You can always count on a Ryan Murphy script to be armored in self-deprecation. The opening of “Naked” goes from Hunter Clarington being a real, consequential person in the Glee-verse to him being an artificial construct so fast that even Quinn was all, “I don’t buy it.” Half that time later, a newscast seriously reporting on the Dalton doping scandal is interrupted by the very rude awakening of the co-anchor that this plot is total nonsense. It’s true. And acknowledging that this subplot is ridiculous does go some way toward inoculating Glee from such complaints. After all, this is a show explicitly designed to get from one musical number to the next, seamlessness be damned. But that’s not all. Pre-bangs Rachel says the New Rachel looks like a slut. Marley and Jake sing a song from Twilight after Kitty cites the series as “poop on a page,” an example of blind, teen-girl consumerism. When Jake and Marley finally seal their love with a kiss, we pan to Becky shouting, “Ugh, gross! Get a room!” It’s like the only thing Glee commits to completely is that Saved By The Bell had some good ideas.
The worst part is that the doping scheme reneges on a promising idea: What is Glee without singing competitions? Regionals is an artificial injection of stakes. Sam’s SAT score—well, that is, too, but the attendant self-esteem isn’t. Worrying about our futures is universal. Marley and Jake professing their love through song is necessarily more compelling than the group stumbling its way through “Gangnam Style” after the Mennonites already basically won sectionals. The New Directions have all resolved to stay together with or without competition. Why not test them? Half the show already exists outside of that structure, anyway. Why not all of it?
Glee heckles itself only partly to sidestep nit-picking. But it’s not as though the gravitas of a local newscast doesn’t convey the appropriate absurdity of a high-school glee-club doping scandal. You couldn’t wink at the screen more if you were Santana talking about how New York is more your speed than Kentucky. As someone vehemently frustrated by this road to nowhere, my concerns aren’t exactly allayed by Andrea the co-anchor, and she doesn’t speak for me, either. She’s a reductio ad absurdum, a logical fallacy meant to exaggerate in order to dismiss my argument. At this point, though, the damage is done. The only thing Andrea brings to the table is obviousness.
Becky mocking the lovebirds is a different animal. It’s a way for Glee to have its romance and eat it, too, which is basically what Glee’s all about. The show’s most successful export is the byzantine insult. Sue even describes her own Penthouse centerfold as redefining “hirsute.” On this show everything can be made fun of, including the things we care about the most, and everyone can dish it. Ryan Murphy’s prickliness—and as always I’m talking about the writer, not the person—coats the show, yet the show still has values. One week there are close-ups of Sam’s lips as examples of his dreaminess and the next someone calls him “Trouty Mouth.” Glee isn’t hedging. Kitty insults Twilight, and still Marley finds it powerful. Old Rachel makes fun of the New Rachel, but the New Rachel isn’t going anywhere. Jake and Marley’s romance is clearly meant to be engaging, if not quite swoon-worthy. Becky’s complaint just brings them down to earth. Love, really? Okay, Marissa Cooper.
The one thing Glee will never undercut lest we slower viewers misunderstand is the after-school special. “Naked” is all about—say it with me—the arrogance of student films. Also nudity. Rachel wins the lead in the thesis film Come Back To Me, Grandmother: A Journey Into Alzheimer’s by a senior named Electra, but it requires a nude scene in this glorious dream sequence where the grandmother spies her love on the docks or something. Meanwhile the boys of McKinley are preparing a shirtless beefcake calendar for their regionals fundraiser, but Artie doesn’t feel comfortable participating. The best part is this cheesy, didactic scene where Artie confesses his fears of being seen as a guy in a wheelchair to Finn, and Finn tells him he thinks it’s cool that there’s a part of Artie’s body that he wants to keep private, which isn't really what Artie was talking about, but it's impressive that Finn is even in the same ballpark. As a metaphor for taking nude pictures and sexting—which is infinitely more relevant than posing for a calendar—the “talk to a teacher” scene doesn’t make complete sense, but the underlying idea of doing what’s comfortable to you is valuable. Rachel elects not to pose nude, too, but only after Kurt has a prissy reaction about how serious actors don’t pose naked and calls in Santana and Quinn to talk her out of it. Rachel’s decision is more even-handed: She respects actors who pose naked, but she’s not ready. Luckily Electra is there to replace Rachel herself, almost like that had been her plan all along.
