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Glee Watch: Going Gaga

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Spoilers for last night’s Glee coming up:

After a string of improved episodes, especially last week’s high point, “Dream On,” I was nervous about “Theatricality,” because it was another episode devoted to showcasing a particular artist. I know some fans vehemently disagree with me, but “The Power of Madonna” was an example of how Glee can go badly wrong by overindulging—letting Sue Sylvester take over the episode, for instance, and forcing the plot to serve the songs rather than vice versa. I was pleasantly surprised by “Theatricality,” with a couple of exceptions, and I’ll tell you why in quick hail-of bullets style:

* Unlike in “The Power of Madonna,” the Gaga songs left the actual story some room to breathe, and the choice of artist, supplemented by KISS, complemented a long-running Glee theme: embracing your freakiness, regardless of the costs. The requisite “Bad Romance” was just a straight performance, but the duet between Lea Michele and Idina Menzel on a balladized “Poker Face” was one of those Glee scenes that’s just so ludicrous, yet played with such straight emotion, that it worked. That “Poker Face” is, when you think about it, an entirely inappropriate song for a mother and daughter to duet on only made it work better, because Rachel and Shelby are exactly the characters you can see singing this song straight.

* The “f word” scene between Finn and Kurt was the sort of thing that could have come across very hamhanded and Very Special Episode-like, particularly with Burt Hummel’s speech. But it ended up moving and believable, particularly, I think, because the show has already established Burt as a good guy who nonetheless has had to work to overcome his own homophobia. (He admits, in front of his son, that he used the word “fag” as a teenager too: “We meant it exactly the way you meant it.. [as if] being gay is a punishable offense.”) And Mike O’Malley, as always, made me believe that Burt was not speaking out of some false enlightenment but out of a desire to protect his family and a struggle to do the right thing.

* But Cory Monteith deserves credit for the scene too. One thing I love about his performance, here and throughout Glee, is that he plays Finn as a kid, which of course he still is. He’s basically a good kid, but as his “faggy” outburst shows, he’s flawed and often overwhelmed. And while he has little to do during Burt’s lecture but react, his reactions are great: he’s scared and defensive, but shows Finn’s guilt at the same time.

* Now a few things that didn’t work for me: the subplots involving Tina’s sudden Goth fixation and the baby name were ridiculous and dispensible. (The latter seemed to be a case of inserting about 15 seconds of story to justify including KISS’s awesome “Beth,” which is almost but not quite justification.) And while the persecution of the Glee kids is well-established, the meathead jocks were clichés even by Glee’s standards.

* I didn’t miss Sue Sylvester the entire episode. This is not an insult to Jane Lynch, whom I’ll be glad to see back, but it’s good to see Glee show that it doesn’t need her to make a solid episode.

* I’m hardly the first to notice this, but I can really do without the Glee thing of repeating the title of the episode 50 times in the opening five minutes, just in case anyone missed the theme.

* Rachel’s reference to the piano player—”He’s always just around”—was maybe the funniest line of the season. When will he get his own lines?

* Given that I criticize Glee for forcing songs for the songs’ sake, I should admire its restraint—but was anyone surprised that they didn’t seize on the excuse to have Will rap this?: