Friday, October 29, 2010

What We Left in Kilkelly

There's a very lovely Irish song called Kilkelly written by an American composer named Peter Jonas. The song is taken from the text of actual letters sent to his great-grandfather which he discovered in his parents' attic.

There's this pervasive notion in America that progress and the natural way of things means just "moving on" and leaving things behind; abandoning family or obligations for a perceived freedom. Some of us don't hold to these ethereal notions. One cannot listen to this song, especially knowing the truth behind it, and not feel bad about a culture that leaves people behind like this.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

GLEE: "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

Yet another theme show, and one that's had a lot of press leading up to it. Again, I'm not a huge fan of the theme episodes. The Britney Spears show exceeded my expectations. Sad to say that while this episode was not a total bust, it did not.

From the very opening, I was disappointed. I had hoped that we would just have an episode where the cast does a school musical, and it's The Rocky Horror Show, and we hear the songs etc. But no, the episode opened just like the movie, with the singing disembodied lips (Quinn's I believe), and that's when it was clear that the episode was much more about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Why should this matter? Because it's a distinction that annoys me. I feel like on the whole the episode was trying so hard to do homage, but didn't exactly achieve it as it could have. Having said this, it was a cute opening on its own terms, mimicking the film's opening, complete with title card (the first time an episode title has appeared on-screen) and fake credits.

It seems that Emma and her hot dentist boyfriend have been getting along great, so much that her OCD is getting better. She and Carl went to a screening of Rocky Horror and she was able to handle the mess. This makes Mr. Shue jealous, so he tells her that he loves the show and is going to have the glee club put it on at the school. Emma suggests this will be problematic due to the adult themes, but he brushes it off saying he'll make some edits.

The issue of appropriateness is the source of most of the episode's drama, though it's somewhat poorly handled. Even the kids question whether they can do it. Kurt points out there are high schools that have tried to put on Rent and been stopped. This is true. Of course on the other hand, there are high schools that do Equus. Certainly it's controversial, but is doing an edited Rocky Horror really all that different from doing an edited Grease? I mean, how many schools do Grease, and that show has racy content as well (often the lyrics are changed. Heck, in the script available from Samuel French the lyrics to "Greased Lightning" are all bowdlerized). But I was wondering exactly how Shue was going to edit the piece. As it turns out, not well. But he does do the smart thing and hand out permission slips so that if parents object, the students don't do the show. This seems reasonable.

Mr. Shue assigns parts for the play. Rachel volunteers her and Finn for Brad and Janet (obviously). Artie is of course Dr. Scott, since he's in a wheelchair. Sam is cast as Rocky, which is not surprising; he actually looks a lot like him. When Shue suggests Kurt be Frank-n-Furter, Kurt objects. He says no due to the transvestite outfit and all. ...I'm sorry, who are you and what have you done with Kurt? Where's the flamboyant Kurt who just last episode was performing from Victor/Victoria and embracing his feminine side? Where's the Kurt who put on a leotard and danced to "Single Ladies" in his basement? You would think Kurt would be all into this! Especially since Frank seduces Brad (Finn) and has his boy toy Rocky (Sam). How is this not a slam dunk for Kurt? Plus he gets all the best songs! There is no good reason for this to be that way other than the writers want to be different for no good reason (and create drama for the rest of the episode about who will play Frank). Kurt really has no motivation for refusing. Was it maybe that his voice isn't quite suited to the range of the songs? I just don't get it. He's the guy who had the whole football team doing Beyonce dance moves, and he doesn't want to appear onstage in drag? Give me a break.

Mike Chang suggests he would like to play Frank. Interesting idea, though he doesn't quite have the voice. Then again, a lot of Tim Curry's style was talking on pitch for chunks of it. But before we get to see Mike do any performance, his mom refuses to sign the permission slip and he is out. It's a bummer because I would have preferred it to what we got.

Meanwhile, word has reached the local news channel where Sue does her weekly "Sue's Corner" segment about the production. They want her to do a piece on it and how wrong it is, promising it could earn her an Emmy (which is it's own inside joke now that Jane Lynch has an Emmy). And the execs from the station are played by none other than original movie cast members Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf! It was a nice cameo appearance. Again though, it makes the episode more about being a disjointed love letter to the movie than its own entity.

I started to get really annoyed that "the show" was used to refer to the movie and the stage show interchangeably.

There's another of those teeny little dialogue gags that I love when Carl meets Sue Sylvester. He's wearing a black suit; he shakes her hand and says, "Sue, how do you do?" This really felt like a nod to Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue" (he even inflects the same way).

Sue has been cast in the show as well as the criminologist (actually, a decent part for her). In the end, she will use this as an excuse that she was "undercover" investigating the play. With no Frank, she suggest to Carl that he get involved in the show since he knows all the songs and such. He auditions with a performance of "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night" (also known as "Hot Patootie"). The song is pretty good. It's nice hearing Stamos sing on TV again and he does a good job. The choreography is fun. Why did it take so long to get him a song on this show? He sang on Full House all the time! He performed with the Beach Boys! Get him singing more! But I was watching thinking, "why is he singing for Eddie?"