Brody is left to balance these prudes, which is some seriously half-hearted nude-positivity, not least because Brody is still that other guy who hangs around Rachel and Kurt in the New York scenes. But mostly, his pro-nude lifestyle manifests as him being an annoying roommate, nonchalantly walking into the dining area, sitting bare-ass on a kitchen chair, and pouring himself some of Kurt’s cereal. Kurt wasn’t even consulted before he wound up with a third roommate. The least Brody could have done was discuss a clothing arrangement. Sam’s also promoting his body throughout “Naked,” running a calendar workshop that includes broga, manscaping, and stuffing with clean baby socks. But that’s because he’s depressed about his SAT score and thinks his body is all he has. I buy that as depression, but not as meta commentary. Sam's in the running for funniest character on the show, right? According to his friends, he has way more accomplishments than low body fat, like dating every girl in the cast and being poor. Fortunately, the conspicuously attentive Blaine is there to list some things colleges might be more interested in, like student council and synchronized swimming, as well as some things that make Sam special as a person, like rescuing the New Directions’ trophy from Dalton and investigating the steroid scandal.
The morals: Posing naked is okay but permanent, so only do it if you’re comfortable; you’re more than the sum of your parts; six-packs are a dime a dozen. That last one’s implied, but why else is Brody around? Not bad. And I like the after-school special qualities, characters stretching themselves to fit into serious one-on-one chats with positive affirmations. To deny that would be to deny an essential part of this show. On balance, “Naked” is one of Glee’s better body and body-image episodes. Next week is another diva-off. They really weren’t kidding about this season being a do-over.
- I don’t know about you but I’ve never wanted New Directions to lose a competition more. Sorry, Tina.
- 2340 seems low for the highest ever SAT score from McKinley, but Brittany got it. Now she plans to attend an elite college: Princetown, Stanford and Son, University of California at Charles Barkley’s House...
- Another problem with self-deprecation is consistency. The doping plot is worth mocking, but not Figgins calling the highest- and lowest-scoring students into his office at the same time?
- Tina defends Blaine’s body. “For the record, Blaine has an awesome body and a perky and delicious behind that looks like it got baked to perfection by a master chef.” Seriously, we need the Tina spin-off.
- Finn addresses my complaint about the continuity of his taste for coffee! I knew I liked him now.
- “Oh Yeah” scores multiple exaggerations of the guys’ flexing, from Sam strutting into school in UGGs and board shorts to close-ups of Jake and Ryder having a shoulder-off in the gym. The cheesiness is another side of the same self-deprecation token. Whereas outright mocking the scenes would hollow them out, scoring and zooming like this acknowledges the silliness and dives in, anyway. The one is a lot more on-message than the other.
The RBI Report by Dr She Bloggo
Having been written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Ian Brennan, and featuring familiar faces like Quinn, Santana, Mercedes, Emma, a headband-wearing Rachel Berry, and even Anchorman Rod, "Naked" may be the closest we'll come to Vintage Glee this season. And when I say "Vintage Glee," take your pick on the year. Whenever you liked it best. Because the episode displayed a surprising range of references to past events and characters in the Glee universe, from Rod and Andrea to Santana's sex tape to Sam being poor and homeless. There was even a cute group number capping off the episode! I smiled!
Even despite these comforts of yesteryear, "Naked" still displayed a few of the issues plaguing Glee's fourth season: rushed setup, expository dialogue, and scattered focus, in particular. onceptually, the episode's storylines seem interesting on the page - Rachel questions whether she's changed too much in her pursuit to grow up! Sam panics about a low SAT score and overcompensates by funneling all his energies into his other qualities! Artie feels uncomfortable taking his shirt off for a sexy calendar! But in execution, padded out with a dumb blackmail story for Finn and Sue, and a sweet-but-threadbare non-arc for Jake and Marley's first "I love you," everything had to be smushed and inverted to make ends meet.
