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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is this year’s “Doctor Who” Christmas special “A Christmas Carol.”

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Merry Christmas, Whoniverse! Ever since the BBC’s flagship science-fiction program Doctor Who was brought back to our televisions in 2005, there’s been a special episode aired at Christmastime to tide audiences over between the regular seasons that are shown in the spring. While the previous offerings have been fine adventures in their own right, most have had only the trappings of Christmas — snowy countrysides, robot Santas, and the occasional homicidal Christmas tree, but little else that would link their stories to the holiday. Last year’s two-parter, “The End of Time,” was a poignant farewell to lead actor David Tennant, but its tone was about as far from Christmas as could be. This year’s special, “A Christmas Carol,” is the first to feature Tennant’s successor Matt Smith in the lead role as the time-traveling alien Doctor, and the episode more than lives up to its name. It is a fantastic timey-wimey romp, and it is quintessentially Christmas.

The episode takes its name from the classic Christmas story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghostly visitors, but it offers a “Doctor Who” twist on the story, rather than a simple retelling. In fact, in a clever bit of writing, we are shown the Doctor getting his inspiration for how to deal with the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick by a chance mentioning of the phrase “a Christmas carol.” The context was unrelated to the original ghost story, but you can almost see the wheels turning in the Doctor’s head as he makes the connection. The Doctor met Charles Dickens himself several years ago in the episode “The Unquiet Dead” and professed himself to be a huge fan, so it’s of little surprise that when faced with a Scrooge he decides to reenact the tale. What follows, however, is a version of the classic story that only writer-producer Stephen Moffat could have come up with.

The Doctor is brought into the case by a crashing spaceship, which happens to be carrying his two companions, Mr. and Mrs. Amy Pond. Sardick is the only one who can save them, because only his device can part the clouds enough for the ship to stabilize. When he refuses, the Doctor decides that it is up to him to play the Ghost of Christmas Past to persuade Sardick to become a better person. Although it is not often recognized as such, the original short story was a time-travel adventure — the ghosts take Scrooge into the past to see his former self, and then into the future to see where his present path is leading. In Moffat’s version, however, the time-travel is even more blatant: facing rejection by Sardick in the present day, the Doctor travels back into the man’s past alone and sets about trying to make things right back then. In the present, Sardick is watching a recording of his past self, and so is able to witness both internally and externally as his memories change.

In truth, this bit had the potential to be incredibly creepy, but it was played just right by the “Doctor Who” team. Sardick is startled by the Doctor’s presence in the recording and by the new memories that start flooding in, but he never appears to be scared or violated by them. This is good, for what the Doctor is attempting is a much riskier venture than any we’ve seen before. By stepping in and attempting to willfully mold a person’s entire life history, the Doctor is flirting with the kind of dangers that his Ninth incarnation let loose in the 2005 episode “Father’s Day”, in addition to risking the arrogance of the Time Lord Victorious last seen in 2009’s “The Waters of Mars.” Luckily, Sardick never seems angry at what the Doctor is doing to his life — just exasperated and wishing he had time to sort out which memories are which.

The visits from the Doctor’s Ghost of Christmas Past begin to mollify Kazran Sardick in the present, mostly due to the beautiful Abigail whom the Doctor finds frozen in Sardick’s father’s vaults. Abigail, however, is harboring a secret illness, and although she has had the night of her life many times over with the Doctor and young Sardick, she must eventually be frozen away forever after letting a now lovestruck Sardick know she has but one day left to live. When the Doctor returns to the present day, it is to find a less bitter Sardick who recognizes him as a friend — but one hardened by the loss of his beloved Abigail, and still unwilling to part the skies.

The Doctor’s companions are woefully underused in this story, being primarily stuck on a crashing starship for the majority of the episode. Amy Pond, however, oversees the next step of the Doctor’s Christmas plan, which is to show Sardick up-close and personally the four thousand people in space he is condemning to death. Unfortunately, the caroling holograms she projects do little to sway his mind.

As it turns out, however, Amy’s brief appearance as the Ghost of Christmas Present seems to have been only a distraction for Sardick while the Doctor readied the final apparition. Sardick, perhaps familiar with the original tale, asks bitterly if the Doctor has come to show him a lonely grave as the final ghost showed Scrooge. As it turns out, however, Sardick himself is the terrifying future he faces, as the Doctor has brought forward in time the miser’s horrified younger self. Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Sardick is masterful throughout the entire episode, but in this scene between him and his former self, the actor’s emotion is simply incredible. This, for me, is where the story ends. When Kazran realizes the kind of man he has become (and is brought face-to-face with the kind of man he wanted to be), he breaks down and cries into his younger self’s shoulders. When he stands back up, it is clear that he has rededicated himself and will help the spaceship land.

Of course, the episode doesn’t end there, and some more fancy footwork is required until the day has been saved for real. The most important aspect of this last part is that Abigail must be woken up for her final day to sing to a flying shark – a piece of storytelling that was charming, odd, and unexpectedly integral to the plot. Kazran, Abigail, and everyone else know that Abigail is going to pass away after this last day, because apparently future health care practitioners are good enough to put an exact count on this sort of thing. Not even the Doctor can do anything to help the young woman – but as he reminds Amy, “Everything’s got to end sometime, otherwise nothing would ever get started.” Amy, who has a tendency to take her time with the Doctor for granted, seemed rather unsettled by this line, which I thought was a good note to end the episode on.

