly casual performance of “Here Comes Santa Claus” so they could, in a hilarious bit of situational irony, throw shit at our heroes for their troubles. Or for the first Santa to break character so he could chew out Kurt, flash a flask, and beardlessly walk off into the crowd of children. And to suggest that Sexy Santa may as well have roofied his victims? And then to show Kurt actually tied up in bed? How do we not remember this glibness when Glee wants us to feel sad about date rape? Every week Becky is trotted out to make a stand for jerks with special needs. But then, after the weekly wool has been lifted from our eyes, Glee wants to indulge in the fantasy of the human spirit (or whatever) anyway. This is exhausting.
Toward the end, Artie sums up this entire column in one sentence: “Well, that walks a dangerously fine line between being really sweet and horribly condescending.” The plotting of “Previously Unaired Christmas” is a pair of ripped fishnets, but still it’s not the heartwarming moral the show seems to think when Tina and Sam give Becky the prize they won, or when Marley and Unique go out of their way to give Kitty the lead in the school Nativity (which, more on that later). As Artie says, there’s a fine line between sweet gestures and condescending ones, but is it really so fine? “Here’s an award you didn’t win. I wanted it really badly in the first act, but I’m magnanimous enough to give it up. I hope it makes you feel better!” No wonder I keep thinking of Orange Is The New Black, Jenji Kohan’s magnum opus of liberal guilt. It’s an act of privilege for Piper to endure abuse because she thinks she can and should take it, whereas everyone else in prison is so much worse off and Piper’s just so sorry for them. The whole season builds to a climax it absolutely earns: Piper realizing that she’s not better than everyone else, but that she’s not worse either. She deserves to stand up for herself, and her rivals deserve that respect, too. Glee is more simplistic in that regard, and when the effect of each episode’s sweet-condescending gesture isn’t to shout, “Don’t go in there!” it’s to acknowledge the puppet strings with a sigh. Either way, it’s hard not to be so analytical about these moments because they’re so dramatically alienating.
But then there are moments like Sue admitting she’s been easy on Becky and finally taking off her kid gloves. Does Glee listen to itself? And what’s with the Nativity scene? Jake’s curious, too. Remember “Grilled Cheesus?” Kurt’s a little tied up this episode, but in my day the New Directions would have led the protest against the religious depiction on school grounds, not brought it to life themselves. The writers also hang a lantern on Kitty’s moodswings and the episode’s very existence, given present-day Glee keeps circling back on itself in the infinite spring, and with all those holes in the fishnets acknowledged by their wearer, everyone can evaluate the episode on an appropriate curve. Kid gloves.
I accidentally oblige, because my general reaction is that “Previously Unaired Christmas” is a gift for being so unexpected. There’s the aforementioned teenage friskiness for starters, one more means of humanizing these walking pamphlets. It’s not just Kurt who’s typically chaste, though, is it? Characters on this show talk big about their sexual experience, but it’s rare to see any of that actually happen. Nice to see Glee put its money where its mouth is, even if the editing does suggest a little embarrassment about the proceedings.
The music is a freebie, all Christmas cheer and happy people taking turns on the lines. Although half the numbers were so badly lip-synced and edited that they deserve to be listened to with your eyes closed, each has its pleasures. The relaxed rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” makes a refreshing counterpoint to the industrial choreography of most of the stage numbers. “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” even takes some small advantage of the 2012 setting by squeezing the Marley-Jake romance, and I confess, I felt a pang. And the way the kids go from humming “O Christmas Tree” to getting louder and clapping and dancing once Sue tells them they probably won is worth a dozen celebratory closing numbers.
And the frame story is just a blast, like the elaborate TCM-style DVD intro for The Big Leboswki that claims it was lost and restored from an Italian print and whatnot. The whole point is to explain why there’s a new Christmas episode this year given that the season so far has been trying to slow time, and there’s a certain glee in how far the show has to walk to account for its heretofore unrewarding calendar boondoggle. So the episode opens with America’s Jane Lynch putting coal in the stockings of her Emmy rivals and Meryl Streep as she explains the story: Last year this episode was censored on account of the Santa plotline, so “Glee, Actually” was rushed into production. (Meta joke: The one with the five discrete stories, two of which require some serious production value, is allegedly rushed into production while this almost plotless string of songs and abs is the one that received the full effort of everyone involved.) Apparently cut scenes explain something about Blaine’s obsession with the Yule Log, which does seem pretty in-character, and why Will came back from Washington to coach an Ohio glee club. Outside of the Jake-Marley moment, Glee takes no advantage of its historical position, although it does explain Santana’s early arrival in New York (she’s visiting) and remind us that Christmas of 2012 wasn’t long after “The Break Up,” hence our trio of heroes swooning over the first six-pack that comes along. Glee can’t make it 2009 again, but it can sure evoke some nostalgia for its latter days peak. In short, “Previously Unaired Christmas” reinforces the obvious: Glee thrives on the unexpected. The usual routine is boring and unconvincing. Or to put it in Christmas terms, making out with Sexy Santa is a lot more thematically on-point than feeling sorry for grinches.
- Becky has a mistletoe hat thing that she tries to use on Sam and Tina. “You can’t just make us French kiss you.” “Yes, I can. I have special needs.” Glee at its most “I’m not touching you.” Luckily Sue ends the showdown with a good button. “Becky, that’s poison sumac.”
- Santana’s time as Slutty Mrs. Claus straddles several lines, but it’s basically in line with Glee’s tiresome brand of edginess, and mostly because Santana’s not that dumb. But Naya Rivera sure sold those lines.
- “Bushwick is worse than Lima Heights.”