Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Rocky Horror Glee Show

I really liked this week's Glee. Take minute, absorb the shock, now can we move on? Great.

I'd say about 3/4 of this episode was super fantastic for lots of reasons (*if you would like to read about that last quarter, see the footnote, otherwise feel free to revel in my rare Glee glee)

First of all, the wonderful Adam Shankman is the perfect person to direct an episode of this show. He is a musical theatre man at heart, a former dancer, a populist director and a man uniquely tuned in to all the things Glee is about when it's at its best (a sense of fun, the spirit of performance, social commentary, outsider triumph and an underlying base of sweetness). With my beloved Shankman at the helm, Glee is at its best.

And whether or not I was okay with how they got there (Really Mr. Schue? This is about a girl?!), The Rocky Horror Show is the perfect text for Glee to tackle, because they're essentially similar. Like Glee, Rocky Horror is beyond culty; it's an obsession that theatrically-inclined folks flock to and are miserable if they miss. They're both phenomena I don't entirely understand but I've partaken in more than once and even enjoyed on occasion. They're both strange and quirky but not as strange or quirky as they think they are. They're unpleasant and undeniable at the same time, mildly preachy but sometimes meaningful. Both have, as Sue pointed out, "incredible pacing problems", and some seriously questionable writing. They share an astronomical outsider complex, that weird mix of mainstream rebellion and an incredible sense of fun. The hipsters who spend their Saturday nights throwing toast will declare war on My TV because I said this, but in the ironic spirit of rebellion I've caught from watching this episode I'm going to ignore that threat and say honestly that I really think Glee and Rocky Horror may be one and the same. Mr. Schue is right when he says that Rocky Horror is about outsiders finding a place to belong, just like glee club. But the overarching everything matches so perfectly between the two that their incorporation was so much more interesting than anything else Mr. Schue has ever made a silly theme-y speech about.

But a theme or main plot device isn't worth much if the character stories found in it don't measure up. With the exception of the Mr. Schue/Emma stupidfest, the stories in this episode were fantastic. For once, the show played down the obnoxious Rachel (and even gave the roller coaster that is Kurt a rest) and gave the others something to do. The result was a shining moment for Mercedes (not a big story but a nice character triumph and a kickass performance), a great number by the awesome John Stamos, a lovely bit for (my new favourite character) Mike Chang and an interesting story about male body image. Making the rarely made but totally true "boys are objectified too" argument, the show examined male insecurity from two sides with Finn representing the care-free "I eat what I want and am still considered cool because the standards aren't quite as intense for men- until I have to sing in my underwear" side and Sam representing the intense "I take perfect care of my body because it is so intrinsically tied to my self worth and manhood, also because I am a perfectionist and always need to prove myself" side. Their insecurities were interestingly played out and Sam's body dismorphia hit an unusual and kinda great note.

But my favourite voice in the episode belonged to Sue, and not just because of that awesome line about haters throwing toast at her and her disabled sister.

In a show that so often throws characters and story under the bus in order to make bold opinion statements (see Mercedes' single episode insecurities about weight, Kurt's homophobia soapbox and the strange religious conclusions of "Grilled Cheesus"), Sue suddenly stood up with the enlightened statement that "Artists are free to push boundaries to make art. But when pushing boundaries is their only aim, the result is usually bad art." So often Sue is framed as the sociopathic foil to Mr. Schue's generic good-guy, so I find it unfailingly refreshing when the tables turn. I love Sue as the voice of reason; she's weird, she's tough, she's unsympathetic, often villainous and strangely vengeful, but she's not always wrong. In this episode, she had a point. But so did Mr. Schue. Isn't that awesome?! Glee allowed some space for grey, for ambiguous issues where more than one person can be right, where the story has 2 sides. That's new, and that's awesome, and that's what interesting thought-provoking storytelling is all about.

This was one of those episodes that reminds me why I come back week in and week out to a show that infuriates me 90% of the time. Every once in awhile they'll say something really interesting, do something beautifully or simply fully entertain me- this episode did all 3. It was funny, clever, poignant without trying desperately hard to be so (always the better option) and entertaining as hell. Damnit Janet, I think I might love Glee... at least for this week.

*The quarter that I didn't like:

- "Touch-a, touch-a, touch me" somehow managed to be over-the-top and boring at the same time. It did nothing for plot, threw Santana and Britney into a bizarre voyeurism situation, served basically as an excuse to show off Matthew Morrison's abs and generally annoyed me.

- The incredible hypocrisy of Finn's arc about body image juxtaposed with the impressiveness of Cory Monteith's body when he finally showed up shirtless. Sure he doesn't look like Sam, but Come On! I liked the story, but unless he had the body that fit the story, they needed to leave his shirt on. Now they run the risk of the "if he's "doughy" what am I?" reaction that TV so problematically often inspires.

and, most of all

- I was so totally on board with this episode. I saw the connection, was loving the themes and how Rocky Horror as an entity tied in with the show and its overarching themes. And then Mr. Schue told me how Rocky Horror as an entity tied in with the show and its overarching themes. I don't know if it's network pressure or if the writers genuinely think their audience is stupid but I was much more likely to appreciate the lesson before I was hit over the head with it. I loved this episode, but Mr. Schue's obnoxious speech almost made me change my mind. Dear Glee, TRUST US PLEASE! Condescension is never endearing. Love, Your Audience.

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