Let's start with Rachel, who faced a big decision regarding whether or not to go topless for a role in a student film. The plotting in this arc felt weirdly out of order, even though it hit a few good moments along the way. The idea that Rachel question her identity in terms of new vs. old self is actually a really cool endeavor, especially considering her drastic makeover and turkey-touching this season. Therefore, "Torn," conceptually, is such a strong idea. But it's also the strongest part of the idea... and yet it came before the first act was done. The rest of Rachel's scenes were simply a conversation on actors doing nudity, and the character-based element in the arc went mostly ignored.
Which is a shame! For one, Rachel duetting with herself (or vocally masturbating, according to Santana) sounds like something she would have had at least one possibly sexual fantasy about. Second, the concept itself loans itself well to the kinds of conflicts Old Rachel Berry saw in Season 1, staring herself down in the mirror as she faces another decision that threatens to change who she is in favor of others' expectations. hat a great way to look at New Rachel under the same character constructs we placed on Old Rachel, right? Obviously, Rachel as a main character is encouraged to develop along her arc, and Rachel as an eighteen-year-old is sure to change as she becomes an adult. But at what point does she lose herself and become unrecognizable in that mirror? "Naked" asked the question, and never answered it.
You could infer, since it was never answered, that all that self-reflection doesn't really matter. Rachel's decision to not do the topless scene indicates that she's still Old Rachel, and maybe one day she'll take her shirt off for a role and it won't mean she's lost herself. In some way, this nebulous answer works. It takes the spotlight off "Rachel changing" and makes everything Not That Big a Deal. Being naked on film doesn't fundamentally change who you are as a person. No one really talks about themselves in "new" and "old" versions unless it's New Years, and you need resolutions to break by February. But I think this last concept is what made Rachel's identity crisis in the episode tantalizing: you only ever know you've changed when it's too late to change back. You can't flip a switch overnight and become a new person. (Even though Glee does this on an episode-to-episode basis.) ou merely evolve in your environment, slowly, and before you know it, you're miles away from who you were. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? It's up to you. But one thing's for sure: you'll never know until after the change has taken place. It's this kind of irreversibility that helped "Torn" to be an emotionally effective number, but unfortunately, this concept wasn't really explored in the episode at all.
What I would have preferred from the Rachel storyline requires a bit of reordering, to minimize Kurt shaming Rachel for being a "slutty Barbie doing porno," to maximize the emotional impact of "Torn," and to refocus it on Rachel's identity. First things first: introduce Quinn and Santana as having come to NYC to shop, or whatever. There's absolutely no believable reason these kids would be able to shuttle back and forth as much as they do, so just pick whatever equally-as-bunk purpose that works the best for your storyline. They catch up with Rachel, and harmlessly make an offhand comment about her new look. Rachel, being that she is forever insecure around the erstwhile popular girls, latches onto this comment, and takes it way too seriously. It plants the seed for her entire crisis.
Then you raise the question of getting naked for a role, and Rachel kicks into serious self-doubt. Maybe she talks to Kurt about it, and he voices his concerns in terms of Old Rachel vs. New Rachel (without slut shaming, thank you). Rachel sings "Torn" with her past self. Emotional peak. Finally she talks to Quinn and Santana, and they offer up their rather logical 2-2-2 rule. It's not about a betrayal of identity; it's about not doing something dumb and permanent for a student film no one's going to see. Show your boobs another day, Rachel; it has little to do with your sense of self. As resolution, maybe Quinn and Santana even bait Rachel into doing something that "Old Rachel" would do, like a spontaneous musical number in their apartment, to reassure her that even with new hair and new clothes... she's still the same old Rachel. Cue "Love Song," and cute frolicking.
Unfortunately, you need more time to let that storyline breathe, and "Naked" didn't have it. Two pieces of the episode could have been eliminated, though, to easily accomodate it. First was the plot with Sue and Finn. Sure, I like finding ways to remind the audience that Sue Sylvester is in fact a character in this show, and one that Jane Lynch has an Emmy for, at that. However! I'm tired of Sue vs. student storylines. And this one went nowhere. It also featured a mighty fresh line directed at Sue about hypocrisy, which frankly could be turned and pointed at pretty much every character on the show without an inkling of falsehood. Mostly, I just wished Finn had boasted about cleverly taping the recorder to his underboob. Missed opportunities!
