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Glee: Grilled Cheesus

Emma: "God works in all kinds of mysterious ways. But I'm pretty sure he doesn't spend a lot of time trying to speak to us through sandwiches."

I have to give this show major credit for taking on God, the nature of faith, and the face of Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich. They made it work, too. In fact, I cried through most of the episode. And I mean in a good way.

Surprisingly, nothing offended me. It's difficult to talk about why without discussing my personal belief system, but I was relieved that Kurt didn't suddenly have a conversion or epiphany of sorts. Burt started to show signs of consciousness not because of all of the prayers, but after Kurt talked about what was sacred to him -- their relationship. It was beautiful. Kurt's father Burt is a dear, and I was upset when I thought he was going to die. It isn't just that he's so accepting of Kurt; it's that he tromps all over his own stereotype. Sometimes people aren't what you think they're going to be.

The issue of religion in schools is a touchy one, and they explored it well. Will was as earnestly sincere and sincerely earnest about it as he is about almost everything. Sue taking an opportunity to champion Kurt at the expense of the Glee Club was what you'd expect her to do, but her reason for doing it was moving, like the rest of the episode. Sue as a character wouldn't be so delightful if she didn't have exceptionally strong positives to go with her hilarious negatives.

Finn is one of the weaker characters in the series, but his rather sweet innocence and gullibility made him the perfect character to believe in Christ on a sandwich. One of my favorite things was that Finn actually ate half of the grilled cheese before he started praying to it -- it was so wonderfully absurd. How selfish was it, though, that Finn didn't use the last of his three wishes to Grilled Cheesus for Burt Hummel? Even Puck admitted that he had gone to temple with his nana and prayed for Burt.

The music:

-- Only the Good Die Young / Billy Joel: I've always loved this song and I'm always surprised by how much I enjoy Puck's performances. Some of the best lyrics were cut, though.

-- I Look to You / Whitney Houston: Acknowledged. No comment.

-- Papa, Can You Hear Me / Yentl: Absolutely gorgeous, made me cry. Lea Michele channels Streisand a lot, but I'm okay with it because she does it with such passion and respect.

-- I Want to Hold Your Hand / The Beatles: Beautifully and movingly performed by Chris Colfer, and in my opinion, the strongest song of the episode. The flashbacks to playing tea party and to his mother's funeral were touching. (There was also a slower, more serious version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in Across the Universe.)

-- Losing My Religion / REM: I knew they'd do this one. Good match for Cory Monteith's singing voice.

-- Bridge Over Troubled Water / Simon and Garfunkel: Well-performed by Mercedes and the church choir, but it felt off. I actually couldn't tell what it was at first, and I know the song really well.

-- One of Us / Joan Osbourne: Again, I could feel this one coming. But again, it was appropriate and the lyrics worked beautifully with the story.

Bits and pieces:

-- This was definitely Kurt's episode, but it was also a good one for Emma. I particularly liked the way she talked Finn down from his Jesus high.

-- Puck is only doing songs by Jewish artists? I hadn't noticed. Is Kiss a Jewish group?

-- Loved Kurt's church chapeau so, so much. There was a woman across the aisle wearing the same hat. Wonderful.

-- Finn eating the sandwich at the end felt like Glee communion. Bread and wine. And cheese.

Quotes:

I feel inadequate when it comes to quoting Glee. I sort of wanted to do all of Finn's prayers to his cheesy lord, but I restrained myself. And I probably left out your favorite. Feel free to post it in a comment.

Kurt: "Suzanne Somers says that skipping breakfast is suicide."

Kurt: "Sing-along Sound of Music is sacred to me."
Burt: "You think I don't know that? Wasn't I the one who bought you that Maria bonnet when you were six?"

Brittany: "Whenever I pray, I fall asleep."

Brittany: "I did a book report on heart attacks, if you want to give it to the doctor. It got knocked down an entire letter grade because it was written in crayon."

Kurt: "I think God is kind of like Santa Claus for adults. Otherwise, God's kind of a jerk, isn't he? I mean, he makes me gay and then has his followers going around telling me that it's something that I chose. As if someone would choose to be mocked every single day of their life."

