I grew up in a series of small towns, each one depressingly smaller than the last, until I hit a school in which my graduating class was a mere 27 people. It’s a town where everyone has to at least leave to go on with their education, but since the nearest community college was a half hour away ( I took my last two years of theater there under the tutelage of a now famous award-winning playwright and actor), most never escape beyond the three hour Saskatoon and Edmonton area from this town. I’m sure many kids I went to junior high with are still in the Calgary area as well, but at least Calgary has developed into a more cosmopolitan center. After all, I ended up back here.
I recognize much of the teen age angst of Glee because it was my teen-aged angst. I had grown up with parents that valued an education above all else. They didn’t care what kind of education, just get one. I’m sure my vast knowledge of popular culture wasn’t their first choice, but I’m sure they appreciate me having something I love in my life. But even in the confines of these small rural outposts, I could find what I needed to stave off the boredom and quench the thirst for French New Wave and the discography of the Clash I developed in my teenaged years. It was better than going out and getting drunk like many of my classmates did. I’m pretty convinced that’s why my classmates didn’t talk to me.
But growing up in small towns with a more progressive personal mindset often got me in trouble with my peers. I never sat idly by as they tossed around bigoted terms that growing up in a 99% white town in the middle of the Canadian Bible Belt, and my reputation as a Commie loon follows me to this day ( I kind of wear it with pride). Which is why I clearly identified with ” Preggers”. I knew many of the blonde pretty cheerleader types who ended up pregnant by the eleventh grade, usually after wine coolers or beer at a party. I knew the slightly femme guy in the back who had a fondness for sequins and introduced me to his father as his girlfriend, and then I’d sit and listen to his father beg me to convince his son to rejoin the hockey team, despite the fact the last time the poor guy was on the ice, he executed a perfect double axel in the middle of a power play. In hockey skates no less. I was one of the kids so obsessed with my creative life that I was deeply offended when I didn’t get the part, or the assignment, or the song.
Watching last nights Glee was at times, for me, emotionally wrenching. I clearly identify with Kurt in a profound way. Not the coming out as gay part, but trying so desperately to maintain a relationship with a parent who disapproves of your passions. I had my brothers and mom as a buffer between me and my father. Kurt, an only child of a working class single father, has nothing. The fact that Kurt feels compelled to lie is heartbreaking, but it is like that across the world for gay teens. Ryan Murphy said in a recent L.A. Times article that a little of his own life made its way into his characterization of Kurt, and I can see it in the tender way Murphy laid out Kurt’s scenes with his father, played by a surprisingly good Mike O’Malley. Chris Colfer, in his scenes tonight, was both hysterically funny, touchingly sad, and devastatingly true to life. When Kurt comes out to his father after joining the football team in a bid to cover up why he was dancing around in black sequined lycra, it’s a pure moment. More shocking and pure is his father’s reaction- it’s kind of hard to deny your son may be gay when he asks for a pair of sensible heels when he’s three. Or has a hope chest. Which is full of tiaras. O’Malley plays it as a matter of fact, not deeply profound or overly emotional. It is what it is. He’s not overjoyed about it, but he certainly isn’t going to erupt into a homophobic screed.
The Quinn-Finn-Puck story line was a little more Degrassi conventional. First, this show does a great job playing off of Cory Monteith’s naive portrayal of Finn. He’s blank, he’s clueless, but he knows what he is and he is trying to figure out how to make it out without being enormously gifted at things that are more obvious paths of freedom. He plays on a losing football team, and he doesn’t have the grades to make it on academic scholarships. But he knows enough to realize he must get out of Lima. Quinn, pretty and perky, on a championship cheerleading squad, probably would score some sort of athletic scholarship at the very least, but the news of her pregnancy leaves her in the lurch. She can’t escape with a baby on her hip. Her telling of the “conception” to Finn was ludicrous to us in the TV audience, but would it really seem ludicrous to Finn? Think of all the guys you went to high school with who still insist you can’t get a girl pregnant if you have sex standing up. It turns out, though, Quinn has been naughty. She got drunk, and feeling particularly fat that day, she slept with Puck. He is the real father of her baby. Puck, never having a real dad, wants to do the right thing by Quinn, but Quinn also realizes that Puck, despite his good intentions, is never going to escape being a “Lima Loser”. She sees Finn as her way out of this hell, and even he isn’t a guarantee.
