Tuned In

Glee Watch: Getting What You Want

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Spoilers for the midseason finale of Glee coming up after the jump:

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was a curious centerpiece song for a midseason finale of Glee in which we, the members of New Directions and their associated grown-ups, did in fact get a surprising amount of what we and they wanted. The group won sectionals. Will left Terri and kissed Emma. And Sue Sylvester was removed from Cheerios and sent stomping off to Boca, though no one—least of all her—believes it’s for long.

You would think that any show going on hiatus for four months would set up plenty of teasers, if not outright cliffhangers, to keep us interested over the break. You would think that most of all about Glee, which spent most of its brief life to date piling problem upon calamity upon twist. Mrs. Tuned In once observed that the show, with its breakneck pace of plot developments, was written like the creators expected it to be canceled after six episodes.

Instead, Glee changed up, and gave us—besides a couple of exultant performances and a heart-stopping smooch—what was almost an anti-cliffhanger. The wedding’s off; the losers won; the show choir is united. The question instead is: what problems are they going to run into the second half of the season?

Of course, it’s not as if there’s no rain on New Directions’ parade: Quinn, notably, is still very pregnant and, with Finn out of the dark, looking to the prospect of having a baby on her own. The dark lyrics that always run under the sunny music of Glee are still there: the limitations, the prejudices, the long odds of breaking out of Lima.

But things have changed for Glee since it began its season. It complicated its story repeatedly, especially with Quinn’s pregnancy (and far-fetched lie about it) and Terri’s even more far-fetched fake pregnancy. It was as if the early Glee wasn’t confident that people would be interested in it without these over-the-top soap opera twists.

Over time, though, Glee, and we, discovered that there was more to the show than awesome choreographed covers of American Idol standbys. Glee was, for all its inconsistency—and seemingly almost to its own surprise—actually a good show: ambitious, risk-taking, and shot through with serious themes about identity and acceptance among outsiders and others. On top of that, it was both a critical and ratings hit. It didn’t need the crazy twists, and, as its shown in recent episodes, it has the obligation to take its potential, and its characters, seriously. It dispensed with the fake pregnancy, and, with this semi-finale, seemed to clear the decks for a second half of the season as the confident show it now is. Like the members of New Directions, Glee now realizes it’s a winner—and it’s behaving like it knows it.

Glee’s still simply a fun show too, though, and there was plenty of that in “Sectionals.” I loved seeing Rachel finally get the chance to unleash her inner Streisand with “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Not coincidentally, of course, a song by a gay icon; even when dealing with its straight characters, Glee has probably done more to mainstream gay culture this year than Adam Lambert:

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The number reminded me how much I like what the show’s done with Rachel: she’s a lead character, yet the show allows her to be annoying—but at the same time, her dedication makes her likeable. And as we see here, as much of a pill as she can be, her ability to whip out a performance she’s been working on since age four is an asset. (And kudos to Lea Michele for letting us see in Rachel the four-year-old diva delighted to get the chance to belt it out on stage.)

Cheesy as the audience-dancing-in-their-seats image was, Finn’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was an apt title to use in a show that has largely been about disappointment. (Let’s not forget, among all the kissing and winning, that Finn’s like remains pretty crappy right now.) And the ending choreography was a brilliant way of taking us back through the season, reminding fans not only what we see in Glee, but what these disparate kids have come to see in each other.

Though I still think “My Life Would Suck Without You” is the most ridiculous title for a pop song in recent memory, it was a fitting choice. Glee is like a Kelly Clarkson song, and not just because they both owe everything to American Idol: like many of Clarkson’s songs, it packages downbeat lyrics in an upbeat melody. Then it blasts them out of its lungs and doesn’t care who it wakes up. I’m not sure I expected or wanted a feel-good ending out of the first half of Glee. But what we got from “Sectionals” left me feeling very good about where the show is going this spring.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* OK, now for one song choice I didn’t like. I have nothing against Mercedes, but Glee must also be governed by the American Idol songs-that-must-be-retired rule. “And I Am Telling You” at this point is just a stick of gum that’s had all the flavor chewed out of it; it’s been a go-to Idol show-stopper so long that it can never have the impact it was meant to here.

* Yesterday we were collecting Best Lines of ’09, and there had to be some candidates in that opening cellphone party-line sequence. Though my winner of the night is: “You have to take me to get those Jewish baby tests!” Or possibly: “I’m reasonably confident that you will add revenge to the list of things you’re no good at, right next to being married, running a high school glee club and finding a hairstyle that doesn’t make you look like a lesbian.”

* Props to Cory Monteith, who absolutely sold Finn’s anger, hurt and frustration. But I’m glad the secret is out in the open, partly because I didn’t like the idea that I was apparently expected to root for his “friends” to keep him in the dark about not being a father, whether for “his own good” or so as not to ruin sectionals.

* Finally, I would like to thank Fox 5 New York—whose HD signal crapped out 47 minutes into my TiVo’s recording—for proving to me, appropriately, that I cannot in fact always get what I want. And also Hulu, which posted the full episode first thing this morning, for allowing me to, eventually, get what I needed.