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TV Review: Glee – “Prom Queen”

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In this week’s episode of FOX’s Glee, “Prom Queen,” the kids go to prom! But they don’t just attend the dance, they are asked to provide the musical entertainment. An old foe returns to stir things up. Three members of the New Directions continue to battle it out for Prom Queen. Several students question whether they can finally come out about their sexuality. Others consider that the anti-homosexual attitude may be disappearing. At the dance, drama, fights, spiked punch, a dental interrogation, and some musical numbers make it a memorable evening.

A big question since the series started is, what grade are these kids in? Considering social standing and attitude, it is unrealistic to believe they are all freshman (or even sophomores), though that would give the student stars four years before they need to be rotated out of the show. Finn (Cory Monteith), for instance, is already in a leadership position on the football team in the pilot, not something an underclassman would have achieved. But none of the characters were seniors, either, as every member of the New Directions, save a transfer, returned in season two.

In “Prom Queen,” it appears that all of the main characters are juniors. It’s a “junior prom,” which I guess is a thing at their fictional high school, and all are planning to attend even before they are asked to perform. So we’re expected to believe that every single student that was already in Glee Club when the series started, and every single student they’ve recruited since then, are all in the class of 2012? Even for television, it’s stretching reality, and doesn’t make sense, for the story, or the show.

Putting all of the main characters in the same grade is dumb. While naming them all juniors in season two allows the entire original cast to stick together for a third season, something they are probably eager to do considering their great success, for Glee to be a long running series, they need to rotate some of them in and out, rather than graduating them all at once. Now season four is set for a completely new cast. Instead, they should quickly announce that Artie (Kevin McHale), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Mike Chang (Harry Shrum Jr.), or other more supporting players are seniors, and graduate them this year. Chang could even return next year as the hired choreographer. But it would open the door for fresh blood.

Even the fresh blood that has been added for season two, namely Sam (Chord Overstreet), Lauren (Ashley Fink), and Blaine (Darren Criss) seem to be juniors, too. Why? Blaine needs to be older because of his mentor relationship with Kurt (Chris Colfer). But Sam and Lauren could easily have been introduced as freshman this season, thus guaranteeing Glee some wonderful characters for years to come. If two to four characters are rotated in and out every year, the show could continue indefinitely.

The age issue, a prickly trick Glee is being forced to grapple with as it heads into season three, is not specific to the episode “Prom Queen,” and so please don’t mistake a rant on it to reflect poorly on the episode, which is one of the best of the series thus far. However, it is an important element of the series, raised by a factor in “Prom Queen,” which is why it is being discussed now.

The most important element in “Prom Queen,” as it has been in many season two Glee episodes, is gay teen bullying. There is a lot of focus in this episode on the various homosexual characters and how they relate to their fellow students. Since the implementation of the Bull Whips and their anti-bullying policy, there hasn’t been any slushie throwing lately in the halls at McKinley. But that doesn’t mean that the feelings behind those actions have cooled off, as we soon find out.

Kurt is the one who most believes things have changed, and so, appropriately, he is the one most unpleasantly blindsided. Whether it is because his number one tormentor, Karofsky (Dave Adler) actually gives him a sincere, teary apology this week, or his time at the very-accepting Dalton Academy has let him relax, Kurt thinks he can show up to prom in a self-constructed kilt-tux with his boyfriend and not be ridiculed. His father, Burt (Mike O’Malley), and Blaine try to warn Kurt, in a loving way, but Kurt is sure he is right. And he is left alone on a face to face level, as no one wants to risk crossing the newly enforced policies. The hateful students get their revenge by writing in Kurt on their ballots and electing him Prom Queen.

It’s a tough moment for Kurt, who’s already had his share of those this year. He does run out initially, but then, showing the strength he has worked so hard to build up, he returns and claims the tiara with a witty comment. Is it truly a triumphant moment? Yes. Despite the humiliation that the student body knows they have inflicted on him, he gets to show them what he is made of. Whether Kurt changes any opinions is open to debate. But once more Glee shows real life gay teens, struggling in America’s still too-close minded culture, that homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of. For this alone, Glee deserves ten seasons.

Karofsky embodies a different part of the struggle, refusing to come out of the closet. As he and Kurt share their moment after he apologizes, Kurt encourages him to look for a time to come out. Karofsky is named Prom King, and Kurt wants him to announce himself as they head for the dance floor. Instead, Karofsky leaves, at least this time without any hateful emotion directed at Kurt. Karofsky is a realist, knowing he will not be accepted, and not willing to lead a live of derision. He will wait for a more supportive environment. It’s an understandable urge. As long as he does embrace himself sooner rather than later, though, he’ll be all right.

