A key plotline in this week's episode echoes an arc from the sitcom Ugly Betty. Why this is good news.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for both the May 10th episode of Glee and the final season of Ugly Betty.
On last night's episode of Glee, Kurt got a rude awakening: He realized his optimism that his classmates were becoming more accepting of his homosexuality was misguided. He attended his high school prom proudly with his date, Blaine, but his false hope came crashing down when it is announced that had been elected—with an overwhelming amount of write-in votes—Prom Queen.
It was one of those moments so jarringly heartbreaking that it makes a viewer catch their breath, Carrie 2011. Chris Colfer, the young actor who portrays Kurt, played the moment perfectly. Countless emotions pass on his face as he swings from "prom night euphoria" to "victim of cruelty." Kurt's glee club friends, who so ardently support him and fiercely defend him from bullying, surround him, and a camera pan of their reactions makes the scene even more devastating. Glee crafted the scene brilliantly. Is it because the show already had a road map?
The storyline and the way it was shot is extremely reminiscent of a moment in the final season of Ugly Betty, the ABC show that ran from 2006 to 2010. In an episode that aired in November 2009, Justin, a flamboyant teenager who marches unapologetically to his own drum—and is routinely bullied for it—attends his school's homecoming pep rally. Like Kurt was at prom, Justin is deliriously excited; he had helped choreograph the event's cheerleading routine and his family came to watch it. Justin thought he was fitting in, finally being accepted thanks to his cheerleading work. But, as with Kurt's plot, he was mistaken. The homecoming king and queen are crowned, and Justin is named queen.
The moment is filmed in very much the same way as last night's Glee. Played by Marc Indelicato, the look on Justin's face is crushing. To tug a little harder at the heart strings, he is flanked by his loving, equally hurt family—just as Kurt was in a crowd of New Directions members. When Kurt finally went to accept his crown, his big kiss-off line, "Eat your heart out, Kate Middleton," was very similar to Justin's quip: "I'd say off with your heads, but for some of you that might not matter."
Sure, there were differences between the two episodes. Before he puts on his brave face, Kurt flees to the hallway where he delivers a tearful, typically Glee-esque monologue to Blaine. In it, he carefully explains why what happened was hurtful, and the lesson of tolerance we should all learn from it—a hardly subtle, unnecessary (though well-acted) public service announcement that the Glee audience has come to expect. Ugly Betty's preachy moment came after the crowning, when, in a maudlin moment exemplary of what some think was the comedy's demise, Justin dedicates the crown to his hardworking mother. Of course, unlike Kurt, Justin was not yet out of the closet in that episode. That came later in the season, along with the teen's first gay kiss, first supportive boyfriend, and first coming out scenes to his family (on what series have we seen those plot lines again?).
That's not to say that Glee did anything wrong by recycling the Ugly Betty plot(s), or that the show even did so on purpose. To be sure, Betty was withering away to a slow, quiet cancellation at that point, bidding adieu to thousands of viewers each week. It is a big deal that a series as popular and as integral a part of the culture conversation as Glee tackled an issue like this head-on. We wrote in March how refreshing it was that two boys kissed on Glee without the din of controversy that historically accompanied such scenes. Now we're at a point were gay tolerance plot lines are becoming recurring themes across several series, maybe (and daresay) heading towards cliche. If anything, it's a welcome sign that there are multiple shows out there unafraid to address these issues—even if they borrow from each other.