Friday, December 14, 2012

The RBI Report: "Glee Actually"

I guess not enough people have seen the 2003 Brit-ensemble holiday romcom Love Actually to merit any real kind of homage to the film's content.  No, this episode of Glee didn't feature Sam learning how to play the drums to impress a girl, or Cassandra July using cue cards and the guise of carolers to tell a confused-in-the-doorway Rachel Berry she doesn't hate her at all, or even a tear-down-the-house rendition of "All I Want for Christmas (Is You)."  (That was last year.)

Okay, I'm not saying any of those is a good idea.  (I'm also not saying that Cassandra July one wouldn't not make sense.  I mean.  Think about it.)  Instead of storyline homage, "Glee Actually" used a very tenuous link to Love Actually through homage to its story construction.  Sue lays it out in the first thirty seconds: this episode will have five seemingly disparate stories - between commercial breaks, natch - that all wrap up with a bow in the end.  Now I don't know if Glee's five storylines came together quite as cohesively as Love Actually's, but I actually liked the structural approach.  If only the execution between the walls of each storyline lived up to the episode's concept.  Holiday magic could only save so much...

"Glee Actually," written by Matthew Hodgson, directed by Adam Shankman

Act One: Artie's Wonderful (Wheelchair) Life

I feel like putting the word "wheelchair" smack dab in the middle of any sentence about Artie is an accurate representation of how Glee chooses his storylines these days.  When's the last time Artie had an A-plot that wasn't directly related to his physical disability?  I can't even remember.  Anyways, Artie's chair slips on the icy ramps at school and tips him out of it, where's he forced to wait until some freshman girls can help him up.  Finn finds him in such a state, and Artie's irritability causes him to utter the words, "I wish I was never in this chair."  And, being that this is a Christmas episode, we began to watch the events unfold à la It's a Wonderful Life.  

This kind of storyline is always fun to watch, because of the inherent intrigue of an alternate universe.  What are our favorites doing in this magical new timespace?  And for the most part, Artie's held that interest.  The reappearance of Terri Schuester and Jessalyn Gilsig's glorious comedic timing in only thirty seconds of screentime was maybe worth the whole episode.  Maybe.  They made decent use of Rachel being a meek librarian, I guess, and a Kurt who never met Blaine, and a Will who never started glee club or got divorced.  But mostly, everything in this section required a huge stretch of the imagination.  In what universe is Artie's accident related to the glee club existing?  The excuse was that Artie was too busy playing football to join glee, and it never got off the ground.  After all, Artie was the glue of the glee club.

I'm sorry, were we watching the same show?  As much as I'd love to believe it, never once in the past eighty-eight episodes have I ever been led to believe that Artie was the "glue" of this batch of misfits.  It was always Rachel's talent or Finn's heart or Will's leadership or something else related to Rachel or Finn or Will.  Furthermore, Glee also continues to use this tenuous generalization that football and glee are in binary, and so therefore working legs = more football = less glee.  Who says that just because you play football you have to be a bullying homophobic asshole?  Also, what excuse was there for Finn and Puck to still be students at McKinley, even though they were meant to graduate?  Was it really necessary to demonstrate that Becky became a big ol' slut because Artie never taught her how to respect herself, really?  And did anyone else choke back a scoff when Rory told Artie that Quinn never got through therapy because the glee club wasn't there to help her?  Because as far as I remember it, Quinn actually did get through therapy in spite of the fact that the glee club wasn't there to help her, because Teen Jesus needed screentime.  I mean, we all remember boner therapy, right?  The writers clearly don't.  But whatever; Quinn died of a broken heart anyways.  I mean, she probably still got pregnant in this timeline.  We know she texts and drives in all timelines, so that clears things up for sure.

