As a (mostly) adult man in my late 30s, my junior-prom memories are stored safely in a dusty lockbox with my Edie Brickell and New Bohemians cassettes and some VHS tapes of old Moonlighting episodes. So it’s pretty impressive that Tuesday night’s episode of Glee managed to vividly remind an Oldie Oldenstein like me of the thrills and heartbreaks and insecurities that kids experience as they pair up, dress up, and stress out for this magically overblown rite of passage.
That said, if it turns out you decided to skip this particular school dance (maybe you’ve got a taffeta allergy?) please allow me to give you the morning-after gossip — in the classic “here’s what you missed on Glee” format: When Air Supply backed out of its agreement to play McKinley High’s junior prom, Principal Figgins called on New Directions to be a last-minute substitute. Mercedes, though, admitted to an equally date-less Rachel that she dreaded performing at prom, seeing how she secretly wanted to say yes to the dress, the guy, and the damn corsage, but never got asked by anyone. The gals cooked up a plan to take Sam on a three-way date (“not the dirty kind”) — until Rachel’s old beau (and Vocal Adrenaline rival) Jesse St. James returned as a college dropout seeking redemption, or at least solace, with Rachel. The three-way became a four-way (still not dirty), but Finn objected to Rachel’s dalliance with a guy who betrayed her, until she said they needed to support each other’s dating lives and gave him helpful hints for buying Quinn’s corsage. In other pre-prom action: Brittany said no to Artie; Blaine said yes to Kurt (but worried along with Burt about Kurt’s kilt-ic homage to the royal wedding); Quinn dreamed of a prom-queen victory (in a stunning powder blue gown); and Santana and Karofsky campaigned for votes by continuing their work with the Bullywhips. Oh, and Karofsky gave a heartfelt apology to Kurt, but couldn’t deal with coming out himself. On the big night, Finn and Jesse got into a fist-fight; Quinn slapped Rachel for ruining her chances at the crown (but then the girls made up and came to a sweet understanding of sorts); and the McKinley junior class played a cruel prank on Kurt by staging a write-in campaign and naming him prom queen. Just like Justin on Ugly Betty, Kurt overcame his initial devastation to accept his title with grace and humor (“Eat your heart out, Kate Middleton!”) and then everybody took to the dance floor to celebrate. Except Prom King Karofsky, who couldn’t handle the truth. And that’s what you missed on Glee.
Now, before we get on to letter grades for the week’s musical numbers, I’ve got to dish the three best and three worst non-musical moments from “Prom Queen.”
1) Karofsky’s apology to Kurt: Whatever awards Chris Colfer and Max Adler get nominated for in the next six months, they earned ’em during this conversation, where Kurt wondered if maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t getting bullied because kids were indifferent to him being gay, not because Karofsky was serving as his security detail. Even if you had your TV on mute, you could see in Kurt’s eyes the decision to start treating Karofsky not as a former tormentor, but as a terrified kid struggling with his sexual orientation. And Karofsky’s break — his first true apology for bullying Kurt, and his first tentative step toward admitting the root cause of his anger — had me reaching for the Kleenex. Tell me I’m not the only one hoping Glee will keep journeying down Karofsky’s difficult road toward self-acceptance. It’s not the kind of character portrayal you see on primetime TV very often, if ever.
2) “Dancing Queen” Montage: I loved the way director Eric Stoltz interspersed the New Directions kids’ prom photos with those moments of joyous dancefloor celebration.
3) This bit of ridiculousness from Santana (who has officially snatched Sue Sylvester’s crown as funniest character on Glee): “Teen Gay, you may now proceed to the next checkpoint without fear of violence!”
3a) “Dude, that rocks! It’s like gay Braveheart!” –Finn, reacting to Kurt’s homemade kilt-and-tux ensemble
1) Rachel cooing about Jesse being “so smart” after hearing him cop to not knowing the meaning of the word “recession.” Yeah, I know, Ms. Berry has a thing for dim bulbs, but no way a girl this driven and ambitious has pine cones rattling around where her brain should be.
