Lulled into a sense of family-friendly excitement by the first installment of “Glee,” which Fox sent out like a tantalizing test balloon this summer, some parents subsequently expressed shock and concern over the overtly sexual nature of the show’s formal premiere. Which is a bit strange, considering that the show is on Fox, not the Disney Channel, airs at 9 p.m., not 8, and is about, you know, high school.
The episode three weeks ago included allusions to and/or discussions about premature ejaculation, accidental pregnancy, sexual betrayal and the general teen obsession with carnality. Which, OK, is a lot of edge for those hoping that “Glee” would turn out to be a slightly less golly-gee version of “High School Musical.” With better acting. And much better songs.
Subsequent episodes were not quite as out there, but clearly “Glee” has claimed frank sexuality as part of its domain. In this time of special-interest TV, when each family member has his or her own personal screen and each demographic its own network, it’s natural for parents to long for the golden age of the Family Hour, for that one show they can watch with their tweens without having to subject themselves to either bratty kids playing to a soul-brutalizing laugh track or the very real possibility that the skinned corpse of a prostitute will be turning up any minute now.
I’m here to argue that “Glee” may be just that show. Not in spite of the straight-on sexuality but because of it.
For those who claim to feel betrayed by the show’s sexiness, I have two words: “Pretty Woman.” Remember when the combined creamy loveliness of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts turned a streetwalking prostitute into the modern-day Cinderella and wound up the No. 1 pajama party rental of its time?
Or one word: “Twilight.” Peruse your Bram Stoker for a moment; vampires are the ultimate symbol of scary sexuality -- all that biting and shared bodily fluids, those uncontrollably fatal appetites that must be stilled or fatally sated. Premature ejaculation may be frustrating for all concerned, but the idea that the truest passion is the one that dances with death is a much deeper and more disturbing issue.
After watching the official premiere with the kids, some of us may have felt obligated to explain that, no, one cannot get pregnant without intercourse even if a Jacuzzi is involved. But the rest of the stuff -- that girls want sex as much as boys, that people can get overly excited when they kiss, that boys talk about sex a lot -- well, it’s true, isn’t it? More true than the “High School Musical” hypothesis that Troy and Gabriella would go through two years of couplehood without ever locking lips.
Part of “Glee’s” charm is its determined evocation of the big MGM musical, Judy and Mickey puttin’ on a show. But let’s not forget that many of those “kids” were hyped up on bennies at the time, or forced into fake studio romances, and teens and even tweens today know stuff like that. Kids know that Heath Ledger was great in “The Dark Knight” but died of an accidental drug overdose and that Lindsay Lohan, so cute in “The Parent Trap” and “Mean Girls,” has been in and out of rehab. They know the Jonas Brothers wear promise rings and what that means and that Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears had babies and what that means too.
Any tweens or teens who would find “Glee” enjoyable in the first place in all likelihood already know that high school students think and talk about sex and some of them actually have it. They watch “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” they watch “Family Guy.” (Oh, yes, they do, if not at your house then at a friend’s, if not on TV then YouTube.) And if they don’t, well, one of the most offensive pieces of television I’ve ever seen was an episode of “Drake and Josh” in which Drake sat down on an airplane between two young women previously unknown to him and within minutes was making out with both of them while Josh made fun of his overweight seatmates. And what child needs to be exposed to all the back talk from that irritating blond girl on “iCarly”?
“Glee” isn’t a network version of “High School Musical” or even a resurrected “Square Pegs.” The whole point of the first episode is that adults who deny the sexual impulses of teenagers do so at their own peril.
As Will (Matthew Morrison) lobbies for a harmless disco tune to introduce the Glee club to the school, he seems to have forgotten that disco, embodied at the time by John Travolta’s mating dance of a strut, was all about sex. That most modern music is all about sex. Because sex is the electric current that keeps us moving and makes us human. Sexual love is the closest many of us get to transcendence, which is why it occupies such a huge portion of art and literature and makes high school so difficult and delicious.
“Glee” is certainly no after-school special, no public service announcement, but if you’re going to watch television with your kids, instead of sending them off to another rerun of “The Suite Life” while you catch up on “Weeds,” then a show in which high school students are engaged in but still embarrassed by and alarmingly clueless about, sex seems like a perfect opportunity for a little intra-family values sharing. The writing is smart and, perhaps more important, human; the acting is good, and the whole musical comedy/social satire is so ambitious compared with most of what’s new on network television that it renews a person’s faith in the medium. .
Although how a high school teacher in this day and age could not realize that his wife’s belly bump, and entire pregnancy, is a fake is a question for another time. Obviously, he really has forgotten the meaning of disco.