Thankfully when the song was over, Sue asked my question. "That's Eddie's song and I cut him out of the show in my rewrite!" Apparently, Carl refuses to play Frank as he feels it would be inappropriate to come on to high school students in drag onstage. He wants to play Eddie. So Eddie is back into the script and we still have no Frank. Oh wait, Mercedes just volunteered. That's right, Mercedes volunteered. Um, darlin' do you understand what you're doing? She says that she was taken with the lyric "don't dream it; be it" and that she always wanted to be a lead, so this is her chance. Sorry, no. The role is for a man. That's the whole point of the character. And Mercedes, that lyric you fell in love with, you have no idea what it means. In context, it's sexual brainwashing from an alien being meant to tempt humanity to decadence. I mean, there's even the reference to Lily St. Cyr in the song. Who was she? A burlesque performer. ...What exactly were Shue's edits here?

So then we are subjected to Mercedes as Frank performing "Sweet Transvestite." There is so much wrong with this I don't know where to start. Was the only reason Kurt refused just for the writers to get Mercedes singing this? She has also altered the lyric. I thought it might have been passible if she were "a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman" a la Victor/Victoria. But no, her lyric changes make clear that she is a woman ("I'm not much of a girl by the light of day"). And what's her costume? She's in a leather bustier and skirt with some big ol' boots. Or more simply, she's dressed like a girl. So she's a girl, dressed like a girl. But she keeps singing "I'm just a sweet transvestite." No you're not, you idiot! If you're not crossdressing, you're not a transvestite! There's even further sacrilege in that she sings that she's from "sensational (or sinsational?) Transylvania" instead of "Transexual Transylvania". Was this just for the kids watching at home? In the context of the show, Transexual is the name of the planet they are from. Come on! The whole number was a mistake, and to make it worse, Mercedes totally oversang it. Few can match Tim Curry, but this was nothing CLOSE.

At that point, Carl bursts through the wall as Eddie. But that wasn't his cue. He just "felt it was right". Mr. Shue points out he doesn't come through the wall until the dinner party. ...Wait a minute, I'm trying to remember the film, but Eddie DOESN'T burst in on the dinner party, does he? He interrupts them in the lab during the Charles Atlas song.

The best part of the episode for me was the very relevant issue of male body image. Finn is insecure when he learns Brad spends much of the show in his underwear. Sam on the other hand is ripped so he doesn't mind being half-naked. Or so he thinks. After some time in the costume, he gets a little embarrassed too. There's some very good interaction with Finn and Sam as they work out and talk about looking good and the work that it takes and why they should have to be so self-conscious. These are real issues and I'm glad they were being discussed; eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders are not female only. Men really are as concerned about appearance, more then they let on. I was a fat kid in high school; I remember. I remember doing King and I and having my gut exposed (and having to shave my chest for it). However, for all this the show missed a golden opportunity to use more Rocky Horror music. Wouldn't this have been a sensible way to work in "Charles Atlas Song"? Come on, writers! This thing writes itself! Why are you so clueless?

Anyway, Mr. Shue continues to be jealous of Carl and sees Sam's slight reluctance as an opportunity; he will relieve Sam of the role and play Rocky himself. He claims that the role is just too mature for a high schooler. Um, okay, so this means that a teacher is going to have a student fondle him and sing "Toucha Toucha Touch Me"? Yeah, 'cause THAT's more appropriate... It's really all just to impress Emma.

In that vane, Emma helps him "rehearse" the aforementioned "Touch Me" song. Now I have to ask again, what edits did Shue make? There are a few klunky lyric changes that feel like a censored performance of "Beauty School Dropout" (I've seen it done with the lyric "no customer would go to you unless somebody took 'er" instead of the other). Wouldn't it have been safer to cut the entire song? I mean, a few lyric drops aside, it's still all about getting boned by a stranger. It's nice to hear Emma sing again, though her voice sounded a bit odd here. Some of the best lyrics in the song were changed. They swapped "heavy sweating" for "heavy petting" and the brilliant "seat wetting" was altered to something like fretting which sounded awful. I mean, why even do the song without that? Thank God we only saw it done with Emma and Shue; perish the thought of seeing Mr. Shue and Rachel perform this (coming off of last year's crush on him, this would have been really awkward with Rachel I think). To make matters worse, the whole thing was staged just like the movie. Santana and Brittany watch out the window in place of Magenta and Columbia. Then there's a really awkward moment toward the end of the song where Emma is lying on the desk, and we see everyone do the "creature of the night" lyric just like in the movie. Only it makes absolutely no sense in this context. Why is Finn suddenly there singing? Or Artie? Or Kurt? I hope Emma's not actually fantasizing this? It all seemed like a slavish retread of the film that made no real sense in context.

There's a sweet subplot running through the episode with Becky trick-or-treating dressed as Sue. When she comes to Mr. Shue asking for candy, he apologizes, saying he forgot about it. After the scene plays out, she gets a brilliant capper for it. In full Sue Sylvester mode, Becky turns to Mr. Shue and says, "Give me some chocolate or I will cut you." It was just so hilarious. I love that they continue to let Becky make jokes instead of MAKING Becky the joke.

Mr. Shue discovers Sue's plan to expose the show as bad for the community. They discuss it, and Sue gives a rousing speech about exposing children unnecessarily to things they need not be exposed to. That they may be bombarded by adult content all the time, but that's no reason to give it to them willingly. Shue agrees, and decides not to put on the play. Um, that's all nice and all, but since this entire episode of Glee just exposed the kids of the nation to Rocky Horror, isn't the episode sending a VERY mixed message? It's also funny that this comes on the heels of the GQ photo shoot scandal.

