On more than a few occasions in the past, ‘Glee’ has courted controversy with racy content that parents might find inappropriate for the younger viewers who are otherwise drawn to the show’s musical numbers. (I have quite a few friends who need to screen episodes before letting their kids watch.) Last week pushed the boundaries the furthest they’ve yet been strained with an episode that was full-on, all about sex sex sex.
Quite simply, the episode is called ‘Sexy’. This marks the return of Gwyneth Paltrow as flighty substitute teacher Holly Holliday. She’s been brought back to McKinley High to teach Health class, which of course means Sex Ed. Her timing couldn’t be better. These kids desperately need some education on the subject.
Brittany thinks she’s pregnant because she saw a stork building a nest outside her house. Lauren wants to make a sex tape with Puck because she thinks it will help her get famous, like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. Santana is feeling confused about her sexuality. She doesn’t want to be labeled, but she enjoys her “cuddle time” with Brittany. (In an amusing early exchange, she convinces Brittany that what they’re doing doesn’t constitute cheating on their boyfriends because “the plumbing is different.”)
Even among the teachers, it’s revealed that Emma is still a virgin, despite being married to Carl (John Stamos) for four months. She’s still extremely uptight about anything to do with sex, and is opposed to the school teaching the topic.
Holly, of course, tackles all of these issues with blunt (and possibly inappropriate) honesty. She makes fun of Finn about last season’s storyline in which he thought he was the father of Quinn’s baby even though they never had sex. She tells Quinn and Rachel that they’re “naïve and possibly frigid” for joining a Celibacy Club (led by Emma, of course). She also informs Lauren and Puck that making a sex tape while they’re only 17 (ah ha! – so these kids are supposed to be Juniors now!) would be considered child pornography in the eyes of the law. Even though he still desperately wants to get in Lauren’s pants, Puck is scared by the prospect of going back to juvie (or worse) and signs up for that Celibacy Club.
For her first song to get the kids interested in talking about sex, Holly performs Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).” Will tells her that she went a little too far with that one. Later, the two of them (privately) practice a tango to Prince’s “Kiss,” which ends with them really kissing.
Holly tries to help Santana express her feelings by convincing her to sing “Landslide” to Brittany in front of the class. Most everyone else clearly recognizes that this is Santana’s way of professing that she’s in love with Brittany, but boyfriends Sam and Artie remain oblivious.
Later, Santana corners Brittany in the hallway and, in the episode’s most raw and emotional moment, outright tells her that she wants to be with her. She says that she’s been acting like such a bitch because she’s been confused about her feelings, and was scared by the way that the school treated Kurt. Poor Brittany tells Santana that she loves her back, and if it weren’t for Artie, she would proudly be her girlfriend. But she also loves Artie, and won’t break up with him. Santana is dejected and angry at the news.
Speaking of Kurt, he’s been having his own issues over at the Dalton Academy. Kurt is almost as uptight about sex as Emma. After a performance of “Animal” by Neon Trees, he worries that he’s not sexy enough to pull off the song. Although he’s openly gay, thinking or talking about the physical aspect of that makes him uncomfortable. He tells Blaine that what he cares about is romance, not sex.
Blaine meets with Kurt’s dad, Burt. In a really great scene, Blaine tells him how much he envies their relationship, but insists that Burt really needs to talk to Kurt about sex. Despite his own discomfort, Burt sits Kurt down for “The Talk,” which amounts to giving him some pamphlets he picked up about “the mechanics” of it, and then focuses the rest of the conversation on the emotional side. Again, this is another really well-handled scene.
Back at McKinley, Emma and the Celibacy Club put on a thoroughly bizarre Osmond Family-style wholesome performance of “Afternoon Delight.” Emma seems to be the only one who doesn’t understand what the song is actually about. She thinks it’s about dessert. Carl insists that they see Holly for sex counseling. Emma tries, but admits to him that she’s still in love with Will. Carl walks out.
As the episode wraps up, Rachel takes over the Celibacy Club. Quinn (who’s still a member) has a hickey from fooling around with Finn. Holly has to leave the school again, but we’re left with the implication that she and Will may be able to start a relationship.
Does the episode go too far? I think that depends on the viewer. From an adult perspective, there’s nothing too terribly taboo about anything that happens here. The show is also about and presumably targeted at teenagers, who not only are able to handle the content, but probably need more of this kind of forthright handling of the topic. However, the problem is that the show’s musical content also unavoidably appeals to much younger children, and an episode like this may be too racy for them. As always, the responsibility must fall to parents to supervise what their children watch, and determine whether an episode like this is appropriate or not.
What bothers me more than the “controversy” aspect of the episode is the way that it dumbs down some of the characters for the sake of shoehorning in the lesson. Most of these kids have already had sex. (Quinn even had a baby!) Even the ones who haven’t ought to know a lot more about it by this age than the way they’re played here. And the gags about Emma being so painfully naïve that she doesn’t know what “Afternoon Delight” is about are just too ridiculous for an adult character, even one who’s supposed to be shy and virginal. Does she not watch television? It’s too common a problem among TV shows that characters seem to live in a vacuum, isolated from the information age we live in. That issue rears its head here, and I think this show ought to know better than that.