2) Jesse revealing to Rachel that he got booted from college for not going to classes: “I just assumed it would be like at Carmel and the school would get some Asian kid to take math and English and scientific.” Okay, I realize once again that we’re dealing with the mindset of a not-so-bright character here, but sometimes Glee lays on the Asian stereotypes a little thick for my comfort level. Am I being hypersensitive, or is anyone else with me?
3) Sue threatening to violently remove Artie’s teeth. In another stupid subplot for our formerly awesome cheerleading coach, Sue was determined to not let anyone spike the punch bowl that her grandmother drown in. After catching Artie pouring a flask into it, however, she threatened to give him a “simple cleaning, which as anyone who’s ever been to the dentist will tell you is an excruciating affair of intense oral pain.” After an extended interrogation, though, Artie revealed he’d only added lemonade…which made me want to shout: WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL HER THAT RIGHT AWAY?
And now, onto this week’s musical performances…
“Rolling in the Deep,” Jesse and Rachel | Honestly, I was ready to hold up my “J’enough!” paddle the moment Rachel announced she was launching into Adele’s inescapable hit — which Adele covered herself on Dancing With the Stars on ABC’s Tuesday-night schedule, and which Haley Reinhart tackled on American Idol a few weeks back. But the a capella arrangement, the way the A/V kids provided haunting backup support, the interplay of Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff’s voices, and the mixture of lust and hate and confusion on their characters faces made this a pretty terrific musical moment. Still, shouldn’t a smart, attractive girl like Rachel have developed a strong enough sense of self-confidence over the last two seasons to flat-out reject a guy who did her so wrong, so recently? I’m a broken record on Rachel’s romantic foibles, I know, but come ON! Musical grade: A Relevance to the plot: B
“Isn’t She Lovely,” Artie | I thoroughly enjoyed Artie’s “Never Going Back Again” last week, but “Isn’t She Lovely” — which found Puck once again on acoustic guitar, while Finn and the guys used home-ec supplies as percussion — felt a little too similarly staged. Plus, wasn’t Artie all like “oh em gee, I am so done with Brittany” just last week, and now he’s all moony-eyed and trying to win back her heart? Not sure which mood I’m not buying, but there’s not enough room in my “suspension of disbelief” file for both of ’em. Musical grade: C+ Relevance to the plot: C
“Friday,” Puck, Sam, and Artie | No. 1 on the list of songs that need an extensive time-out from the pop-cultural roster, and yet, New Directions’ three goofiest guys covered it with such pluck and energy — and in complementary black, white, and red tuxes — that I almost forgot to hate it. Musical grade: B Relevance to the plot: B
“Jar of Hearts,” Rachel | How many wistful ballads can Rachel sing about Finn — while he’s dancing with/kissing/holding hands with Quinn — before she finally decides she’d be better off focusing on her history finals or her much-neglected YouTube channel or perhaps her upcoming X Factor audition? (You know she’s got to be planning that!) Okay, yeah, this song’s got more lyrical backbone than a lot of Rachel Berry specials, but those longing glances between our protagonist and her ex have got to either bear fruit or get pruned already, no? Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: B
“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You,” Blaine (with Tina and Brittany) | Blaine. Not. In. Dalton. Blazer. Does. Not. Compute. Still, a jaunty little interlude strengthened by Tina and Brittany’s enthusiastic cheerleader-style backing support. Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: B
“Dancing Queen,” Santana and Mercedes | If you’re going to play one last song at your dance party, you could do worse than Abba’s ode to that ethereal 17-year-old hoofer. I can’t say this was Santana and/or Mercedes’ most distinctive vocal, but the mood was pitch perfect. Musical grade: B Relevance to the plot: A-
What did you think of this week’s Glee? Which story arcs were you loving? Which ones did you have problems with? Sound off in the comments, and for all my TV recaps (including one coming Wednesday morning on episode 2 of The Voice), follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.