Second storyline that could have scooted offscreen belonged to Marley and Jake. t's not that this one wasn't occasionally sweet, but it was just... basic. he plotting of these two's relationship arc has been rather rushed and erratic, hitting bullet points only and skimming over actual content. Instead of devoting an episode to their first "I love yous," why not give them a joint goal or obstacle to overcome? It allows for actual interaction, and screentime! Without it, it just feels like the writers are lazily checking items of a list of stages a new couple cycles through. How boring. Honestly, the most surprising moment of Marley and Jake's storyline came from the return of the auditorium's grid lights behind their duet! I feel like we haven't seen them in... a thousand years? (Song choice, defended!) Seriously, I remember those suckers behind "Express Yourself" in the Madonna episode, and never again. Surely I'm mistaken? Surely this is not something I should get hung up on? Ah, yes. Back to the review.
Anyways. I can't believe I've gone nine paragraphs without mentioning the Men of McKinley calendar. I was avoiding it. Alas, I must face the music from Ferris Bueller and talk about high school dudes taking their clothes off for money.
But do I have to? Sigh. I guess it was nice that the insistence on doing the calendar manifested as a character thing. Turns out Sam got a 340 on the SAT and throws himself into perfecting his body so he has something else going for him. I like this in theory, but I do think it got a smidge too much screentime. In that it stretched so long, I kind of forgot that this character angle was happening. And, I confess, there were certain elements of Sam's arc that poked a few sore spots I have about what stories this show chooses to tell and how. For instance, when the narrative pulls together to make Sam feel better for bombing the SAT, there is a little misfire in my brain that bitterly wonders why Brittany not graduating last season was dropped into the narrative with a single line, and used as Santana fodder. Or, when Blaine tells Sam not to worry so much about his body, I have to try not to think about how Marley's eating disorder was used as a reason to alienate her from everyone, and featured in Brittany's "Fondue for Two" web video as a jolly proclamation on the screen, complete with a comedic cat meow. And, at the end of this domino line of grumpiness, I just hear Sam's voice telling Quinn that her teenage pregnancy and family rejection were mere rich white girl problems.
It is thus difficult for me to wholeheartedly hop on board the Sam Evans Manpain Train considering all these circumstances. I know this is selective memory that I'm piling together to make a case. But they are the memories that stuck with me, and I have a hard time setting them aside for Sam's POV. That being said, "Naked" also successfully revived the memory of a time when I actually liked Sam, with the video Blaine put together of everyone singing his praises. (Not literally. I feel like Glee is the only show where I need to specify that.) Even though I was never really engaged in Sam's crisis of intelligence, I definitely teared up at seeing Tina, Artie, Brittany, Santana, Mercedes, and Finn say nice things about him - things that actually happened! It hearkened back to what originally defined this character, and his back story... before he became a dumbed-down stripper who does impressions. Oh, Sam. I liked you once. Meanwhile, I'll wait for an episode that deals with "Old Sam" vs. "New Sam" to confront the differences.
The final piece of the "Naked" puzzle belonged to Artie, who felt uncomfortable posing for the calendar when he looks less like CW and more like PBS. oys have body issues too! I seem to recall something similar being put forth in "Rocky Horror Glee Show." Eh, whatever. Yes, guys can have body issues too. Artie's desire to not be in the calendar was 100% valid. I'm not sure how sexy pillows are emasculating, but the idea that pillows can be sexy did made me laugh. In the end, the guys still wanted to include Artie in the calendar even though he doesn't have a CW body, and he agreed. Cue happy episode-ending song.
So, by the end of "Naked," we still don't know where Sue's centerfold is, the students of McKinley have once again completed at least a portion of someone else's college application without their consent, and Santana Lopez seems to be hinting at a move to New York. That last thing I am 100% fine with; the only thing better would be if Quinn came too so they could keep up their bicker-banter shtick. But even with just Santana alone, Glee's comedic content gets a huge boost. quot;Naked" had some funny moments, and even a few emotionally honest moments, but the construction of the episode was altogether too rushed and unfocused to really make the most out of the storylines' potentials.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B-
Episode MVP: Santana
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