All in all, I think the Christmas special was a hit. Fans of the show may notice that under Stephen Moffat, the Doctor’s adventures are getting more “timey-wimey” — aka, relying more on time-travel as an actual plot element rather than just a framing device that gets our characters to the start of an adventure and takes them away at the end. This current Doctor, whose previous incarnations frequently claimed to not be able to leave a timeline once they’d become part of events, seems to not be bound by such rules. Instead, time-traveling jaunts back and forth in Kazran’s life (along with the occasional side trip to visit the pyramids or Marilyn Monroe) seem perfectly acceptable. There’s a danger in this, both for the accompanying arrogance of the Doctor’s character and for the storylines which no longer are possible if the Doctor feels free to hop in his TARDIS and go anywhere at any time. In previous adventures, Moffat has portrayed the Doctor as perpetually out-of-sync, regularly missing appointments with Madame de Pompadour and Amy herself due to overshooting his arrival in the time-traveling TARDIS. It’s hard to imagine the Doctor of “A Christmas Carol,” with his propensity to hop back in the blue box to try something different, ever being so out-of-sync again.

But this lovely program is entering its forty-eighth year, and I am well aware that plotlines and characters evolve — or all the best ones do, at least. If the madman in a box is becoming even madder, I for one am excited to see where that leads. And if the preview for series six that aired at the end of the Christmas special is anything to go on, the Doctor’s adventures from here on out will be mad indeed. Geronimo!

Joe Kessler

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I never like when this happens. I love “Doctor Who,” I really do, but sometimes an episode is simply just too bad or questionable or full of holes that I have to become — wait for it — miserly. This, unfortunately, was the case with this year’s Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.” Thankfully, I do feel less guilty about the review I’m about to write because of Joe’s nearly unequivocal endorsement above.

Don’t get me wrong; there were many things I enjoyed about “A Christmas Carol.” Amy and Rory dressed up as a policewoman and Roman centurion for honeymoon games, for example, which was amusing enough to raise a grin but sly enough to slip past young viewers. Plus, come on, we all knew what those handcuffs were going to be used for. I quite liked the smooth reference in Abigail’s song that “Silence will fall all around.” As an Arthur Darvill fan I was pleased to finally see his name in the opening credits, a place extremely deserved. Michael Gambon was exceptionally skilled in portraying a quasi-Scrooge, continuing a long and proud tradition of exceptional performances on the show. And of course it was beautifully designed and executed; each set, each shot and each costume was a triumph, especially considering the increasingly slashed show budgets.

There are equally nitpicky things I was not happy about, too. The Blinovitch Limitation Effect, for example, which was critical during “Father’s Day” but has apparently gone completely out the window now. How could it possibly be cost-effective to keep people frozen as collateral over long periods of time? Also, I hated basically everything about the fish, from their unnecessary part in the plot to the contradiction that the air is so full of water they can swim and yet everyone walks around dry as a bone. Of course, those are the kinds of things I’m willing to overlook. Unfortunately, “A Christmas Carol” had some rather major structural problems I simply cannot ignore.

I’m a big fan of timey-wimey shenanigans done well. See “Blink”; “The Big Bang”; River Song. But this was simply too unbelievable and too difficult to follow. A fast pace is part of “Doctor Who,” I know, but there was simply so much flying by me this time that I had to give up and simply focus on holding on for dear life. I was following it right up until the Doctor and Young Kazran began time traveling each Christmas Eve with Abigail. Why her over the other frozen people creepily taking up Sardick basement real estate? Was it simply because Old Kazran had referred to her as unimportant? Or did the Doctor hope for the outcome that would break the heart of Horny Kazran (as I refer to the kiss-happy middle incarnation)? Their love is also a little questionable. Although it seems nice on the surface, remember, to her he was 12 like three days ago. He certainly was handsome, but, come on, that’s a little much.

Furthermore, Amy and especially Rory were criminally underused. This hopefully won’t be a running problem through the series, but sometimes Rory gets rather shut out, and I’m desperate for more Rory time. Perhaps they could even do one from Rory’s point of view, where he feels a little left out and then has his own little side adventure or something. I know, I know, “Buffy” has done it before, but frankly “Doctor Who” could do it even better.

I could go on and on, but in the Christmas spirit I’ve decided to let my point lie. I had some problems with the episode’s format, that’s clear enough, and its incoherence interfered with enjoying the episode. But it’s Christmastime, and I shall forgive “Doctor Who” its problems and plot holes. With the new year coming up, I’d rather focus on the fabulous looking sixth series. Here’s to 2011!

Alex Guillén

“It’s the creepiest Christmas song,” one of my co-workers said.

“Kind of date rape-y,” another added.

