Tuned In

Glee Watch: The Dickensian Aspect

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Spoilers for last night’s Glee coming up:

The title of Glee‘s last episode of 2010, “A Very Glee Christmas,” pretty much said it all for me. There was no special significance to the title except to reference the very, very, very often-referenced “A Very Brady Christmas” and to send the message: This is a Christmas episode of Glee! You love Christmas and you love Glee, so here’s are a few stories themed around Christmas that will have all that Glee stuff that you love in them! Plus some heartwarming messages and stuff!

And Glee pretty much followed up on that promise, delivering an episode that touched on all the requisite holiday bases but that felt perfunctory, full of unearned emotional moments and—when it wasn’t occasionally moving or out and out infuriating—generally ho-ho-hum.

Begin with the Sue-as-Grinch subplot. This is a Christmas episode, so of course some crank is going to learn a valuable lesson about the meaning of the holiday. This is Glee, so of course that person is going to be Sue. And of course that lesson is going to end up being one that she’s learned before (as did the Grinch), and I’m assuming will have re-forgotten by the time the show returns in the winter.

That said, taken as an extended set piece, Sue’s transformation into the Grinch (and therefore Becky’s into Max) was pretty amusing to watch. If I were running Glee, I don’t think I’d have been able to resist the urge to put the rangy Jane Lynch in that classic role, either. What I might not have come up with, however, was the thought of having Brittany reprise the role of Cindy Lou Who, which was unexpected, clever and surprisingly touching—until it wasn’t, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Another set piece that worked—in isolation, for what it was—was Kurt and Blaine’s sweet duet on “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The number was in there for only the thinnest of story reasons; it reminded me, more than anything, of the old Christmas variety specials, where the characters from a TV show would be set up with the flimsiest of premises (getting snowbound in a cabin, or whatever) to burst into carols. (Stephen Colbert parodied and re-created the trope brilliantly a couple years back in A Colbert Christmas.) It could have been a number from a Christmas special in 1975, except for the production values, and the gay.

And in a way, I wonder if Glee might have been better off going in that direction for its holiday episode: if the transparent purpose of the episode was just to deliver Christmas Glee by any means necessary, then just divorce it from the serial plot entirely and make with the songs. “A Very Glee Christmas” was weakest when it tried to connect to the show’s ongoing stories, which it essentially recapitulated without advancing them. The purpose of the Will-and Emma interactions was to show Will pining for Emma, still; the purpose of the Finn-and-Rachel storyline was to show, again, that they are broken up (still, and for reals this time), but with holiday music.

The Brittany-and-Artie main storyline, on the other hand, ended up advancing things the wrong way. It started off well: Brittany was the perfect character to carry a Santa story, and the theme that Christmas—like the rest of life—is not really about magic solutions but the bonds and support that get us past the reality that there are no magic solutions. Then, as Glee plots sometimes will, the story veered off, as well-intentioned Artie decided for some reason to double down on Brittany’s belief in Santa (in a way that seemed mostly engineered to deliver a set piece of the gang going to sit on Santa’s lap, complete with the what-is-that-in-your-pocket joke every viewer above 12 saw coming)—leading to Brittany’s Christmas wish for Artie to walk again.

For all that, it actually seemed as if the story would pay off effectively, as Coach Beiste turned her visit to Brittany into a moving, personal story about getting past disappointment. Dot Jones has been remarkable in a mixed bag of a season, taking every ridiculous moment Glee has thrown at her and finding the true emotion at the core of the absurdity, which is what Glee at its best does.

But then: remember what I said about Christmas not really delivering magic solutions? Glee decides to wrap up the conflict with… a magic solution! Well, almost magic, anyway: Artie ends up the recipient of a pair of Rewalk motorized legs, apparently secured by Beiste. (The magic part? Beiste is a high school teacher. Rewalk legs cost $100,000.)

God bless us all—everyone! OK, I suppose Glee has not entirely turned Artie into Tiny Tim for its holiday episode; rather than being simply an object of pity here, he’s a prime actor in his own story, acting not for himself but to protect Brittany. Still—besides pretty much entirely undercutting the episode’s message about dealing with not getting what you want—the development felt like a direct slap against everything the show had done with Artie in episodes like “Wheels” and “Dream On.”

In these episodes we saw Artie living with his physical condition, seeing that he did not need a miracle cure to be a happy person and notably in “Dream On,” dealing with and moving past the notion that some deus ex machina would get him to walk again. But now, because it’s Christmas, he gets, well, a machina.

To be fair, Artie makes clear that his Rewalk is not going to have him pairs-dancing with Britney or move him out of his wheelchair. And maybe we’re simply meant to take this as a nice moment that means nothing more than the moment—under some sort of construct where we’re supposed to accept that the Actual Quality Show Episodes of Glee exist in a different universe from the Fun One-Off Episodes of Glee. But it didn’t feel right that after the story the episode built around Brittany, it then felt that we needed to see Artie on his feet for it to be a truly happy ending.

Then again, it may be that the show will take the Rewalk assist in the spirit that Artie seems to: as a neat gift, but not necessarily life-altering. And it may be that this will go the way of other developments on Glee—something great and new when we unwrap them, forgotten in the closet by February or so.

For now, the hail of bullets:

* As one of Glee’s Hanukkah-observing fans, glad the show let Rachel represent for the tribe: “We’re going to eat Chinese and watch The Main Event.”

* “Elves have awesome cord blood for stem cell research, but these advances are still a few years away.”

* I eventually lost count of the number of things this episode said Christmas was about: forgiveness, thankfulness… can we just issue a blanket “Christmas is about all those human behaviors that people generally approve of” and settle it there?

* “On dry runs, Santa uses the Isuzu.” Did I mention how much I love Dot Jones?