I also have to question all the logic of this episode's stage production. How much time elapsed between the decision to do the show and that first dress rehearsal? Because Halloween was approaching at the start of the episode. Am I to believe Mr. Shue cast, rehearsed and costumed an ENTIRE MUSICAL in the span of maybe two weeks at most? What? And what about the set construction? Furthermore, now that there will be no performance, what becomes of all that wasted effort? They were going to use the admission money to fund the trip to Nationals. Now they don't get that revenue. And who payed for the elaborate set and costumes? What kind of an irresponsible decision was that?? Now the glee club is financially in the hole! Maybe Sue payed it out of her Cheerio budget. I hope they at least rent some of this stuff out to some theater company or something.

The episode ends with Mr. Shue deciding the group would put the show on for themselves without an audience. And they do (with an all student cast). We watch them do the Time Warp, the end. Mr. Shue even goes so far as to say that what midnight screenings of Rocky Horror were really about was the unity of outsiders or some such thing. Sorry, I think that's nonsense. Furthermore, it's really specious to link the point of Rocky Horror to the point of the midnight screening culture. The show and film existed before it became the cult thing that it is now. They might seem inextricably linked but it wasn't always that way. Man, I found this episode rather simplistic. Oh, and the Time Warp vocals weren't even that good. Kurt's Riff Raff was okay, but Quinn's vocal was terrible. And she can sing! She affected some odd deep register that just sounded bad.

I was really underwhelmed by this episode. I would have much preferred they stick to a normal Glee episode and base it around the stage production. But they didn't. This episode further proves the inability of the writing staff to differentiate between stage and film, though it wasn't as egregious as last year's Cabaret debacle. It felt too like Puck was written out of the show solely so there would be a lack of men available for this episode. I know Ryan Murphy wanted to do an homage to the movie, but it felt very disjointed. Frankly, when you have a character who is a dentist, Little Shop seems like a much more obvious choice. But of course, this year is the 35th Anniversary of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fox owns the rights. It came off as little more than a marketing gimmick. There's even rumor that Ryan Murphy wants to remake it for televison. It felt a little like this episode was a dry run for that. Talk about unnecessary.

The funny thing is, there are ways this could have worked. Early in the episode Mr. Shue refers to these events as a nightmare. Well, why not have just made it a nightmare? A dream sequence. Lots of good shows do special parody dream episodes. Like that Boy Meets World which was a Scream parody. Make it like a special Halloween event. Northern Exposure did a Halloween dream episode. That would have justified the different opening that paralleled the film. Then they could have just staged the whole episode as a truncated version of the movie with the cast of Glee, and made it all somebody's dream. I feel like that would have been much more cohesive (man, maybe I should write for this show). In the end, it was not cohesive. Some of the dramatic events were ridiculous. Moments were stolen from the film for no other reason than to reference them. Some of the most obvious songs were chosen, even when better ones might have served. Wanna showcase Mercedes' voice as Frank? What about "Going Home", which is my favorite song in the show? This was a golden opportunity too to perform "Once in a While" which was cut from the movie. Finn would have sounded great on it. Oh well. Not a total bust of an episode. The stuff with the guys and their body image was well done. On the whole though, the episode was having too much fun with itself to be completely fun for its audience.

Best line of the night: Brittany discussing her Halloween costume -- "I'm going as a peanut allergy."

Songs in tonight's episode:
Late Night Double Feature Picture Show
Over at the Frankenstein Place
Dammit Janet
Sweet Transvestite
Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?
Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me
The Time Warp

Next Week: nothing. but...
In 2 Weeks: Puck's back from Juvey, and things are gonna shake up a little. It's hard to get a sense of plot from the promo, but Coach Beiste is back, so that should be fun.

GLEE: "Duets"

Again, excuse the lateness here. There's no real excuse; I've had two weeks. Oh well.

First things first, I have a problem with the recap of the show. It says that "Finn called Kurt a bad name" last season, and they refer to the incident that way throughout the episode. No he didn't. Sorry, but he said the decor was "faggy". He did NOT call Kurt a fag. It's related, and I'm not defending it but that is still very different from calling Kurt a name which he did not do.

Puck's in Juvenile Hall! I wonder how many episodes he'll be gone for. I also wonder what motivated his absence from the show this week. Was it simply so the numbers would work out favorably with Sam joining the group and the kids pairing off for duets?

Speaking of which, Sam has joined glee. And Kurt has a thing for him. Mr. Shue assigns the group to come up with duets, and the winning couple gets an evening at Breadsticks (you know Breadsticks; it's that restaurant with the great breadsticks). Kurt wants to sing with Sam. Then we get into yet another example of the writers not doing their homework. Sam says, "Aren't duets supposed to be between a guy and a girl?" and Kurt says, "Gene Kelley and Donald O'Connor would protest. ...'Make 'Em Laugh'? Singin' in the Rain?" WRONG. Kelley and O'Connor are a good example, but "Make 'Em Laugh" was NOT a duet!! Don't these writers ever know what they're talking about? "Moses" or "Fit as a Fiddle" were duets. This sort of thing just makes me sad. Especially when a character is acting as if they know exactly what they're talking about.