Of course, they were talking about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the 1944 Frank Loesser duet that’s technically not a Christmas song but still is popular during the season. Coincidentally, it’s long been one of my favorites, with a relaxed cadence and impressive scheme — especially in a time of increasingly poppy tunes, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and its numerous covers have remained rather classy and stylish.

The song has, unfortunately, gotten a bad rap over the years, as my co-workers banter indicates. The root of that reputation lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of the lyrics; they were written in a different era, and more than 60 years later some parts of the song certainly could come across as overly sketchy. While understandable, this misinterpretation represents a tragic loss of the context of the song, alienating it not only from its own time but from ours as well. A closer reading and consideration of the lyrics, however, will provide an understanding and hopefully even an appreciation of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Well Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some music on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir – Mind if I move a little closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

C’mon baby

I simply must go – Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no – Ooh baby, it’s cold outside
This welcome has been – I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm – Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious – Man, your lips look so delicious
My brother will be there at the door – Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious – Gosh your lips look delicious
Well maybe just a half a drink more – Never such a blizzard before

I’ve got to go home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Your eyes are like starlight now
But don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Making my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that old out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside.

The premise of the song is simple enough: a young woman has been visiting a young man. It’s late in the evening in winter, approaching the time it would no long be socially acceptable for them to be alone. She laments the societal mores that would tarnish her image should she stay too late; he provides possible excuses for her to use with her family, including, of course, that it’s too cold outside to walk home.

Of course, that’s the PG version. The adult version is that they want to have sex, but of course rumors would profligate at “Easy A” levels. Or, possibly, they already have, because she asks for a comb, indicating her hair is mussed from a roll in the hay. Even still, the plot remains both sympathetic and endearing.

The modern interpretation, however, is somewhat different, and relies around the misinterpretation of a single line of lyrics. She agrees to another half-hour, and he pours them both drinks, as people in the ‘40s (and, to be honest, today) are wont. “Say, what’s in this drink?” she asks. Most people I know cite this line when questioning the intentions of the man, and at first glance it could be interpreted to indicate her drink was roofied. But the true meaning is more complicated: just as people do today, she is blaming conscious action on inebriation, providing an excuse, if not a very desirable one, for her advances. Yes, her advances. Both the man and the woman are interested in sex, something that maybe wasn’t explored on “Leave it to Beaver” but which did, in fact, occur.

What proves the plot is less skeevy than modern interpretation would hold? She spends much of the song worrying not about her actually stay over but rather her family’s reaction, including a worrying mother, a pacing father, a suspicious sister, a brother at the door and a maiden aunt with a vicious mind. “But don’t you see / … There’s bound to be talk tomorrow / … At least there will be plenty implied,” she tells the man. “I really can’t stay,” she says, and he replies, “Get over that old out,” as in excuse.

As an example, the below video, a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss from “Glee,” showcases the appropriate tone and delivery of the duet. Colfer, singing the female role, is obviously not scared or worried, as someone who was in a predatory situation would be; rather, he is coy, hinting at deeper desires contrasting with cultural acceptability.

Ultimately, of course, she bucks acceptability: “I ought to say no, no, no, sir / … At least I’m gonna say that I tried / … I really can’t stay / … Ahh, but it’s cold outside.” The final line is sung not back and forth, as the rest is, but rather together in harmony. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” isn’t about overpowering a woman or even really an inner conflict, but rather pushes away socially acceptable behavior in favor of personal desires. Unfortunately, that message has become muddled and somewhat lost to time. Ironically, never before has such a song been so reflective of society.

Photo via Flickr.

Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “A Very Glee Christmas.”

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Glee Christmas — another mixed bag. Is this show really as good as, or does it have the potential to be as good as, those first thirteen episodes (at least as I remember them)?

Artie and Brittany officially stole the sweetest couple crown from… well, no one, really. But that doesn’t make them less sweet! Brittany may be as dumb as a sack of hammers, but her stupidity compounded this week with her wide-eyed innocence (she still believes in Santa Claus — even if he’s black, or a woman, or a woman dressed in Grinch-gear) endeared her to me. Artie doesn’t want to ruin the Santa illusion, but the plan backfires when a mall-Santa promises that he’ll grant her wish: for Artie to walk. She also walks in on Sue tearing up the glee club’s tree and stealing the presents for the homeless. Brittany’s all dolled up as Cindy-Lou Who, acting out the classic scene from the animated Grinch. Pretty cheesy, and I wasn’t completely sold on it, but Brittany’s offering of a dollhouse was cute (“at least their dolls won’t be homeless”).

Coach Beiste (as Santa) tells Brittany she just won’t be able to give her her wish this year, and that what Brittany really needs this year is patience. Brittany may not even want to believe in Santa anymore, but she goes home to find an exoskeleton device called the ReWalk under her tree. It seems to have been procured by Coach Beiste (how did she afford it?), and provides a nice moment when Artie surprises the glee club by walking.

The Sue/Grinch story failed for me. Would Sue rig secret Santa so everyone would have to buy her gifts? Yes. Would the teachers reclaim everything when they figured it out? Probably. Would Sue steal all the presents back, after it was decided they should go to charity? Eh, I don’t think so. And she realized the error of her ways when all the Whos down in Whoville began to sing. Lazy, lazy writing. There’s no need to retread classic children’s cartoons. Sue returns the gifts by making her way into Will’s home with the glee kids, so he won’t have to be alone on during Christmas. Sue gifts him some hair clippers. Score.

