In a previous review of “Glee,” I likened the show to New England weather. In both cases, if you don’t like something, wait just a bit and it’ll pass and transform into something else. As sure as sunshine turns to downpours in the Northeast, the superficial silliness of last week’s Britney Spears Incident gave way this week to more sacred and sober concerns. Even with the ridiculous title of “Grilled Cheesus,” “Glee” took on religion in as straightforward a manner that is possible given the overall DNA of this show.
[Full recap of Tuesday's (Oct. 5) "Glee" after the break...]
First things first: religion is a third rail for a lot of people. In discussing this episode, I’ll do my best to not be judgmental or inflammatory, either intentionally or subconsciously. Disagreeing with my analysis? Fine, and more than fair. But please don’t mistake my intent here: nothing below seeks to give weight to any one particular viewpoint any more than the episode itself did. And, when it comes down to it, I was far more interested in the way that the episode incorporated music than in the way its various characters approached the topic of God. For the first time in what felt like forever, the show’s musical choices felt organic, appropriate, and dramatically integrated. See, “Glee”? I KNEW you could do it.
In thinking about “Grilled Cheesus” in relation to “Britney/Brittany,” I’ve decided to think about the show less as a meteorological happenstance and more as an anthology series that just happens to feature the same players on a weekly basis. Call it “Red Schue Diaries,” if you will. That’s not the way the show is designed, but it certainly reduced the intra-episode whiplash that ensues when you try to square this week’s relatively somber episode against the hallucinogenic fever dream of last week.
If “Glee” were an anthology, then it wouldn’t be burdened by things such as “continuity” and “dramatic coherence”. It’s not burdened by these things at it currently stands, but looking at it as an anthology turns those bugs into features. People who insist that I look at “Glee” as a simple hour of stand-alone entertainment would get their wish, and I would stop trying to figure out how people that look the same on a weekly basis act like Bizzaro versions of them during each successive iteration. The Rachel of last week would have made Patti Lupone stand up and say, “Now THERE’S a diva!” The Rachel of this week is relatively meek and OK with Finn grabbing side boob until she’s 25. In a drama? Problematic! In an anthology? Totally fine!
What Burt Hummel’s coma did this week, more than anything, was give much needed context to the episode’s overall musical palette. Too often, songs are chosen by thematic relevance but attached to the thinnest of premises. They reflect the old “Theme Weeks” of pre-J. Lo “American Idol” seasons, put out there for commercial sales as opposed to dramatic relevance. But Kurt’s physical health gave not only added weight to a lot of the performances, it also solved the primary musical problem “Glee” often has: it gave these characters a REASON to sing beyond merely trying to win a competition. Instead, they sang because mere words could not possibly convey their depth of feeling.
That’s a hallmark of musicals, and yet is almost wholly absent within the show. Brittany didn’t sing “I’m a Slave 4 U” as an expression of inner emotional bondage. But Mercedes sang Whitney Houston’s “I Look to You” as a true representation of what she felt in her heart. She sang it because simply telling Kurt wouldn’t have been emotionally honest. Number after number tonight reflected that sentiment, and while they didn’t always hit the mark (I’m looking at you, “Losing My Religion”), at least the place from which these songs derived was honest and, as such, was honestly appreciated by yours truly.
Unfortunately, songs can only get you so far in getting past the inconsistent tone of the show. Having Finn worship a piece of grilled cheese may be in line with his overall IQ, but hard to watch when set along Kurt’s relationship with his dad or Sue’s relationship with her sister. I’m all for humanizing Sue, but the show only humanizes her when it’s demanded by the story. There’s no progression from Point A to Point B so much as rapid fluctuations, as if you were watching the results of a lie detector test given human form and then placed within a tracksuit. Having her confess what she did to Emma SHOULD provide an opening for that relationship to develop beyond pure antagonism, but in the faux anthology that is “Glee,” that conversation will be long forgotten amidst some episode built around Barry Manilow.
In terms of the actual religious elements: having Kurt voice an atheistic point of view was a pretty bold choice. Too often Kurt declaims opinions from a soapbox rather than engage in discourse, but by and large the show aired a less-than-popular viewpoint in some circles without making him seem “anti-religion.” Having Rachel, Mercedes, and Quinn as The Three Wise Glee Girls around Kurt pointed out the religious pluralism in the group, which in itself boasts a fairly good ethnic pluralism as well. Having Kurt meet religion halfway inside Mercedes’ church was probably dramatically necessary to sell his acceptance of his friends’ prayers, but I would have liked to have him reach that epiphany without a gospel version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
That says nothing about my enjoyment of the number (not my favorite of the ep, but perfectly good) and more about the fact that by having the conversion happen there, the religious POV “won.” You might think that’s the correct outcome, and I’m not here to dispute your opinion. But had Kurt apologized to his father without previously entering a house of worship, I think the same resolution could have been achieved. As I said: having Kurt be a gay, teenaged Christopher Hitchens? Bold choice. Having him not stick to those guns? A little disappointing, even as I recognize that that choice might have alienated a lot of viewers.
A few bullets about tonight’s ep…
*** Speaking of religion, GOOD GOD did that 11-year old version of Kurt look like Chris Colfer. Either they found his doppelganger, or David Fincher directed this ep and used that “Benjamin Button” CG work to put Colfer’s face on that kid’s body.
*** I failed to mention it explicitly above, but Colfer really knocked tonight’s episode out of the park. Then again, I expected no less in an episode opposite Mike O’Malley.
*** The show’s musical numbers employ a variety of visual styles, but “cinematic” is almost never one of them. That made Rachel’s version of “Papa Can You Hear Me?” all the more striking. More often than not, the show doesn’t film well at night, with its football scenes often looking like 198s cable access in terms of production value.
*** If Finn really wanted to upset people with his disillusionment over the Grilled Cheesus, he should have busted out XTC’s classic “Dear God.” Now THAT would have shook things up. And it would have saved me from wondering if we were supposed to overtly wonder if “Glee” actually knows that “Losing My Religion” isn’t a literal title, or if “Glee” wanted me to think that Finn didn’t know what it meant. In related news, my head hurts.
What did you think of “Grilled Cheesus”? A return to form? A God-forsaken mess? Leave your thoughts below!
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