Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for me to quit stalling and post the RBI Report for "Grilled Cheesus." You see, I originally had intended on skipping it. I did not want to touch the episode with a 10-foot pole, largely because I hadn't made up my mind about it, and unlike Ryan Murphy, I know better than to try and discuss religion in a public forum.
But then my BFF over at Picaresque posted her thoughts on the episode, and in reading them, it finally got me to sort out what mine are. I recommend you read her post for an intelligent take on how atheism was portrayed (somewhat unfairly) in the episode. I, however, am going to stick to the usual idea behind The RBI Report - focus on the writing and direction.
Of course, this being "THE RELIGION EPISODE," I can't avoid discussing religion entirely. But here we go.
"Grilled Cheesus," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Surprise! This episode was written by Brad Falchuk! I won't lie; I thought this had Ryan Murphy written all over it. But it seems we have to chalk this one up to Mr. Falchuk, and I honestly would rank it as his worst episode yet. This is the man that wrote FIVE of the top six in SHE BLOGGO'S Best Season 1 Episodes. So yeah; back of the line, "Cheesus."
I do wonder if the episode would have been better if it had been directed by Falchuk as well. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has only ever directed two episodes of television, according to his IMDb page - this, and Season 1's "Laryngitis." Nothing felt terribly inspired about the directing. I thought the scene where Burt collapses was written well, but directed poorly - I didn't feel terror at what was happening. It was cheesy. They used cross-fades, guys. It was not okay.
The main problems with the episode, as I see it, derive from the fact that they set themselves up for failure. You wanna try and tackle religion on a network television comedy musical? Be my guest. But you better be damn sure you do it right. And of course, Glee didn't.
Problem #1: They were asking for trouble when they put Burt in a coma for this one. It's one thing to discuss religion in normal circumstances; it's another entirely when someone is in the hospital. Humanity's relationship with death is largely a spiritual one because no one knows what the hell comes next. So we turn to religion, or spirituality, whichever, and it gives us the answers we want to hear. By putting a character we love in a life-or-death situation, the writers immediately color the episode. The atheist who chooses not to pray in general could be respected for his decisions. The atheist who chooses not to pray when his father could be dying just looks like a jerk.
The episode's interesting parts came from Sue. She raised a valid point about church and state, and the discussion there was believable and topical. Had the episode centered around choosing to sing religious songs in Glee Club, I think the topic of religion could have been handled in a much more neutral light. Would everyone have cried as much? Probably not. But would there be a hell of a lot fewer pissed-off people? Yes. Would the episode have been better? It's hard to say.
Personally, I am not a particularly religious person. I wasn't raised to follow any sort of religious belief, just my own moral compass. This is not to say, however, that I don't get goosebumps when I hear a choir sing "There Is a Balm In Gilead." Gospel music is gorgeous. Do I think it should be used to shove religion down someone's throat? No. But I appreciate the hell out of it, musically. Mercedes' version of "I Look To You" is beautiful. I wish the episode had chosen to focus on the delineation between religious music and religious belief, and even performing religious music objectively in school. There's enough controversy right there, and it's more suited to Glee's natural inclinations.
Problem #2: When you set up the characters' journeys in any story, you have to get them from Point A to Point B. But in an episode dealing with different characters' religious beliefs, what's Point B? Are you supposed to get Kurt from atheism to believing, or Mercedes from believing to atheism? You absolutely cannot do that without inciting rage from 50% of your audience. So what's the message, then? Hope? Believe in what you want? Don't worship a grilled cheese sandwich? The problem with a religion episode is that everybody is just going to see what they want to see to support their own previously-held beliefs. So as the writer of the episode, what are you trying to tell people? You have to try and develop a character without changing their beliefs, which makes it incredibly difficult to sculpt a good character arc.
Problem #3: Ah, Grilled Cheesus. I see why the sandwich deity was included in the episode, but it caused problems for me. Actually, Problem #3 wouldn't be a problem if Problem #1 weren't also a problem. That is to say, I wouldn't have a problem with Grilled Cheesus if Burt weren't in the hospital. I could not for the life of me care one iota about Finn touching Rachel's boobs when Kurt's dad's life hung in the balance. I get that it was there to lighten the mood, but it was too stark a contrast for me not to roll my eyes at.
There you have it. I give you a Holy Trinity of Problems for "Grilled Cheesus." Is that sacrilegious? I'm not sure I care. I'm just going to crawl back in my religious happy place, chanting "live and let live."
And I still wish Quinn had turned out to be the atheist of the group. Interesting and unexpected character development for Quinn, complete with a storyline and maybe a solo? Surely you jest.