Thursday, February 9, 2012
I can hardly describe how it felt when Max Blum finally kissed a boy onscreen. I know a lot of well-meaning people are patting themselves on the back for not making a big deal out of this, but how often do you see two men romantically kiss on television? It’s not a big deal for being ground-breaking, and it’s not not a big deal because we’re all comfortable with homosexuality. It’s almost a big deal just because more boys need to be kissing more boys on television, but Happy Endings has never felt gay-shy. No, this is a big deal just for being a beautiful piece of television.
It helps that nobody got short shrift. Or maybe everyone did, but the point is the network narrative got a chance to play with everyone before retiring them one by one to Max’s smelly, unlicensed limo. My biggest laugh goes to Alex propositioning the plainclothes cop, but really, everything Alex does is lovable nowadays. I know she had this goofy mania in season 1, but Elisha Cuthbert has found such a nice groove lately that she’s second only to Penny in the consistent laughs department. I don’t want to sell Brad short, though, if only for a musical sequence that could teach Glee a thing or two about highlighting performance. On top of which we got Penny’s abbreves, Dave’s anger-date, and Jane’s inability to handle surprise. But a funny thing happened on the way to wherever Max was driving. He accidentally stepped into his own story, and gradually he stopped being supporting and played lead.
It isn’t just that Max is having an onscreen romance finally, but that “The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre” went out of its way to make it special for him (and by extension us). Happy Endings will do that for any of its leads, but this time, for the first Valentine’s Day episode, it’s Max’s turn. First, out of nowhere, comes James Wolk as Grant. Have you seen that guy? He’s a live-action Disney prince, and for some reason, he’s only too happy to see Max again after breaking up with him a year ago (when Max double-booked Valentine’s Day with a pizza). But they go their separate ways for the group misery scene, where everyone’s spending a mostly disappointing Valentine’s Day in Max’s limo, until at the last minute Prince Charming texts Max, which is all the impetus Alex needs to fulfill her quest for St. Valentine. Before you know it, Max and Grant are surrounded by candles and going for a chariot ride to a fancy dinner as we listen to “More Than Words,” aka “two men playing acoustic guitar at each other,” and it’s Valentine’s Day and everyone’s pitching in so that Max and Grant, at least, can have a happy holiday. And then they kiss!
But not even the kiss is as reflective of Happy Endings’ ebullient humanity as the community, the way Penny offers up the scarf she bought her boyfriend and Jane offers up her Valentine’s dinner with Brad. And Alex leads the charge, just as she did last time Max truly liked a boy (and with the same anthem, “For love!”). As in “You’ve Got Male,” I felt something I don’t think I’ve felt watching television. I was seeing a grand, romantic gesture that spoke to me. I was seeing a gay fairy tale.
They even ride off into the night, as happily-ever-after as a weekly sitcom can get. I wasn’t responding to the kiss as a political act but as the climax of a cheesy fantasy. Sure, there are gay rom-coms and gay-specific networks, but remember what I said about community? Here’s a show aimed at everyone [young and rich], and they give the stirring romantic scene to the gay guy this time. It could have just as easily been Penny in that carriage with James Wolk, but no, this week is for Max, just as worthy of the rom-com silliness as everyone else. Modern Family is too cynical to pull that off. Smash so far is too schematic. Glee’s both, and even if it tried, it would go so far over the top that even your empathy would roll its eyes. Fairy tales on Revenge are more in the vein of defenestration and scorching iron shoes. Lost was all about love and couldn't find room for a gay relationship. But thanks to its grounded (or at least anchored) characterization, natural structure, and joyous spirit, Happy Endings nailed it.
Which is a long way of saying gay kids need fairy tales, too, if only to develop cripplingly unrealistic expectations. They deserve fantasy. Until Disney greenlights a modern twist on The Prince and the Pauper, Happy Endings is carrying the torch. It may not be a big deal that two guys kissed on television last night, but thankfully what Happy Endings did went way beyond that.