My point is, through all this Grinchy snark, is that this storyline had such failed potential.  This is an inherently strong concept, asking that what if, and Glee made a mess of it.  With this type of construct, it generally results in one of two outcomes: 1) nothing gets any better and the unfortunate wisher realizes how crappy it would be if their wish came true, and is luckily able to unwish it.  Glee did this one.  Or, 2) a "destiny" element takes shape, and the longer the wisher is in the new timeline, the more it seems like the events of the first timeline might actually transpire in the second, as though it were meant to be.  Now, I understand where communicating the latter instead of the former would be a real shady message to send to Artie about life without his wheelchair.  ("You could have had everything just the same way, AND the use of your legs!"  It's a little insulting.)  But, that being said: if we were going to make this about glee club not existing, then they should have just DONE THAT and not forced Artie's involvement in the A-plot by making serious bounds of logic without any real need.  I thought they actually might go the route of "destiny," the way that Will and Rachel were looking at Artie during "Feliz Navidad," as though something were waking up inside of them.  (Maybe that's just the Lost fan in me speaking.)  Even so, I still think it could have been cool if Artie were the one to unite glee club, and actually demonstrate that it didn't require the one and only Finn Hudson to do so - it just took someone.  Someone who cared, and someone who loved music.  And Artie, wheelchair or not, could be that someone.  How great would that have been?

Alas, this sojourn ended with Artie realizing that life without his wheelchair also meant no glee and so therefore everything sucked; the end.  Wheelchair = glee = part of who Artie is.  I'm not sure about these syllogisms, Glee!  

Moving on.

Act Two: the Kurt and Burt show feat. Blaine

Honestly, I wish this act were called "the Kurt and Burt show feat. Rachel."  Because seriously, Burt Hummel gave Rachel Berry an ornament of her own to put on his and Kurt's family Christmas tree.  How special is that?  That action is telling Rachel Berry she's an honorary member of the Hummel clan, and suddenly it doesn't seem so weird that Rachel sang "Papa Can You Hear Me?" to this man two years ago when he was in the hospital.  (Okay, nothing really makes that less weird.)  Even though this inclusion of Rachel into the Hummel family wasn't set up, at all, ever... it was such a rewarding by-product of what the Glee writers were hamfisting what they REALLY wanted for this section: paving the way for a Blaine-Kurt reunion.  Or at least, that's what it seemed like to me.  Why else give Burt offscreen cancer and a piece of dialogue telling Kurt to hold his loved ones dear?  I'm surprised Burt didn't have a cough-cough-Blaine-cough moment, just to make sure he got the point across.  Subtle, writers!  As for me, I think about Burt's gift to Rachel, and longingly wish that this story had been about Rachel learning to share Christmas with the Hummels, since she can't spend Hanukkah with her dads.

Anyways.  I need to zoom back out of that alternate universe, since it clearly didn't happen.  As for what did: I like the idea of a Kurt and Blaine reconciliation in some form.  I enjoy very much the acknowledgement that these two were very important to each other, whether romantically or not, in a very vulnerable time in their lives.  I like that they want to accept that and allow that and Kurt is being admirably zen about the whole thing.  I do wish things had been a bit more on his terms, though, instead of literally gifting Blaine to Kurt without Kurt specifying that he wanted that.  I also wish that the tone of this construct wasn't communicated through jazzy and coquettish ice skating in honor of Kurt and Blaine's holiday duet tradition.  I admit, when I first heard that their annual Christmas song was going to be "White Christmas," I figured it'd be slowed-down.  Since these two are broken up, with a wobbly trust between them, I thought it'd be fitting if the lyric "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" could be played wistfully, as though Kurt and Blaine were dreaming of a time when their holiday duets were simple and happy.  In other words, something more like this (except with male voices... work with me here).  But instead, we got a Kurt and Blaine duet that was... just simple and happy.  Oh.  Contrasting emotional context would have made the performance more interesting.  (But none of the performances in this episode were particularly nuanced, nor were they subtly-motivated.  Sigh!)

Act Three: Puck and Jake are brothers also Hanukkah also moms

I think I might be a bit too hard on this storyline.  It had a lovely overarching theme about finding and honoring family during the holidays, but it also had a lot of weird shit with Jake and Puck cavorting through LA and getting matching Star of David tattoos.  It also also had a crappy design with Jake's and Puck's moms being snippy at each other until the boys straightened out their 'tudes.  (Phew!  Thanks, boys.  Ladies be bitches without you.)  Much of this section was spent on the least interesting part of the storyline, which was everything that happened before Jake and Puck actually brought their moms together for the holidays.  We could have cut out all that go-to-LA-no-wait-come-back-to-Lima nonsense and gotten straight to the good stuff, where the conflict is.  Which, had that happened, could have alleviated the problem of swiftly solving the issue between Mrs. Jake's-Mom and Mrs. Noah's-Mom with one line of dialogue.  Hell, we could have given those ladies names!  Even though the end result was nice, the journey to get there rerouted through Broville when it should have steered into Momville.  I shouldn't be surprised, frankly.  It's not the first time this has happened, and it won't be the last.

