For a show that is built on the humor that comes from seeing the stereotypes of high school lovingly spoofed, Glee has shown that in addition to that sense of humor, it has a wonderfully big heart. After the debacle that was the Britney Spears-themed episode, there was a little bit of respect lost for a show that has otherwise been satisfying, but with the newest episode, “Grilled Cheesus,” that respect was not only restored, but it increased tenfold. Shows that dare to tackle religious and spiritual issues tend to only half succeed, and often end up becoming either overly preachy, or overly critical of religion and spirituality.
While the title of the episode is garnered from the plotline surrounding Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) and the grilled cheese into which he is convinced Jesus’ image has been burned, the episode’s heart is found in the plotline surrounding Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) and his father Burt (Mike O’Malley). It is as a result of the tragedy that befalls the Hummel men that Kurt’s lack of religious or spiritual faith is revealed and his fellow Glee clubbers rally around him despite it all. Colfer’s performance is one of the best that he has given, and O’Malley, although “unconscious” for most of the episode, is a marvel.
Most people would recognize O’Malley from his more comic turns as the everyman, laid-back husband in Yes, Dear and perhaps even as the lovably ordinary man in love with Heather Locklear in The Perfect Man, but there is no denying that he has a quality about him that makes him one of the most genuine characters on the show, and his Burt is someone to whom everyone can relate in some way. His scenes with Colfer – not only in this episode, but every one of them in which he appears – are so realistic and compelling that one can’t help but watch when he’s on screen. He’s just an ordinary man facing the challenge of raising a precocious son on his own, and who’s doing the best he can to be a good father.
For as funny as O’Malley can be, his dramatic turns are equally impressive, and this episode is no exception. As upsetting as Burt’s misfortune was, it allowed for different sides of every single one of the other characters to be seen, and it delivered a strong, solid, heart-wrenching, and relatable storyline to the episode.
Not to mention, it ultimately allowed audiences to get more Mercedes (Amber Riley), and considering Riley’s soulful voice and incredible range, it was wonderful. Riley, recently, has been possibly one of the most underutilized of the “main” Glee kids, and it’s a sin. But having her featured in this episode makes up for her having been all-but-invisible during Britneyfest ’10, and her interactions with Colfer’s Kurt were understated but effective. Not once did it feel like Mercedes was trying to push religion on Kurt, but more that she was just trying to help him find faith in something, anything, even if it was his friends’ love for him. She didn’t push her religion because she felt it was “right,” and she didn’t berate him for not sharing her beliefs.
Quinn (Dianna Agron) walked that tightrope for a brief second during her outburst in rehearsal, which further lent authenticity to the atmosphere, but fortunately didn’t turn into a Bible-thumping Catholic. Furthermore, Mark Salling’s Puck and Lea Michele’s Rachel piped up when it came to Judaism, and although Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Brittany (Heather Morris), Santana (Naya Rivera), Artie (Kevin McHale), and Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.) never committed to one particular religion or set of beliefs, they all managed to convey varying levels of faith and spirituality. As for the adults, Will (Matthew Morrison) and Emma (Jayma Mays) weren’t all that visible, but Sue (Jane Lynch) was given yet another few moments of wonderful vulnerability that displayed both Lynch’s range as an actress, and Sue’s deeply-hidden capacity to love.
But the episode truly belonged to Colfer. His rendition of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was unlike any version that has come before it, and Kurt’s soul was laid out for all to see in every instance that he spoke, moved, or looked at someone. His ultimate realization that “sacred” doesn’t have to mean religious or holy in the most common sense of the word, but that it can mean something that is loved with one’s whole heart, is a revelation that all can relate to.
It’s undeniable that Glee hit a high note with this episode, and if the rest of this season’s episodes can follow in its mold, it might just turn out to be a brilliant season after all.