Tuesday, 1 June 2010

'GLEE' 1.20 - "Theatricality"

Tuesday, 1 June 2010
WRITER & DIRECTOR: Ryan Murphy
GUEST CAST: Jenna Ushkowitz, Idina Menzel, Iqbal Theba, Mike O'Malley, Romy Rosemont, Naya Rivera, Max Adler, Josh Sussman, James Earl, Heather Morris, Harry Shum Jr., Dijon Talton & Hayley Holmes
[SPOILERS] Two things often rescue Glee, both in evidence here: its willingness to tackle new ideas head-on with little preamble , and its knowing sense of humour. To wit in "Theatricality": Rachel (Lea Michele) unpredictably realizing that Shelby (Idina Menzel) was her mother after seeing her sing "Funny Girl", and their subsequent heart-to-heart chat while seated in dramatic positions no ordinary person would sit in. It was a ridiculous moment that caught my attention, so the fact the characters admitted the staginess show how brilliantly self-aware Glee is. And a TV show that understands its ridiculous nature (and relishes it) is part of the reason I find the show so charming, for all its faults.

As I said, this week Rachel attempted to bond with her long-lost mother but found it wasn't the perfect reunion she'd imagined all these years, as they don't have a behavioral shorthand with each other, just similarities in looks and talent; Finn (Corey Monteith) was shocked to discover his mother's moving in with Burt (Mike O'Malley), meaning he had to join her and share a bedroom with smitten Kurt (Chris Colfer); Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) condemned Tina's (Jenna Ushkowitz) new "goth" look, believing it will inspire vampirism; Mr Schue (Matthew Morrison) decided to give glee club some "theatricality" homework inspired by Tina's right to display her personality through clothing; and bullies again surfaced to pick on the glee club's more idiosyncratic dressers.

It was quite an unusual episode, lacking thematic clarity at times (something the characters even mentioned), but decent enough whenever it focused on the Rachel/Shelby storyline. The Finn/Kurt subplot also had its moments, but I'm getting sick of how Glee's writers are dealing with Kurt's crush on Finn. I also find it contentious that Finn was berated by Burt for getting upset over the fact Kurt decorated their bedroom to look like a gay Sheik's tent, having using the word "faggy" to describe it. I understand how Burt would get upset over someone using that word around his son, but Glee does seem very one-sided when it comes to how characters are supposed to act.

Let's be frank: it was clearly ridiculous that Kurt would think a heterosexual guy like Finn would want to sleep in such camp surroundings. Of course Finn shouldn't have used the term "faggy", but you can understand his feelings: being uprooted from his home and told to share a bedroom with a boy who clearly has sexual feelings for him. Why isn't there anyone fighting Finn's corner, and making Kurt understand that his feelings will never be reciprocated and he's just embarrassing for a straight guy by continuing to behave in this way and turn his bedroom into a kitsch boudoir?

I'm not homophobic, I just think that Glee's guilty of often having gay characters behave in ways that show little empathy for how straight characters may feel about things. And the straight characters are prevented from reacting honestly because they fear being branded homophobic if they make a fuss. But it's a two-way street. Kurt should have consulted with Finn over their bedroom d├ęcor to find something acceptable for both, or simply insisted on separate bedrooms if they couldn't agree on something that suited both their personalities. The fact Kurt's bedroom wasn't especially "gay" before Finn moved in also bothered me, because it was like Kurt wanted to provoke Finn on some level.

This was something of a Lady Gaga "special", too, with the girls belting out "Bad Romance" (fun, but with no fresh spin) and a Rachel/Shelby duet of an acoustic "Pokerface" that was certainly a very different interpretation, but one I found insufferable. The boys shunned Gaga for masculine theatricality from Kiss, performing "Shout It Out Loud" in full makeup and black wigs, which also didn't really click with me because I'm not familiar with the song. A little better was Puck (Mark Salling) getting the guys to sing Kiss's "Beth" as a way to connect with Quinn (Dianna Agron) about their baby's impending birth.

Overall, I quite liked "Theatricality" because it stirred my thoughts regarding the show's angle on sexuality, even if that probably wasn't intended. The Shelby/Rachel storyline certainly felt rushed and thus unconvincing at times (after a day or so they realize there's not much point pursuing a mother-daughter relationship?), but there's still a part of me that applauds how Glee leapfrogs ideas other teen dramas would spend months on. I'm just not sure if that's a good idea, long-term. Glee's in danger of using up all its possible sources of inspiration and conflict, and this is only season 1. I think the writers feel burned about the bad reaction to the earlier pregnancy storyline with Quinn, so would rather avoid stringing plots along for longer than three episodes. I just hope they don't find themselves exhausted next season because they've breezed through countless ideas other shows would have made last years.

Asides
  • Quinn's still able to dance to Lady Gaga hits while pregnant? Really? Will there ever come a time when she's not physically able to perform, or will we get a song-n'-dance routine from her during labour?
  • Will we ever meet Rachel's gay dads? They sound more fun than Shelby. And what do they think about Shelby?
  • This won't mean anything to non-Brits, but doesn't Idina Menzel have exactly the same mouth as Sharon Horgan from Pulling?
31 MAY 2010: E4/HD, 9PM