We are given a little more of the hinted bisexuality of Santana in this episode. With Puck gone, she's been making out with Brittany a little. Brittany seems to be into her, but for Santana is not about love. Now, can I just ask, watching these sorts of interactions coming off Kurt arguing against gay being a choice in the previous episode... how do we account for this? Clearly SANTANA is making choices regarding her sexual behavior. And is Brittany gay or not? She seems to have very bicurious tendencies as well. Sorry, but the "I was born this way" argument gets a whole lot weaker when you throw in the bi- community. This scene had a fun moment where Brittany suggests she and Santana do the duet together: Melissa Etheride. Santana replies that she's not making out with Brittany because she wants to "sing about having lady babies."

Santana really wants to go to Breadsticks, so she enlists the help of a partner she thinks could help her win: Mercedes. I love that Santana calls her Wheezy at one point.

Finn notices Kurt's crush on Sam and points out to him that being gay doesn't give him an excuse to fall all over someone. He points out that how Kurt was to Finn last year would never fly if it were Finn and a girl. Then Finn hits him hard with this point: "You don't understand that no means no." Wow. Kudos to the show for that one. It's so refreshing that they are really exploring Kurt and the implications of his character more. Again, gay is not an excuse to do whatever you want and then say "You're just a homophobe!" Respect for boundaries is a very good point here.

This theme continues when Kurt's dad gets involved. There's a bit of a fight when he tells Kurt that Finn has a point. Kurt counters that he wants a relationship like everyone else. Kurt's really kind of a jerk these days. I think Kurt's feelings too are not just gay-centric; they are universal. That is, there are a lot of outsiders who never get a relationship or who have a hard time finding someone to pair off with. I never had anybody in high school. So I get where he's coming from. This is good stuff!

Finn and Rachel rehearse "Don't Go Breaking My Heart". It's a solid, if obvious, duet choice. They realize they are awesome and will win the competition, but that causes them concern. Finn is worried that if Sam sings with Kurt it will kill Sam's reputation, he'll leave glee and then they won't have his voice for competition. Finn wants Sam to win as a confidence booster. Rachel meanwhile claims to be thinking of others and wanting someone else in the spotlight for once. Her reasoning is similar to Finn's; build Sam's confidence so they can win at Nationals. So they conspire to throw the competition.

Tina and Mike Chang are fighting because all he ever wants to do are very Asian things. When they eat out it's always at Dim Sum. She wants to win competition so she can go to Breadsticks and eat a normal salad that doesn't have pig's feet in it.

There's a nice bit of costume design in this episode. While Finn tries to convince Sam that it's bad for his rep to sing with Kurt, Sam is wearing a T-shirt with a bulls-eye on it. This reinforces the point that to the rest of the school Sam is something of a moving target. And then, he gets slushied!

Sam begins developing a thing for Quinn, who helps him wash the slushie out. We also learn that Sam is sort of a dork. He tries to chat up Quinn in Na'vi because she references Avatar briefly. Dude, that's just sad. Na'vi is just slightly above Klingon. If you're gonna pick a fake language to learn, it's ELVISH dude. Chicks dig the Elvish (okay, that is probably not true in general, but there's a large female population of Tolkien fans, and it's bound to work with one of them).

Santana and Mercedes do their duet: "River Deep, Mountain High". It's an ebullient performance with Santana giving Mercedes some moves. It's fun watching them shake their rumps like they just don't care. Santana's voice goes well with Mercedes' and it's a really good vocal.

Finn and Rachel worry about how they will be able to convincingly fail at their duet, until Rachel suggests that they take a lesson from Grease 2; pick a bad song. The difference between Grease and Grease 2 is that the songs were bad. I love this because it's so true. Aside from a couple that are funny as novelties ("Do It For Our Country") the music is terrible in Grease 2! And I say this as someone who owns the CD. So they decide to sing not just a bad song but an offensive song.

Sam doesn't end up singing with Kurt, and Kurt decides to embrace his queer side again (like that's working out for him so well) and do a duet with himself. Okay, I'm down with a solo duet, I think that's fun. I like to sing with myself. But I thought he'd sing along with a recording or something. Instead, he does a bit from Victor/Victoria in partial drag. He says its a duet between the male and female side. I don't buy it. Sorry, that's not a duet. Why not just do something from Hedwig and the Angry Inch? The performance wasn't bad, and I liked that he enlisted the Cheerios to make it a real performance with choreography and all, something we haven't seen much of this year. But it does feel like a reach to me.

Sam is kind of like Kurt in that he's new in the school and he's an outsider who's just trying to fit in. That symmetry interested me.

Mike Chang is reluctant to sing with Tina because he's a dancer, not a singer. So Tina comes up with a brilliant number to perform: "Sing" from A Chorus Line. If you're unfamiliar with the show, kill yourself. No sorry. If you're unfamiliar with it, the song is about a dancer who isn't really a singer, singing with her husband. It's funny. Now do yourself a favor and go listen to the soundtrack (NOT the movie soundtrack). Anyway, it was the perfect song choice for Mike and Tina, with some cute choreography. I also liked that it flipped the original gender roles of the song. This was my favorite performance of the night.