Also, Aisha Tyler!!!!  Why are you here?  (I ask for your sake, not mine.  I won't complain about Aisha Tyler on my TV screen.  Good to see you, lady.  Sorry about... this whole thing.)

Act Four: Brittany and Sam discover impending apocalypse, get married; world does not actually end, marriage was not actually legal

There were a few times I laughed loudly and inappropriately during "Glee Actually."  The first was the overdramatic push-in when Kurt asked who Blaine was.  The second was when Rory told Artie that Quinn never got through physical therapy because the glee club wasn't there to help her.  And the third was when Sam transitioned from his pointless performance of "Jingle Bell Rock" with the line: "And here's another rock," as he procured an engagement ring.  I'm sorry; but that shit is funny and also by funny I mean terrible.  Was there really not a more organic way to introduce that?  No?  Oh.  Maybe that should tell you something about your apocalypse-marriage storyline, then.  

I feel like no one expects me to speak neutrally about the continuation of Brittany and Sam after last week's multi-paragraph rant.  That's cool.  I don't have much to say about this section except it kind of pulled a Jake-and-Puck storyline and missed what could have been the best part.  Instead of a dumb pointless "Jingle Bell Rock" performance and a dumb and pointless "marriage," I would have much rather seen what exactly Sam and Brittany wanted to do with their lives before the apocalypse.  It could have been a great montage of random antics with some meaningful stuff thrown in there too.  It could have made these caricatures seem like real humans again, even with comedic moments!  It could have been set to Stevie Wonder's "That's What Christmas Means to Me!"  But lo, what part was completely omitted in favor of a "four days later" title card?  Everything that Sam and Brittany did with their lives before the apocalypse.


Act Five: Sue and Becky do a nice thing for the Roses; everyone is heart-warmed

This final act was probably the strongest of the hour, simply because it rested largely on Sue and Becky doing a nice thing in earnest, a brand of begrudgingly honest Grinch-kindness that only Jane Lynch (and Lauren Potter) can sell so masterfully.  Moreover, the events of Act Five actually tied back to character insight!  Imagine that.  Sue's actions had motivation beyond whatever transparent, brand-new reasons the writers scuff up to instant they need to sail their plot turns.  We've long known Sue to have a soft spot for mother-daughter relationships in the memory of hers with her sister Jean.  We met Sue's mother and saw that strained dynamic, and now we know Sue as a mother of her own child.  We've seen the motherly role she's played to Jean, and now Becky.  But we forget about that, and it's always nice to be reminded.  Frankly, the fact that Sue Sylvester saw Marley sing a Christmas carol to her mother - her best friend and only family - and teared up while watching was the most believable thing to happen all episode.  

So, Sue takes her role as Secret Santa for Mrs. Rose, and gifts her and Marley the sum total of her failed Christmas gifts for Becky, plus the proceeds of the profitable toothpickification of her exotic Christmas tree.  (Nitpick: that tree should have kicked off Sue's section, to set it up as important both to Sue and the story.  What do we care if she sells that tree, ten seconds after we see it for the first time and five seconds after Sue explains why the hell it's important?  Show it first, and it'll have meaning later!  Plant that seed, as it were.)  The money's going towards Marley getting therapy for her eating disorder (although really they should just send the bills to Kitty's house) and Marley and her mom get the Christmas trimmings they'd planned on forgoing.  It was all very Bob Cratchett and Tiny Tim, but whatever; it worked.  Plus, it featured one of my few genuine laughs of the episode: Marley realizing that even if the sudden presents under the tree were a Christmas miracle... they should probably still call the cops.  (I also laughed at Sue's accurate prediction of what Marley's thank you would be, and her underwhelmed reaction at being exactly right.)

Mostly, I just appreciate that this storyline took a turn through scenic Momville - a rare stop in Glee narratives.

Fin: everything tied up with a bow?

Okay, nothing tied up all that gracefully, at least not in an intersecting kind of way.  Each story finished, for sure, although none of them really wove together.  (It's a lot of work, and a big challenge... but it would have been cool.)  I will say, though, that "Glee Actually" boasted the first cross-location song performance, which I have long been waiting for since S4 began.  Everyone sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from multiple locations, across the storylines - Kurt and Blaine in New York, Puck and Jake and Sam and Brittany at Breadstix, and Marley & Co. in the auditorium.  The musical nerd in me loves suspending reality for the purpose of finding theme across the distances, and in that way I suppose "Glee Actually" actually did make good on the "wrapped up in a bow" promise. 

