Glee was back in the media spotlight this week thanks to a protest of Tuesday’s episode by the Parents Television Council. Titled “The First Time,” the episode dealt with two key characters and their goal to lose their virginity. This isn’t a new thing for teen characters on television or even for Glee, but what presumably added to the controversy was that the would-be boinking involved the show’s one male-male couple, Blaine (Darren Criss) and Kurt (Chris Colfer).
Anyone who tuned in expecting something salacious and over-the-top (which would be par for the Glee course) may have been disappointed, because the hour was restrained and thoughtful in a way the series rarely is (among its other virtues: Matthew Morrison barely appeared in it). Those who believe that the only proper depiction of teenage sexuality on television is “don’t” will not be pleased, but all in all, it was a night that the Glee and Fox brass can be proud of.
The framework for the plot was the upcoming McKinley High production of West Side Story, with Blaine and Rachel (Lea Michele) in the Tony and Maria roles. Director Artie (Kevin McHale) sensed a lack of believable passion in the actors, which he attributed to both of them being virgins and thus unable to relate to the longing in the lyrics. And thus, Rachel set out to sleep with boyfriend Finn (Cory Monteith), while Blaine broached the subject of taking things with Kurt to the physical level, even though the other partners had their own objections (Finn, for instance, isn’t happy about being used simply as a way for Rachel to get into character).
Many of the other student characters on Glee had already lost their virginities, and so added their two cents while weighing the pros and cons. As the musical premiered, both Blaine and Rachel were still virgins, but both of them were snuggled up with their respective sweeties as the hour ended, implying that both were taking care of their little problem even though everyone was still clothed and nothing graphic was happening. If the episode had been titled something else, it’s possible viewers wouldn’t even had known what was going on.
There were other little grace notes in the hour too. The gay bar Blaine and Kurt crashed wasn’t glamorous in the least, but that was the point – it was one of the first times it’s ever actually looked like Glee is set in a small Ohio city. That bar brought us an update on Kurt’s old tormentor Dave Karofsky, who isn’t ready to be out yet, but is at least not denying his sexuality to himself any more. And Monteith had one of his better scenes ever, as Finn erupted in frustration over his fears that he might not have the talent to get out of Lima, even as his girlfriend appears headed for greater things.
So the upshot is that an episode which by itself wasn’t in the least sensational ended up getting special attention because of a sensationalized protest. You’d think the lesson would have been learned by now.