Thursday, 28 July 2011

Popular - In their sexist eyes, we couldn’t possibly have a rational calm lunch hour.

Popular: 1x14 Caged!

Rage-induced coma (obviously because I’m female and there wasn’t any chocolate to cool my temper); also please turn elsewhere (just for once, I promise this won’t happen again) if you feel very protective of Glee

I didn’t remember the particulars of this episode before returning to it for the re-watch; I recalled that it was important for the rest of the show because something shifts in the relationships between the main characters and secrets are revealed, but I’d forgotten the pretext for all of this. Then, on the first re-watch, I had to stop about twenty minutes into the episode because it made me so angry – and, for a couple of days, question why I chose Popular for the reviews in the first place. I sort of expected that this would happen eventually, considering my frustrating occasional rages at the decisions the writers of Glee make (which, since I am unable to voice them with even remotely as much consequence as other people do, and because I know that there are people who care deeply about that show, I usually keep to myself). 
I’ve gotten over it now. The thing is that the episode is actually quite good, if you completely ignore the middle part – Sam and Brooke have finally reached a sort of peaceful domesticity and decide that they would enjoy the same kind of tranquillity at school, if only their friends weren’t currently engaged in a war. “I think if we got them all in one room and communicated we could all be good friends, don’t you think?”, says Brooke, and for the sake of the show, let us pretend that this happens, and at the end, everybody sorts out their differences, wanders off to break bread – well, everyone but Nicole, who is finally revealed to have betrayed Brooke (arguably, this was provoked, considering some of the previous events) – “Nic, one more thing. I never wanna talk to you again.” ends the episode, and potentially begins a new era. 
If only there wasn’t the unfortunate in-between, and the most frustrating thing about the episode is that it literally acknowledges what it does wrong. Incidentally, all the female characters have magically managed to synchronize their menstrual cycles, and are now suffering from PMS together. Which, as PMS does to the entire female population of this planet, turns them all into horrendous irrational creatures comparable to fire ants, best locked away in a small room so as not to inconvenience or worse, freak out, the disconcerted male population. Now, I get that Popular is all about hyperbole and campy exaggeration, but it also usually has a wonderful way of using these techniques to deconstruct stereotypes and find hidden truths, which in this case, it doesn’t bother to do. Instead, it acknowledges that this whole idea is sexist… 
Brooke: Sam it seems to me that the boys are afraid of us because we are menstruation and therefore, in their sexist eyes, we couldn’t possibly have a rational calm lunch hour.
Sam: Well, then we’re just gonna have to prove them wrong.
Brooke: Yes, we will.
...and then plays right into it, turning Brooke and Sam into monsters fighting over whether Sam was allowed to borrow Brooke’s bracelet. Hey, these female characters may insist that they are rational creatures able to make decisions for themselves, but look how wrong they were, because their gross female hormones won’t let them! No wonder that they weren’t allowed to vote for so long and can’t run companies! 
Well, good thing that the sensible boys decide to sort it all out by locking them and their “let’s write down our darkest secrets for this feminist lit course on The Scarlet Letter” basket in the restroom! 
The secrets that are promptly revealed are: Lily questioned her sexuality, and Carmen, while turning out to be a fabulous and lovely friends in the flashback, is angry at her for revealing a secret that is also hers; Mary Cherry suffered the terrible effects of “Southerners with too much inbreeding” (“They call me quack”); Brooke made out with Josh after the dance but stopped herself when she realized that he took it too seriously, Sam “connected” with him afterwards. 
Sam:  I can’t do this with you. This is wrong, Josh. Look, I may not like Brooke sometimes, but she doesn’t deserve this, and neither do I.
Josh: I didn’t mean for things get out of hand, it’s been a rough night.
Sam: The truth of the matter is, I realize we don’t have a heck of a lot in common, do we?
Josh: So… what you’re saying is. It’s just…
Sam: Chemical. Yeah. And I want more than that. I think you do too.
Josh: Well, I can’t have what I want.
This is such an important moment of growth for Sam, buried in this episode; she admits that she probably only likes Josh because she used to like him, and for pretty shallow reasons, and she no longer wants to do things just to hurt Brooke. Finding out about this makes Brooke’s and Sam’s relationship stronger – Brooke thanks her for “not going over the line” afterwards. 
Carmen reveals that she is dating Josh, even though she still has severe self-esteem issues (U. U for unworthy). They connected in a Public Speaking Course, discovered that they apparently shared a lot of issues, and are now Instant! Soulmates! This connection with Josh also enables her to determine that Nic’s secret isn’t that she went shopping with Gwyneth Paltrow – Nicole slept with Josh after he broke up with Brooke. 
Nicole: I did it because I’m tired of being second place in your sweepstakes sweep all the time. I did it because for once it didn’t have to be all about Brookie. I’m not gonna apologize for stepping out of your shadow. And you know what else? It was good.
It’s a comfortable box to put Nicole in: the villain of the story, the one person to come out of that restroom not as a part of an unlikely shared cathartic experience between previous enemies, but as the one person whose secret revealed a betrayal. 
And now, let us never speak of this episode again.

