I often get sort of schadenfreude-y over Fox’s musical dramedy Glee, and I think for good reasons: Ryan Murphy and his coworkers have no commitment to treating characters with any sort of consistency, following up on plot twists from one episode to the next, or having a sense of what makes someone likable or actions despicable. But the Valentine’s Day episode highlights something I think the show does very well when it bothers to do it: capturing the way teenagers, especially young evangelicals, talk about religion.
The scene that initially convinced me that Glee could be a compelling show all the way back in the pilot was when main character Rachel Berry, then a boyfriendless misfit, tried to make connections by going to a meeting of McKinley High’s abstinence club. But she couldn’t keep up the charade, and busted out with a protest that there are girls who do want to have sex, that abstinence doesn’t make sense for everyone. It as a perfect meeting of teenage intention and teenage desire. And the show worked similarly well in grappling with Quinn’s pregnancy that first season: she was so wrapped up in her identity as a good Christian, that she concocted and held onto an elaborate lie about how she got pregnant to hang on to that identity.
Now, the show hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency about incorporating its characters’ faith in their decision-making processes ever since. But in this week’s episode, Glee returned to the fact that a bunch of its characters are religious, having Quinn, Mercedes, Sam, and Joe, who transfered to McKinley after being home-schooled get together to raise money for their club by doing singing Valentines. It’s a project that poses a dilemma for them when Santana asks if she can hire them to serenade Brittany. Their resulting discussion was both perfectly teenaged, but it had a real respect for the fact that the characters have ideas and things they have to figure out:
And the end result—an embrace of love, no matter who it’s between—also seems to me to be the rare case where the show’s plot needs and reality intersected. Young evangelicals are much more likely to support equal marriage rights than their older coreligionists. These conversations will happen, and they won’t always be easy. But I think with time, they’ll tend to come to the right conclusions. For once, Glee actually captured a whiff of the zeitgeist. It’s no accident that it achieved that nice little moment by taking its characters, and their ideas, seriously.