Mercedes: "You can't prove that there's no God."
Kurt: "You can't prove there isn't a magic teapot floating around on the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning out of its boobs, but it seems pretty unlikely, doesn't it?"
Brittany: "Is God an evil dwarf?"

Rachel: "I need to know that when I'm twenty-five, and have won a bunch of Tonys and I'm ready to have intercourse and babies, that those babies will be raised in a certain way."
Finn: "You're not going to have sex until you're twenty-five?"
(I think that's called 'selective hearing'.)

Rachel: "I need to know that my children will be free to worship in the way that I decide is right."
Finn: "Sure. of course. Yeah, they should totally go to Jew church, and wear those hats, and eat that salty orange stuff with their bagels."

Sue: "I'm sorry for what you're going through, lady. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. And I guess I don't have to. I think Mary Lou Retton's, like, an orphan or something."

Emma: "You won the football game because you actually have a coach who spends the game watching the plays rather than biting his toenails." And ew.

Kurt: "I'm very impressed with everyone's Sunday best. It's so Christ chic. I hope our genuflections to the great spaghetti monster in the sky don't take too long."

(P.S. Serena wasn't able to review Glee this week, so I'm filling in.)

This is the first episode of Glee in a long time that I wanted to watch twice. Just outstanding. Four out of four (what else?) grilled cheese sandwiches,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

11 comments:

  1. Hurrah, finally a really good season two Glee ep :) Nice to have a change of reviewer too Billie, although I miss Serena's crazy points system. I wonder what she'd give Kurt's church chapeau? +100 methinks.

    Some really awesome music in this episode, i am gonna be relistening a lot!

    They're really easing in Sam the new giant mouthed boy slowly aren't they?

    I think Puck meant that he was only doing solos by Jews.

    "Is God an evil dwarf?" - brilliant!

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  2. Great review, Billie. Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz) of Kiss is Jewish.

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  3. I wasn't overly thrilled with this one. I certainly got all choked up by the Burt and Kurt stuff, especially Kurt's beside chat with his dad. I'm such a sucker for those two. (And I confess to crying at the scene with Sue and her sister.)

    But the religious stuff really rubbed me the wrong way. Simply because it was like they were trying too hard to give voice to all viewpoints and it ended up sounding forced to me, and not true to character in a lot of instances. It felt like preachy talking points and not organic. But I seem to be largely alone in this reaction to the episode.

    I *was* really amazed by the boy they cast as young Kurt in the flashback montage. I think I actually said out loud, "Holy crow! That kid totally looks like little Kurt!"

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  4. I hated this episode. I'm very strongly atheist, and if I was Kurt I'd be completely sick of everyone using my dad being in the hospital as an excuse to try and convert me.
    I can't believe that Mercedes's first reaction after Kurt's song was to go up to him and ask him to go to church. It just felt so, so wrong, like it was taking advantage of his grief.
    And I don't even think the songs were subtle. Most of them were boring to watch (with the exception of Kurt's, which was beautiful, and Puck's was pretty good), and I actually skipped the last one. The whole thing felt contrived and preachy, it didn't feel like it was trying to see all sides of the argument. It was literally Kurt saying "I don't believe in God", and everyone else going "OMG we will make you". I'm really glad he didn't give in at the end, that was the only good part of the episode for me.

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  5. You're definitely not alone on this, Jess.

    Also, I had the same feeling as Anonymous regarding the characters using Kurt's grief to push their beliefs on him. I'm okay with them proposing faith as comfort initially, but when Kurt politely says he doesn't want to hear it, the fact they started arguing with him all but proves they couldn't have cared less about comforting him. Then Mercedes criticizes him for not treating his friends well when his father's dying? Has it ever occurred to her that his father's comma is not about her?

    That would al have been okay if the writers acknowledged the selfishness of it all, perhaps through Sue, but at the end Kurt actually apologizes and Will gets to be self-righteous with Sue, even though her heart was in a better place than his. Her only sin is her politics didn't match the writers'.

    This is a recurring theme with Glee. I remember the Lady Gaga episode having the same kind of problems, except the accepted values that gave its holders the right to treat everybody else like crap was more on the "liberal" side.

    While I quite like Glee (and his previous teen comedy Popular), I have a feeling I wouldn't like Ryan Murphy as a person.

