Monthly Archives: November 2010

God in Glee?

How old is this guy again?

A few weeks ago, FOX aired an episode of Glee called “Grilled Cheesus”.  Now, before you stop reading, hear me out, because I know there are a lot of Glee haters out there.  I’ll admit it, the show can be incredibly stupid, and the liberal anti-establishment part of me hates that I’m watching a massively popular show, on FOX nonetheless, that includes almost entirely covers of pop music.  But regardless of the rest of the show, “Grilled Cheesus” is the best religion-themed episode I’ve ever seen, and shows that Glee isn’t afraid to push the limits and throw out taboos, despite its mainstream appeal.

The episode starts out in typical Glee fashion when the increasingly obnoxious Finn sees the face of Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich.  He decides to pray to his sandwich (though not before he eats half of it), asking for a win in his upcoming football game.  And if this act wasn’t irritating enough, he then tries to convince his glee club to start singing songs about Jesus because his prayer to half of a grilled cheese sandwich got “answered”.  What begins as a silly and shallow depiction of religion, however, soon becomes serious and emotional when Kurt’s dad has a heart attack and enters a coma that he may not come out of.  Kurt, who is openly gay and professes his atheism at the beginning of the episode, is emotionally devastated, and frustrated by the attempts of his friends to use religion to comfort and him and help his dad.  This becomes the central conflict of the episode; the almost entirely religious glee clubbers want to pray for and comfort Kurt (through song of course!) but because Kurt does not believe in God, he sees this not as a favor, but as an attack on his beliefs.

The rest of the episode becomes a sort of power struggle between the atheists, Kurt and Sue, and the religious people, mainly Mercedes and Rachel, with Finn going through his own bizarre adolescent-like religious struggle.  Towards the end, though, we see the main characters experience transformations, and largely through beautiful songs, they show how they have changed.  I will not give too much away, because I think this episode is absolutely worth watching even for Glee haters, but what we realize by the end is that the relative “truthiness” of the respective religions is unimportant compared the pain and worry that Kurt goes through, and the importance of friendship and comfort in the face of it.

Religion is a topic that most television shows, especially comedies like Glee, try to avoid.  It is nearly impossible to discuss religion without insulting one group or another, and based on Hulu reviews, this episode was no different.  Most of the reviews were from either atheists or religious people who thought the show was attacking their particular belief.  Glee, however, has shown that it is not afraid to tackle taboo topics like sex, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, etc., so it was no surprise that it took on religion, despite the inevitable outcry from religious and nonreligious people alike.  Instead of making the episode about which religion is right though, it made the discussion about how people use religion in their lives.  Though Kurt sees the religion of his friends as a threat to his own beliefs, he soon realizes that all they are really trying to do is comfort him.  The episode is more about friendship, doubt, faith, and the way that people deal with emotional grief than religion itself.  In this way, it blew me away that a mainstream show on FOX, which just a week earlier did an episode about Britney Spears and sex riots, could so tactfully, yet so daringly, produce an episode not only about religion, but about the existence of God.  They managed to present reasonable arguments for both sides, and in the end taught a lesson that was neither an answer to the question of God nor a cop-out, but, in my opinion, a wise and constructive way to approach religion, not in terms of truth or faith, but in terms of how it affects people’s lives.  Whether you like Glee or not, you have to applaud it’s willingness to push boundaries, throw out taboos, and hit the tough topics head on.

Is NBC’s “The Event” Just Another “Lost”? I wish.

When “Lost” ended last year, I, along with millions of other people around the world, felt like a significant part of my life was gone. It wasn’t just the hour a week I spent watching the award-winning sci-fi drama.  It was the sometimes ridiculous obsession I had with the show, the hours thinking and talking about it with my roommate, the connections with the characters that felt so real I honestly missed them when they were gone.  Yes, I realize that I sound a little pathetic right now, but that is what Lost did to me; it took me away from reality and mesmerized me every week for 6 years (well, 2…thank God for Hulu).

Needless to say, after Lost was over, all the Losties of the world had to find a replacement show to fill that void.  Being a Hulu addict, I already had a list of candidates; “Flashforward” was my first attempt, but despite a fascinating idea for a show and movie-quality production, the characters were bland, and the story couldn’t last past the first season.  Next I tried “V”, and though it was not cancelled and was entertaining to watch, the story was pretty predictable (usually the case with remakes, for some reason) and it just didn’t capture my attention like Lost did.  I even tried going into different genres, starting up on shows like “Chuck”, “Glee”, and “Lie to Me”.  Though they are all superb, they were too different from Lost to be adequate replacements.  I wanted a suspenseful, philosophical, character-driven show, like Flashforward and V tried to be but couldn’t.

That’s when I saw the trailer for NBC’s new show, “The Event”.  An assassination plot.  A secret government facility.  A mysterious kidnapping.  Snapshots of seemingly random characters that come together and play a part in this monumental “event”.  Finally, this could be the show I was looking for.  This could fill the void left by Lost.  Based on the first two episodes, though, I am not optimistic about the show’s future.  Like Flashforward, the Event focuses on one, for lack of a better term, event, that is revealed in the pilot, and the rest of the show attempts to explain its origins, purpose, people responsible for it, and so on.  But also like Flashforward, the Event does not allow the audience to connect with its characters.  It relies on twist endings and overly-dramatized dialogue to draw in viewers, but leaves them stranded when it switches scenes before we can get to know more about who these people are and why they believe and act like they do.  I’m not asking for a detailed biography of every character, but for scenes that make me care about these people.  Jumping off a cliff to save a stranger and defending the rights of prisoners are both valiant acts, but not exceptionally unique for protagonists of a dramatic television show.

Though Lost’s last few seasons were filled with more than enough suspense, drama, twists, and supernatural events, many forget that it simply began with one doctor trying to help the survivors of a plane crash on a (semi)deserted island.  We were not drawn into Lost because we wanted to know why there was a polar bear on the island or what the mysterious monster was (though those questions kept the show interesting enough for six seasons), but because we were fascinated by the concept of a group of strangers being trapped on an island together, trying to survive without killing each other.  We did not learn anything concrete about the main characters in the pilot of Lost, but we were given a snapshot of each, and in this short period of time we became attached to them.  The problem with shows like Flashforward, V, and the Event is that they try to draw in viewers by putting too much action, suspense, and mystery in the pilot, but run out of steam half way through the first season.  They should learn from Lost and start with a simple yet interesting concept and characters that we want to learn more about, then move on to the sci-fi/mystery/suspense later.  I love unanswered questions as much as the next guy (I am a philosophy major after all), but I was a fan of Lost not for the questions, but for the characters.  If the Event can slow down and give me a reason to care about these people and what they’re doing, then I will be satisfied.  Until then, I’ll just have to keep searching for my next “Lost”.