(Spoilers lurk below.)
When I first became a fan of Glee, I described it as a guilty pleasure. Around the middle of season two, when the series really began to pick up, I dropped that descriptor because I felt like it had become a quality show. Even through the dregs of season three, there were enough points of brilliance for me to continue not feeling guilty about being a fan. Well… now I’m starting to feel the guilt creeping back up.
Superficially, “Guilty Pleasures” bears a striking resemblance to season one’s “Bad Reputation,” another episode that tried to rehabilitate maligned songs and artists. What “Bad Reputation” had and what “Guilty Pleasures” lacks, however, is a strong theme tying the musical assignment to the plot. While by no means a stellar episode, “Bad Reputation” had a point. It was about how bad reputations come about, how they can be both a blessing and a curse, how they can be either fair or unfair, truth or lie, and how it’s possible to feel like having a bad reputation is better than having no reputation at all. It also has the hilarious “Run Joey Run,” the most deliciously and self-consciously terrible musical number the show has ever done. “Guilty Pleasures,” by comparison, is disappointingly shallow. It spends most of its running time dealing with the various perverse musical fascinations of the glee kids, with the actual plot (what little there is) being shoved into the background.
What started as an interesting look at what really motivates Kitty and what she wants out of her relationship with the glee kids quickly derails into Spice Girls hero worship. Blaine’s unrequited crush on Sam is resolved in such a boring way that one wonders why they wasted a whole subplot on it (seriously, how else could Sam possibly have responded?). Sam and Blaine’s guilty pleasures, Wham! and Phil Collins for Blaine, and Barry Manilow for Sam, don’t really add anything to the plot, despite eating up a lot of screen time. Jake and Marley get closer together despite Jake being kinda dumb (and that sentence could be said of just about every episode featuring the two of them). Most of the goings-on in New York are a meaningless waste of time, ending with a short and unsatisfying “real” breakup between Brody and Rachel, despite the fact that they had already broken up offstage.
Let’s start with this episode’s most egregious sin, and what I think pushes it over the edge from merely unremarkable to bad: Rachel and the writers’ treatment of Santana and Finn. In my review of “Feud” I said, and I quote, “If Rachel later has some revelation and decides that Santana was right to act the way she did, I will be very disappointed.” Well, guess what happens in “Guilty Pleasures.” Rachel actually thanks Santana for creeping around behind her back, lying to her, and calling Finn all the way to New York to cave her boyfriend’s face in, all without saying a word to her about what was going on. Rachel really feels like Santana was right to try to take care of her like she’s some fragile porcelain doll who can’t handle the truth? She really thinks it wasn’t incredibly creepy and possessive of Finn to travel several hundred miles to kick a guy’s ass in a hotel room, as if she can’t take care of herself? Not the fucking Rachel I know. I don’t know who this pod person is who’s claiming to be Rachel Berry, but the girl who demurely accepts that she needs other people to take care of her most certainly is not the strong, egocentric, independent person I remember, who would have told Santana and Finn exactly where to step off.
And fuck Kurt too. How could he have been so dishonest with his best friend after finding out about Brody? And why did Santana pick the exact moment she did to tell Rachel about Brody? Why didn’t she tell her about him earlier, like, during a time period when Rachel could have made her own decisions and taken independent actions based on this information?
What I’d been waiting for is to hear Brody’s side of the story, but as presented in this episode it boils down to “don’t judge me” and “we don’t all have doting daddies,” which doesn’t go all that far into explaining how he got into hooking. The episode does allow Brody to be sympathetic, but mainly because he’s clued into the fact that Rachel lied to him about sleeping with Finn. All that said, this was not a bad scene. It was just too short and shallow.
Also, Rachel still in love with Finn? I have so had it with the two of them. Their relationship was one of the least interesting bits of the show as far back as season two. Move on!
I continue to have no idea what to make of Kitty. It was fun seeing her interact with Brittany (Brittany is like black: she goes with everything), and Kitty’s kinda hesitant and awkward answers to Brittany’s initial brutally honest approach suggest that she may actually want to change and have real relationships. However, she has proven herself to be such a master manipulator that I can’t possibly buy it without a little more to go on. Anyway, then this whole plot was derailed by the Spice Girls, so we’ll have to pick this up again later, possibly when we address Artie’s apparent crush on her.
The only interesting bit of the Jake/Marley plotline was their argument over Jake singing a Chris Brown song. Jake argues that he should be able to separate the artist from the art, and that singing someone’s song doesn’t mean that he supports everything or even anything that person stands for. It was good seeing Jake with a backbone and a strong opinion, because it lent something to the illusion that he has a personality. What’s more, I agree with his argument, and I’ve been saying the same thing for years. Creative works transcend the creator and exist independently of them, and we should be able to enjoy them without having to worry about all the opinions and actions the creator took in his life that we may not agree with.
In the end, however, this thread doesn’t really come to a conclusion. Jake decides to kowtow to pressure and doesn’t do Chris Brown, but he does do Bobby Brown and gets everyone mad at him all over again. Can’t a song just be a song?
I don’t really have much to say about the Sam/Blaine subplot, but I will say that I’m glad to see Sam at an acceptable level of intelligence and perceptiveness again. Now let’s see if we can get his intelligence to stop yo-yoing quite as much. (I’m not hopeful.)
Finally, I have got to say something about the reference pools in this episode. The Spice Girls? Barry Manilow? Small Wonder? Yeah sure, all high school kids in 2013 are familiar with those things. Come on, I’m thirty and I barely remember Small Wonder. These kids are supposed to be teenagers. It feels like this show should be set in the 90s.
And I know that the Small Wonder thing was meant in part to be a lampshade-hanging, but it ended up just drawing more attention to it. I mean come on, that’s a reference that even Family Guy would consider pointlessly obscure (which is not to say they wouldn’t still do it).
So, overall, this continues a run of disappointing episodes. Let’s hope that season four can find its feet again now that we’re in the home stretch. As an aside, five episodes doesn’t seem like much time to deal with both regionals and nationals, so I’m getting curious as to what’s going to happen there.
Musically, this episode was good but not great. Seven songs were a bit much, too. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was fun but overproduced. In fact, most productions in this episode should have been more bare bones — the whole premise is that these are just kids having fun and loosening up without their teacher around. “Copacabana” was more like it. “Against All Odds” fell flat for me, perhaps because they were consciously trying to channel the far superior “Teenage Dream” from “The Break-Up.” Blaine is apparently unusually good at creeping people out while playing the piano. “Wannabe” was decent but the costumes were a bit much and the tempo felt a bit too slow. “My Prerogative” and “Mamma Mia” were both good but pointless, and the latter felt really weird transitioning the way it did between Ohio and New York. The highlight of the episode was “Creep,” which actually felt like it had something to say about the end of Brody and Rachel’s relationship.
If Sam isn’t having money problems, why can’t he just buy macaroni rather than steal it? Dry macaroni is almost literally as cheap as dirt.
I got a good laugh out of Kitty pointing out that despite the fact that everyone hates her and thinks she can’t be trusted, “everyone keeps telling me their secrets.”
The other good laugh I got was the shot of the drummer rolling his eyes during “Wannabe.”
Santana and Kurt’s short interaction at the end of the episode before Rachel walked in was a lot of fun.
I’m glad that Finn seems to be gone. He’s been a square peg in a round hole ever since Will came back.