Monday, April 25, 2011

GLEE: "Blame It on the Alcohol"

I've misplaced my notes for this episode and have no idea where they are. But rather than skip it, I've decided to watch the episode again and take new notes. These reactions will thus be more immediate than previous, and perhaps will trigger some memory of my earlier initial reactions.

As the title suggests, this episode focuses on teenage drinking. Like the great exploitation films that preceded it, it presents situations where otherwise normal kids take a little alcohol, then go completely wild on a downward spiral all at once. While this approach has no basis whatsoever in reality, it follows in the footsteps of classics like Reefer Madness. My one concern is whether this is supposed to be ironic commentary, or just didacticsm couched in scare tactics. It seems kids are binging and showing up to school wasted; Figgis has been suspending students left and right. Mr. Shue rightly points out there has never been a problem like this before. The series takes an opportunity to literally blame it on the alcohol: the new "drinks marketed to kids". They don't specify, but they mean drinks like 4Loko that have caused controversy recently. People claim it's just marketing alcohol to kids, not to mention the pop music of artists like Ke$ha (who Figgis keeps calling her "Key-dollar sign-ha"). Is the show suggesting these things are REALLY to blame, or that Figgis is ascribing blame to them like other reactionary adults? If they aren't to blame, then what IS the cause for it? There must be some in-universe reason why students are suddenly drinking all the time. Really all it takes is one or two kids to make it popular, but I think we need more of a reason in this episode for the start than just blaming it on commercials and popular music.

To combat the problem in the school, Principal Figgis appoints the week "Alcohol Awareness Week" and asks the glee club to perform a song about the dangers of alcohol. We also learn that Sue has taken the job of coaching Aural Intensity, New Directions' competition from another school (she got the job by throwing their existing coach down the stairs).

Rachel's original songwriting makes its debut for Finn. The song she's writing is called "My Headband", and as you've guessed it's about her headband. Why she thinks this is in any way appropriate for the club to sing at regionals, I don't know. This is the sort of goofy nonsense that a starting songwriter might write (that or lyrics like "Baby, baby, baby, oh!"), and it's a hilarious moment in the episode. What makes it is that even though the rhymes are lame and the phrasing awkward, Rachel sings it with such conviction, like any other Rachel ballad. Finn points out how bad the song is. I'd like to add I think it's a shame this song is not available on iTunes. Maybe nobody wanted to write a full version of it. Rachel realizes that she can't write songs about life because she's never really lived. So just like Sandy at the end of Grease, she decides to be bad, by hosting a party with alcohol at her house while her dads are out of town.

This is one of the few times Rachel's gay dads are mentioned. It's funny that the show is so gay-friendly (too much so at times), but we never see them. Perhaps this is due to not being able to get whoever is in the photograph in the first episode. We are however introduced to their basement, which is tricked out with karaoke, a disco ball, and a small stage. It's here that they host their Academy Awards parties. ...Can I just ask what is so stereotypically gay about the Oscars? The Tonys I can understand, but I don't know why people who watch the Oscars have an aura of homo about them in the popular mindset.

Most of the gang shows up to Rachel's party (which was really Puck's idea anyway), though reluctantly. Some wine coolers are provided, but people really want to booze it up. Blaine and Kurt are also present, because how else were they going to get them in this episode?

It's funny that Rachel is a bit less suspicious of Blaine being a spy in this episode than she would have been with anyone else. Blaine, for his part, does try to assuage any fears right away saying he's not a Warbler tonight. ...Though, and I hesitate to mention this, the line is "I'm totally off the clock right now, Rachel" but Darren sort of slurs the word, so at first I heard, "I'm totally off the cock right now, Rachel." I know that's not what he says, but it sort of sounds like it, and given where the episode goes later, it's somewhat appropriate.

It's evident that Rachel doesn't know how to party, and people quickly decide to leave. Puck suggests breaking into her dads' liquor cabinet. And so they do. And before you can say Reefer Madness, everyone is sloshed, half-naked, and jumping around like an idiot, cut to Far East Movement's "Like a G6". All except Finn, the designated driver, and Kurt who is trying to impress Blaine -- which apparently means dressing like Dudley Do-Right. Seriously, what is with his ensemble?

