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Glee Watch: Origin Story

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FOX

Spoilers for last night’s Glee coming up:

Whether Glee is in the middle of a strong or shaky set of episodes, powerful or ridiculous storylines (or both at once), it usually manages to get things together for its regional/sectional competition episodes. It’s the opposite of what one might think, because the demands of those episodes—more and longer songs than usual, judges’ deliberations, the competition scenes themselves—might be likely to crowd out character stories. Instead, like a singer overcoming nerves, the moment usually seems to focus Glee, and while “Original Song” was not an all-time great, it was generally a solid episode that did well by a couple of ongoing relationship stories.

The key word, maybe, is “couple”; by concentrating largely on Kurt/Blaine and Rachel/Finn, the episode was able to sync the business of preparing for regionals while exploring the dynamics in those relationships, without too much distracting jumping around. (There was some reference, say, to the continuing Santana-Brittany fallout, but mostly the supporting players stayed in the background, stepping in for comic relief with their original songs.)

One thing I liked about the Kurt/Blaine/Warblers section was how Glee took one of the show’s foibles—finding non sequitur excuses for Darren Criss to sing solos—and turned it into a plot point: why is Blaine singing so damn many solos? That set up the mechanical device of having him solo with Kurt—with the blessing of the other Warblers, evidently the most self-sacrificing teens in Ohio—that was then set up to turn to romance once Pavarotti the canary generously yielded up his little birdy life and made Blaine “see” what was right in front of him.

I have to hand it to Glee for that one: at first it seemed like a big contrivance to expect us to believe that Kurt had a deep emotional attachment to a mascot-bird that he hadn’t seemed especially connected to before. But in retrospect, that losing the bird triggered other feelings of loss in him, especially for his mother, made sense even as I didn’t see it coming. And Chris Colfer unsurprisingly sold the emotion in the moment with a gorgeous read of “Blackbird”—a song that, technically, was both too literal and not literal enough, but it’s not like he was going to sing “Canary in a Coal Mine.”

As for the at-long-last kiss, it’s to Glee’s credit that it made me think, “Finally, Blaine and Kurt are locking lips already!” before it made me think, “Look, an honest-to-God gay kiss, between two men, on my primetime TV show!” (That said, I could have done without the callback, through Kathy Griffin’s Tea Party character, that “Gay is not OK,” which felt too self-congratulatory, and needlessly so.)

Rachel’s story with Finn, meanwhile, was combined with the meta-story of finally introducing original songwriting to Glee. It’s an experiment that I wouldn’t want to see Glee do too often, not because of the quality of the music—not especially distinguished pop songs, but I’d rather listen to them than, say, another Maroon 5 song—but because there’s a point to Glee being a jukebox musical. It works for this show to have it work in the collage medium, cobbling and manipulating source-material emotion found in songs from the radio into a soundtrack, much the same way that actual teenagers do in their lives.

That said, I like the arc of Rachel-as-songwriter, which has played to some of Lea Michele’s greatest strengths both as a comic and dramatic actress. (Brilliant, brilliant perofromance and reaction scene early between Rachel and Finn: “It’s called Only Child.” “Yeah, I got that! It’s better than ‘Headband,’ that’s for sure.”) I don’t think I could buy the idea of every character on Glee writing their own successful music, let alone every week, but I do believe that Rachel has the drive, musical obsession and inner diva to force it out of her. If I’m not exactly going to go out and download “Get It Right” today, I bought the emotion much better than I expected I would. And “nice meta-touch with the glitter-slushies on “Loser Like Me.”

As for New Directions’ win: well, we knew Nationals were on the horizon, so I’m not exactly shocked. And there were no real “Bohemian Rhapsody” goosebump moments. But the good was good enough that I’ll reserve what I didn’t like for the hail of bullets:

* …starting with Kathy Griffin as a character who was about 2/3 Christine O’Donnell and 1/3 Sarah Palin. Glee can be sharp and topical enough that I thought it could actually do something clever with the much-publicized cameo. Instead, the performance hinged on expected gags (“I am not a witch”) and Griffin delivered it all with a stiffness that felt more like a recitation than a performance. As one line in the judges’ deliberations said, I mostly felt pandered to. (And I can only guess what Glee’s conservative viewers—and to anticipate the response, Glee has conservative viewers—would have thought.)

* Mercedes! Hey, wasn’t she on the show in the first season? It’s too bad that, when the show gave her a solo after so long on the sidelines, it played to the absolutely broadest outline of her character, with a chorus—”Hell to the No”—that is literally a sassy catchphrase. (In 1989, I believe that song was titled, “Talk to the Hand.”)

* Yet again, the Sue outburst—punching out the lt. governor’s wife in a Woody Hayes-like moment—seemed too much even by her standards. I’ll reserve total judgment, though; I guess it’s possible there will be actual consequences for it. (I did, on the other hand, love the cutway to her throwing sticks.)

* Favorite Brittanyism? Citing “Headband” as her favorite song was up there, but I’ll have to go with her reaction to Sue’s dirt-in-the-locker prank: “I don’t even remember putting that in there!”

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