Meanwhile, we have the corresponding “pregnancy” of Terri Schuster, who now has her sister in on the scheme. Terri is a woman so obsessed with keeping her man that she’s not taking the more reasonable track in this sad situation, instead forcing herself to create an elaborate lie with padding and all. The news of Quinn and Finn’s little predicament gives Terri an idea. There is a sense of the illogical here ( how did Terri get into Quinn’s car? Why don’t we ask the ref’s at that football game that didn’t hand out that delay of game penalty when the team does the ” Single Ladies” dance?), but Murphy always brings in the more soapy elements with a dash of humor. Quinn is bewildered by the woman handing her prenatal vitamins, but Terri is oblivious to Quinn’s wary demeanor.
The ” D” story of Sue’s continued revenge on Will was probably the most laugh out loud funny in the episode. Sue’s minor celebrity gets her a slot on the local news, where she advocates caning and littering. But she’s told she is only as good as her last championship, and the affiliate boss knows her Cheerios are defecting to Glee. So Sue, in her own special Machiavellian way, gets Sandy Ryerson back on staff. He is in charge of all the arts programs, including Glee. ( Note: Figgins, played by Iqbal Theba, played a memorable villain of the week in the first season of Chuck. He played a guy nicknamed ” Wookie” by Chuck. And when you see that Mumbai Airlines video, you can kind of see why. Now imagine him without a shirt. Yeah, now you see it). They design a plan to steal away an increasingly frustrated Rachel, who loses her shit over not getting the solo ” Tonight”. Will is trying to teach her a valuable and much needed lesson- that Glee is a team, and all members of that team need a moment to shine. This is proven by Tina’s sweetly compelling performance of ” Tonight”, and Will pointing out that with greater confidence, her stuttering is diminishing. Rachel then tries out for this version of ” Cabaret” Ryerson is putting on. If there is one truly crushing moment in the episode, it’s the fact Lea Michele’s gorgeous version of ” Taking Chances” is only a mere twenty seconds of screen time. Rachel and Will later confront each other about their perceptions and their goals. When Will still refuses to hand over ” Tonight”, still giving Tina a moment to shine, Rachel impulsively quits Glee. Meanwhile, Will’s work with the football team to help loosen them up ( leading to that fabulous dance on the football field), and garners him three more Glee club members. He’s now got eleven.
Last night’s episode was the first truly great episode since the pilot, and I certainly hope it’s the blueprint for the rest of the series. Murphy’s previous high school show, Popular, had moments of complete camp and whimsy at first, but ended up becoming completely ridiculous a lot of the time ( it’s still genius, but it’s massively flawed genius). This show could go off in a million different directions. But this is what I have noticed:
- The show is a musical, but not every episode is going to be heavy on the musical numbers. I think this helps it from turning into a version of Fame- The Later Years.
- It’s got a massive ensemble cast, and there are lesser characters, like the Cheerios and Footballers who help make up the show choir, that will get a bit of screen time without having much else to do. But if Murphy remembers to keep focus on one kid a show, it will get better.
- The pacing was better on this episode, and it will continue to get better. Anyone familiar with Murphy’s previous shows knows he is a guy who fits a lot into episodes, and sometimes the timelines don’t add up. But he does somehow make it work.
- The cast is winning, but I am beginning to think where the writers are taking Rachel is dangerous territory. I know she’s supposed to be a self absorbed spoiled brat, but she was at least likable. I found her disturbingly unlikable this week. I know it was a set up for next week’s episode, but be careful.
“All you need is some limed corpses beneath the floorboards.” – Sue to Sandy at his very creepy house.