Episode 5.08: “Previously Unaired Christmas”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

There’s a fine line between genius and stupidity, and Glee‘s method of squeezing a second Christmas episode out of the same school year rides that line like nobody’s business. It’s explained “in-universe” by having Sue, as Jane Lynch, explain that this episode was fully shot back in 2012 but rejected by Fox, leading “Glee, Actually” to be rushed into production to take its place. More interesting than the episode itself are the meta questions that this brings up in relation to the series’s narrative. Is this episode out of continuity? Is it set in an alternate universe, where Burt doesn’t have cancer, Brittany hid out all month in a fortified Mayan-apocalypse-proof bunker, and Puck decided to hell with his little brother? Are we supposed to consider this episode for judging character development in the fourth season?

The concept of “Previously Unaired Christmas,” anyway, is pleasantly experimental. It’s too bad that the execution just sucks. It started nicely, but failed to maintain the breezy, playful atmosphere, instead descending into lazy writing/characterization in half the episode and abject creepiness in the other half.

At WMHS, the dueling plotlines are a Christmas tree decorating contest and a “living nativity scene” that stands in for this season’s school play, as Marley, Tina, and Wade audition to play Mary. The Christmas tree plotline turns into another chance to worship Becky, as her shitty tree loses, but Sam and Tina (whose green-themed tree included adopting the vole that lived in their tree prior to its being cut down, and naming it “Richie”) decide to give their trophy to Becky and tell her that she won. Artie correctly points out that this is condescending, but screw it: we need a feel-good ending. Then they also get her to play baby Jesus in the nativity scene because God forbid Becky not be included in something.

The contest was cute and fun, but it only took up about a quarter of the episode, if that. Sue picking the glee club as the winner, despite her own desire to fuck them over, serves as a kind of reminder that Sue actually used to have something resembling integrity on occasion, at least before she became principal in season five.

Meanwhile, Will and Shannon pick Marley to play Mary in the nativity scene. She did helpfully volunteer “I’m a virgin!” when the role was announced, after all. However, Kitty has been acting weird about the whole thing, and Marley senses something is wrong. Kitty says that she could have the role if she wanted it, but she totally doesn’t, and doesn’t even audition. Then, Marley finds out something actually really heavy from Kitty: Kitty doesn’t pursue the part because she doesn’t think she’s worthy of it. She thinks of herself as a bad Christian.

Kitty is the character who has undergone the most change since “Glee, Actually,” and here we see her in full sociopath mode, yet with this underlying layer of tragedy just beneath the surface. It’s interesting that they’d take time out for characterization in this out-of-continuity (?) episode, especially for a character who has already moved beyond what she was back then. However, I do like seeing the human side of Kitty, and I thought that this was an interesting facet of her personality. However, what they did with it afterwards was just dumb. Marley, for some unexplained reason, gives the part of Mary to Wade (in terms of scripting, why not just give Wade the part in the first place?), and then they proceed to rehearse a nativity scene involving the song “Love Child” in front of Will, Shannon, and Kitty. This is hilariously bad and offensive, and the point (which Will and Shannon were in on) was to disgust Kitty so much that she would insist on playing Mary so that she would feel better about herself.

This makes approximately zero sense. First, it was so obviously designed to offend that there’s no way that Kitty wouldn’t have seen through the ruse. She’s evil, not stupid. Second, Kitty’s issues with the performance have nothing to do with who is playing Mary. She should have been inspired to wrest control of the project of the apparently brain-dead Will and Shannon, not to take the role of Mary from Wade. Third, how was this supposed to make Kitty feel better about her relationship with God? Her concerns about her religion are deep and serious, and can’t possibly be solved just by having her point out obvious flaws in a nativity-themed musical number and playing Mary. In fact, one might have expected, had this actually aired in lieu of “Glee, Actually,” that this might be the beginning of a plot arc in which Kitty examines her religion and the way she acts and treats other people within that context. Her obviously shallow acts in this episode could have led into Kitty taking some action of substance later down the line.

