I hear Glee’s been getting lots of flak. I hear it’s been called out for having an “agenda” (which only means it has something to say, but the accuser doesn’t like what it’s saying). That it’s intolerant by not embracing those who practice if not preach their own intolerance (as if such a thing made any sense). That it’s “too gay” (a strange thing to hear when I don’t recall ever hearing that a TV show was “too straight”). I’ve also heard that this bold little show with no stars which somehow became a phenomenon is just a bunch of crap — or worse. At least, that’s what Internet haters like to say about a program they sure seem to spend a lot of time watching, assessing, reading about and commenting on, for a show they profess to hate. (Do you not see the bullying, denying, closeted-in-some way Karofsky in yourself, you foolish people?)
But you know, no matter what people say, whether in tiny, small-minded rants online or in big ABC News stories for broader levels of public discourse, I say this: You can have your hatred of Glee. And I can have Glee — an imperfect show, to be sure (take last week’s episode), but still, for a veteran entertainment journalist who’s seen it all and is extremely hard to please, the best damn show ever — ever — that I have ever seen on the tube, the telly, the glass teat, the electronic hearth — the TV — or even online. Whatever we call it, and however we watch it, Glee has expanded on a medium of popular entertainment — largely with music, but also with meaning — and has improved on it in so many ways. Glee has, in short, given us the most entertaining and — dare I say it? — most substantive TV series that it’s ever been my pleasure to watch.
And this week’s “Born This Way” episode was a big reason why.
For 90 strong minutes, “Born This Way” wove strong threads of theme (self-acceptance overcoming self-loathing), of plot (who gets your prom queen vote: a real girl or a plastic face?) and of characterization (can even Lauren and Quinn become friends?), while injecting just enough music (some may say not quite enough) in just the right places, often via a Broadway-laced repertoire that adroitly steered the story and bolstered characters.
Eventful? Emma comes out and admits her OCD. Rachel embraces her nose. And even Karofsky, for too long a monotonously ugly if not violent gay basher and tyrant, finally seems ready to become a human being again, whether that means accepting and declaring his own true sexuality (I’m guessing he’s gay, not bi or straight) or not.
Also in this Sue-free episode (plenty of her next week), Kurt returns to McKinley and New Directions — big news by itself, of course — an anti-bullying posse is formed, and things actually start looking up in the home of Lima’s high school Titans. Of course, you know what that means: outrageous uproars lurk around the corner.
Musically, these uplifting songs were so much stronger than last week’s morose melange. I even dug Finn’s speeded-up-as-if-on-speed, lounge-lizard bent for I’ve Gotta Be Me — and I tolerated (there’s that word) if I couldn’t love Kurt’s long, bombastic and a bit too indulgent for my taste As If We Never Said Goodbye from Sunset Boulevard (not a classic show-stopper in my book, though it was treated that way).
But the real gems — the real winners — were the reliable Warblers (well, Blaine, really) in a heartfelt rendition of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know to bid Kurt goodbye; the full cast’s spirited spin on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way to cap the night with white T-shirted declarations of zealous self-acceptance; and Rachel and Quinn’s adorable, girlish mashup of TLC’s Unpretty and I Feel Pretty from West Side Story.
It was their first duet, I believe, and one of the most charming numbers I’ve ever heard on Glee. Now a confession: Though I am content with — make that heartened by — Glee’s gay “agenda,” I’m also a longtime happily married man who was raised to be a gentleman and who holds females in the highest regard. So sue me.
Thank God Rachel didn’t get her nose altered (I won’t say “fixed”). And thank God Quinn and the world now see the light about her own allegedly dark past as an unattractive fatty on the surface, but one who was nonetheless a real girl and not just a pretty face, as observed by her boyfriend and this show’s moral compass, the lumbering jock with his heart in the most right of all places, Finn.
All these things combined for a most memorable evening of Glee — one which I’ll savor for some time, just as I savor all of this show’s many special moments.
The fact — the fact — is this: There has never been a show like Glee, not really. So it is, by definition, special. And whether or not some folks loathe it, that doesn’t change Glee’s essential truth: It’s not just about sublime flights of musical fantasy in the context of teen angst. It’s also about grounded, unashamed and unwavering compassion. And in my book — since I was born this way, raised this way and have increasingly seen the wisdom of this way — compassion is awesomely special, too, especially in our increasingly callous world. And why? Because compassion, quite simply, is just another word for love.