Random notes: 

Mary Cherry: Let me just say, on the record, that I love the gays. 
Feminist lit teacher: Thanks Mary Cherry. We love you too. 

And from what I’ve seen on the internets, that’s totally accurate. 

Personally, I think Brooke would probably secretly want to make it with AJ. That was the rebellious Backstreet Boy, right? 

Mary Cherry: Lil’ Lily, I’d be glad to stop wearing anally electrocuted mink if only you would be so kind as to skin your legs and present them to me as a gift.

Lil’ Lily! I want to gather all those little cute things the episode does and put it into an episode I like more. Just like I want to airlift all those loveable characters from Glee into a different show, or rather, a different writers’ room (on the other hand, they just added Marti “BOOM UNHAPPINESS” Noxon, so maybe things will turn around next season). 

The flashback scene between Lily and Carmen, for example, was incredibly well-done: Lily is worried that Carmen isn’t going to be her friend anymore if she should realize that she’s gay, and Carmen convinces her that she will never be alone “when I’m around”. See, this show does friendships so well. I don’t really understand how something that has so much heart can, at the very same time, fuck up so badly.

Also, Brooke, after Lily’s secret is revealed: 

Brooke: I have to say I’ve thought about it.

Another good moment: Sam’s reaction to the revelation is to feel betrayed because her friends didn’t trust her enough to share. 

Sam: Boy, you guys have shared a lot lately haven’t you? I guess I wasn’t a good enough friend to talk to about something that informs your very identity. 
Lily: Sam, it’s not like you’ve been real available lately. Up until recently the Great Brooke War pretty much consumed all your time. 
Sam: I am really hurt, Lil. I am. 
Lily: How did this become about you? 
Sam: I feel betrayed, okay. I feel so…

The name of the girls’ restroom is THE NOVAK. I don’t really remember if that name is ever used again. 

Good continuity: Mary Cherry’s purse is bigger on the inside; so she is either a Time Lord, or Hermione Granger. She also has a little crush on “Joe”. I suppose one must be grateful there is one person that doesn’t want to sleep with Josh Ford.

If the tiny moment in the end when Harrison and Josh sort of reacted just as irrationally to being trapped in a closed space (WE WILL RUN OUT OF OXYGEN!!!!) was meant to put a twist on the whole “females are irrational when suffering from PMS” idea, it didn’t really work. 

Also, in a subplot, Bobbi Glass frees herself from an abusive relationship with a guy who has ties to an underground white slavery operation. Hey, remember that one time Dan Harmon thought war crimes committed during the Balkan Wars would make for a good joke? 

