Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Glee: "Prom Queen"

"Graduation is for the parents, but prom is for us."

Yes, that is from Disney's latest movie, Prom, and I pulled that from the trailer. The reason I include that here is because prom is something that is exclusively for high schoolers. Sure, it gets paraded around as a night that'll never be forgotten and "the most important night of our lives," and we all know that's bunk, but when you're 16 or 17 years old, and you're standing there in that poorly-decorated gymnasium or auditorium in your rented tuxedo or flashy dress, you believe it with every fiber of your being. My first prom was in my senior year of high school, and it genuinely felt like it was a last hurrah for us, friends since elementary school about to go our separate ways into a world that was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Of course, friendships would be kept to varying degrees, and it wasn't really the last time we'd be able to hang out in a party atmosphere, but it did feel like the end of an era; that moment would never be captured again. So we danced like it was our last dance, and enjoyed each other's company as much as possible.

Contrast this to my second prom, which I attended with my girlfriend at the time. I was a sophomore in college now, two years out of my high school days. Prom, for all its regalia, just wasn't the same this time around. That's not to say that I didn't have fun, but the meaning, the sense of importance and finality, was gone. It no longer felt like the monumental night that it had been two years prior; of course, this is from my personal point-of-view, as surely the seniors that were there felt that significance in the air. But it just wasn't the same to me. Prom is something that you have to be a certain age and in a certain mindset to truly appreciate and understand.

All of this is to say that I had my concerns in regards of "Prom Queen," Glee's big prom episode. Would the show be able to sit down and focus long enough to capture the essence of prom and make it seem like the big deal that it would be to these characters? The answer is a resounding yes. "Prom Queen," easily the season's best episode so far, managed to make me nostalgic, not just for my own prom (the first one), but also for the first season of Glee, as for the first time this season (and perhaps since the pilot), it became the show I've always known and hoped it could be.

Here's what happened: the New Directions are performing at prom, which gets everybody in a tizzy over who's going with who and what to wear. Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) returns to win back Rachel's heart, while Kurt and Blaine decide to be prom dates. Quinn and Finn, Santana and Karofsky, and Puck and Lauren are all gunning for Prom King & Queen, and Artie tries to win Brittany back again. At the prom, disaster hits when Karofsky is named Prom King and his queen is voted to be...Kurt.

Everything that makes a great episode of Glee was present here. Will and Sue were barely present; in fact, after the first act Will completely disappeared from the story (perhaps buttering up his "head merken?"). Instead, the show wisely chose to focus on the kids, since, as stated above, they're the ones prom is really for. There was terrific humor, including a great joke about Air Supply and another about the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont ("That went off without a hitch, right?"). And the dramatic moments were handled with a kind of respect and aplomb that this show rarely uses.

Let's talk about the big twist for a second. Kurt's crowning as prom queen was kind of predictable, considering it was hinted at throughout the episode. However, that didn't make the reveal any less shocking, a moment that legitimately took my breath away. Part of this can be attributed to smart, sensitive writing courtesy of Ian Brennan, and knowing, brilliant direction from Eric Stoltz. But what really made it work was Chris Colfer's performance, as he devastated with just the look on his face as he tried desperately to maintain his composure. Kurt's return to William McKinely was potentially supposed to be seen as a triumph of tolerance and acceptance over prejudice, and it was brave of the show to say, "no, nothing's really changed." And three cheers for Darren Criss and Max Adler, who play Blaine and Karofsky, respectively, for making their performances dovetail so neatly with Kurt's. The three of them provided some of the juiciest, most powerful moments of the season (and by the way, if Colfer submits this episode for Emmy consideration, he's going to be extremely hard to beat). In all reality, everyone was on top of their game in this episode, as pretty much everyone got a great chance to show off their talents (Will excluded, of course).

Even the musical selections were bolder than they have been in the past. Sure, it was expected that the show would tackle Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" at some point, but to turn it into an a capella, gospel-tinged number for Rachel and Jesse? That's good arranging/staging. And of course Glee was going to do "Friday" at some point, how could they not? At first, I groaned, but beyond the impossibly insipid lyrics, there was something about Glee's version that really worked in the context of the scene. By adding real production and better vocals, this seemed exactly like the kind of song one would play at a prom; maybe Rebecca Black was on to something and just didn't know it, because here, her song actually was "fun, fun, fun, fun." And using "Jar of Hearts" by Christina Perri, who is without a doubt this generation's Alanis Morissette, as a slow dance doesn't make much sense lyrically, but it worked in the context of the Finn/Quinn/Rachel/Jesse trapezoid. ABBA's "Dancing Queen," too, worked as a perfect closer, capping the prom with a celebratory note. What didn't work: Artie singing "Isn't She Lovely?" to Brittany, which, as Mercedes pointed out, is definitely about a baby, and Blaine singing Black Kids' "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You," which was an inspired choice (go check out the original now!) marred by terrible production that sounds like it was done on an old Casio that had coffee spilled on it.

This is the kind of show I've wanted to see from Glee. The humor, the drama, the focus on the characters, the darkness around the edges, and the treatment of serious issues with seriousness, rather than schmaltz or whimsy. I know this is probably an odd duck in terms of what's to come, but damn if I didn't enjoy it while it lasted.

- Seriously, Max Adler is probably the most underrated actor on this show. He's made Karofsky into a legitimate, empathetic character from what was initially supposed to be just a bully. Mad props to his great work.

- For the first time this season (and, honestly, ever), I watched Glee during its original air time on live TV, rather than on Hulu. And in HD, too. Which is why I would like to share what I have discovered (well, I already knew, but this confirmed it): Quinn and Santana are total babes.

- "Eat your heart out, Kate Middleton." More triumphant words couldn't have been said.

- My high school didn't do prom king/queen. So I guess I missed out on something major there. Is that something that's still common in high schools today, or that just a Hollywood thing at this point?

- Also, if anybody wants to share prom stories, I'll be happy to hear them/share some of mine as well.

- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "You should be ashamed. You are the worst person to interrogate or almost torture."


Simon said...

At my school, they have king and queen for homecoming, I think, but there was an incident with a girl getting voted prom queen as a joke, and the kids presenting the crown just giggled and said they were kidding, and the girl transfered schools, and now we don't have it anymore. At least that's what my sister says, and she knows shit.

Anyways. Anything that involves 'I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You' is a friend of mine.

Jason H. said...

Man, high schoolers are dicks.

I agree with that last statement. What a great, underheard song, though the underheard part probably won't be an issue anymore.