"Glee" stripped down this week in an episode that highlighted nakedness (physical and emotional) of it's characters, plus provided fans with the utter eye candy of shirtless dudes in crazy costumes, a landscape of equal parts nostalgia and current pop hits, and realistic storylines that didn't make the viewer want to tear out his or her hair. There's not much to dislike about "Glee" right now.
In NYC, Rachel scores a part in a student film that requires a topless ballroom scene. As she internally debates her participation she's confronted by the specter of her old self, cardigan and tweed skirt wearing Rachel Berry. The two duet on Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," and in the end New Rachel wins out. Back at the apartment Kurt, enraged by a naked Brody who's barely concealed by a box of Rooster Os and a pile of bananas -- and who's simply moved in seemingly without his permission -- tells Rachel he can't believe she'd turn into "slutty Barbie" so quickly.
He calls in the cavalry, surprising Rachel with an intervention led by Quinn and Santana. Quinn makes her think about how she'll feel about it in 2 months or 2 years into the future, and Santana shows her how her sex tape leak still haunts her on the internet. Rachel still goes to the set, and even after making the crew get shirtless to feel comfortable, she can't go through with it and quits. As she exits the shoot she begins singing "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles, an adept choice since the song was Bareilles' reaction to her record label wanting a love song off her record. Quinn and Santana join in superfluously, but pleasantly, and as they finish Santana exposits that she could get used to New York City. Hmm, wonder what will happen in the coming weeks?
Back in Ohio, after Sam's vigorous investigation the charges against the Dalton Warblers prove legit and they are kicked out of the competition, allowing New Directions to move on to Regionals. Now they just need to raise enough money to get to Indianapolis and since they don't have Puck to spike their bake sale with Mary Jane, Tina proposes a Men of McKinley calendar to capitalize on their hot crop of male students and milk the girls of McKinley for their cash since they are, as Kitty points out, responsible for the consumer driven economy.
The only plus side to the Marley storyline right now is it revives Fondue for Two with Brittany and Lord Tubbington. In between bouts of cat psychic skills and burning her mouth with cheese, Marley admits she loves Jake but can't tell him. Britt encourages her to express her feelings. Spoiler alert, they're finally able to both admit their love to each other by the end of the episode. First she tries to admit it to Jake through dueting on Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years" but can't get the words out. Then, with Ryder's encouragement, Jake sings Ne-Yo's "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)" in front of the club but can't say the words outside the lyrics. Finally he manages to sign the completed Men of McKinley calendar and Marley responds likewise. This is all great for them, and while we don't even truly dislike Marley or Jake, the big L-word declaration plotline is coming a little fast for our tastes. How long did Klainers have to wait for the "I love you" moment? Slow your roll, Jarley.
The real star of the hour is Sam, who finds out he had the lowest SAT score in McKinley history (while Britt has the highest) and becomes obsessed with the idea that only his body and looks will get him ahead in life. He starts strutting around in school shirtless in the middle of winter, much to everyone's (mostly Blaine's) distraction, and kicks off intense training program for the boys to get ready for their shirtless scene as they sing a mashup of Nelly's "Hot In Herre" with J. Geils Band's "Centerfold." They engage in broga (bro yoga), get spray tans, work out by lifting Cheerios. The only person this is awkward for is Artie, who clearly doesn't want to be shirtless and feels strange to be left out of all the bro times. He confesses to this to Finn, who is is engaged in a random side war with Sue to prove her she actually did pose for Penthouse back in the day.
It's finally photo-shoot time and it's about as absurd and ridiculous as everyone expected. Tina may be a not-so-secret Blam shipper and pushes Blaine to jump in with Sam in his shoot. Sam has progress to full on ego maniac and as he rushes off to pump some last minute iron, Blaine follows after and tries to stop him from obsessing over his body. Sam admits that he thinks the only way he'll get attention and ahead in life is by his looks, which Blaine refutes. This season Chord Overstreet has stealthily positioned himself as a shining star of Glee (how could they even have dared almost lose him last year!?) with the best quips, and now the emotional chops are put to the test. He passes with flying colors.
To help Sam refocus, Blaine calls a meeting with Emma to highlight some colleges that don't require ACT or SAT scores. Sam's still not motivated to write his essays, not believing he has any accomplishments. Luckily Blaine's taped a short video essay for him with everyone giving a testimonial about everything Sam's done for his friends, family and the school to inspire him, reducing Sam to tears. Sam even gives up his buff obsession and ropes Artie into the shoot by posing with clothes on in solidarity.
After they sell their calendar the group breaks into Ian Axel's "The New Year," first as an homage to the song's actual video, then transitioning to the best of ‘Glee' group performance styles -- the loose and happy dance around the stage in pure joy-type numbers.
This week was naked "Glee" in more ways than one. On the surface the episode title was the juxtaposition of the idea of actual nudity of the characters (Rachel debating a topless film scene in New York, the various boys of McKinley going shirtless for a calendar) and the emotional nakedness of their reactions (the various insecurities of the McKinley boys about their bodies and their abilities) but what was really naked was this was a Glee without pretenses. For once, it wasn't much of a very special episode heavy-handedly teaching us about body acceptance (okay, some of the Rachel bits ventured there, but that's Rachel Berry for you) but a natural, unbridled Glee that was wacky and crazy and nonsensical as often as it was heartwarming and sweet. The kids dance and twirl and jump with each other and look forward to a bright new future.
Next week we diva out, but until then Glee's feeling pretty unencumbered and pretty darn great.