Brittany teams up with Artie in hopes of beating Santana. She tells him she'll be his fake girlfriend, basically. This culminates in Artie and Brittany in her room rehearsing. I love that Brittany has wallpaper. It may seem like a minor thing, but everybody just paints walls these days and there's something very homey and nice to me about wallpaper. Eventually, Brittany picks Artie out of his wheelchair, lays him on her bed and has sex with him. This later leaves him feeling used when Santana tells him how many guys she's been with. He's bummed because he feels like she just used sex as currency, something that was a big deal to him. I really appreciate that the sex roles were flipped here and its the girl who is promiscuous and the guy who wanted more. That sort of thing does happen, and it's good to think beyond stereotype. For her part, Brittany seems genuinely distressed that she hurt Artie. She said she wanted to go to breadsticks so they could be like Lady and the Tramp and share a plate of spaghetti. She's even been practicing rolling meatballs with her nose. On another note, I wonder if, because he's paralyzed and couldn't as easily leave her bed, one might suggest the act had overtones of rape. Just a little?

Finn and Rachel perform and it is hysterical. Finn's dressed like a priest, and Rachel's in this little proper black number, and they sing a saucy love song about how "with you, I'm born again." It was all very Thorn Birds. The group was just stunned, and Mr. Shue called them out for being totally inappropriate. The only bad thing about it to me was that it didn't quite follow the set-up. Shue points out that it's a good song but badly executed. What happened to picking an offensive song? It wasn't an offensive song, it was an offensive interpretation. So that was a tiny bummer. But really funny otherwise.

Quinn and Sam do their duet with Sam playing guitar, and having Quinn do the chords for him. There's something really sexy about Quinn fingering his frets. Their performance is groovy and fun and they win the competition. Personally, I liked it but I don't think they were the best. But because it was put to a vote, everyone except Finn and Rachel voted for themselves.

The voting has a tiny joke in that Kurt's paper lists his name as Kurt Elizabeth Hummel. Elizabeth? Is that a Producers reference?

Sam and Quinn do go out to Breadsticks and we learn that Sam is not gay as Kurt had suspected. It's a nice scene, but the capper is the camera panning past their booth to Brittany sitting alone with a plate of spaghetti rolling a meatball to no one. So sad! It's that sort of thing that keeps Brittany endearing and not just vapid.

In the end, Rachel decides to help Kurt out and sing a duet with him to make him feel better. They do a very interesting mash-up of "Happy Days Are Here Again" and Judy Garland's "Come On Get Happy." While it does take something away from the gospel feel of "Come On Get Happy" it was a nice and inventive blend and a solid ending to the show.

I thought that this episode would feel very slight, but it was actually a lot of what made the show fun in the first season. It wasn't the strongest episode ever, but it was enjoyable, and it was good to hear from some of the cast who don't always get to really sing.

Best line of the night:
Mr. Shue: What's a duet?
Brittany: A blanket.

I love this exchange. You can tell that Brittany is thinking, but it still feels non sequitur. For those who don't know, the word she is searching for is duvet.

Songs in Tonight's Episode:
Don't Go Breaking My Heart
River Deep Mountain High
Le Jazz Hot
With You I'm Born Again
Happy Days Are Here Again/Come On Get Happy

Next Week... er, tonight:
Glee does Rocky Horror. On the one hand, I'm getting very tired of theme shows that feel like desperate pleas for ratings. Glee doesn't need to stoop to stunts like that. On the other hand, it looks as though there will actually be a stage performance. It's good to see them actually do a stage show. I hope the writers don't continue to bare their ignorance and make it based on the stage show and not the movie. But I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Worst Recess Game

I played all kinds of games at recess. Four square, football, poker, octopus (what, you've never heard of octopus?), dodgeball. But I was just reminded of a failed experiment in a game we tried to play a few times. Though it sounds awesome, it is probably the worst game to ever attempt in real life: Calvinball.

As for many sixth grade boys of my generation, Calvin and Hobbes was hugely popular and influential to me. In the strip, Calvin and his tiger Hobbes would at times put on masks, break out the wickets and play Calvinball. It seemed logical at some point that we would try to emulate the game. But that proved an impossible task. First, none of us had masks. Why they are important I don't know, but Calvin famously said "No one is allowed to question the masks." We didn't have wickets either. But we had a volleyball, and imagination and we figured that was enough. It wasn't.

You see, the only rule of Calvinball is that you can never play it the same way twice. While this makes perfect sense for a boy playing with his imaginary tiger on paper, it's impossible to translate to a real world setting. Ultimately, we ended up recycling elements from the strip, and reusing them throughout the game. It was HARD to come up with new elements for a whole game. It was HARD to play consistently with four or five people a game that had no rules. What was the objective? In the end, it was chaotic and we had to give up, having failed admirably.

I don't know if there's any relevance to this, but I've been thinking about the nature of imaginative play recently and how much I actually engaged in as a kid. Some kids like Calvin are naturally deconstructionist. Others need certain rules and parameters. All I know for sure is that imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but you're wasting your time if you think you can ever imitate the wonder of Calvinball.