Of course, since this is an out-of-continuity episode, it’s actually all just pointless.

Meanwhile, in New York, Santana has conveniently dropped by so that she can be part of the plot despite the fact that she is living in Louisville at this point on the timeline. This leads into a good metajoke when Rachel tells Santana that she should move to New York and live with them, and Santana responding that she’d have to be stupid to give up her scholarship and leave in the middle of the school year. Beyond the metahumor, the plot of this segment is that Rachel gets jobs for her, Kurt, and Santana playing elves for a mall Santa, and for some reason she is real excited about this. She makes some claim about Broadway stars getting their starts playing elves at malls, but it sounds pretty silly. It just serves as a ridiculous excuse to get us into a ridiculous plotline. It turns out that the mall Santa is a drunk asshole (as are all mall Santas on TV, it seems), and the elves end up having to run a lot of the show, especially after Santa stops showing up and Santana has to play Mrs. Claus to cover for him. Santana’s turn in the chair is pretty hilarious, as she says a bunch of inappropriate things to the kids, including suggesting that a kid “looks Jewish” and discussing her breakup with Brittany (which she seems to have forgotten was initiated by Santana herself).

Instead of quitting this thankless minimum wage job, Rachel, Kurt, and Santana insist on trying to keep things together, which leads into a fellow mall Santa/stripper/shirt-allergy-sufferer named Cody approaching them and offering to give them some tips on dealing with the mall Santa gig. Since he’s so hot that even Santana wants him, they accept when he invites himself over to their place at eight, where they enjoy eggnog, inhaling helium, and general sexy shenanigans until Rachel and Santana finally pass out and Cody ties Kurt up so he can ransack the place.

This whole bit is just as creepy as hell. Why would the three of them invite this stranger into their home? Why would they keep him there when he just keeps acting creepy? There’s no good explanation offered for any of this. Kurt, Santana, and Rachel are not that stupid or naïve, especially Santana, who is naturally untrusting and supposedly not attracted to men. Cody is also not that charming: he comes across exactly as creepy as he is, which is a lot. Also, why would Cody choose these three as marks? They’re working as mall elves, what makes him think they have anything worth stealing?

This whole plotline is just… uncomfortable.

This was just a bizarre and bad episode. Taking the in-universe explanation for its existence at face value: I just wish Fox had insisted it stay banned.

Musically, this episode was decent, if not up to the level of “Glee, Actually.” “Here Comes Santa Claus” is the highlight of the episode, and not just because of Santana’s costume. It was a good rendition of a standard Christmas carol on a nice set with good choreography and simple backing music. The result of the attempt to placate the kids was, however, predictable. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was good enough for what it was, I guess. I just hate that song. It feels like it’s trying too hard to be hip, when the fact is that it’s tragically lame. “Mary’s Little Boy Child” was quite good, but I have to question the costumes. Not just because of how questionable it is to have the Virgin Mary dressing like that, but because of the fact that Marley is supposedly still getting over her bout with bulimia at this point, so I don’t think it can possibly be healthy for her to be showing off her body like that. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t be Late)” was good, but unbearably creepy because of the inclusion of Cody as David Seville. Also, I’m pretty sure that inhaling that much helium is dangerous. “Love Child” was actually a lot of fun despite being so horribly inappropriate. I’m not a Christian though, so I can’t really gauge how it might be viewed by someone who might actually be offended. Pretty sure it would still be funny. “Away in a Manger” was good but… weird. And not just because of Becky Baby Jesus. I’m kinda on Jake’s side here: since when do public schools allow overt displays of religion on campus organized by teachers?

Other thoughts:

Becky expresses interest in making out with both Sam and Tina, so apparently she is bi. Told you she was the new Brittany.

“We’re never gonna be hired as holiday retail temps again!”

Did they even give Cody their address before he wanders off?

What the fuck did who’s playing Mary have to do with that “Love Child” performance, seriously? I don’t understand why Marley handed the part off to Wade at all.

Thank God that this episode managed to make both Kitty and Becky happy by the end, because clearly they are the most important characters.

