I got to watching Glee late last night, and before I fired up the Tivo, asked my Twitter feed its verdict on the episode. “The best in a while,” came the answer. Also: “The worst in a while.” This being Glee, not only did the answers not surprise me, I assumed they were both probably right.
It occurs to me that Glee should not really be reviewed in prose form but with some kind of sine-wave chart, just plotting the show, minute by minute, as it skids repeatedly across the center line of mediocrity to peaks of emotion and troughs of ridiculousness. It’s either/or with this show, usually within five minutes; this episode was called “Yes/No,” but really, aren’t they all?
I’m not graphics-adept enough to actually make a chart, so instead, let me approximate it by breaking down what totally worked for me and what totally didn’t, entirely in bullet points:
* Typically for Glee, the strongest storylines and moments involved the kids. Except, however, for “Summer Nights,” a way-too-obvious choice for a jukebox-musical scene involving a boy and a girl talking about each other. I was not entirely sure why Chord Overstreet left the show after last season, and now I’m not entirely sure why he’s back. His on-and-off thing with Mercedes feels like one of those storylines that exists to give the characters something to do without actually developing either character.
* Dame Helen Mirren as Becky’s mental voiceover: Yes. This is the kind of ridiculous-but-weirdly-logical move I love from Glee. Besides the dissonance of putting Mirren anywhere in the show’s high-school-surreal setting, the choice made sense for doggedly optimistic Becky: why shouldn’t she sound, in her head, like an actress who’s played both Queens Elizabeth, damn it?
* Although I thought the staging of “Wedding Bell Blues” was phoned in—like “Summer Nights,” a too-literal choice—I am fully in favor of Glee using as many Laura Nyro / Fifth Dimension songs as possible. Even though I know that would mean introducing a new disabled character for the sole purpose of using “Sweet Blindness,” or planting “Stoned Soul Picnic” in a special episode about drug abuse.
* But that brings us to Will. It’s to the point where I’m almost physically pained watching Will Schuester do anything on this show, whether it’s mugging for the camera in multiple tuxedoes and top hats, copping a righteous attitude with Emma, or showing that he has no adult friends, confidantes, or best-man possibilities outside the school. An episode like this really shows how the series has squandered the opportunity to make Will into a person.
* “Moves Like Jagger”—pretty good, in a novelty-song way. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” not bad. But not necessary, either—this episode had a bad case of song overload.
* Artie and Becky’s arc, on the other hand, really worked: it was sweet, uncomfortable and messy in the way that Glee does well. It was an arc about two disabled people that was about their disability without defining them by it; that is, it played out as it did not just because of Artie and Becky’s condition but because of what they’re like as people. I give the show credit; this was a really difficult story to do without getting into manipulative, afterschool special territory, but it largely managed it by following the philosophy Sue expressed: “Here’s a radical idea: Why don’t you treat her like a real person?” (On the other hand, a synchronized-swimming gag involving a kid in a wheelchair falling into a pool? Not hilarious! But maybe that’s just me. Update: OK, wheeling himself in. Nonetheless.)
* I was not expecting to say this, but Real Housewife of Atlanta NeNe Leakes was pretty damn excellent in a small role as the synchro coach, showing off her “bronze damn Olympic medal.” I don’t expect the series to do a lot with her (it’s a limited-episode arc, IIRC), but I like the general idea of finding other characters to take over some aspects of the Sue role so the writers can do more with Sue as a person rather than a walking explosion.
* And then that scene, which I expect is what everyone is arguing about this morning. I actually thought it made a lot of sense for Finn. (Rachel would be insane, and not true to her character, to say yes, but that’s another matter for another episode.) Finn has always had a little-kid side pushing him to seek big, magic answers for his problems, and filling the void of his fallen-idol father by finding a wife makes sense beyond setting up a cliffhanger.
* I also like, by the way, that the show returned to the theme of Finn’s dad’s absence and its effect on him, set up in the pilot—though I’m not sure the explanation that he didn’t die in Iraq fixes the chronology issue. (IIRC, we’re first told by Finn that his dad died in Iraq, presumably in Desert Storm in 1991, which would make Finn 20 or so. Finn is either about 18 years old, or he’s about 35.)
* Oh, and Will and Emma’s proposal. One thing I will credit the scene for: Rihanna’s “We Found Love” is not really a cheerful engagement song when you listen to the lyrics, but that works for Glee, which has a sadness under its autotune and techno-beats even if it doesn’t always remember it. But just what do they teach at this high school that half the student body has time to volunteer for an elaborate Busby Berkeley synchro production?In any case, maybe they’ll find happiness, meaning that we won’t have to pay as much attention to them. Just please: no more fake babies.