Note: all images of Calvin & Hobbes are the creative work of Bill Watterson. He's notorious about not licensing his images out, and it may very well be that their presence on the internet violates copyright and/or his express wishes. It is not my intent to upset Watterson or act against his will. My inclusion here is merely for illustrative purposes, and mostly confined to Watterson's original artwork. I found it all online, and have not reproduced any of it personally. Please do not contribute to Calvin piracy by creating or reproducing stolen imagery. Let's respect the work of a 20th Century pop art genius. ...and please don't sue me, Bill.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GLEE: "Grilled Cheesus"

"I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as you don't eat my Grilled Cheesus."

Okay, so nobody said that in the episode. But we did get a certain satirical bite at misplaced religion in this episode in the same vane as "Plastic Jesus" (a great song, and one that satirizes people, not religion). Sorry this is so late in getting posted (as if all three of my readers really care). Anyway, Glee takes on the notion of religion in the episode, but casts the net so wide that it's hard to really do any justice to one idea in 4o minutes. That said, there was some good stuff, and some missed opportunities.

In an obvious connection to those news stories where people start seeing Virgin Mary in everything, Finn makes a grilled cheese sandwich that seems to have Jesus on it. He takes this as a sign, and decides to devote his life to Jesus Christ. ...sort of. He ends up funneling his faith into the sandwich. He prays to it. He calls it "cheesy Lord", praising it for being delicious and asking it to grant his requests. There's a lot going on here. First, the absurdity is funny, but also sadly kind of true. Unlike other shows that have done similar episodes about religious manifestations, it doesn't have drastic consequences for others; only Finn. And even though it's an extreme to start praying to a sandwich, Finn has never been religious and there's a part of him that really is seeking God. There's something endearing and disturbing about it. And lest we pick on Finn, it's really no more ridiculous than other Christian extremism. Is praying to a grilled cheese sandwich with Jesus any more bizarre than Catholics praying before the "Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament"? For those who don't know what I'm talking about, sometimes after a priest blesses the "host" (that is, the plasticky wafer that's laughingly called bread), and thus transubstantiated it -- Catholics believe somehow it BECOMES Jesus in some sense -- they put it on display in a golden thing that looks like a sun. Then people pray in front of it. I'm not kidding. They even genuflect while walking past it because that bread in there, that's Jesus. So I'm just pointing out one can have a sincere faith in Jesus but also go in for some really wacky religion with it.

Kurt's hair looked really good in this episode. I don't usually comment on men's hair, but I thought it looked better than his usual 'do. I have a thing about hair.

Finn asks the glee club if they can use glee as an opportunity to sing songs that glorify Jesus (I think this had something to do with some deal Finn made with the sandwich. It's been a week and I don't remember exactly). Mercedes and Quinn like the idea. Mr. Shue is sufficiently dubious enough to broaden it to "spiritual" songs that aren't necessarily Christian. Don't want to get into a church/state argument -- though one comes up later anyway. Most are open to the idea of singing about belief or whatever, but good-hair Kurt will have none of it. He rags on the church. One reason being that he's gay and the church excludes him and then damns him for it. There's a sense in which I feel for Kurt. And the kind of vitriol spewed by the Westboro Baptists and the like (the "God Hates Fags" types) is uncalled for. But Kurt also mentions how they view homosexuality as a choice, and then he says "Like anyone would choose to be a social outcast on a daily basis." What's interesting about this is how Kurt is being both insightful and blind. I do think "choice" is bandied about far too much; most Christians don't believe people just wake up and say, "I think I'll be gay today." However, there ARE people who live their lives choosing to be social outcasts on a daily basis: Christians! Christians are maligned by people like Kurt every day. Despite the "Christian nation" rhetoric, it's socially tolerated to believe in a god, but Christians are constant objects of ridicule in the media for believing in miracles or resurrection or Creationism. Kurt himself even rags on how they are opposed to science. And yet they put up with it. Nobody's born a Christian, they choose it as a lifestyle. And yet they choose to be ostracized. In many parts of the world it will get them killed. In this way, Christians and gays have something in common and it has bothered me since I was very young that this is overlooked.

Puck also isn't down with praising Jesus in glee. He breaks into a performance of Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young". What I liked about the song's use here is that it's anti-Catholic message is actually on display. Often you hear it as a catchy tune, but Glee dared to present it in its proper context. I did not however like how it was choppily edited for length. Puck also claims the song was another in his string of "only performing songs by Jewish artists." Wait a tick, Billy Joel is Jewish? Really? Because I though I had read he was raised Catholic. I distinctly remember reading quotes about his opinions of Catholic guilt (which obviously feature in the song). If he is Jewish, I guess I learned something. Oh, and if Puck's only playing songs by Jews, can we pleeeeease get a Dylan song one of these days?

