Review: Glee: ‘The Power of Madonna’

This should have been the episode where Glee jumped the shark, at least commercially. Sure, they’ve been using popular music — the pop hits of the moment, for the most part — for the entirety of the first season, but executive producer Ryan Murphy and team have been careful to ensure that all of the music fits into the rhythm of the narrative. It’s what keeps Glee on the side of the inventive, rather than the contrived. But how — I wondered last week after seeing the ‘Next Time on Glee” promo — could they possibly do an entire episode about the music of Madonna and not have it feel contrived in some way.

The answer is to take the music of Madonna and translate it into an honest conversation about sexuality, equality and empowerment. And it starts with Glee‘s beacon of power, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). Here opening narration explains how her entire life has been impacted by the music of Madonna, and much of her strong, independent womanliness is derived from the persona of the world’s most famous lady pop star. This empowerment rubs off of Will Scheuster (Matthew Morrison), who looks to use Madonna’s power to sort out some of the sexual politics that plague the forward momentum of his glee club.

As any show set in a high school must at some point, eventually Glee was going to have to deal directly with the sexual pressures that face kids today. Of course, like any product of the Hollywood glam machine might, Glee gives us the view from 10,000 feet as opposed to putting boots on the ground. That doesn’t preclude the “Like a Virgin” montage involving three simultaneous couples — Schuester and the lovely Emma (Jayma Mayes), Rachel (Lea Michele) and her new beau Jesse (Jonathon Groff) and Finn (Cory Monteith) and the ulterior motives of Santana (Naya Rivera) — from being the most melodic pre-sex scene in contemporary television history. And it doesn’t stop it from delivering (in some moments with a hammer) a lesson about female independence and strength. But it does fit with Glee‘s songs-first, message second approach. It’s what makes this show fun without ever being broody. And even though the honesty about the sexual problems of modern teenagers is doused in the distraction of musical accompaniment, it is still honest. How do they do it, you might ask? These writers are smart — and again this week, even I am in awe.

Speaking of smart — how about the wit of Jane Lynch this week? No one writes dialog better for her than the folks who put hand to keyboard on Glee. “Nothing like Madonna to empower my Cheerios,” she explains to Will Schuester. “Just like your hair dresser has empowered you to look absolutely ridiculous.” No matter how many times she makes fun of that man’s hair, it will never get old. She even gets in what may be the line of the season, regarding the sensuality of Emma Pillsbury: “You have all the sensuality of those pandas down at the zoo, who refuse to mate.”

Add in one oddly placed, but funny Ann Coulter joke, throw in an off-hand comment about Sue’s parents being “famous Nazi hunters” and we’ve got ourselves another infectious episode of Glee. The only disappointment this week is that the Sue Sylvester “Vogue” video was released at the end of last week’s episode. That would have made a nice surprise in the middle of this week’s show. But alas, sometimes you can’t have your empowerment and eat your cake, too. Or something like that.

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Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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