Thursday, February 24, 2011

Glee: "Blame It on the Alcohol"

I've written before here about how Glee, despite its efforts to be subversive and edgy, is really the most earnest show on television right now. Ryan Murphy & company, having brought Nip/Tuck to our airwaves, sought to create a darker version of High School Musical, and this vision fit perfectly with the reputation Fox is trying to build for itself ("So brash. So bold. So Fox."). However, the show tends to wear its heart on its sleeve, and no matter how racy the show tries to get, it never forgets to take a moment and explain why whatever a character did was wrong, either explicitly or implicitly. This is why I immediately scoffed at the idea of "Blame It on the Alcohol:" this was going to be A Very Special Episode, one that teaches us all about the dangers of alcohol and why we should never, ever drink. I was absolutely convinced that this was going to be sappy melodrama that would put 7th Heaven to shame.


Here's the story: Rachel's dads are out of town, and Puck wants to have a party at her place, alcohol included. Rachel initially scoffs at this idea, but gives in when she decides, with help from Finn, that drinking will improve her songwriting (yes, ladies and gentlemen, Glee is about to debut its first original song). This is set against the backdrop of an alcoholism epidemic sweeping William McKinley High, as Principal Figgins wants Will to get the glee club to sing a song about the dangers of alcohol at an assembly at the end of the week. Sue, meanwhile, wants to break Will of his own perceived alcoholism, which doesn't necessarily exist until Sue brings it up, which kind of makes it a chicken-or-egg sort of thing.

Narratively, there's not a lot going on in this episode. But this is a stand-out episode for Glee, not necessarily in quality, but rather in how radically different it is from what we've seen from the show before. "Blame It on the Alcohol" is a bold departure from the earnestness that the show has displayed thus far, for the most part at least. Here we see the New Directions kids - plus Kurt and Blaine - gather at Rachel's to get their drink on. The resulting scene is, for me at least, kind of difficult to watch, because it does something that I can't think of any other show doing: it captures the awkwardness of teen drinking. Sure, its easy to point out how many television shows and movies show us how alcohol destroys teenagers, but few have ever shown how goofy they can be under the influence, especially those who are under the influence for the first time. And no matter how much you drink in high school, its still a fresh experience for you every time, even if you think of yourself as a master at it, and Glee captured this aesthetic perfectly. It also grappled the way that teens more easily abuse alcohol, as all of the glee club members show up at school drunk almost every day, curing hangovers with more alcohol. Its a fantastic and more-realistic handling of how teens drink.


That's not to say this is a great episode, however. The Will subplot is a terrible waste of time, as it goes nowhere and feels shoehorned into the episode just to give him something to do. The Kurt-Blaine storyline, in which Blaine kisses Rachel and wonders if maybe he's bisexual instead of gay, caused a big stir leading into the episode, but ultimately turned out to be a crass, pointless ploy that went nowhere, with Blaine ultimately deciding "yep, I'm gay." Its a revelation that didn't need to be tested, and if it did, then should have been spread out over a couple of episodes and handled with more respect than reducing it to a punchline. And there's no logical reason for Sue to be pursuing Will about his non-existent alcoholism, but also seems to be an excuse to shove her into the episode.


Musically, the episode made some interesting choices. The first song didn't appear until at least 15 minutes into the episode, which is unusual for the show, and was basically a drunken rendition of The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" between Rachel and Blaine. And honestly, this paired with George Thorogood's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" were pointless performances that were included just because the show needs at least four songs per episode. More interesting were Jamie Foxx's "Blame It" and Ke$ha's "TiK ToK:" these were not legendary performances that will rank among Glee's most memorable, but they do highlight a line that Figgins had in the beginning of the episode about how alcohol is glorified in pop music. Indeed, Ke$ha's music is more or less for the 24-hour-party-people set, and other recent smashes like the Far East Movement's hedonistic anthem "Like a G6" do indeed support intoxication. Its a staple of the club culture that's dominated the pop scene. What's most telling about alcohol in pop music, and a very sly trick that this episode accomplishes, is that Will never has the kids perform an anti-alcohol pop song, namely because there are so few of them.

So what was the moral lesson that Glee taught us at the end of the episode? That's the most astonishing thing about it: the answer is nothing. The kids sign pledges to not drink until after Nationals, but not to stop altogether. There's no preachy moments, no group hugs, no tragedies: nobody dies because they drank, and the worst that happens to any of them is that they barf on stage at the assembly. Glee doesn't do this sort of thing, where there are no lessons learned. Its a Very Special Episode that just shrugs its shoulders and says, "Teenagers drink. That's life. Just be smart about it." And that, in the end, is very special indeed.

- About Glee having original songs: who is surprised that it took them this long to get to this point? I'm actually surprised they're doing it at all; they've seemed so content to just cover other artists, and I think that fit the nature of the show. I don't really know how I feel about original songs, but I guess we'll find out soon enough.

- I'm sure the big talk of the episode is scantily-clad Brittany, off of whom Santana does body shots. If they'd put this in the Super Bowl episode, I guarantee you Glee would have seen a huge surge in male viewership (and some females, too).


- When are we actually going to see Rachel's dads? I have a hard time believing that they would not be present at their talented daughter's performances, such as Sectionals or Regionals.

- I definitely want to hear what you guys think about this episode. Please comment and let me know.

- I was disappointed that more didn't happen this week with Kurt and his dad. That is easily the best relationship this show has ever done.

- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "It's kind of like nursing a POW back to health so he's at his strongest when you torture him." 

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