Obscure pop cultural reference: 

This doesn’t necessarily fit into the column but Carmen tells Lily that she “had no right to open [her] big fat trout mouth about it.” TROUT MOUTH. Also, I think Croutons popped up on Glee, right? 

Mary Cherry: Oh my god y’all, this is just like that movie Alive, where rational people abandoned in nature go mad from hunger and eat each other like lust-crazed cannibals. And my blood sugar’s plummeting by the minute!


Emma said...

Oh no! I can't believe you don't like this episode!! Well, actually, I can. :) They make some pretty unfair assertions about women in this episode, and in general I don't like it when people make "angry PMS-ing women" jokes.

But honestly, in spite of its grossly sexist and misogynistic standpoint, I still thought this episode was funny. That's not to say that I agree or think there's even a grain of truth in the idea that all women go bananas when Aunty Flow comes to town, but rather that sometimes exploiting a silly stereotype (that I'd hope most people know is false) for comedic purposes can be funny.

Anyway, I'm glad you made it through this review, and even more glad that you decided to review this series in the first place, considering how much you loathe this one!!

flame gun for the cute ones said...

I was so worried that someone would seriously challenge my view that the premise of this episode is flawed, because honestly, my immediate reaction was more emotional than an actual analysis of the argument made by Ryan Murphy (oh no, there I go, playing into the stereotype!). I felt pissed off because it is such a cliché that women are irrational. The script could have handled the idea so much better and actually de-constructed the idea, as Popular so often does with stereotypes, instead of playing into it. And, again, to be perfectly honest, I've had issues with Murphy's writing of female characters (especially on Glee) before so maybe I was just not willing to cut him some slack when it came to the episode. What irked me so much was that it was how it was framed: the male characters, completely freaked out by how animalistic their female friends suddenly acted, seeking the advice of a scientist and finding all their worst fears reaffirmed. I was wondering if I maybe judged the episode too harshly, afterwards, because I am usually really bad at expressing why I dislike something, but then I watched the next one, which in my opinion does an incredible job at tackling a similarly complex issue (objectification and sexual harassment) really, really well, without seeming misogynistic while doing so. It completely reaffirmed all my reasons for loving the show!
I think there was a lot of salvageable and important developments in the episode as well - especially considering that Nicole and Brooke's "break-up" is such a massive shift in the power dynamics of the show, and I think it's clear from the review that I liked the Carmen-Lily-Sam stuff as well - if only it had been in an episode I'd enjoy re-watching.
Oh, and thanks so much for reading and commenting on the reviews!! I really appreciate the feedback.

Julipy said...

I've been reading your reviews of the episodes and at this point I wonder... have you ever watched THIS episode with the cast/Ryan Murphy's commentary? You can find it in youtube. I thought you could find it interesting since you have there all kind of comments coming from Ryan Murphy himself (and the cast)

cathy leaves said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH. This is the greatest thing. I'm still not in love with the episode but it's good to know that they had loads of fun shooting it, and it's just really sweet to hear that the cast is still getting along well. Man I wish Leslie Grossman was in more great stuff (and it's so awesome to get Jamie Babbit's take on it!) What a great group of people.

Julipy said...

You're welcome! I'd love to hear more comments coming from the cast... but this is the only one I've found online (I don't know if there are more in the DVDs) The cast seem so nice and friendly! And their laughs during the whole episode just made my day.

And I totally agree with you about Leslie Grossman. That woman is a gold mine.

[I've heard she will have a role in the last show that Ryan Murphy has done. It's called "The new normal"]

cathy leaves said...

I just watched the first and only season of 10 Things I Hate About You and Leslie Grossman has a pretty great smaller role in it (and I don't know what I was expecting exactly but the show is surprisingly good!). I hope her new show is good; the fact that Allison Adler is on board as well gives me hope.
And I'm always so happy to see someone from the cast gets a good role. Christopher Gorham seems to be doing well, and Bryce Johnson as an evil cop on PLL always makes me cackle).