In my review that posted earlier this morning, I neglected to mention one of the biggest reasons to root for the success of American Horror Story. It could give Ryan Murphy a full-time distraction, so that the new team of writers can get Glee under control, free from the need to throw in more and more insanity to fend off the boredom that appears to set in once Murphy has done a show for more than a season or so.
Last night’s Glee, “Asian F,” gives me reason to hope that they might be able to do that in season three. I do not want to make too much of this, If I were to comb through my reviews of season 2, I would find too many reviews—of, say, “Furt” or the Valentine’s episode—that brimmed with false hope that Glee was becoming about grounded characters again, only to have Sue Sylvester blow those hopes away with a fire extinguisher.
So briefly and with proper restraint, let’s give measured thanks for a Glee episode that introduced or continued a few simple stories about the kind of conflicts that a particular group of kids obsessed with performing would actually have. (Plus one obnoxiously silly subplot involving the adult characters. But just one this time!) Giving Mercedes a storyline has been a welcome turn; having that story turn on her resentment at being overlooked by the glee club is an apt meta-touch, since she’s been overlooked by the show for some time now.
One thing I like about how Glee handles its musical conflicts is that it doesn’t wrestle the audience in deciding who “won”–I don’t feel, watching Mercedes and Rachel’s auditions, that Glee is telling me one was definitively better than the other. That’s good, because Glee is not American Idol, and the story here is not so much their objective talent as how each handles the fight for the spotlight. One could argue that Mercedes was robbed or that she, like Rachel, makes everything about her; the bigger point is that she’s been pushed into a cycle where her feeling excluded from the group is leading her to act in ways that reinforce that exclusion. And the “It’s All Over” set piece from Dreamgirls, with Mercedes in the Effie role, was a case of a Glee song serving the story rather than the soundtrack.
The Mike Chang plot, meanwhile, was one of those Glee stories that can be frustrating to watch because it shows how well the show can deal with its characters, even more peripheral ones, when it makes half an effort. The idea of pushy Asian parents / second-generation immigrant issues is a stereotype, yes, but–as the recent season of the Tiger Mom showed us–not one without currency, and not without resonances in families of other backgrounds. Even though Mike is not Glee’s most developed character, he was able to deal with the problem here as a person, not as a type, and I’ll cop to being moved by the tearjerking scene of his giving his mother a dance lesson.
And then there was Emma. In a way, this storyline was a grown-up parallel to Mike’s—the child paying for the sins of the parents—but only in a way that again shows how Glee handles adults much worse than teens. There’s no reason this couldn’t have been a rewarding plot; after all, it’s entirely reasonable that there are serious reasons that Emma has the neuroses she does. But to take that and hang it all on a bizarre backstory of her ginger-chauvinist parents—which weirdly combined a protect-the-tribe minority stance with old-fashioned racism—seemed as if the show wanted a way of allowing Will and Emma a moment while winking to the audience that they didn’t need to take it too seriously.
So: I’ll call it two out of three for Glee tonight, with bonus points for an excellent Brittany dance showcase and for letting Sue sit it out in the bleachers this episode. Your score?