As in many such television episodes, some tragedy strikes to make people question their beliefs. Here, Kurt's dad has a heart attack and goes into a coma. With him in the hospital, many of the kids start praying for him, but Kurt wants none of it. Mercedes sings an inspirational song for Kurt. He appreciates the sentiment but doesn't believe in God. He's correct that he has as much right to talk about his atheism as the rest do their faith. Atheism is a faith of sorts after all. Then Kurt says something that I was hoping might come up: "I think God is like Santa Claus for adults." This is a perfect analogy for what I think is wrong with how we present God sometimes, and why Santa Claus is dangerous to Christian society. God is NOT Santa Claus. He's not some jolly bearded man in the sky who gives you whatever you want when you ask for it. Many believers do see God as that sort of figure. They are deluded. This all really should be a topic for a separate post, but what hurts God in so many eyes I think is that Santa turned out to be a lie. It's a cushy story told to children until their old enough to know none of it is true. This leads many to think NONE of the wonderful things they've been led to believe are true. If you can logically disprove Santa, what's to stop atheists from trying to logically disprove God? I think especially Christian homes should avoid the Santa Claus nonsense because it muddies things. Also, it oversimplifies belief into something warm and cuddly. But isn't Santa supposed to know if you're good or bad? Doesn't he punish the bad people with coal?? How come no kid you've ever known ever got coal for Christmas? That whole thing leads to a theology where everyone is ultimately good, and therefore why do you need a God figure anyway who is watching you so you better not mess up? I don't agree with Kurt's assessment of God, but I definitely agree that's how many people think of Him. It's a notion that I find just repugnant and silly. I don't believe in a sunshine and unicorns kind of God. Kurt then goes on to say if there is a God that he's kind of a jerk. Well, I guess that's a matter of interpretation, but when was the last time you accused Santa of being a jerk? Food for thought.

Rachel and Finn go out to a field so that Rachel can pray for Kurt's dad, Yentl-style. It's really just an excuse to get Rachel to sing "Papa Can You Hear Me" on the show.

Finn continues to pray to Grilled Cheesus at school. He says he doesn't know if prayer is different from a genie granting wishes, but asks that he be able to touch Rachel's breasts. Wouldn't you know, shortly thereafter, he slides into second base. Of course, this leads Finn to believe in the awesome power of Grilled Cheesus.

The above scene features a discussion between Rachel and Finn regarding religion. She wants to be sure that Finn's newfound Christianity doesn't clash with her Judaism. She wants her future children raised Jewish, to which Finn humorously replies, "our kids should totally go to Jew church and wear those little hats and eat that salty stuff on bagels." Rachel says both her gay dads are Jewish. This led me to ask the question... is Rachel really Jewish then? I know that it's a tricky thing defining Judaism as cultural or religious or what, but on a certain level, isn't it inherited from the mother? Was Rachel's mother Jewish? Does she even know? Just wondering.

About half-way through the episode, with all the talk of spirituality and characters ragging on God and/or the church I started hoping for the Christians to get a little more representation. The Jews were respectfully presented via Rachel and Puck. But so far the only Christian is Finn, and he's praying to a sandwich. He's not a real Christian who's lived in the faith for awhile. I was bummed that the episode didn't go any further towards having a rounder view of Christian faith. Quinn is something of a hypocrite, though maybe she's more penitent this year, and her dad's a hardline fundamentalist. Mercedes is Christian, but we only get Josh Groban-type stuff from her. Is it so offensive for a character to be normal and still believe in a resurrected Jesus? I know popular kids in schools who are good Christian kids. I just felt like it would have been nice to have one in the episode. Not saying that the show was wrong for dealing with questions of atheism or everything else, just that it was starting to feel a little one-sided.

Kurt comes to the hospital to visit his father, only to find that several of the girls are praying there for him. Kurt throws them out, and brings in a Sikh to do some acupuncture on his father. Basically, Kurt trusts science rather than God. But this is a curious moment because Sikhism IS a religion. Secondly, acupuncture in its own way is scientifically nonsensical. It doesn't exactly follow what western science knows of anatomy, and yet it seems to work in its own way. Is this really that far removed from any other faith that on the surface makes no sense but might still have effect? Kurt, like many atheists, is more angry at church-based institutional religion than all religious thought, whether or not he admits it.

Later in glee club, Kurt asks to sing a song for his father. He is reminded of a time when he was young and is father held his hand, so he sings the Beatles song "I Want to Hold Your Hand." It's reasonably effective, but the arrangement of the song was blatantly stolen from the movie Across the Universe. The slowed down ballad take on the song is nice, but I've heard it before. The song was intercut with footage of young Kurt and his daddy. The casting department did a great job casting a kid who really looked like Chris Colfer.

It was around here that I started wondering just when did glee club become a karaoke bar? That's all they do now! They show up, say "I have a song to sing", then the band magically knows it while they sing it and their friends applaud. Don't they have actual rehearsal? Is Shue still assigning them things?

Finn learns the hard way the old axiom "be careful what you wish for". After the success of the Rachel mammary prayer, he asks the sandwich to make him football captain again. Well, in the game, Sam gets pummeled and Finn is made captain. Finn feels very guilty about this and talks to the guidance counselor. She tells him that these things didn't happen because a sandwich had magic powers. They just happened. At this point, Finn sings "Losing My Religion". I thought that was a fun choice of song. Though if this is how Finn really feels, I shudder to think how his faith would have been challenged when Grilled Cheesus started to get moldy.

Finn's story though does illustrate other problems people seem to have with prayer. Prayer is not supposed to be just wish-granting. It's communing with the divine. Many also seem to equate "answered prayer" with "result I want". That is, a prayer is "answered" if you get what you asked for. That goes back to Santa; I didn't get my Red Ryder BB gun so prayer doesn't work. But as Finn learned (I hope), God is not just a genie granting wishes. But I also want to take this opportunity to bust another prayer myth. Some believe that prayer doesn't do anything and stuff just happens. To counter this, the religious make a case of always saying that "God always answers prayer." They'll tell you sometimes he says no, sometimes he says yes, sometimes he says wait. Let me rock your world for a minute; according to the Bible, God does NOT always answer prayer. So while I do believe in prayer and that it can be effective, I also don't want people believing an oversimplified lie. There are times God gives people the silent treatment in scripture and says "though they cry out to me, I will not hear." I wish I had specific references to give. But trust me; for the most part God does indeed answer prayer and indeed he does sometimes say no. But every now and then, he doesn't answer at all. Again, this is its own topic. A good book on prayer is Phillip Yancey's recent book Prayer, if you're curious. He's also on my side with this issue.