This is kinda awkward, but… Finn was still the glee club teacher at this point in the prior season. So his unexplained absence is kinda obvious.

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Episode 5.07: “Puppet Master”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Up to now, season five has mostly been mired in mediocrity, but now we have our first genuinely awful episode of the season. “Puppet Master” is slow, boring, unfocussed, bizarre, and absolutely 100% pointless. If you haven’t seen it yet, my advice is to skip it and let the recap guy remind you of anything that might have accidentally been important.

Imaginary sequences are something that has been with this show since the beginning, but they are very dangerous. By showing the audience something that is only happening in one character’s head, the show cuts out actual plot time and real character interaction for… what? Imaginary sequences have to do a lot to justify themselves. When it’s just a musical number, as they usually are, one asks that it be entertaining and thematically relevant, and that imaginary musical numbers not take too much time out of the episode as a whole. “Britney/Brittany” is an example of an episode that went overboard on imaginary musical numbers: they were entertaining, but there were too many of them and they were thematically shallow. On the other hand, there’s imaginary plot time. “Props” actually handled this fairly well, as the body-swap bit lasted a single act and told us something about Tina. “Puppet Master” is the worst of both worlds: it has the imaginary musical number overload of “Britney/Brittany” along with imaginary plot bits that, unlike the one in “Props,” sprawl all over the episode. Also unlike in “Props,” the imaginary bits in “Puppet Master” are completely pointless, and bleed into the real world in a bizarre and uncomfortable way.

What the hell happened to Blaine? He wasn’t the most well-adjusted kid in season two, but he wasn’t insane, and he had some kind of people skills. I could go on at length about how the Blaine of later seasons differs from the Blaine of season two, but the Blaine of “Puppet Master” differs greatly from any other Blaine I’ve seen in the series. He’s controlling, antisocial, uncaring, and clearly mentally ill. At least he increased the creepiness level of his relationship with Tina to match hers. So anyway, the plot is that Blaine tries to take control of the glee club, but they don’t want to be bossed around by him. Then he has a hallucination about everyone in the club as puppets (due to a gas leak, apparently) Then he makes a puppet of Kurt, and has it confiscated by Sue. Then he gets detention for a week when Sue catches him trying to steal the puppet back (while wearing a lone ranger mask for some reason), and so he can’t make it to Kurt’s band’s first gig. So then he doesn’t call Kurt to let him know this and Kurt gets mad. And then everyone decides to do what Blaine wants to do anyway, a message that Tina delivers to him while discovering that he’s having a conversation with a Tina puppet who is wearing the very same dress Tina is wearing at that moment.

Um… what? What the holy hell did I just watch? Do I even have to review that mess? I’m pretty sure that trying to add anything to it would be like trying to add to the Mona Lisa of Shit: it would only detract from its perfection as a monument to awful plotting, characterization, and use of musical numbers.

Early on, it was obvious they were setting up a parallel between Blaine and Kurt, as Kurt tries to control his band the way that Blaine tries to control the glee club. Of course, the difference there is that Kurt actually is the leader of his band while the glee club has no official leader outside of Will, but whatever. In the end it doesn’t really seem like Kurt learns anything, since his decision to play at that dead venue gets them noticed through pure luck, and Blaine claims he learned that he wants to be more of a leader than a bossy person, but the actual character development got lost somewhere between the imaginary musical numbers and the puppets. Blaine and Kurt’s relationship drama doesn’t help matters any either, especially since Blaine is so incredibly wrong and stupid beyond anything he’s ever done before. He doesn’t call Kurt because why? He doesn’t want to hurt him? So instead of calling to explain his absence he just doesn’t show up? And I don’t even know what to make of Blaine giving everyone puppets of themselves because a) how is that supposed to be a resolution of anything, and 2) where did he find the time to make all those? Seriously?

Speaking of Kurt’s plotline, Dani and Elliot were in it, but didn’t have a whole lot to do. Were they planning on giving those people some characterization and spotlight time anytime soon, since they’re kinda major guest stars and new characters who promise to be important in the future? Past experience suggests… no.