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  6. Without getting too deep in an argument I've had with both sides before (I have faith rather than religion - that is to say I believe in a higher power but do not attend a place of worship because I find them to be mostly brain-washy), I will say this of the episode's religiosity:
    I think you guys may be looking at this the wrong way. I don't think anyone's trying to push an agenda or convert the masses. I think they were trying to be realistic. Anonymous, you argue your belief in no higher power strongly. But you have to remember that those who do have religion OR faith believe just as strongly as you do. So if you, like Kurt, sat in a room loudly proclaiming that a deeply seated faith the man next to you has is bullcrap, the man might take offense. If he was your friend, he might be deeply hurt. He might be inclined to defend a belief and a sense of peace he holds so dear.
    While there are people who tend to try and aggressively convert as many non-believers to their religions or denominations as possible, not all who have faith are like that. I believe I have no right to try and convince someone who is happy being an atheist that there is a God, but in the same vein, I would hope that the atheist would understand that my faith is important to me as well, and would respect that by not referring to God as "Santa Claus for adults."
    So in terms of realism, I think this episode worked. Every character got a three-dimensional chance to argue their side and their right to believe what they believe, but nobody was converted and Kurt learned the lesson of acceptance and understanding. Hmmm... much like the other characters, even the religious ones, are understanding and accepting and even embrace his homosexuality.
    Boom. I just blew your mind.

    On a completely unrelated note, the version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" that Mercedes sang was actually Aretha Franklin's version of the song. Awesome cover, a must-hear.

    Cheers!

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  7. Very good points, Irish Cowgirl, but I'd like to take the opportunity to clarify mine because I feel they might have got lost in the big flashing neon screen that is the "faith versus atheism" debate.

    I am not offended by Mercedes and co. trying to convert Kurt. After all, it is part of the Christian mission to spread the word of God, so the kids were only following the doctrine of their faith with open and generous hearts... Initially.

    Now, as you point out, Kurt was far from delicate, but his hardline arguments only came out after they started insisting, and seeing as he's facing the possibility of becoming an orphan and the other kids are not, I feel maybe they should, oh, I don't know, suck it up.

    In fact, I think Quinn had the best attitude as usual. She patted Kurt on the back and offered her support, but did not participate in the religious debate, letting Kurt process this experience as he sees fit. Her only interjection was when Kurt started getting a bit more aggressive with his analogies, at which point she put her foot down and said, "We shouldn't talk like this. This isn't right", thus indicating her offense with his words without--and this is crucial--prolonging the debate by trying to have the last word.

    In short, this is not a question of religion. It's a question of tact.

    And that's the problem I have with Glee's attitude toward moral imperatives. Whether it's being different (Lady GaGa episode) or having faith, the writers often fall into the trap of thinking having a "big issue" belief means you don't have to respect those who disagree with you.

    Kurt, who again may be losing a parent for the second time in his young life reaches a point where he's so uncomfortable with the debate that he walks out of the classroom. How can these kids (and the faculty!!!) possibly think they're comforting a friend when their need to be right and have the last word is literally forcing him to isolate himself at such a difficult time?

    Again, I'm not saying the kids are right or wrong for believing in God. That doesn't matter here. What matters is when your friend is in trouble, you don't argue with him about his fundamental beliefs and then ask him to apologize for not thinking of your feelings. Why? Because, hey, his father's coma is not about you or your beliefs!

    I mean, while you're at it, why don't you kick him in the balls and ask him to apologize for being insensitive to your foot?

    And that is why the episode bothers me, not because of the faith issues, through which I agree the writers navigated moderately well, given the number of mines just waiting to detonate, but because I sincerely believe that respect of a person's religious (or non-religious) freedom comes second to respect of a person, period.

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  8. A fair and well-thought-out rebuttal, and one I absolutely agree with. As I said, some people have a way of letting their faith or lack thereof overshadow their ability to be good friends or, at the very least, sensitive people.

