The First Time

Posted on November 09, 2011

Twelve hours later, and we still can’t quite get a handle on this episode. From that, you’d think it was unusually complex in its themes and structures or uncharacteristically vague in its conclusions, but it was neither of those things. In fact, it was a quite simple episode; the kind of episode that could be used to teach a TV scriptwriting class. Subplots that have been simmering since at least the start of the season reached the fore as the upcoming debut of the school play prompts a crisis in the minds of its two stars: how can they play the ultimate star-cross’d lovers if they themselves are virgins? This allows a great deal of the characters’ histories to come into play (Santana and Quinn weighing in on the idea of sleeping with Finn; Karofsky showing up out of the blue to force some unexpected closure on Kurt) and introduces conflict, as Rachel and Blaine’s plans to do some cherry-popping instead manage to put strain on their relationships. Add in some story time for a beloved peripheral character like Bieste and the introduction of a possible new antagonist in Sebastian, sprinkle it with very well staged and performed selections from West Side Story and you’ve got what should be a perfect episode of Glee. On paper, at least.

So what’s our problem? We don’t know; bored, we guess. It wasn’t until the very end of the episode that we started saying what we’re saying here: that it was all good on paper. The rest of the time, we were barely engaged with it. It’s like the show was doing what we’ve always said it should be doing; it’s just that it wasn’t doing it all that well. All the character actions and interactions pretty much made sense; a lot of the plot was picking up on things already established (Bieste’s insecurities and romantic inexperience, Rachel and Kurt’s reluctance to have sex); the storytelling was being spread around among a half dozen characters at once — if you read through our Glee archive, you’ll see that we’ve been asking for some variation of all of these things all along. We’re almost embarrassed to admit that, given how lackluster this episode felt.

We’d like to say the musical performances ruined it, but they really didn’t. Nothing can make us love “Uptown Girl,” but we have a feeling the Warblers fans out there were squeeing with delight (although the staging, with the ridiculously cliched “hot teacher,” was embarrassing). The rest of the numbers, the ones from West Side Story, were at worst, well done, but we’d go so far as to say a couple of them were masterfully done. It was a lot of fun seeing the cast unleashed on a number like “America” or getting to see Santana get her Anita on. We can’t say we’ll be rushing to iTunes this morning to be making purchases, but we appreciated the effort and artistry on display. Rachel’s Maria wasn’t as bombastic as some of her detractors predicted back when it was a question of her and Mercedes; she brought the lightness the character needs.

But the pacing here was off and several things got paid off in a very predictable way or strangely, didn’t get paid off at all, given the big setup. It seemed odd to us right from the beginning that the school play was ready to go. So much time was spent on the idea of casting it and then the idea of saving it, then … nothing and suddenly, opening night. Didn’t it feel, back when the casting of this show was spurring on major character arcs as Mercedes leaving the glee club, Kurt dealing with typecasting and a more talented boyfriend, Mike defying his father and trying out for the show, didn’t it feel back then like the school play saga was going to be a little more … we don’t know, explored than this? We got a 2-second shot of Mercedes grinning in the audience as payback to the high drama of seeing her storm out of the production. We got some very brief scenes between Mike and his father and Mike and his father’s empty chair, but no real shots of him dancing, which is what fueled all this drama in the first place.And don’t even get us started on Karofsky. At the beginning of the scene, we had a warm glow and were loving the closure for Kurt (even as we wondered if this is all setting up the long-rumored bomb-drop to come), but the more we listened to Karofsky, the more annoyed we got. He just dropped out of nowhere and sprinkled instant closure on Kurt, completely changed off-camera and grown into an entirely different person somehow. All that buildup and tension last season and now it’s “Oh, hey. I’m happy and well-adjusted now. Sorry about all that?”

And the sex stuff, which has been built up for a while with both couples, was kind of boring and played out exactly the way you’d think it would play out. Rachel approaches things selfishly and Finn pouts because of it, then they make up. Kurt has what looks to us like an increasingly ridiculous, bordering on unrealistic (kind of like his wardrobe this season), attitude about sex with Blaine. Blaine does something straight out of the airhead prettyboy handbook. Blaine gets drunk. Kurt gets mad. Then they make up by staring into each other’s eyes and talking really close. Hasn’t this all been done, done, and DONE by now with these four?

BELIEVE US, we are not asking for more breakup drama, especially from the heterosexual side of things. It’s not that we’re rooting for these 2 couples to stay together, we’d just rather that for once, they toned down the breakup/makeup cycle (even if it is fairly accurate to teenage dating) and let them have their senior year together. We can’t say we’re loving the introduction of Sebastian. We initially liked the idea of a male bitch character to rival the many female bitch characters on the show, but he was all but wiggling his eyebrows and rubbing his hands together with glee. A little more subtlety and a LOT more humor is called for with this character. Take a page from the Santana playbook. That girl’s a MEGA-bitch but we can’t help loving her.

In fact, maybe that’s what our problem was here. The humor side of things just wasn’t grabbing us. It all felt a little too “teen melodrama” in the CW mold. Maybe we have to just take this one for the grownup’s team. Glee has a problem built into the very structure of the show, which was designed to appeal to both kids and adults: sometimes it comes up with a plot or story that doesn’t allow them to straddle that line. Sometimes you have to just let the creators do an entirely kid-friendly (not in a “language and content” sense but more of a stylistic one) episode. Of course we’re going to have a more cynical take on sex than any of these characters and any of the contemporaries watching at home. Maybe the kids really got something out of this episode – and maybe they should have, given the subject matter – but we found ourselves pretty bored with the entire effort and totally puzzled at the way they advanced certain stories. That shot of grinning Mercedes pisses us off the more we think of it.
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