What I learned from "Blame It On The Alcohol":
1. The entire Glee cast is ridiculously attractive.
2. Apparently drinking is bad for you, or something.
Okay, okay, I'm just kidding. (But not about #1. Seriously, how are they all - ALL OF THEM - so damn good-looking? Truly baffling.)
"Blame It On The Alcohol," written by Ian Brennan, directed by Eric Stoltz.
So, "Blame It On The Alcohol" could have been awful. An episode devoted to teenage drinking seemed sure to promise some sort of embarrassing binge and then they'd all sing about it and we'd get hammered (no pun intended) with a heavy-handed message at the end of the episode about the perils of alcohol. But, it turned out to be a solid episode in design and execution, and a pretty joyous episode in the details. And for that, I am extremely relieved, because, if you recall, I was not feeling last week's turnout.
As far as I'm concerned, the episode had three great strengths going for it - the first of which was a careful hand at directing. Welcome back, Eric Stoltz! Mr. Stoltz first blessed us with "Duets," and he's done the show another solid with tonight's fare. Each of the characters and their relationships was paid attention to, through purposeful reaction shots and subtle camera blocking. Sometimes it was used for empathy, like with Quinn looking melancholy at Sam and Santana's burgeoning makeout sessions, but it was also used for comedy - who did not absolutely fall in love with the shot of Real Rachel Berry stepping in front of Portrait Rachel Berry, perfectly framed? Oh, it was euphoric.
Eric Stoltz also steered the episode away from being trite and schmaltzy with its pro-sobriety message. The show could have easily painted themselves into a corner here - underage drinking is not really something you want to make light of on a television show aimed at a younger audience. But Mr. Stoltz's direction was able to deliver the message without being too on-the-nose, something other Glee directors could learn a thing or two about. (I'm looking at you, Ryan Murphy!)
Take, for example, the scene between Coach Beiste and Will after their night at the bar. Shannon basically sums up the message, saying that adults can't stop kids from drinking. The only thing you can do is make them aware of the risks, give them some tips for safety, and hope they make the right decision. Cue that tinkly piano music that lets us know we're watching something that should tug at our heartstrings, and then... she laughs. It's the perfect way to exit us from Saccharineville, especially with two drunk people talking. She laughs, and we're back to normal, in terms of tone. I applaud you, Eric Stoltz. Please come back again.
Of course, I can't give all the credit to the director - Ian Brennan also handled the writerly execution rather well. The hour was evenly divided up between drunken frivolity (I'll get to that in a minute) and some rather intriguing discussion. Rather than make the whole episode a two-dimensional debate of "Is Drinking Good? Check YES or NO," Ian deftly crafted interesting discourse out of the consequences that these particular characters faced as a result of their drinking. Smart, no?
For example, we got Blaine dealing with his possible bisexuality after his drunken kiss with Rachel. His resulting conversation with Kurt was pretty fascinating, and I have to give points to Blaine for trumping Kurt with the "not being liked for who you are" argument. Then, there was the conversation between Kurt and Burt, where Kurt called his dad out on the double standard of his reaction to the idea of Blaine sleeping over at their house. Then, there was the debate between Rachel and Kurt over whether or not Blaine could be attracted to Rachel, and the conversation between Will and Shannon over the concept of adults preaching against alcohol while they themselves drink.
By my count, that's four pretty thought-provoking discussions that all spoke to the episode's keyword (DRINKING!) without being two-dimensional in their manifestation. And the resulting thread became something that spoke to self-awareness and self-education, and responsibility for your own actions. Kurt advocated for Burt to educate himself on the trials of same-sex relationships, and Blaine's storyline put forth the idea that it's important to know oneself completely. These two points fed smoothly into the actual drinking message, which was one of being educated and aware of the consequences. How mature!
Speaking of mature, can I just give a round of applause for the handling of Kurt and Rachel's conflict over Blaine's sexuality? This could have turned into the Bitchiest Bitchfest of Self-Centered Proportions - complete with a side of misunderstanding, but instead the two characters communicated honestly, demostrated their competition simply, and nobody did any yelling or slung insults! This was lovely. I was nervous that Kurt and Rachel's relationship would implode over this bit of drama, but the writers chose for them to handle everything maturely and I'm so relieved.
Even the setup for the episode wasn't terribly clunky, with Rachel deciding she needed to "live life" to be able to write a successful original song for Regionals - which, with some urging from Puck, translated into the need to party. I bought it.
In all, I think it was one of Ian Brennan's more sophisticated undertakings - which is remarkable, considering that this was the man who used to give us episodes that stated the theme about twenty-five times from start to finish. (Remember "Funk?" Of course you do. Funk funk funk funky funk funk.)
The third success of the episode was just the hilarity of seeing the Glee kids drunk. I was prepared for so much secondhand embarrassment but in reality everybody was just so damn funny that I wanted that party to last the whole episode. Everything amused me, from Rachel calling Quinn "GURLFRAND," hitting on Mike (and Tina subsequently separating them, ha!) and thinking that Blaine's last name is "Warbler," to Santana being a hysterical drunk and calling Will "Count Boozy Von Drunk-a-Ton." It was almost as good as Sue calling him the Alcoholic Teen Vomit Fetishist. Oh, and Figgins pronouncing Ke$ha as "Kee-dollar-sign-ha" and proclaiming her signature hit "Tik and also Tok!" I laughed a hell of a lot in this episode, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it took getting teenagers drunk to make it so.
But, all the messages were in place by the end, and the Glee Club successfully communicated the anti-alcohol message to the rest of the school, even if it was by example. No good came of anybody's drinking in this episode - even Will's. That drunk-dial was seriously embarrassing. And speaking to the students, who on earth would want to get barfed on like that? Eurgh, that crap that came out of Brittany's mouth looked like house paint. Not gonna lie: I covered my eyes.
And, points to Will for mentioning that high school kids drinking is, indeed, illegal - at least in the US. I feel like so many television shows portray underage drinking as troublesome and problematic, but rarely is it actually communicated that it's straight-up against the law. And the show even tackled this notion, and the dilemma that arises from drinking being glorified in its portrayal in the media.
When it was all said and done, the kids signed pledges to stay booze-free, and Will decided to do the same - I will say that it was laid on a little thick through this finishing scene, but I'm not going to complain. Glee needs to keep the PTC off their back and if it involves Santana using the phrase "cool beans," well, so be it.
All in all, this was a rather successful episode. It was in parts hilarious and thought-provoking, and all of it was handled with sophistication - surprising, given the fact that the characters were wasted for a solid part of the hour. I was expecting far less from an episode titled "Blame It On the Alcohol," and was pleasantly surprised with the results.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A (Can Hemo dance forever, please?)
Episode MVP: Can I give a three-way tie between Rachel Berry, Shannon Beiste, and Blaine Anderson? Or can I just give it to everybody?