SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, take a moment to consider the social benefits of caning, and watch last night’s Glee.
OK, so it’s not at all fair to watch a football-themed episode of a musical comedy show and compare it with Friday Night Lights. But last night’s episode of Glee, “Preggers,” pretty much made clear that this show is not Friday Night Lights. Not just because of the football realism or lack thereof, though I’m pretty sure that dancing to Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) before the snap constitutes some kind of illegal motion and that a kicker who need to bust Beyoncé moves before making an extra point would almost surely get it blocked.
It’s that the two shows’ attitudes toward their characters, and their high school setting, are fundamentally different. Where FNL is about small moments, Glee is about big numbers; where FNL is about emotional realism, Glee is about exaggeration for stage effect.
But after “Preggers,” at least, I’m OK with that. Because while Glee operates with a different aesthetic and a different definition of reality it actually does share something with FNL. They’re both—as “Preggers” probably showed even better than the pilot did—about characters in a small town, who are aware enough to know what their limitations and options are but not necessarily enough to know what to do about them or how to escape them.
That’s true of Finn, who doesn’t want to be a “Lima loser” if if he doesn’t know how not to be one. It’s true of Quinn, whose reaction to getting pregnant is, “I really thought I had a shot at getting out of here.” It’s true of the football team, who come to decide that being seen as “a big gay team of dancing gays” is better than being losers. And it’s true of Kurt, who grew beyond the queeny stereotype he first embodied in this episode about coming out to his dad.
Which was beautifully handled, by the way: the fact that Dad (Mike O’Malley, who has turned out to be a pretty good character actor) ends up not being the boor we think he’s going to be is one of the first signs that Glee is growing up as a series, that having established a world of primary-color stereotypes, it’s now willing to subvert those expectations.
Kurt’s dad accepts him, which is not to say that he understands him—which is believable and right, and in a way, more touching than if we didn’t see that it took him some effort to put his love for his son over his confusion. And good for Glee that it could make a sweet, paternal-love line out of “I’ve known since you were three. All you wanted for your birthday was a pair of sensible heels.” Likewise, that the show is willing to put some flesh on Puck, who came off early as a stereotypical jerkwad jock, is a good sign. (Speaking of which: perfect that naive Finn would believe the pregnant-in-a-hot-tub myth.)
Ryan Murphy has made two TV series before Glee: Popular, in which the characters became more complicated and sympathetic after early episodes where they were drawn in broad strokes, and Nip/Tuck, in which the strokes just got broader and broader as time went on. “Preggers” makes me feel good that the series is going in the direction of the former.
Of course, I don’t expect them to rehabilitate Sue any time soon. But the show just got picked up for the full season, so they have time. Meanwhile, after a couple of episode that had me doubting Glee’s direction, I’ve decided to commit for now. Put a ring on it.