Santana (Naya Rivera) is in between the two. She cares about reputation, but she’s also not shy about speaking out when something is wrong. She has shied away at this issue because it is so personal, and means so much. It will forever fundamentally skew the way some of her classmates view her. But not the ones who matter. Her friends won’t care. For that reason, it is likely Santana will be out of the closet soon, possibly by season’s end.

The battle for Prom Queen has been an arc this season on Glee, building up a showdown between Quinn (Dianna Agron), Santana, and Lauren, all of whom assumed they would win as a package deal with their dates. To have none of them win it because of a mean-spirited prank on Kurt is cruel to all three. However, it may have been the best choice. Fans like all three characters, and to choose one over the others would have been hard. All had reasons they should and should not have won.

Lauren is for overweight girls what Kurt is for gay teens. She is a character who shows real life teens that they can feel good about themselves and be attractive no matter what they look like. Her dominant attitude and supreme confidence is attractive to many people, and she has established herself as a deserving presence on the show. But her boyfriend Puck (Mark Salling) is already feeling emasculated, and her dragging him into such a feminine contest may have been a difficult blow for him to take, had they won.

Santana would win the recognition and respect she craves and deserves. She is doing positive things for the school, and is a much nicer person than when first introduced. She stands up for people that need it, and is only judgmental in an honest way. But as she and Karofsky are just beards for each other, having them win would support a lie, and likely extend both of them in hiding their true selves. If putting on an act can get her what she wants, Santana would have a hard time admitting she is a lesbian.

Quinn arguably most needs the win. After plastic surgery and forging a whole new identity, she is looking for justification for all the hard work she has done. Being Prom Queen has been her dream, and she has worked towards it for a long time, making great sacrifices. To lose to a joke is intolerable. But she doesn’t lose for just that reason. She has already lost when her date, Finn, gets in a fight over another girl and gets kicked out of the dance. Quinn chooses the wrong man, because he clearly has feelings for someone else, and no matter how hard she tries to make it work, their relationship will fall apart. It’s sad, but it’s time for Quinn to move on and establish herself. She is smart and capable. Let’s see it.

After Quinn loses Prom Queen, she blames the “other girl” Finn is interest in, Rachel (Lea Michele), and slaps her face in the bathroom. This is one of the tensest moments Glee has ever delivered, as it is pure, raw anger. Understandable and long simmering, but misplaced, as Rachel has done nothing to try to take Finn…this time. The heartfelt apology that follows is incredibly sweet. Rachel’s maturation really allows her to forgive Quinn and even build her back up, not something early, selfish Rachel would have done. Hopefully the two can really be friends, as they have nothing in each other to hate.

“Prom Queen” features the return of Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff), Rachel’s boyfriend from last season who royally screwed her over. He was a total villain last season, and despite his (somewhat insincere sounding) apology, it appears that he hasn’t changed much. Rachel is taken in by him again immediately. Finn is suspicious. It’s not clear where all the other characters fall, but most likely, they are, or will land, on Finn’s side, given Jesse’s past and present behavior.

Jesse returns after flunking out of college, saying he never meant to hurt Rachel, which is a lie. He warmed up to her with ulterior motives, and it is likely he has returned with the same. He announces he is starting a show choir studio to help mentor show choirs, and Rachel assures him the New Directions will want to hire him. Is this the real reason he comes back? He’s broke, so he tricks Rachel into landing him an easy job he doesn’t actually have to work at? Jesse will be around for the last two episodes of the season, so it appears his plan works, at least for now.

Why does Rachel fall for it, though? She is smarter than that. She’s been with a good guy since Jesse (Finn), so she should definitely know the difference. Is loneliness the driving force? If so, it is not an emotion Rachel has been showing on screen a lot in the last few weeks.

Finn’s fight to take out Jesse at the dance when he macks a little too much on Rachel is satisfying for the anti-Jesse aspect, but frustrating for Finn’s character. He has had his choice between Quinn and Rachel for two years now. He has gone back and forth. The time for floundering is over. Choose one and move on, man! He chooses Quinn, so he has no right to go after whoever Rachel is seeing when she doesn’t want rescued. It’s frustrating because he certainly cannot have it both ways. This is not Big Love, and Rachel and Quinn are not going to go for it.

It’s time for Artie to give up on Brittany (Heather Morris). While what he did is not unforgivable, she took the out, and isn’t going back in. What Artie doesn’t realize is that Brittany is ready to be with Santana and isn’t going to settle for anyone else. Nor should she. He has a terrible track record with girls who are better suited for others, first Tina, then Brittany. He has a hard time letting Tina go, but he does. It’s time to do the same for Brittany. Don’t begrudge Artie finding love, but it has to be with someone who loves him more than anyone else. A pattern must be broken.

