“Blame It on the Alcohol,” last night’s breezy, sharply written episode of Glee, takes an Afterschool Special topic and spikes it with wry. Cued by Principal Higgins’s insistence that the Glee Club should commemorate Alcohol Awareness Week with an appropriate number performed at a general assembly, the kids choose “Tick Tock” by Ke$ha (or, as Figgins pronounces the rapper’s name, “Kee Dollar-sign Ah”). In what Rachel assures the kids is a Broadway tradition, she’s mixed up a cocktail of brandy, vermouth, port wine, scotch, Kool Aid, Oreos and cough syrup. Brittany sings lead, does her dervish dance and vomits purple puke in Rachel’s face. “Everybody drink responsibly,” she says wanly.
That this is the one real setback the group endures—and that Figgins assumes it was a comedy sketch that really did scare McKinley High Schoolers away from binge drinking—underlines the episode’s moral: Liquor is great! It loosens Rachel’s inhibitions and propels her into a brief flirtation with Blaine Warbler; when mixed with musical talent in the “Tick Tock” number, it makes the Gleeks stars on campus. Even in hangover mode, wearing shades and maneuvering unsteadily down the halls, they look as cool as Tom Waits.
The one person who is publicly embarrassed (the true punishment of any Glee episode) is Will Schuester, who spends an evening at a country-music bar with Coach Beiste and, back at home, drunk-dials Sue and, thinking she’s Emma, pours out his sodden heart. When Sue plays the tape over the P.A. system, Will gets the lesson the show is every ready to dish out to adults: If you do something bad, you’ll pay for it. Only the kids are Teflon.
Kurt’s dad, possibly the one character in the show who might be called a decent, ordinary American, also gets a comeuppance. The soul of perplexed reason, he has been both responsible and caring to his gay son. Now he wants Kurt to apologize for having brought Blaine, the new love of his life, home to his bed, without telling Dad. Not that Dad understands the intricacies of same-sex love. “I sat through that whole Brokeback Mountain,” he says. “From what I gather, something went down in the tent”. Kurt does say he’s sorry, adding in a manner that sounds both hurt and smug, “But maybe you could step outside your comfort zone and educate yourself, so if I have any questions I could go my Dad like any straight son could.” We’re plenty sympathetic to Kurt’s loneliness and the abuse he endures for being effeminate. Still, his smackdown of his father has the odor of propaganda from the gayest show in TV history.
In the high-middle range of Glee hours, this one spread the camera exposure around fairly evenly, with Lea Michele’s Rachel as the star. Determined to write the club’s songs and well as solo in them, she fairly glows as she tells Finn, “My two new role models are Carole King and Gerry Goffin.” Finn, talking for once like a teenager today, admits, “I have no idea who those people are.” (They were one of the finest songwriting teams of the early ’60s; they composed “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “The Loco-motion,” “Natural Woman” and many others; and in 1996 they were the subjects of a fictionalized bio-pic, Grace of My Heart. in which the Goffin character was played by the director of this Glee episode, Eric Stoltz.)
Following the credo Write What You Know, Rachel composes the hilariously lame ode, “My Headband,” then realizes she doesn’t know much about what people write songs about. To live, a poet must drink, and Rachel’s never had one. (Finn: “No wonder I never got past second base.”) Hence her inviting of the Glee Club to a soiree while her parents are away. What begins as standard Rachel micromanaging (“Brittany, remember the rules: No sitting on anything”) accelerates into a Risky Business-style drinking party, as the hostess unwinds from insecure diva to a semi-mensch who, with one kiss, is batty over Blaine. “Your face tastes awesome,” she rhapsodizes.
The songs worked in the dramatic context (that’s not always the case; sometimes the story gets twisted to make room for a number, and the dialogue plays like a list of song cues). Artie sang lead on Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It (on the Alcohol); Will and the Coach had fun dueting on George Thorogood’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Virtually the only drinking song not used was “I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy.” And to address the show’s implicit question, Aren’t there any anti-drinking songs, we suggest Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Poison Whiskey,” Randy Travis’ “You Didn’t Have a Good Time” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution.” That medley would sober up any teen drinker in a hurry.
Last night’s hour of Glee was of the level a superior series sticks in mid-season between its “important” episodes. If this is coasting, take me along for the ride.