Finn and Rachel continue to bore me. Finn is a pretty likeable character, and is totally in the right about breaking up with Rachel. Clearly he is going to have some trust issues. But Rachel is determined to win him back, it seems, by singing to him. Which means we get some more Rachel solos. Also this bothered me the whole episode, but you would think that in a glee club all about diversity and tolerance, there might have been a token attempt to recognize other religious holidays.

Oh, and Kurt and Blaine are shoehorned into the episode. Blaine needs help rehearsing for some community gig. “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The insertion into the story was somewhat clunky, but I liked this cover — even if it is the sketchiest holiday song of all time. This and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” were really the only numbers I enjoyed. So, par for the course really. Another theme episode, another middling to poor episode for the effort, with just a few bright spots.

More Artie and Brittany in the new year, please.

Alexandria Jackson

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“Glee” had its heart in the right place for last night’s Christmas special. The two main plots were each delightfully Christmassy, albeit somewhat unlikely to ever actually occur. But this is “Glee,” home of the grilled-cheese Jesus. Let’s take a look.

Sue rigs the faculty Secret Santa, so that everyone else ends up getting gifts for her. Schue figures it out, but Ms. Sylvester threatens to sue him if he tries to take the gifts back. He assumes she’s being unreasonable, and grabs the gifts to give to a charity for homeless kids. She responds by being even more unreasonable, dressing like the Grinch, and trashing the choir room. She’s spotted in the act by Brittany Pierce, who acts as an uncannily appropriate Cindy Lou Who to Sue Sylvester’s Grinch. Brittany, our naïve innocent, believes Sue’s claim that she’s Santa, there to fix a light on the tree.

This moment works very well, and ties Sue’s plotline nicely to the other main story of this episode: Brittany still believing in Santa Claus. This would be hard to believe of nearly any high schooler out there, but actress Heather Morris pulls off Brittany’s earnestness beautifully. As usual, she is utterly convincing as the simpleminded cheerleader. The extent of Brittany’s cluelessness is of course highly unrealistic, and I was wondering along with Artie whether she was kidding when she first mentioned writing to Santa Claus. But I’m glad that she wasn’t. Kudos to the “Glee” writers as well — the ‘magic comb’ plot from last week’s episode was a good lead-in to Artie’s revelation about his girlfriend this week, and made the Santa business even more believable.

Because Brittany still believes, Artie decides that the glee kids need to take her to the mall so that she can see the big man herself. A ‘very tan’ Santa asks her what she wants for Christmas, and Brittany casually utters a heartbreaking request: make my boyfriend walk again. The mall Santa, not seeing Artie’s desperate gestures behind Brittany’s back, says that he’ll make sure it happens, and the kids are left facing the question of how to keep Brittany believing in Santa despite the impossibility of her request and the inevitability of a letdown on Christmas day.

Like I said: delightfully Christmassy. I liked the football guys convincing Coach Beiste to dress as Santa (to break the news as Brittany that her wish wouldn’t be coming true after all), and I thought Dot Jones gave one of her best performances yet in that Santa suit. What I loved, though, was the mysterious gift of a “ReWalk” that showed up under Brittany’s tree. It might have come from Beiste, or Artie, or Brittany’s parents… or maybe from Saint Nick himself. “Glee” didn’t try to answer the question, and I think that decision really made this episode shine.

Back at school, the rest of the New Directions sings “Welcome Christmas” from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and Sue’s heart grows three sizes or something. Anyway, she breaks into Schue’s apartment — she had a key made ages ago — along with the glee kids, and they decorate and put back all the presents Sue stole. It’s a nice touch, since various characters had commented throughout the episode how sad it was for Schue to be spending Christmas alone this year. Of course, character-wise, it doesn’t really make much sense for Sue… but I’ve almost given up on her character having any consistency from week to week.

There was way too much in this episode about Rachel and Finn, which ended with him breaking up with her for good… which I thought he already did last week. Anyway, Rachel (again) behaved terribly in this episode, continually pressuring Finn to get back together and refusing to give him the space he said that he needed. I tire of Rachel very easily these days, and I’m disappointed that the writers keep making her this pathetic. A better use of her character in a holiday special might have been to make her Judaism more than just a throwaway punchline. I know there aren’t a whole lot of Hannukah songs out there… but for an episode about the winter holidays that aired during the Jewish one, on a show with at least two main characters who are Jews, it feels sort of strange to make it all about Christmas.

You’ll noticed I haven’t mentioned the music. And the reason for that is… Eh. A Christmas carol is a Christmas carol, really. “Glee” did them adequately, but with the exception of Kurt and Blaine’s duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” none of the songs this episode were particularly memorable or noteworthy. I’m expecting the iTunes sales to drop this time around, although I suppose there is some novelty to be had in “You’re a Mean One, Sue the Grinch.” All in all, “A Very Glee Christmas” was a great Christmas special, but it was one carried more by the plot than the music.