One of the cleverer, best moments of the episode comes when Finn breaks down the various drunken archetypes present at the party. They are
Santana -- the weepy histerical drunk
Lauren and Quinn -- the angry girl drunks
Brittany -- the girl who turns into a stripper drunk
Mercedes and Tina -- happy girl drunk
Rachel -- the needy girl drunk
Everyone does great with their acting to their respective categories (and the writing is good here too). It's observant humor that's pretty true, and I like that.

Rachel gets a game of spin the bottle going. Does anyone actually play this game outside of books and TV shows these days? Rachel's spin lands on Blaine... and they get into it. As Rachel tells him, "Your face tastes awesome." Kurt is weirded out.

And then Blaine and Rachel hit the stage for some karaoke. Like any drunk theater geeks, they pick a bad '80s pop song, in this case "Don't You Want Me". Even though the song is bad, the vocals are great, especially since this is the only time we've ever seen Blaine sing outside of the Warblers. I like Rachel's jumping; she really goes all out in the moment. There's a quick cut-away too to Puck wearing Lauren's glasses which is just the sort of thing that might happen here. I didn't notice it the first two times I watched the episode.

The next morning, Kurt's dad finds Blaine in Kurt's bed, and that makes him understandably uncomfortable. We later learn that Kurt brought him over because he was too drunk to drive home.

Back at McKinley the gang is all very hungover, and Artie passes out bloody marys to ease their suffering. Gotta say, bringing alcohol to school with cups for everyone is not only stupid but pretty suspicious behavior right now knowing how things are at McKinley. If I were Sue or Figgis I would be all over that in a second.

The gang performs "Blame It (on the Alcohol)", suggesting it as their song for Alcohol Awareness Week. Their is heavy MTV-editing in the visuals, more than usual, but perhaps that's appropriate. They've got these couches on giant turntables on the stage, leading me again to question where the money comes from for all these fancy things every time they rehearse. The use of the song was obvious, not only from the title, but because upon its release was a song that had many parents angry that it was glorifying drinking to their kids. I wonder how those parents will feel when their kids are listening to the Glee kids sing it on the album.

Mr. Shue says the song is inappropriate because it glorifies drinking, but commends them for their acting, almost believing they were drunk (observant, Will). The kids say there's no songs about the dangers of alcohol and accuse Shuster of being a hypocrite because adults drink and then tell kids not to. What I do like in this scene is that they make it about more than just driving. That's always the issue for some people. It seems whenever I argue for lowering the drinking age, the opposition always says something about teen drivers killing people. News flash: driving drunk is illegal for everyone already. Mr. Shue points out alcohol poisoning, which does kill people. And it's this sort of thing we should be teaching our youth about. Forget whether alcohol in itself is good or bad, the binge habits of teenagers can and do kill. The episode touches more on responsible drinking than most, so I'll give it that. It's still unrealistic on the whole, but I'm glad they broadened the issue.

Rachel calls up Blaine (on her princess phone, which says "princess" on it. That's all kinds of appropriate) and asks him out. Blaine agrees to go, which bothers Kurt. Blaine talks about how he isn't sure if he's gay or not because kissing Rachel wasn't awful. Kurt is horrified, considering how he looks up to Blaine as a gay role model. And I LOVE that the show delves into this territory. I love that it bucks the "I was born this way and have always known I was different" thing that it usually presents. I love that Blaine calls out Kurt for bigotry. And a part of me really wishes that Blaine had come out of this episode realizing he was straight, if only because that would REALLY blow the lid off television treatment of homosexuality. At the start of the scene, Rachel puts on a record (yay records!). It's Carole King's album Tapestry. This is appropriate since Carole King features in the episode thematically, with Rachel unsure she can write songs like that. The song playing is "So Far Away". But what bothers me is that it's still playing while Kurt and Blaine are in the coffee shop after Rachel has hung up. Are we to believe the coffee shop just happened to be playing the same song too? As coincidental as that might be, it also plays right through the cuts between the two locations, making the diagetic feel nonsensical. Sorry to point out the illogic of the edit, but it bothered me.

Coach Bieste notes that Will is depressed, and offers to take him to a cowboy bar she frequents for stress relief. So they go, and Will rides a mechanical bull. He does a lot of drinking. And of course on this show, when theater people drink, they sing. (actually, from my experience, this has a certain authenticity). Who would have thought we'd get Coach Beiste singing on this show?