Also, there is a subplot about Sue trying to become more feminine, because some guy she has a crush on mistakes her for a dude, and instead of chalking him up as a moron she decides that it’s her fault. This begins with her wearing high heels and stumbling around like a drunken lemur, leads into her asking for help from Will (who offers advice more cryptic than Mr. Miyagi: something about Ginger Rogers and dancing backwards in heels), and then finally ends with Sue getting a makeover from Wade… because clearly Wade can put all Sue’s school-sponsored bullying aside in order to help her just because she makes a pathetic request and no apology. And in the end, Sue still ends up getting shot down by that guy.

I dislike this on two levels. First, of course, it’s objectively dumb. Second, it takes Sue, a strong female character (about the only good thing I can say about her character at this point) and turns her into a woman who just wants to become what a man wants her to be. If they’d examined this character trait of Sue’s it could have been interesting (it showed up before, to an extent, in season one’s “Mash-Up” with her crush on Rod Remington), but as it is it just makes her look weak. She could even have gotten some help from Wade on that, considering that, her fashion and makeup skills aside, Wade is all about not being what society wants her to be.

The genesis of Sue’s subplot also features something that I recognize as a sign that a show is running out of ideas: showing the origin of things. It features a flashback that shows how Sue decided to dress and cut her hair the way she does today: because she couldn’t intimidate students with long hair and a dress for some reason. The makeup department also made no attempt to make Jane Lynch look any younger for the flashback, something they emphasize by cutting directly from past Sue’s face to present Sue’s. I don’t understand why this show does things sometimes.

Also happening in this episode: Bree has a pregnancy scare and suddenly becomes human, à la Quinn in season one. Jake, meanwhile, has a manwhore scare (Bree apparently feels high and mighty enough now to lecture him), and tries to recapture monogamy with Marley by offering a damn good attempt at a sincere apology. She still shoots him down, though. I like this because it hints at real character growth for Bree and Jake, but not enough plot time was devoted to it to do much. God forbid we cut out any of the puppet dream sequences or imaginary musical numbers.

I don’t really know what was up with Figgins in this episode. He sure was… there.

This was just an awful episode. I am dumber for having watched it, and you are dumber for having read about it.

The music followed the pattern of last week by being shallow, with the additional weakness of being completely imaginary. It was pointless, and none of it actually happened. Great. “Into the Groove” was fun, but I don’t see any good reason why they couldn’t have moved it to their band’s actual first performance, where it would have had more plot impact and carried the additional pathos of seeing them perform in front of an audience of one. “You’re My Best Friend” was okay, but totally pointless. “Nasty/Rhythm Nation” was easily the highlight of the episode on the merits of the number and performance alone, but I also liked it because it looked like Jake and Marley were actually communicating with each other. It’s the first time we’ve seen anger and some sassiness from Marley on this subject, as opposed to depression, disappointment, or sadness. But, it was all in Jake’s head, so who cares. “Cheek to Cheek“: pointless, except for the rare treat of hearing Jane Lynch sing. “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)” is… just… what? What the hell was the point of that? I mean, aside from “it’s a popular song right now and we need iTunes sales.” I don’t usually criticize Glee for that, but come on. There was no reason for that song to be in this episode.

Other thoughts:

The puppets reminded me of the Sesame Street parody, which is much better than this episode. And Sesame Street’s Will puppet looks more like Matthew Morrison than Matthew Morrison does.

Sue’s doing a lot of leaning on the fourth wall lately. She questions the glee club’s budget because of the costumes in “Applause” from “A Katy or a Gaga,” as well as the “bullet train” that the glee kids must be using to go back and forth to New York City.

The bit with Blaine talking to Brad the piano guy was pretty funny.

Odd that it was Tina who got to tell Blaine that he earned a leadership and starring role in the glee club, considering she’s been there longer than him.

Becky is sounding more and more with each passing day like she’s reading her lines from a card. They’re just not giving her natural dialogue.

Marley looks really concerned about what the fox says.