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Never Been Kissed

Like what seems like a majority of gay America, I’m a big fan of “Glee”, which is one of the three shows I’ll Hulu during the week. I’m also a huge fan of “The Onion AV Club”, which for those not in the know is the Onion’s non-satirical pop culture site, and I always read Todd VanDerWerff’s TV Club reviews after I catch episodes. VanDerWerff gives a show as fluffy as “Glee” a full critical analysis, even creating “The Three Glee’s” theory, where the show is actually three different shows depending on which of the three creators is writing the episode.

(If you haven’t seen this week’s episode, there are spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned)

In last week’s episode, “Never Been Kissed”, Kurt (the gay one) faces a bully and meets his dream guy. The overwhelming consensus from my (mostly gay) friends was that this episode was a series high. VanDerWerff on the other hand hated the episode.

There are two kinds of bad television episodes. There are episodes that are just so colossally miscalculated that they become utterly, completely terrible, irredeemable in almost every way. Those episodes are like the last episode of Glee, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” which was, yes, terrible, but was also something I could conceivably see myself watching again at some point. Its awfulness went around the bend to become something sort of entertaining in how thoroughly it missed the point. But there are also episodes that try for something but keep undercutting themselves, ending up misconceived messes. These episodes are usually boring, and that’s what tonight’s Glee, “Never Been Kissed” was.

I personally enjoyed the episode, and have watched it multiple times, but in thinking about the episode I developed a theory about the disconnection between VanDerWerff’s opinion and my own: I think he was watching an after school special and I was watching a gay fantasy.

Let’s start with Kurt’s new crush, Blaine. Played by Darrin Criss, he is the confident, square jawed, all American homo Kurt aspires to be. He also sings a mean Katy Perry. The reviewer calls the prep school Blaine attends a “tolerance-Narnia”, and makes Blaine out to be a manic-pixie dream boy, saying he “less a character than some sort of gay genie, who always knows exactly what will work best in every situation.”

For what it was, the character of Blaine rang somewhat true to me because I’ve met people like him. In most gay organizations I’ve been a member of, there’s always been a Blaine; that charismatic person who exudes leadership and everyone adores. I’ve usually had puppy crushes on them, only to be eventually disappointed by the shocking revelation that they’re human, and make mistakes just like everyone else, or – most depressingly – that they have a boyfriend already. The reality is that for anyone who is coming to terms with their sexuality, meeting someone who is comfortable with themselves is like seeing a lighthouse beacon ahead; it gives you something to look forward to. Not all of them are as dreamy as Blaine in real life, but that’s the gay fantasy for you.

Throughout the episode Kurt is being bullied by “stock guy in letter jacket.” Letter jackets are the Stormtrooper uniforms of Glee; anyone in a letter jacket will at some point taunt our main characters. In an admittedly not-shocking twist, Letter Jacket bully is actually gay. From the review:

This episode honestly had a chance to deal with a serious issue in a forthright way, using one of the most interesting characters on TV right now to confront that issue, and it completely biffed the landing. Telling gay kids—or even just kids who are made fun of for being gay when they’re really just outside the school’s norm—that their bullies are being mean because they harbor secret homosexual desires may be true in some cases, but in almost all, it’s not.

With regard to the bully, the episode had two choices: He bullies Kurt because he has a reason or he bullies Kurt for no reason at all. My high school bully had abusive parents and ended up a meth-head, but I’m not sure that tonally fits in the “sing our cares away” world of Glee. Letter Jacket bully could have had no reason, but dramatically that makes really painful television – no one wants to see our hero up against an impossible task that has an inevitable conclusion. So, they took a path that gives a reason that gives the bullies back history in one dramatic scene, and introduces a new gay character. It was more fantasy than honesty, and it came off to me like the classic Sam and Diane scene on Cheers.

Would I say they biffed the landing? Maybe, maybe not. I think it offers the opportunity to introduce an even more interesting character. The deeper you are in the closet, the harder the path out is, and lemme tell ya, those guys have to work some serious issues to work out along the way. Once again, Glee may be too “sing your cares away” to take on something that heavy, but I can hope.

In the end, I think the reviewer wanted to see an honest take on what bullying is and the toll it takes, but instead got the You-Go-Boyfriend version. I found parts of it more honest than the reviewer did, because I connected with experiences from my own life. It didn’t single-handedly end LGBT bullying, but that’s asking a bit too much from a television show.

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