Just when I think “Glee” can’t confuse me anymore than it already has, along comes “Never Been Kissed” to introduce a whole new level of…well, whatever that was. It sure looked like an hour of television, but it played more like a combination of wish fulfillment coupled with audience punishment. Look: there are a lot of different subsets in the overall “Glee” audience. The show doesn’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for me may not be right for some. But no matter which of the different strokes you subscribe, I can’t imagine any of you actually liked tonight’s episode.
And quite frankly, that’s a painful thing to say. I have no problem bashing the show when it’s bad, and a lot of Season 2 falls under that category. But previous misfires didn’t contain a topic that is actually important, one vital especially in light of recent events. Although it probably was filmed long before Tyler Clementi’s suicide and the rise of the “It Gets Better” campaign, the issue of bullying is one that demands not only more attention, but also a level of sensitivity that “Glee” rarely, but occasionally, demonstrates.
Having that topic in a Kurt-centric episode had the potential for actually pushing past the mere mindless entertainment into something actually vital. Auto-tuned performances? Fine and dandy. An episode that promoted understanding, compassion, and tolerance in between the singing/dancing? Even better. Not every episode of “Glee” has to address something socially relevant, but if it chooses to actually address it, then it has a responsibility to treat that topic humanely and with great sensitivity.
What we got instead was fantasy on one hand and complete hypocrisy on the other.
[Full recap of Tuesday's (Nov. 9) "Glee" after the break...]
Let’s start off with the fantasy: fed up with being the only out student in his high school, Kurt wanders onto the campus of New Directions’ rival Dalton Academy, which isn’t so much a private school as it is an alternate universe where the existence of a zero-tolerance harassment policy turns everyone into docile creatures that appreciate stripped down versions of Katy Perry songs. Kurt gets led into this magical wonderland by Blaine, part-time member of The Warblers and part-time tour guide into All Things Wonderfully Tolerant.
Blaine isn’t a character so much as Kurt’s latent desires given physical form. He’s not a person so much as embodiment of wish fulfillment, someone who spouts platitudes about courage AND skin-tight jeans. Given how difficult it’s been for Kurt to find someone with whom to identify, Blaine’s emergence is just too damn easy to be believable, even in a show that stretches reality thinner than a slice of New York-style pizza on a regular basis. He does everything short of telling Kurt to use the Care Bears’ Stare to overcome prejudice in his public high school. (Let’s just ignore the not-too-subtle-thought-probably-not-planne subtext of “If you can afford private school, you’re probably not homophobic”, shall we?) Blaine’s advice leads Kurt to finally confront his bully, football player David, who naturally kisses Kurt as the culmination of what was in fact repressed sexuality all along.
Surprising? More for Kurt than for the audience, most of which have followed the travails of conservative Christian politicians long enough to recognize overcompensation when they see it. Having Kurt’s long-imagined kiss come from such an unlikely (and from his perspective, repugnant) source links him more closely to his fellow classmates than perhaps even he realizes: after all, for most of us reality falls quite short of expectations. (Personally, I’m still pissed Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” wasn’t audible during my first heavy makeout session. But THAT is another story for another time.)
Speaking of repugnant makeouts, another chunk of tonight’s episode centered around the tendency of New Directions’ members to mentally imagine Coach Beiste in sexual scenarios in order to not prematurely ejaculate while making out. I swear to God I’m not making this up. And if that wasn’t incredible enough, the show had the gall to pretend like it was ashamed at these students for doing so when “Glee” itself has spent that character’s short time onscreen essentially using her as an object of ridicule. Sure, a lot of that has some from Sue’s mouth, itself a suspect source. But showing the fantasies of Finn, Sam, and Tina first and then having Will tsk-tsk them (and, by proxy, us) is having its tasteless cake and eating it too.
As for the Will/Beiste kiss: I know it was supposed to be sweet, but it was still a pity peck, right? More to the point, everything that Will said about her to his students about her worth to them and the school as a whole comes from a perspective that is foreign to those of us at home. After being a central part of the season’s premiere, she’s largely been an afterthought, tossed in occasionally but without much content. But to hear Will talk of her is to hear him talk of a combination of Coach Taylor from “Friday Night Lights,” Jaime Escalante from “Stand and Deliver,” and Annie Sullivan. All of which may be apt. But since we have barely seen any of this onscreen, we have to take the word of a guy who recently thought staging “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was a good idea. Just saying.
Furthermore: having not one but two people for whom the title of the episode rang true might actual work in some cases, but served to simply deflate both storylines in this one. Kurt’s bullying? That’s a full episode. Beiste’s insecurities as played out through her students’ cruelties? There’s a full one as well. I wouldn’t mind seeing either one of those episodes played out (assuming either one was done well, mind you). Jamming them in together just made it seem like we were missing scenes that were important to those plots, as if Blaine were traveling to McKinley High in a car fueled by positive emotions while Beiste was packing her bags.
But hey, why stop at only two storylines, right? Let’s throw in some more. Let’s have Puck deal with the aftermath of his time in juvie. Let’s have a “boys versus girls versus acting the way you normally do” contest that could have yielded a fun “Freaky Friday” vibe if given more than a line or two of actual acknowledgement. It was the narrative equivalent of “Hoarders,” only with slightly better choreography. What did those two storylines have to do with the Kurt or Beiste arcs? Stop asking intelligent questions and listen to a mash-up, people!
Sorry, “Glee,” but I don’t need “dine-and-dash” in my story about bullying gay teens. I don’t need “Bizarro Rachel” in my tale about the casual, inadvertent cruelty that kids can impose upon adults that want to help. Those are not the kind of mash-ups I want, nor are they the kind the show should produce. The beauty of the show’s structure lays in the fact that it can be a different type of show each week and have the majority of its audience lap up that flavor of the week. But that doesn’t mean that the show should produce all those flavors in one single episode and produce a concentrated amount of awesome.
“Glee” found itself in the unique position to not only provide joy this week, but promote a worthwhile, vital message to its audience. Failing to fulfill that promise is a far greater sin than producing a lackluster episode. “Never Been Kissed” stands as the most frustrating episode of the season, and perhaps of the show’s entire run. It was frustrating not due to the opportunity missed, but rather the opportunity wasted.
What did you think of “Never Been Kissed”? Is a good message in a bad package still worthwhile, or did it get lost in the mayhem? Leave your thoughts below!
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