Joe Kessler

Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy stand opposite each other in a crowd of bubbly, intoxicated socialites, brooding at one another while the band begins its next song. They gently take hands and flutter across the floor, weaving in and out of the people on either side of them, remarking on the size of the room and the number of people in it as their motions keep time with the lonely violin.

Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson tear into the gym floor in their prom duds, waving at friends and energetically slapping their thighs and clapping their hands as if they were born to hand jive. The room rocks with excitement as the couple gallops across the floor in a sea of rowdy teenagers.

The New Boyz jerk down an L.A. sidewalk with their crew at their heels; all are laughing and spinning and occasionally breakin’ it down for the camera. The group ends up in an abandoned warehouse, which is decorated for a bitchin’ rave, and proceeds to break-dance on the floor to cheers and applause.

This is the group dance. For centuries people have found confidence in the folly of others: a barn dance is only fun when you can hee-haw your way through rows of friends and neighbors; the electric slide pulls you and you, in turn, pull your innocent friend out to the center of the dance floor to cut into the next turn to the left; when you hear the “Macarena,” you ironically put your hands out in front of you, joining the Pavlovian party at your cousin’s wedding reception as they begin that moronic sequence of moves that was oh-so-popular in the mid-90s.

For a group dance to be successful, it must be simple enough for all to participate, yet challenging enough that one would need to practice at home in one’s bedroom at night in order to perfect it. Also, the dance cannot be so boring as to allow its participants to lose interest completely when performing it on the dance floor.

Unfortunately, this leaves little room for improvisation or creativity; it also means that most of the moves in the dance are going to be pretty dumb (hops, slides, turns, rocking front to back, etc.). You could crank dat better than Mr. Tell ’em himself, but you’ll still look like an idiot. The group dance is not meant to make you stand out from the crowd as the next contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance?”; you’re going to blend into the crowd like a polar bear in a snowstorm so no one will see you go left instead of right.

Since these dances don’t scream individuality, it’s a shame when, at a bar, the only songs people get really excited about are the ones that are accompanied by a pre-determined sequence of moves. The song starts playing and, once recognized, people forfeit their identities and slip into a mass of faceless participants who march to the same drum. Mindless and drooling, the zombies slide to the left … slide to the right … criss cross! … criss cross! And turn it out.

We fear our potential to be unique and when we step out onto the dance floor, comfort comes to those who teach others how to dougie instead of inventing their own dougie, or marty or jamie. I can imagine approaching the center of the room like stepping toward the edge of a cliff. The anxiety that comes with the fear that comes with the image in your head of you plummeting to your death, which, in this case, would be your social suicide. You see the choices and you pick the funky chicken.

When I was a young girl in northern Virginia, I used to shamelessly start dancing at parties and weddings, spinning around and giggling, not caring who was watching or laughing at me. Then, as I grew older, it was funnier to do “the lawnmower” or “the shopping cart.” You start it up and all your friends follow suit, mowing up the laminate under your feet on your invisible John Deere riding mowers. It was the day we discovered the shame that comes with our self expression that we stopped really dancing. We were ballerinas from birth, but somewhere along the way we lost the confidence to put on our tutus.

Picture via Flickr.

Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “Special Education.”

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Last night was all about capitalism vs. socialism, baby. That’s right: Glee-conomics. Okay, it wasn’t that nakedly fiduciary, but the undercurrents of those two antithetical models were clear and present between New Directions and the Warblers. At McKinley, the glee club is struggling to dredge up a twelfth member since Kurt left suddenly for Dalton last week. Schue calling on Puck was interesting, but it went fairly predictably when he proposed the other football jocks sign up. Did anyone really expect Karofsky to raise his hand — or rather, his jazz hand? Please. He does manage to convince AV Club president, and noted sex rioter, Lauren Zises to join, and although we didn’t hear her sing she was remarkably more animated than Jacob Ben Israel’s ill-informed four-second stint before regionals last season.

Emma sticks yet another idea worm in Schue’s ear — there’s too much focus on the “stars” of glee club and not enough on the other wildly talented members. Like, I guess, Mike Chang. Okay, whatever. As usual, he takes the idea and runs with it, turning the club, a competitive organization, into super-happy fun-time where everyone gets an equal role. This time, however, it doesn’t seem so bad on the surface. They really all are pretty talented; maybe it will work out. Equality, fraternity, all that jazz. This, of course, only enrages the already-boiling tensions flowing beneath the surface, and soon Tina alleges Brittany and Mike Chang are having an affair and Santana drops the news that she took Finn’s v-card last season. Why? Apparently, mostly to stick it to Rachel, because she gets all the lead parts. I don’t fully buy that simple explanation. Santana is more likely jealous that Rachel has a steady relationship with Finn. Is she jealous that it is Finn, or just that it’s anybody? She does seem to have a longtime thing for Puck. But Puck has a thing for Rachel. But Rachel has a thing for Finn. But Finn banged Santana. It’s last season’s Rachel-Finn-Quinn-Puck love quadrangle all over again, but with one new member. Will they ever escape it’s four-sided walls?

