Last night's episode of Glee entitled "Naked" had only one job to do: focus on the plot of the episode (a gay boy/straight girl's dream of seeing nearly every guy on the show without a shirt) and present a juxtaposing subplot. However, Glee keeps tripping over itself in that, in its unwillingness to let past favorite characters go, it focuses on nearly every nuance of every character on the show. Instead of following two cohesive story-lines à la Friends or Seinfeld, Glee presents their more recent episodes with the fast-forward pace of their own recaps.
Case in point: each situation is afforded about two lines of dialogue to get us caught up. Because there are over ten different situations going on at any given time, this is enough to make you dizzy. The episode starts out by poking fun at itself in that The Warblers are found guilty of taking steroids, and one of the first questions a journalist asks the guilty Warbler is if he realizes that he looks way too old to be in high school. This is immediately followed up with a news anchor losing her head over the fact that this is what is considered "news" nowadays.
The downfall of the Warblers allows the New Directions a second shot at competing at Regionals. It's probably safe to say that the Warblers won't be at Regionals now, so who will be McKinley's fierce competition? Will it be Vocal Adrenaline again? The Warblers can often make any tune sound good, so their dismissal from the competition is a sad one indeed, especially when we recollect that New Directions countered their "Whistle" with "Gangnam Style."
Anyway, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) comes up with the idea of having the guys do a sexy calendar to raise money for the trip. Plus, she can use this opportunity to get Blaine (Darren Criss) her new crush, to pose topless. This and one subplot would have been sufficient enough to carry the episode. Optimally, we could have focused on the blossoming of Jake (Jacob Artist) and Marley's (Melissa Benoist) relationship, a coupling that deserves more time but is just as rushed as the rest. However, this is where we derail.
We foreshadow the end of the upcoming school year with the lovably dull Brittany (Heather Morris) getting a nearly perfect score on her SAT and rattling off a list of the entertaining school names that she believes she can now attend, while pretty-boy Sam (Chord Overstreet) gets the score we'd expect from Brittany. He decides to go to school topless the next day to show off his assets. Because it's television, and we have barely any time as it is for the material we need to cover, no authoritative figures scold him for this act.
Sam feels unnecessarily that he has to work too hard to maintain his good looks. He even spreads this thinking to the other dudes in the locker room when he convinces them to "manscape" and do "Broga" in an effort to get fit for the calendar. Blaine gives his new crush the best advice of the episode in that it's okay to skip a work-out every once in a while or splurge on a cheeseburger, as long as it doesn't become a habit, which is infinitely healthier than being obsessed with perfection.
Later, Blaine shows Sam an online video in which their peers contribute sweet nothings about Sam, helping to validate him as a good person. The writers jump at this opportunity for a Mercedes (Amber Riley) cameo, which could have just as easily included Puck (Mark Salling), but he was the only recurring character who was missing from this week's episode. Could this be a reason?
Sam is moved to tears when Finn (Cory Monteith) reminds him of the good he has done for his family, particularly last year when they were homeless. Hopefully, Blaine will still be around when Sam hits his 50s to remind him that while looks fade, a good personality will serve him well. You can't strip forever.
On the completely opposite end of that spectrum, the "men can have a poor body image, too" theme is addressed when Artie (Kevin McHale) vehemently opposes posing for the calendar. Artie's initial worry is that he can't and doesn't want to show off his body because it is "broken." Finn counters this by offering Artie the option to pose seductively with pillows, but Artie is offended as this is "emasculating." Finn praises Artie for sticking to his guns and tells him he doesn't want to make Artie do anything he doesn't want to do.
Except, Artie does it anyway. Male viewers with these issues who felt empowered by Artie's stance were quickly disheartened, as Artie ends up posing simply because Sam asks him to and informs him that everyone else will wear clothes. Except, they don't. Most of the men on the calendar are in the same topless poses they were going to print anyway. While it was nice to see Artie's "I fit in" smile in his photos, Glee shot themselves in the foot on their own after-school special.
