You can always count on a Ryan Murphy script to be armored in self-deprecation. The opening of “Naked” goes from Hunter Clarington being a real, consequential person in the Glee-verse to him being an artificial construct so fast that even Quinn was all, “I don’t buy it.” Half that time later, a newscast seriously reporting on the Dalton doping scandal is interrupted by the very rude awakening of the co-anchor that this plot is total nonsense. It’s true. And acknowledging that this subplot is ridiculous does go some way toward inoculating Glee from such complaints. After all, this is a show explicitly designed to get from one musical number to the next, seamlessness be damned. But that’s not all. Pre-bangs Rachel says the New Rachel looks like a slut. Marley and Jake sing a song from Twilight after Kitty cites the series as “poop on a page,” an example of blind, teen-girl consumerism. When Jake and Marley finally seal their love with a kiss, we pan to Becky shouting, “Ugh, gross! Get a room!” It’s like the only thing Glee commits to completely is that Saved By The Bell had some good ideas.
The worst part is that the doping scheme reneges on a promising idea: What is Glee without singing competitions? Regionals is an artificial injection of stakes. Sam’s SAT score—well, that is, too, but the attendant self-esteem isn’t. Worrying about our futures is universal. Marley and Jake professing their love through song is necessarily more compelling than the group stumbling its way through “Gangnam Style” after the Mennonites already basically won sectionals. The New Directions have all resolved to stay together with or without competition. Why not test them? Half the show already exists outside of that structure, anyway. Why not all of it?
Glee heckles itself only partly to sidestep nit-picking. But it’s not as though the gravitas of a local newscast doesn’t convey the appropriate absurdity of a high-school glee-club doping scandal. You couldn’t wink at the screen more if you were Santana talking about how New York is more your speed than Kentucky. As someone vehemently frustrated by this road to nowhere, my concerns aren’t exactly allayed by Andrea the co-anchor, and she doesn’t speak for me, either. She’s a reductio ad absurdum, a logical fallacy meant to exaggerate in order to dismiss my argument. At this point, though, the damage is done. The only thing Andrea brings to the table is obviousness.
Becky mocking the lovebirds is a different animal. It’s a way for Glee to have its romance and eat it, too, which is basically what Glee’s all about. The show’s most successful export is the byzantine insult. Sue even describes her own Penthouse centerfold as redefining “hirsute.” On this show everything can be made fun of, including the things we care about the most, and everyone can dish it. Ryan Murphy’s prickliness—and as always I’m talking about the writer, not the person—coats the show, yet the show still has values. One week there are close-ups of Sam’s lips as examples of his dreaminess and the next someone calls him “Trouty Mouth.” Glee isn’t hedging. Kitty insults Twilight, and still Marley finds it powerful. Old Rachel makes fun of the New Rachel, but the New Rachel isn’t going anywhere. Jake and Marley’s romance is clearly meant to be engaging, if not quite swoon-worthy. Becky’s complaint just brings them down to earth. Love, really? Okay, Marissa Cooper.
The one thing Glee will never undercut lest we slower viewers misunderstand is the after-school special. “Naked” is all about—say it with me—the arrogance of student films. Also nudity. Rachel wins the lead in the thesis film Come Back To Me, Grandmother: A Journey Into Alzheimer’s by a senior named Electra, but it requires a nude scene in this glorious dream sequence where the grandmother spies her love on the docks or something. Meanwhile the boys of McKinley are preparing a shirtless beefcake calendar for their regionals fundraiser, but Artie doesn’t feel comfortable participating. The best part is this cheesy, didactic scene where Artie confesses his fears of being seen as a guy in a wheelchair to Finn, and Finn tells him he thinks it’s cool that there’s a part of Artie’s body that he wants to keep private, which isn't really what Artie was talking about, but it's impressive that Finn is even in the same ballpark. As a metaphor for taking nude pictures and sexting—which is infinitely more relevant than posing for a calendar—the “talk to a teacher” scene doesn’t make complete sense, but the underlying idea of doing what’s comfortable to you is valuable. Rachel elects not to pose nude, too, but only after Kurt has a prissy reaction about how serious actors don’t pose naked and calls in Santana and Quinn to talk her out of it. Rachel’s decision is more even-handed: She respects actors who pose naked, but she’s not ready. Luckily Electra is there to replace Rachel herself, almost like that had been her plan all along.
Brody is left to balance these prudes, which is some seriously half-hearted nude-positivity, not least because Brody is still that other guy who hangs around Rachel and Kurt in the New York scenes. But mostly, his pro-nude lifestyle manifests as him being an annoying roommate, nonchalantly walking into the dining area, sitting bare-ass on a kitchen chair, and pouring himself some of Kurt’s cereal. Kurt wasn’t even consulted before he wound up with a third roommate. The least Brody could have done was discuss a clothing arrangement. Sam’s also promoting his body throughout “Naked,” running a calendar workshop that includes broga, manscaping, and stuffing with clean baby socks. But that’s because he’s depressed about his SAT score and thinks his body is all he has. I buy that as depression, but not as meta commentary. Sam's in the running for funniest character on the show, right? According to his friends, he has way more accomplishments than low body fat, like dating every girl in the cast and being poor. Fortunately, the conspicuously attentive Blaine is there to list some things colleges might be more interested in, like student council and synchronized swimming, as well as some things that make Sam special as a person, like rescuing the New Directions’ trophy from Dalton and investigating the steroid scandal.
The morals: Posing naked is okay but permanent, so only do it if you’re comfortable; you’re more than the sum of your parts; six-packs are a dime a dozen. That last one’s implied, but why else is Brody around? Not bad. And I like the after-school special qualities, characters stretching themselves to fit into serious one-on-one chats with positive affirmations. To deny that would be to deny an essential part of this show. On balance, “Naked” is one of Glee’s better body and body-image episodes. Next week is another diva-off. They really weren’t kidding about this season being a do-over.
- I don’t know about you but I’ve never wanted New Directions to lose a competition more. Sorry, Tina.
- 2340 seems low for the highest ever SAT score from McKinley, but Brittany got it. Now she plans to attend an elite college: Princetown, Stanford and Son, University of California at Charles Barkley’s House…
- Another problem with self-deprecation is consistency. The doping plot is worth mocking, but not Figgins calling the highest- and lowest-scoring students into his office at the same time?
- Tina defends Blaine’s body. “For the record, Blaine has an awesome body and a perky and delicious behind that looks like it got baked to perfection by a master chef.” Seriously, we need the Tina spin-off.
- Finn addresses my complaint about the continuity of his taste for coffee! I knew I liked him now.
- “Oh Yeah” scores multiple exaggerations of the guys’ flexing, from Sam strutting into school in UGGs and board shorts to close-ups of Jake and Ryder having a shoulder-off in the gym. The cheesiness is another side of the same self-deprecation token. Whereas outright mocking the scenes would hollow them out, scoring and zooming like this acknowledges the silliness and dives in, anyway. The one is a lot more on-message than the other.