What is hilarious is the way Artie chooses to take out his anger over rejection. Agreeing to help Puck spike the punch, Artie is anything but a polished criminal, and is caught by Sue (Jane Lynch), who locks him away in her office and tortures him with a dental cleaning. But of course, Artie is only spiking the punch with lemonade. He may be willing to take a risk, but not a big one. The lemonade twist is amusing, keeps Artie in character, and prevents his punishment from interfering with Regionals.

Unfortunately, Sue is not so funny in the sequence. Ever since she lost the power she has over the New Directions, Sue is not nearly as good a character. While Lynch rules season one of Glee, the character has become more weird than threatening. Perhaps it’s because Glee has evolved to nuance and social issues and doesn’t need a comedic villain anymore that Sue has become expendable. But it’s a shame because she started as such a great character who, because the writers don’t seem to know how to use her anymore, has devolved into a toothless joke. Either get back to what made her good, or give her a wonderful sendoff. The sooner the better.

And for season three, please please please give Mercedes (Amber Riley) a love interest. Maybe Sam, as is kind of hinted in “Prom Queen” when he asks her to dance. Maybe someone else. But Mercedes needs a good man, and it’s past time that she’s the only Glee Clubber not getting any love.

As for the songs in this episode, they are surprisingly average for an above average episode. “Friday” actually sounds good when remixed and given to the New Directions guys, but “Dancing Queen” is the highlight of the episode. “Isn’t She Lovely” feels boring, probably partly because of the Artie story. “Jar of Hearts” just stirs a pot that shouldn’t be stirred, as mentioned above. “Rolling in the Deep” sounds great, but watching Rachel get sucked back in by Jesse dampens the experience. It’s great fun to see Blaine sing with the New Directions (where he belongs!) with “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You.”

Glee airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. Only two episodes left this season!

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • http://www.blogspot.notesfromnancy.com Nancy

    Jesse is devious, but I’ve never considered him evil. For me, “Rolling in the Deep” was a good match with Jesse and Rachel. She refused to let him pull her up. She is hardly the naive one.
    Kurt was the victim of a “Prom Queen” joke? This could also be interpreted as acceptance by McKinley. He and Karofsky getting crowned was an acknowledgment of a difficult time, and the students are stronger now.

  • Rebecca

    I really like glee!!! It’s awesome and shows that we can all somewhat get along!!! :) keep up the good work!!

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Nancy – You think Kurt was named Queen out of respect for him? I never even considered that. It would certainly be an interesting twist. The way the announcement played out with the crowd, and Kurt’s reaction, made it seem the opposite to me. But I could be wrong.

  • Tash

    I really liked this episode, although I found Artie’s ‘Isn’t she lovely’ awkward and the song Rachel sang dragged on a bit. I loved Friday – surprsingly – it’s the song that really stood out for me this episode. Of course the other three songs were class as well. I totally agree about Sue, they need to either get rid of her or make her interesting again, because she’s just plain dull. And I’m getting a bit bored of Finn/Quinn/Rachel, he needs to pick. Jesse needs to get lost, I don’t like him as a character and I thought Rachel would have learned her lesson this time, he’s not to be trusted.

    LOVED Santana in this episode, I think she’s the most realistic view of the whole gay-teen thing, while Kurt is SO out there it’s quite intimidating at times, and Karofski is the opposite, Santana is realistic, with just the right amount of attitude and raw emotions.

    As for the age thing, I find it hard to believe they are all the same age, and ‘junior prom’? So they’re going to have another one? But didn’t Quinn say that you could get married loads of times but will only have the chance to be prom queen once?

    Sort your story out, Glee.

  • James

    Well, the episode was OK. I really envy Diana…if only we could all slap Lea in the face.

  • Kelly

    WHAT?! “Jesse never meant to hurt Rachel, which is a lie” SINCE WHEN IS RE-UNITING HER WITH HER MOM CONSIDERED HURTING? That was his ulterior motive, he screwed up and apologized. “Somewhat insincere”? WHAT? How was that insincere. I’m sorry but the only ULTERIOR motive he had for coming back- was to BE WITH RACHEL. “nicer guys like finn” Finn, the guy who dumped her for cheating and then moved on to his ex who also cheated on her (by encouraging her to cheat on her bf) and then accusing that bf of cheating with quinn in “Rumors”. To me, Jesse seems like a much nicer guy than Finn.