Rachel and Blaine's date went well, from her point of view. They went to a screening of Love Story, dressed in character. As Kurt says sarcastically, "That's not gay at all..." Kurt says that what Rachel and Blaine have is only due to the alcohol. He tries to tell Rachel that Blaine is gay and only one of the many men she will date who will turn out to be gay. But this scene also caused me some concern. Rachel says she and Blaine have a lot in common, to which Kurt replies, "A sentiment expressed by many a hag about many a gay." Can they say that? Did he just use the word "hag"? If you don't know the reference, women who have strong affinity for homosexual men are sometimes called "fag hags". Thus, "hag" denoting a woman and being used in this case solely for the rhyme. So to me, it seems odd to use "hag" when it clearly conjures the word "fag" to mind, and we all know how that show feels about THAT word. Just like those who are offended at calling certain shirts "wife-beaters", I think "hag" in this context is troubling. If you can't say "fag", then you can't say "fag hag". Plus, you can tell they were dancing around it by using the word "gay" as a noun in that sentence. I don't get it.

Will comes home from the bar VERY drunk, tries to grade some papers that way (giving everyone As), then calls Emma to tell her in very slurred sentences how he loves her. ...or at least he thought it was Emma he called... The next day Will apologizes to Emma but she has no idea what he's talking about. Turns out he called Sue Sylvester.

Kurt and his father have a discussion about how inappropriate it was for Kurt to let Blaine sleep over without asking. Burt says its no different than Finn bringing a girl over; he wouldn't allow that either. Kurt argues that he's not okay with the gay issue, leading to one of the funnier lines of the night. Mr. Hummel says, "I don't know what two guys do when they're together. You know, I sat through that Brokeback Mountain. From what I gather, something went down in the tent."

The series finally delivers on the promise of "Brittany/Britney" that Brittany would be performing a Ke$ha song. She says "Ke$ha's been a cultural icon for weeks" which is the sort of passing satire I wish the show did more of. The group is doing "Tik Tok" for the assembly. They are all nervous, so Rachel passes around some booze to loosen them up backstage. What is it? Whatever was left in her dads' liquor cabinet; brandy, vermouth, port, scotch, some Kool-Aid and crumbled up Oreo cookies. And cough syrup. Way to go out with a bang. The performance is going well, with Brittany doing splits and all, until Rachel's cocktail catches up with her and she vomits in Rachel's face. This leads Santana to vomit as well. What I don't get is why the music suddenly cut dead when she vomited. It's effective, but makes no sense. Everyone is silent, as Brittany covered in her own sick tells the school to drink responsibly.

Sue gets on the school PA system and blames Will for the spectacle. She plays his drunken message to the entire school, thus publicly shaming him. The whole club is called before Principal Figgis, who congratulates them for their "special effects" at the assembly. Turns out that the school has been scared straight, and so the group is commended. Watching it again, if they could have faked it that way, it really would have been a VERY effective end to a performance of "Tik Tok". If I didn't think it was real vomit, I'd come to the same conclusion as Figgis. A sudden, horrible abrupt end to a party song would be a good way to shake up the student body. Though Figgis is still an idiot since that auditorium would have smelled awful.

Mr. Shuster has the glee club sign pledges not to drink again until after Regionals. Can you say Dazed and Confused?

Rachel kisses Blaine (while they are both sober) at the coffee shop, and it convinces Blaine that he is gay. The world is back to normal. I like that Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" is playing underneath the whole scene. Rachel, for her part, now has life experience: a love affair with a guy who turned out gay. Songwriting gold. Yep, back to normal.

For what it is, it's not a bad episode. It doesn't have the authenticity of the Freaks and Geeks episode "Beers and Weirs" but it's not awful. Still, they once again missed the opportunity for a perfect song choice, in this case Barenaked Ladies' "Alcohol".

Songs in tonight's episode:
My Headband
(there's some song playing faintly when Kurt arrives to the party, but I can't make it out)
Like a G6
Don't You Want Me
Blame It (on the Alcohol)
So Far Away
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
Tik Tok
I Feel the Earth Move

Favorite lines: "Mr. Shue, first of all that vest is very cute -- you are all kinds of awesome." That's drunk Rachel for you.
"Welcome to Rosalita's Roadhouse, where the men are men and the sheep are nervous."

Next episode: Ugh, Gwyneth Paltrow is back again, and this time the preachy message is about sex.

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