Mercedes invites Kurt to church with her, saying that even if he doesn't believe in God he should believe in something beyond himself. Kurt agrees to go, since he gets to wear a fabulous hat (also a topic for another day...). Mercedes sings in the choir, and they do a gospel rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water". It's a nice song, but of course ends up being more about people helping each other than God or anything. This is not wrong necessarily, a part of Christianity is "bearing one another's burdens", but again I wish there were something a little more.

Meanwhile this whole episode, Sue Sylvester wants Mr. Shue to stop doing spiritual music because of church and state separation. We learn that she doesn't believe in God because her sister has Down Syndrome and kids made fun of her when they were young. What kind of God allows that? Later, Sue visits her sister and asks if she believes in God. She says, "Yes. God doesn't make mistakes." It's sort of left there. Really, this is another fair point and one that's nice to see debated on TV. Many young people really do have questions about this sort of thing, and I think that it's just as important to discuss them as it is to discuss oral hygiene. I wonder though about the God doesn't make mistakes thing. Maybe mistakes is too strong a word. ...But God certainly does REGRET certain actions throughout Old Testament scripture. God is sorry he ever made man, and sends a flood. God is sorry he made Saul king and anoints David. The list goes on. Again, just my somewhat subversive Christian two cents.

In the end, Kurt visits his dad and realizes that it was wrong of him to send the praying girls away. They were just trying to help. He says that he doesn't believe in God, but what he does believe in is the connection between him and his father. At this point, Mr. Hummel squeezes Kurt's hand. He's awake and everything will be okay.

The episode ends with the group singing Joan Osborne's "One of Us". It's another interesting choice, but in this context seems to be more about espousing the secular humanist ideology than anything else. "What if God was one of us?" plays right into the preceding scene. Kurt comes to believe in people, but little else. When you take what Mercedes was saying too, it seems that ultimately after throwing a lot of ideas out there, the show settles on a "let's all believe in humanity" conclusion. I don't really know how to feel about that. It almost felt TOO humanist to me. I completely understand Kurt feeling that way. It troubled me a little more when it came from Mercedes and ended the episode. Funnily enough, on the IMDB message board for this episode, a user named EducatedAtheist thought the episode was far too Christian, and was hoping for a message more about the connection between all of us. Um... did we watch the same show? That was exactly what I got from the show! What Christian message was there? Don't pray to grilled cheese?? I hope not all atheists have such blind rage.

So overall, I thought it was worthwhile discussion. There are so many different ways things could have gone. I'm actually impressed that Kurt didn't suddenly find God in the end. Not that I don't want him to, but because that cheapens the show. Like on Boy Meets World when Shawn suddenly prayed because Mr. Turner was in the hospital. Of course, that episode was more about cults. Anyway, I expected it to be a TV cliche; the dad is in the hospital, and you have to come to faith. When television shows do religion, it's always a tricky thing. I remember as a boy being very excited about the Family Matters episode when Steve Urkel "got saved" as we might say. That is, he went to church with the Winslows and "accepted the Lord" into his life (his words). It's hard to express what something like that meant in an evangelical community. Anyway, I hope that the things here follow through the series and don't drop off. I hope that Finn continues seeking in some way beyond a sandwich, and that Kurt is able to be civil with those he doesn't agree with.

While the song choices were mostly good, I did think of several missed opportunities.
"The Seeker" by The Who.
"Reason to Believe" by Rod Stewart
"God" by John Lennon -- this would have actually worked pretty well for Kurt. If you don't know the song, you probably at least know the reference to it in Ferris Bueller. John lists things he doesn't believe in, including Jesus, Bible, mantra, tarot, Hitler, Nixon, culminating in "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me." Maybe it would have required substantial rewriting, but it seems to me that sort of humanist conclusion is just what Kurt comes to.
"Jesus Walks" by Kanye West -- not a fantastic song, but Glee likes to do the hip hop stuff, and it would have been cool for a Christian character to present their own faith somehow. "The way Kathie Lee needs Regis, that's the way I need Jesus."
"I Believe in You" by Bob Dylan -- a hard song to sing, but a good basic "I have faith in something" song. I actually would have preferred if Mercedes had sung this instead of "I Look to You", but that's just 'cause I'm a Dylan fan.

I'm just glad nobody got up and sang "Jesus Take the Wheel".

Songs in tonight's episode:
Only the Good Die Young
I Look to You
Papa Can You Hear Me?
I Want To Hold Your Hand
Losing My Religion
Bridge Over Troubled Water
One of Us

Next Week:
I don't really know. The previews were vague. But we know Sam is back and joining glee club and that Brittany seems to have taken an interest in Artie... my my.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Made This

I put together this little video in my spare time because I got the idea in my head at work and couldn't shake it. Enjoy, and see how many of the images you can place!