Rachel (Lea Michele) is, according to Kurt (Chris Colfer), becoming a "slutty Barbie". She agrees to go topless for a stinker of a student film, and she allows her hot boyfriend, Brody (Dean Geyer), to walk around the house stark naked in front of her gay roommate, which is simply unfair to Kurt (though his reaction to the situation was nothing short of hysterical). Rachel's inner battle of whether or not she should do a nude scene consists of her singing Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" with her high school self and while she may feel "torn", the song is wholly inappropriate, save for the fact that it mentions the word "naked" in an episode entitled "Naked." If anything, this gives us insight as to how some musicians sound better in the studio than on the stage by dubbing their own voice and singing along.
Did this dual-Rachel scenario strike anyone else as narcissism? Although, those in the know must have smirked when comparing Rachel's dilemma to that of the backlash Michele received over her G.Q. ads, despite being topless every night during her run on Broadway's "Spring Awakening." Quinn (Dianna Agron) and Santana (Naya Rivera) then show up in New York for an intervention when Kurt's advice doesn't work, but at least Glee pokes fun at this.
Sorry, Rachel, but as much as we love you here in the real world, it would be inconceivable to drop everything in the middle of the school year to convince you not to do a nude scene that you may or may not regret. Doesn't anyone on Glee own an iPhone? And where do these girls get all this money for airfare?
The "two/two/two rule" is good advice and, inevitably, they convince Rachel to stick to her values. This calls for a song, so Rachel joins up with Quinn and Santana after walking off the movie set to sing "Love Song" (Sara Bareilles), which has nothing to do with Rachel's experience, but it sounds pretty. Rachel's subplot was stretched so thin in an effort to use those particular songs that it was practically transparent, though Santana's presence is better explained when she makes the not so subtle remark that New York is a better fit for her than Kentucky.
Back to Jake and Marley. We check in on their relationship to find that they are having difficulty saying the "L" word. They, in true Glee fashion, express it with song. Marley lives vicariously through Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years", while Jake channels Kermit the Frog on Ne-Yo's "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)". Despite Jake's never actually saying the words, he writes them on the calendar that he signs for Marley. She vocalizes her sentiment, which lets Jake off easy.
There's yet another subplot in which Sue (Jane Lynch) believes that the calendar shoot is "too sexy" and tries to stop it. Finn, however, heads her up at the pass by bluffing with a copy of her own Penthouse magazine, which turns out to be a copy of Highlights, though he gets her to admit everything on tape. She declares Finn a worthy adversary, which serves as the final piece in the "Finn as a replacement for Mr. Schu (Matthew Morrison)" puzzle.
The episode ends with Ian Axel's "This is the New Year" which does not add anything to the episode whatsoever and feels like it was a last minute decision to tack on at the end. It makes for a cute music video, but it has no poignancy. This is disappointing when you consider how well the ensemble songs have worked in the past ("Sing", "Dog Days are Over", "The Scientist").
Two words: Jake and Marley. These two make simple, amazing music together. Their relationship is pure bubblegum, and they have such great chemistry on screen that one wonders if they may go the real-life-relationship way of Monteith and Michele. Imagine if these two did "Falling Slowly" (Once)? Swoon-fest!
Worst Song of the Episode: "Centerfold/Hot in Herre"
If you recognized the first few notes of Nelly's "Hot in Herre" and chuckled, you were probably pleased to see that while it is dated, it worked and was a delightful kind of cheese. This cover would have stood well alone. However, pairing it up with J. Geils Band's "Centerfold" for a mash-up made it a crap-fest. Who would have ever thought to put these two songs together, and why? Though, Jake's humorous reaction to spray-tanning made sitting through it a touch more bearable.
Best Quotes of the Episode
Sam: "I'm going to have to sell more semen."
Kitty: "Twilight is poop on paper."