Altogether, there was a lot of sloppy and forced execution within "Glee Actually."  While there were a couple nice themes in the second, third, and fifth act, as well as an interesting structure behind the whole piece, it still missed a lot of narrative opportunity in favor of superficie.  

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: C
Dialogue: C
Plot: C

Characterization: B
Episode MVP:
 Sue Sylvester

Friday, December 7, 2012

The RBI Report: "Swan Song"

After pondering "Swan Song" for a bit, I'm guessing that Rachel Berry's post-recital speech to Finn was intended to be the thematic guidepost for this episode.  In the face of glee club's probable demise, and Finn's pessimism about the future, she rattles off a laundry list of what the experience is really about.  And lo, each of these citations crops up in some form or another through "Swan Song."  The love of music kept the glee club going despite their competition loss, romances formed with new members (who sang just because they wanted to), and Kurt didn't give up on his dream.  Did I stretch that?  Eh.  Regardless of theme, the events of "Swan Song" felt both disjointed yet heavy-handed.

"Swan Song," written by Stacy Traub, directed by Brad Falchuk

After seeing Marley collapse onstage at the end of Sectionals last week, I thought that perhaps tonight's episode would focus on Marley's health, and her friends' concern for her safety and wellbeing.  ...not so much.  Turns out after one Blaine-supplied juicebox, nobody really cared that Marley had a fairly serious medical issue that one might consider investigating.  In fact, they never mentioned it again, until it was time for Marley to blame herself for it, or  for Tina to bitch at her about it.  Um, wasn't her mom in the audience last week?  I guess we're only using Marley's mom to exacerbate her body issues, not resolve them.  Ugh.  I just want this Marley eating disorder storyline over and done with.  Sure, it'd be a little tacky to wrap it up it on the assumption that your friends only sit up and take notice of your ill health when it costs them a trophy, but whatever.  It's even more insulting to have no one care at all except Santana, who magically disappeared from this episode after the haphazard continuation of last week's cliffhanger.

Nope, we weren't really concerned about Marley when the whole glee club was on the line!  Turns out failure to complete a Sectionals performance results in the disqualification of the team.  So, after two years of easy Sectionals victories, the new Finn-led New Directions is up a creek without a glee club.  Not only that, but Sue's commandeered every room in the school so that the group has literally no place to practice. (Despite the fact that Brittany and Sam's scenes clearly took place in an empty classroom.  Oops, Glee.  I'll pretend I didn't notice.)  The choir room is now the apparent home of "Sue de Soleil" (not Cirque de Sue-leil?) and can't be used.  For my money, this was a nice time to bring back April Rhodes to remind everyone of the auditorium she bought for the glee club back in season 1, that other-other-other time the club faced dismemberment and extracurricular homelessness.  But we had Whoopi Goldberg and Kate Hudson to attend to, and let's face it: Glee is not The Good Wife.  In many ways.

Theoretically, though, I dig the idea that the writers could possibly try and sustain a show called "Glee" without an actual glee club competing through this season.  I think it's possible to achieve, and deserves points for trying.  After all, this show is so spread thin at this point, do we really need the competition format to keep things going?  Not really.  Everything runs well enough on its own steam without it.  I do wish, though, that more of "Swan Song" showed the glee kids in their new extracurriculars.  It actually irked me that Finn gave the gang so much crap for joining new clubs, when part of me is interested to see what would happen with the scattering.  Wouldn't it be a nice message to deliver that these kids have become close enough friends that they don't need a club to stick together?  I think that's what Rachel's speech was going for - that glee club transcends competitions, and is really more about the music, and the relationships.  I can jive behind that, but this episode did little to prove it.  In fact, we mostly got Finn mourning the club and griping about people ditching it.  I hope future episodes actually try to demonstrate that these kids don't need a club to be important in each other's lives.

(Or, being that next week is the Christmas episode, will there just be a contrived holiday miracle to put everything back the way it's supposed to be?  I fear I know the answer.)

Actually, "Swan Song" did choose to show two kids sticking together after glee club's disbanding.  Sadly, it was not Tina and Blaine on the Cheerios.  No, it was Sam and Brittany, who coughed up their true feelings for one another and chose to brave the dangerous waters of angry lesbians in order to pursue true happiness.

