Glee creator Ryan Murphy couldn't have better timing if he planned it this way from the start.
One week after he urged a boycott of Newsweek over a column suggesting gay men couldn't play straight roles, Murphy uncorks a Glee episode tonight that satirizes the piece's attitude as if he wrote it in an angry, caffeine-fueled haze the night after the magazine hit newsstands.
It's an episode that has been anticipated for months, starring Neil Patrick Harris as a longtime glee clubbing nemesis of teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), warped by frustrated performing ambitions into hiding his proclivities and leading a "show choir conversion group" to wean himself of his primal urges.
Directed by Joss Whedon, who featured Harris in the buzzed-about YouTube sensation Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, tonight's episode once again uses passion for show choir as a jokey stand-in for homosexuality, with stars such as Molly Shannon and Best in Show co-star John Michael Higgins struggling to shake off the urge to sing show tunes on stage.
"Whenever anything bad would happen, I'd just say, 'Let's put on a show,' " says Higgins as a recovering glee clubber named Russell. "Well, guess what? Puttin' on a show about your father's prostate cancer will actually just make him more depressed about the situation."
"Show choir kills," Harris' character says in support.
It's an old tactic: Substitute something silly for the subject you're really talking about, so the absurdity of the situation rings through.
Along the way, Murphy created a most elegant rebuttal to Newsweek's thesis, starring an actor whose career is mostly testament to how off base the column was in the first place: Doogie Howser himself.
Proudly out as a gay man off-screen, Harris plays a heterosexual on Glee cool enough to steal Mr. Schue's girlfriends in high school and twisted enough to land in a compromising position with resident villain Sue Sylvester, herself played by a gay woman (I can hear the gleeks squealing now over the irony).
Harris has played many straight guys through his career, from Amadeus' Mozart on stage to womanizer Barney Stinson on CBS's How I Met Your Mother — a fact glossed over by Newsweek writer Ramin Setoodeh, a gay theater critic who proclaimed in his April 26 column, "While it's OK for straight actors to play gay …it's rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse."
It's obvious the column is much more about how the author perceives gay actors playing straight — and by extension, how the public reacts — than what the actors are doing themselves. But even though Setoodeh has defended himself with those points, too much of his commentary is wrapped up in faulting Promises, Promises star Sean Hayes and Glee actor Jonathan Goff for failing to nail heterosexual roles.
Which is why Glee luminaries Kristin Chenoweth and Murphy swooped in to protest, with the producer comparing Setoodeh's thesis to saying black people could only play domestics.
But it turns out Murphy needn't have bothered — unless he wanted some free publicity. Because tonight's Glee episode provides a more potent rebuttal, wrapped in a giddy affirmation of just how cool it can be to follow your passions, regardless of the stereotypical boxes some folks want to stick you in.