    I guess I understand your discomfort with that being portrayed (and I completely agree that Mr. Shue should have stepped in, but I've gotten you to him making terrible choices as a teacher), but I stick by my belief that this was realistic. As you said, some people were respectful of Kurt's pain and some were not. Ryan Murphy and Co. have never represented these characters as ideal, in fact they're all TERRIBLY flawed. I mean, really. With the exception of vocal or dancing ability, I can't think of one character on that show that makes me think, "I wanna be just like them." And I think that's an honest way to portray a bunch of teenagers: equal parts the best and worst of humanity. Capable of doing things that both renew and destroy my hopes for the future.

    Side-note on Mr. Shue: Him, on the other hand, should not be allowed near children. Between the Britney Spears episode and this one, and most of last season, he is a man who has clearly lost touch with his educational duties, and possibly his sanity. I agree that when Kurt was attacking the faiths of others and they were attacking his right to disagree and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, attacking a young man on the verge of becoming an orphan, he should have put a stop to it immediately.

    But back to my point. These characters, like all people, are imperfect. They're not ideals, paragons of good or embodiments of evil. They're human, hormone-driven, and not yet mature enough to always consider a larger existence outside their own. I understand if it bothers you, but I kind of like it. As a motivational or "very special" episode, I agree that this one sucks. But as a relatively honest look at the best and worst parts of religion and/or faith, I think it's kind of awesome.

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  9. Irish Cowgirl – I have to say that I agree with you that the writers handled this episode very well
    To the episode, I liked it because it, like Cowgirl explained, it showed the individuals flaws. Kurt was the main, sympathetic character here – he was the one with the emotional crisis, and he stuck to his beliefs. I also am pleased that he did not suddenly turn to God, but that he still did grow as he heard Mercedes when she said that “you need to believe in something” … and Kurt did, he realized that he believed in the love that he and his father shared. Mercedes was cast as the insensitive one, but the closeness of her friendship with Kurt helped them both get through their own personal beliefs, and she was still, in the end, able to provide the emotional support that he needed.
    I also liked Sue standing up for Kurt, she gave a heartfelt reason for the children to not sing the spiritual songs.
    I disagree with Anonymous atheist. Finn originally suggested the spiritual week BEFORE he heard about Kurt’s father. He was not trying to shove his beliefs down Kurt throat, he was just interested in exploring his beliefs with the other children threw song. I did think that Mercedes originally came on way to strong … but, as Cowgirl pointed out, all the characters on here are flawed, it was obvious that she was trying to help Kurt in the way that she knew. I really think her you need to think about your friends thing was off. I also think some of the things that Kurt said were pretty insulting to someone who believes in God, but he was in so much emotional pain … anyway, I think that the writers painted a very even and thoughtful episode. An episode that plays to me as I believe strongly in letting people work through their own personal beliefs, people have to find their own way – you cannot force them to believe in what you believe … I also think it is arrogant when people try. I liked this episode as it did not try to position one belief system over another.

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  10. What an interesting debate to read! Like Billie, I cried through most of this episode, but I think it was a combination of re-living my dad's death and being told I'm stuck in bed for at least another week.

    I always struggle with episodes that deal with the death of a parent, especially when they get it exactly right (think 'The Body'). It doesn't matter how much time has passed or how much you've gotten beyond it, the pain and sense of loss comes flooding back.

    It was my experience that the illness and death of my father brought up these exact issues in my family. I went from being a regular church-goer to deeply questioning the existence of any higher power. My brother, on the other hand, found his faith. So much so that he made the church his profession. Listening to my brother preach is what finally brought me back. So, I see both sides and firmly believe that neither is right or wrong.

    Chris Colfer deserves major kudos for this episode. His eyes are so expressive and final scene in the hospital with his dad was brilliant. Plus, that was the single best version of 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' that I have ever heard. Who would think that such a piece of fluff music could hold so much meaning? Fantastic!

    The other scene stealer was Sue. I always love the bits with her sister, but this one was the best to date. And, I loved her telling Emma that the right way to behave was to get Kurt used to the idea that his dad may die. But, her face while she was listening to the kids at the end? She got it.

    As for whether or not Will behaved appropriately, I think he did. The kids were struggling with some very big issues and I saw it that he was trying to help them. It's always difficult to know what to say or how to behave when someone you care about is going through so much. I saw it that he, and Sue and Emma, were trying to do what would most help -- whether it did is another discussion!

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