Kurt, meanwhile, is settling in at the Warblers, but not so well. His frankly hilarious joke about the coal mine was completely ignored by those stuffed shirts. This scene struck me as somewhat contrived. Here’s the paraphrased version.

“Anybody got any ideas for sectionals?”

“Yes, OMG, Duran Duran!”

“SHUT THE HELL UP NO0B!”

Okay, that last part was said much more nicely, but still, they solicited suggestions and then said, “We don’t want your suggestion.” Nice start, guys! Kurt takes it like a man, though, and as a reward they let him (and two others) audition for a sectionals solo. Kurt goes to none other than Rachel, where they share the first of two wildly touching scenes. Why didn’t they have more scenes like this before? Oh right, they hate each other because each sees the other as competition. Just to be clear, in real life they would be best friends — the spoiled diva and the flag-waving queen? BFFs. Sure, they would occasionally stab each other in the back, but what’s a little knife wound among friends?

She convinces him to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and it was quite well done. Bravo. It reminded me of the “Gravity” sing-off, which was really fantastic. Kurt and Rachel complement each other very well, and I wish they would pair off more often. Anyway, Kurt belts his heart out but Blaine tells him it was simply to ostentatious for the Warblers’ groupthink. Hold the phone. He just tried out for a solo — you know, the think where only one person sings — and it was too singular for them? I’ve heard of being inclusive, but really, that goes too far. It clearly doesn’t work for Kurt, and I think he’s fooling himself that it will in the future. Kurt thrives on a challenge, and assimilating into a big group is not his thing. Besides, as we’ve learned so far, Blaine gets the solos, okay?

So it’s off to sectionals, minus Emma, who — surprise! — got married in Vegas over the weekend. Carl seems like a nice guy, and of course John Stamos, like a fine wine, only gets better with age, but I can’t help but think that something is wrong with that. Perhaps its my inner Schue-Emma shipper, but that’s just too damn tragic, even as much as I’ve come to dislike Schue (well-performed big band croons notwithstanding). As usual, this world-shattering event is swept under the rug, and apparently will be a stronger plot point later.

Finally, sectionals! Rachel and Kurt share another impossibly good scene at the snack bar, where she reveals her deep frustrations with the glee club and he tells her he lost the audition (or whatever the lingo is). Seriously, Leah Michele and Chris Colfer were so incredibly natural chatting with each other I desperately want a spin-off reality show where they critique peoples’ clothes or something. There’s a deeper relationship there that has yet to be fully mined (Get it? Mined! It’s a reference!). The Hipsters sing first at sectionals, and they get props for their name and nothing else. They were so obviously created to provide a third leg to the whole McKinley-Dalton thing I wish they hadn’t even spent the screen time showing their song. Next is Dalton, with a surprisingly disappointing a cappella rendition of “Hey Soul Sister.” I love that song, so I was displeased with the poor quality. The music didn’t translate well into the a cappella medium, and Blaine’s menthol-cool voice and rug-cutting moves couldn’t rescue it. I’ll stick to the original Train, thank you. Kurt did look very awkward with the group’s fairly stilted routine, perhaps because he’s a show choir boy at heart stuck in an a cappella group. Similar, but not the same. Finally, Schue rallied the sullen troops with the public school version of “Pull it together, you jerks!” and New Directions came on with a competent if unremarkable rendition of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and another song I’d never heard of that served more to showcase Mike and Brittany’s dance moves than the singing. And, of course, ND and the Warblers tied. It was an outcome so obvious and so pedestrian I can’t decide whether to loathe it or merely be irritated. Compare to last year’s sectionals — fantastic renditions of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — and the mediocrity of this season’s competition becomes even more obvious.

Finally, Rachel forgives Finn for sleeping with Santana, because, I don’t know, maybe she realized a) it happened before they were together, b) she was with another guy who was only using her, and c) she lied to Finn about sleeping with Jesse. So, yeah, there’s all that. She rehashes her “being part of something special makes you special” line, and Finn whips out the adorable and responds, “Are we a part of something special? You and me?” Awwwww. She then proceeds to stomp on his heart when she reveals she nearly slept with Puck when she was mad at Finn — and only didn’t because he walked away! Before we get caught up in the Finchel business, let’s stop for one second and acknowledge that Puck walked away. Character growth, anyone? Back to Finchel. Finn is understandably hurt, and he walks away from her and the relationship. What did she think would happen? Besides, I suppose it’s better she told him now rather than bottling that one up inside. Maybe he’ll one day forgive her, and Finchel will be born anew. My guess is that won’t happen for a while, though. We concluded with another song that should have been a slam-dunk hit and instead came across as boring and uninspired. Nobody beats Mercedes R&B tones, and Tina is good in her own way, too, but their duet of “Dog Days Are Over” should really just be left to Florence + the Machine. It fell flat, much like this episode. Underwhelmed? Me too. I understand it’s difficult to write a convincing mid-season finale (although apparently there’s a Christmas episode next week), but last year’s was terrific, even despite the uncertainty of whether the series would be renewed past that point. Pull it together, “Glee” writers.

