Nooner in Song
Today's post title is an obscure pun for you Star Trek fans. You're welcome and/or I'm sorry.
Glee last week was in many ways not at its best but at its most — at its most gimmicky, at its most plot-oriented, at its most disposable, at its most thematic, at its most randy, at its most heartfelt, and, as the previous contradictions indicate, at its most all-over-the-place. Case in point: John Stamos on drums while the unlikely members of McKinkley High's celibacy club — Rachel, Quinn, Puck — joined their literally virginal, newlywed guidance counselor Miss Pillsbury to perform one of my favorite songs, Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight".
It's not "really" John Stamos, of course, in the sense that he's in character as Miss Pillsbury's hunky dentist husband. Putting him behind the drum kit was a nice wink to Stamos's fairly well-known, enjoyably random side career touring with The Beach Boys' band, however, with the fact that the episode aired during his mention as a replacement for Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men just a fortuitous bonus.
But you don't care about Stamos; not right now. You're reeling from my reference to "Afternoon Delight" as one of my favorite songs. You're worried about me.
What can I say? I really do like it. "Delight" was actually one of the first 45s that I ever bought — even more specifically, one of the second; as I wrote last month (see #8), Steve Martin's "King Tut" was probably the very first. I picked up "Afternoon Delight" and Paul McCartney & Wings' "Band on the Run" at, of all places, an indoor flea market at our synagogue. The haul that day also included the Signet reprint paperback Batman vs. The Joker, and I still have all three items; the singles were sleeveless, but, while used, the paperback's garish pink cover was intact.
You have to understand that, me being born in late 1970, the main soundtrack of my '70s was not Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith or, heck, Foreigner. Dad has never been much into music, and Mom's tastes were generally of the soft/folk-rock variety, James Taylor and Carole King and Judy Collins. So given Mom's preferences and my age, I didn't jam to anything harder than Billy Joel save for the slightly scary, almost sinister pseudo-psychedelic stuff that an older cousin of mine was into. Even my introduction to The Beatles came in the form of Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees (and, of all people, Steve Martin — and George Burns, and, well, actually, Aerosmith), although it was quickly followed up by the real thing.
Due to my childhood immersion in mellifluous mellowness, it's possible that my fondness for "Afternoon Delight" could be chalked up to simple nostalgia — yet it's not that simple. I don't love to hate it or hate to love it; I've had the song in my head for the past week, thanks to Glee, and that's fine with me. There are certainly hits from my early years, jacked into my brain through constant radio play, that I acknowledge are at best tackily enjoyable, say Helen Reddy's version of "Delta Dawn" or Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" or even The Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" (forever dear to my heart, if a bit of a letdown in Spanish, unlike Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" — but I totally digress). I like the soaring harmonies in "Afternoon Delight", and, unsurprisingly, the a cappella climax.
And (you probably — oh, poor choice of words, but too late — saw this coming), speaking of climaxes, no, of course I didn't realize as a kid that "Afternoon Delight" was about sneaking in some daytime boot-knocking. Like Miss Pillsbury and plenty of other television characters who've sung the song with innocent gusto in ironic if not downright inappropriate circumstances — none more inappropriate than some family duets in an infamous episode of Arrested Development — I just took it to be a snappy ditty about an awesome picnic. Not that "Delight" is a good song for the celibacy club if you get the big wink, of course, but I have no idea why Emma thought that it was the perfect song for the celibacy club if she wasn't aware of its sexual dimension, as opposed to any other song that's apparently not about doing it (or, more to the point, any song that's specifically about not doing it, like Jermaine Stewart's "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off"); then again, if you try to ascribe reasoning to events in Glee beyond creative fiat then your brain actually starts to boil in your skull.
Until Miss Pillsbury's chastity combo stepped onto the stage like some trippy, multiethnic Lawrence Welk roadshow, and before Stamos became part of the latest Access Hollywood gold mine, the big deal about last week's Glee was the return of Gwyneth Paltrow as Holly Holliday. I tend to like Paltrow, even as I understand to a certain degree why others are put off by her, but the first half of her encore appearance was underwhelming. The rendition of Joan Jett's take on "Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)" failed to compare to her performance of Cee-Lo Green's "Forget You" from last time, despite the clear attempt to recapture the magic through the same setting and cast participation; moreover, her contrapuntal end-of-song advice to the kids came out of nowhere and had none of the ironic force of the previous episode's anti-alcohol argument in the form of a bacchanalian production of Kesha's "Tik Tok". Wouldn't it have been more fun, more in tune with Holly's realistic views on teen sex, and potentially stirred up even more controversy for her to brainstorm a third option betwixt all the way and abstinence, putting the students in oversized "Frankie Say Relax" T-shirts?
The sweet second half of the episode, however, made up for the largely forgettable first in surprising fashion. While I didn't think that the Santana / Brittany relationship needed to be explored — indeed, until now I'd have told you that it was a huge mistake to poke at their portrayals as the sassy chick and dippy chick, respectively, who'll sleep with any guy in school yet whose own sapphic smoochy-time likely masked genuine feeling on the part of at least one of them to the potential heartbreak of the other — wouldn't you know it, the cast and creators got right in there and spectacularly blew the status quo wide open. Holly leading Santana and Brittany in an arrangement of The Dixie Chicks' cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" was almost as moving as the girls' tear-filled talk at Brittany's locker. I only hope that the repercussions of Santana's soul-baring are half as satisfying as the jolt of a journey was, but that's quite possibly a vain hope given the way the Emma Pillsbury / Will Schuester dynamic has progressed (or not) since their thrilling kiss during Season One. Further character development for Santana is now unavoidable (which doesn't ensure that we'll get it, as failing to address obvious plot avenues is the Glee brain trust's stock-in-trade), but any attempt to give Brittany more depth is a dangerous game; her deliriously stupid one-liners are a constant highlight, and she needs to be kept as much of a cipher a possible for the surface tension of their bizarreness to remain intact.
By far the shining moment of last week's episode, though, was the late scene between Kurt and his dad. Mike O'Malley's achingly pitch-perfect portrayal of Mr. Hummell as a conflicted but loving father, a guy's guy searching for just the right honest, almost-unbelievably articulate words in having "the talk" with his gay son — and, believably, finding them, as a good man rose to the occasion — is, and I mean no hyperbole, to be counted among the best-written, best-performed sequences in television history.
On that note... Glee resumes its run at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox tomorrow night with New Directions' return trip to regionals. Since reviewing the pilot many moons ago, I've had a comprehensive, increasingly outdated follow-up lying around that I really should dust off and publish, but honestly by now you've decided to try Glee or not and you enjoy it for what it is or don't. Me, I'm tickled by enough of the series' stylistic smorgasbord to stick with it, maddening as it can be; then again, I get all happy on the rare occasions when channel-surfing with the car stereo turns up "Afternoon Delight".