Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dissecting Glee: "Grilled Cheesus"

It has been a crazy month, but I really wanted to write a post about the latest episode of Glee. Up until yesterday, Glee had been a huge disappointment since it returned for its second season. I found "Audition" annoying and the Britney Spears episode tedious and inane (similar to Britney herself). When I found out that Ryan Murphy and company were going to do a serious episode about faith and religion, I braced myself and mentally prepared to break up with Glee forever. Since Glee doesn't do subtle particularly well, I expected "Grilled Chesus" to be ridiculously anvilicious at best, insulting at worst. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the episode, and I thought that it was the best episode of the season so far.

First off, let me just say that "Grilled Cheesus" is probably one of the most divisive episode of Glee, and a quick peek at the Glee forums at Television without Pity indicates that most reactions will fall into one of three camps. The first camp was horribly offended by the portrayal of religion (and, in some cases, atheism) in this episode, the second camp thought that it was too maudlin and over-the-top, and the third camp found the episode's treatment of religion thoughtful (even if the episode itself was a little too heavy handed). I happen to fall in the third category, but I can definitely see how some people's mileage may vary.

The Plot: As I mentioned, tackling religion on a show that is equal parts camp, soap opera, and American Idol is a risky venture. It really surprised me how angry some people were on the TWOP forums about the portrayal of religion and atheism. I thought that the show did a good job looking at all of the different aspects of religion and how people view religion. Even as it questioned the view of God as a combination of a genie and a concierge (see Finn's absurd and selfish wishes when he prays to the apparition of Jesus on the grilled cheese sandwich), it also acknowledged that spirituality can mean different things to different people. Finally, and most tellingly, it presented the atheist perspective without forcing Kurt and Sue to renounce their atheism or finding a neat and tidy resolution to the characters' doubts about God.

The Music: There was a lot of music in this episode, and I must admit that I didn't pay much attention to some of the songs. One of my nitpicks is that, with the overabundance of music featured in "Grilled Chesus," some of the songs that deserved more airtime were cut. In all honesty, I really could have done without "I Look to You" and "Papa, Can You Hear Me?", which took me out of the moment because, rather than thinking about Yentl and Streisand, all I could think about was Nelson Muntz singing it on The Simpsons. That said, I found myself really loving several of the numbers.

"Only the Good Die Young" - I love how Puck tried using this song to substantiate his claim that religion and spirituality is about making the most of the time you have. As a former Catholic school girl, I couldn't help but laugh at Puck's reasoning. However, I appreciated the lightness of the number and how much fun the characters seemed to be having during the song.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" - This was a devastating sequence and arrangement. Also, the actor they got to play young Kurt looked uncannily like Chris Colfer. That is all I have to say - I have something in my eye...

"One of Us" - This is the song that should have been longer, and not just because the cast looked amazing in their white and black ensembles. It seemed like the perfect ending to the episode, and the minimal staging highlighted the music. My only issue (besides the truncated length of the song) was the final cut to Finn's empty plate. It just felt a little strange, even though the director probably wanted to leave the audience with a fairly open-ended ending image. Rather than having a shot of the cast (bathed in the ethereally white light of the stage) or of a recovering Mr. Hummel (both of which could be construed as religion saving the day), showing the empty plate and crumpled plastic wrap certainly made the ending ambiguous.

Other Observations:
  • Even though subtlety is far from this show's strong point, there were quite a few tiny moments that were well done. For instance, the scene where Kurt, Emma, and Will are in the waiting room at the hospital, and Emma slips her hand into Will's was a wonderfully understated touch.
  • I love that crazy, evil Sue is juxtaposed with her softer side. Her relationship with her sister is lovely.
  • This episode also showed us the nicer side of Santana, Puck, and Brittany. They all seemed very genuine when they were talking to Kurt.
  • For all of her quirks, Emma actually gives pretty good advice.