There was a subplot involving Artie and Brittany that was so boring I don’t even feel like recapping it here. Line of the night goes to Emma, who suggests to Rachel, “Maybe you should storm out.” Indeed. Although I know I’ll be back next week.

Alex Guillén

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It’s difficult for me to not compare “Special Education” to last year’s “Sectionals.” In the battle between the episodes, “Sectionals” comes out ahead by a mile. But on the whole, I enjoyed “Special Education.” Though of course, it wasn’t without its flaws.

After Emma’s commentary on the glee club’s formula being oh so precise, Mr. Schue decides to switch things up for sectionals. Sam and Quinn will be leads on the ballad, Brittany and Mike Chang will showcase their dance moves, and even Santana will get a solo over Rachel. Puck ends up recruiting/bribing wrestler Lauren to be the club’s twelfth member after Kurt’s departure. Santana reveals that she slept with Finn, and the club’s camaraderie starts to break down. Tina and Artie start thinking their respective partners are cheating on them. Rachel protests her demotion from the club’s star spot. The team heads off to sectionals in the least cohesive mood they’ve ever faced. That’s all… pretty typical, actually.

Things aren’t quite the fantasy land Kurt looked forward to at Dalton Academy and with the Warblers. (They give him an actual warbler as part of some fraternity tradition. I thought it was funny.) He’s not fitting in quite like he thought, and the Warblers aren’t as accepting or proud of his uniqueness as he expected. He auditions for a solo with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” — which brought about a laugh out loud moment for me, Blaine’s quick headshake as Kurt begins to raise his arms a la Evita. He doesn’t get the solo, and Blaine’s advice? Try not to stand out so much, there’s a reason for those uniforms.

Oh “Glee,” the mixed messages continue!

Rachel has a heart-to-heart with Kurt before sectionals, which I actually really enjoyed. Even though Rachel’s character was all over the place this episode, I think she and Kurt would really get along like this if they weren’t competing for leads. Her instructions from the crowd for Kurt to “Smile!” were cute.

It looks like things are heading for a meltdown in the green room once again for McKinley, but Mr. Schue comes in and shouts “enough!” — something he did a lot this episode — and tells the kids to get their asses on stage and just perform already. Sam and Quinn pull Rachel’s sing-up-the-aisle trick from last season’s corresponding episode, but I enjoyed their duet on “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Sometimes I don’t understand my reactions to Glee episodes. I enjoyed Sam and Quinn? Artie and Brittany were totally adorable and hilarious? Well the latter is true. Their relationship seemed like another piece of throwaway ridiculousness, but I actually think it’s pretty sweet. Brittany and Mike tore up the dancing on “Valerie” and I adore Santana’s voice.

This episode lacked the tension of last year’s “Sectionals,” and the song selection was more enjoyable last year. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is one of my favorites that the show has done. Anyway, we knew the glee club had to make it through (otherwise where could this season go), but as it happens they tie with the Warblers, so both teams head to regionals. Whoo.

Then come the reveals. “I have to tell you about my weekend,” says Emma to Will. “Carl took me to Vegas.” *displays wedding ring*

Rachel tells Finn that she made out with Puck while they were fighting. Finn is understandably upset. Not only did she cheat on him, just as Quinn did, but with the same guy! He breaks up with her. Rachel has no conception of the fact that her making out with Puck does not “cancel out” Finn sleeping with Santana (because THEY WERE NOT TOGETHER WHEN THAT HAPPENED). “You said you would never break up with me!” Rachel nearly sobs. Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you cheat on someone. Also, this is totally out of character for Rachel.

We get one final musical number, but it was pretty pointless. Also, the glee kids are unhealthily interested in Mr. Schue’s love life. Upon reflection at the end of writing this recap, this episode was nearly as formulaic as any other, but I still enjoyed it. Brittany got some one-liners, Santana was kind of bitchy, Emma was out of her depth when it came to being a counselor, Kurt is dealing with a lot of issues, Rachel needs to be a star, Puck decides to zero-in on being Jewish, etc etc. Somehow, it all worked. This time.

Alexandria Jackson

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This was clearly a feel-good episode, and I have to admit that it left me feeling good. Rachel is really a pathetic and immature young woman (as her plot this episode demonstrated), so I really enjoy when “Glee” takes an episode to showcase its other characters. It was nice to see Artie and Brittany’s relationship blossoming some, and Kurt’s storyline was surprisingly strong for mostly taking place away from McKinley High and its regular cast of characters.

One thing I have to object to about last night’s trip to sectionals is the way “Glee” plays fast and loose with its own rules. Take the competition itself. For something as well-organized as competitive show choir, there has been a disturbing lack of consistency between the sectionals of season one and season two. For one thing, there seems to have been some glee club gerrymandering between seasons, as a result of which McKinley is competing with two schools that were not in its section in 2009 — and there’s no sign of the old teams, either. Sectionals also apparently can result in two winning teams (out of three), which really makes me wonder as to why the level of eliminative competition exists in the first place. Speaking of pointless, this year’s co-winners, the Warblers, apparently held that solo competition for no reason at all, since they were going to give the lead in their sectionals piece to Blaine, who wasn’t one of the competitors. The Warblers and the Hipsters also only got to sing one number for the competition, whereas our Lima-based favorites were allowed to perform two – and sit in the audience for the other groups’ performances to boot. They also got to take home that first-place trophy, with apparently no argument from Kurt’s new squad.

“Glee” is an absurd show, and its plot developments often don’t carry much justification. One week Sue is the cheerleading coach, the next she’s principal and the next she’s taking an unexplained absence. But for a show with as much potential for subversive humor as “Glee,” the writers are really missing out on the chance to have its characters comment on the inconsistencies. Changing how things work is not inherently a problem for a TV show, but “Glee” would be much stronger if the show embraced its madness.

Back to this last episode, I really liked Kurt’s storyline amongst the Warblers. The canary molting was a neat parallel for him transferring schools, and I liked the gradual hints that this new place is not the perfect high school paradise (a teenage dream, if you will) that Kurt had been led to believe. My guess is that he’ll be transferring back at some point, which is kind of a shame given how McKinley-centric “Glee” always is. I would love for the show to have a regular competitor outside the school that an audience could still root for. For a while, I thought we were getting that with Blaine, but after a closer look at the Warblers this episode, I’m really surprised that someone like him is happy there. Despite him singing, “I can be myself now finally / In fact there’s nothing I can’t be” in his solo of “Hey Soul Sister,” it really seems like the other, more totalitarian Warblers wouldn’t care for that sort of free spirit. When Kurt transfers back to New Directions, I hope and expect he’ll take Blaine with him.

Finally, a word about lying: it’s definitely not as bad as cheating, and I think Finn was entirely in the right to dump Rachel when she did the latter. But it was interesting to see how hurt Rachel was over his lies, especially in comparison to what we saw of Artie and Brittany this episode. They don’t communicate very well either (partly due to her thinking adultery means acting like a dolt), and he definitely took advantage of her naiveté by lying about the comb — even the ditzy cheerleader noticed something isn’t right about letting your girlfriend unknowingly comb her hair with something you found on the ground. So in some sense, Artie and Finn were set up as parallels in this episode, which the show hasn’t done very often. While Rachel got upset and fled to Puck, though, Brittany smiled and called Artie the best boyfriend ever. I’m far from convinced that the writers set up this comparison on purpose, but I found it to be an interesting one.

Joe Kessler

Thanksgiving is over, and the pots and pans have been washed (I hope). If you’re feeling a little oversaturated with turkey and desserts, fear not; this recipe is easy and quick while remaining light and sweet.

1 small package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 small package butterscotch instant pudding mix
2 cups milk
1 can pumpkin
8 ounces (one container) fat-free Cool Whip
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix the pudding mix and milk throughly and allow to set for five minutes. Once firm, fold in pumpkin, Cool Whip and pumpkin pie spice.

Editor’s Note: The ACG Blog will be on Thanksgiving hiatus for the rest of the week. Enjoy your holiday!

Draught guidance: a kilt need underwear [via The Daily Telegraph]

Ach! The Scottish Tartans Authority — the top authority for Scottish tartans — has begun a campaign to stop kilted men from going commando, calling the practice “childish and unhygienic.” “The idea that you are not a real Scot unless you are bare under your kilt should be thrown into the same wastepaper basket as the idea that you’re not a real Scot unless you put salt on your porridge,” STA director Brian Wilton said. “People should not be browbeaten into believing that nonsense. Just because Highlanders wore nothing in the days before Y-fronts were invented doesn’t mean that we, in the 21st Century, should wear nothing too.” But don’t think everyone is against commando kilts. “The tradition of no underwear being worn was a stipulation of Scottish military regulation,” said Ian Chisholm, a spokesman for the Scottish Kilt Makers’ Association. “To say it is unhygienic is wrong. The freedom of movement is healthy. We always tell customers to wear nothing under the kilt if everything is in good working order.”

Album John Lennon signed for killer for sale [via The New York Post]

The album Beatles legend John Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman just hours before the disturbed Chapman murdered Lennon in New York is up for sale, and the asking price is $850,000. The record was found at the entrance to the Dakota, where Lennon was murdered, by a maintenance man, who turned it over to police as evidence. The album subsequently was turned over to autograph dealer Gary Zimet. “The album is the most extraordinary artifact in rock and roll history. It has Lennon’s signature on the cover and Chapman’s forensically enhanced finger prints on the sleeve. There are evidence markings from the NYPD,” Zimet said. “I originally sold it in 1999, but it has come back up for resale. The current owner doesn’t want to be named because he received death threats.”

Passenger chooses strip-down over pat-down [via MSNBC]

Just in time for the holiday travel crush, a San Diego man has taken the recent furor over invasive screening procedures at some airports to new levels by stripping to his underwear to show TSA agents he was not carrying any weapons. When the man, Samuel Wolanyk, refused to redress and submit to a proper pat-down screening, agents arrested him. “TSA needs to see that I’m not carrying any weapons, explosives, or other prohibited substances,” Wolanyk said in a statement. “I refuse to have images of my naked body viewed by perfect strangers, and having been felt up for the first time by TSA the week prior (I travel frequently) I was not willing to be molested again.”

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