Now, I'm going to stop right here.  Because I suspect that when Murphy & Co. reference a disapproving "lesbian blogger community," that surely, from their perspective, I shuffle right into that category.  I enjoyed Brittany and Santana's relationship back when it was just but a throwaway joke, and I've long been dissatisfied with the way the writers have handled Santana's coming out experience as well as Brittany's bisexuality.  Oh, and I talked a lot about it here on ye olde interwebz.  It's difficult to imagine how I, specifically, wouldn't qualify as a Glee-certified angry lesbian blogger.  So with the writers patently kicking down the fourth wall and punching me in the face with meta, I'm not sure how I should react to the whole ordeal.  Was that supposed to be funny?  Should I get angry?  Should I leave it alone and not prove myself to actually be, in the end, an angry lesbian blogger?  God, I should probably just realize that love is love!

I suppose I'll just do what I've done all along: talk about how poor the writing was.  This storyline could not have been more unnecessary in this episode, nor more scantly developed.  There were literally two scenes: one in which Sam and Brittany talk about how much they like each other and Brittany reveals she's scared of the lesbian nation that would feel betrayal for her kissing a guy... and then one in which Sam and Brittany talk about how much they like each other and Brittany reveals she's no longer scared of the lesbian nation that would feel betrayal for her kissing a guy.  What changed her mind, supposedly, was Finn railing at everyone that they shouldn't miss out on anything, and seize last chances or something.  I don't know.  It didn't make sense to me, because wasn't the general gist of that argument that Tina & Co. didn't want to miss out, and Finn was actually on the opposite side, in a way?  And did they even show Brittany at all in that scene?  I don't even remember her being there, and it was theoretically her moment of choice.  Show, don't tell!  (That phrase may as well be tattooed at the beginning of each S4 review, frankly.)  

What with the complete lack of in-episode support for this story arc, the fact that it mostly comprised flat and expository dialogue, and that it rose and fell within two scenes before the midway point of the episode... it makes it difficult not to think that it existed for the sole purpose of breaking the fourth wall and delivering a message straight to those haterz also known as lesbians on the internet.  Why else was it there, in such a hurried, pointed, and underdeveloped way?

What's frustrating, too, is that I actually did not have pitchforks and torches ready for the writers, upon learning that Brittany and Sam were going to date.  From where I sit, this is an opportunity to shine a light on Brittany's bisexuality, since the only real statement Glee's ever seem to have made about the issue was that one time Blaine got really drunk and that made him bisexual and Kurt got really mad at him even though they weren't dating.  Awkward.  With Brittany, what we can assume is bisexuality or pansexuality has largely been handwaved away with her portrayal as unintelligent and/or "slutty."  Dumb jokes go to Brittany; sex jokes go to Brittany (or Santana).  Brittany gets turned on by people's armpits, and apparently needs help crossing the street.  She wins school elections not for her pro-women ideas, but because she dances provocatively and offers to take her top off weekly.  Her existence as a bisexual/pansexual woman on this show is a mess of offensive stereotypes, which are kept that way because of the writers' inability to project her coherently and cohesively into her own storylines.  She's marginalized from her own POV, and not only that, but her presence as a secondary character Santana's coming-out storyline was silent at best.

I get why people would be - and are - upset by a Brittany-Sam relationship.  I've seen the graphs, and the statistics, and I, too, hated "Mash-Off" and "I Kissed a Girl."  I, too, loathe the writers' apparent Samcedes-lobotomy, and I, too, want Brittany to be a real, talking character with her female relationships as much as her male relationships.  But I could get behind Brittany dating Sam to remind the audience that she is bisexual - as long as it's written well.  "Swan Song" just did not write them well.  What's worse is that "Swan Song" seemed to imply that I - if I'm to assume that I am one of the easily-driven-to-violence online lesbian community based on my previous opinions - would simply dislike the pairing because I don't want to see Brittany with a boy.  

Actually, I dislike that Brittany and Sam seem to be paired off because they're both dim - with song choices like "Somethin' Stupid," that seems to be the general gist of their dynamic.  I dislike that Brittany's bisexuality isn't explored in a meaningful way, as she's yet again infantilized and reduced to unintelligence.  I dislike that the characters just yap about how much they like each other, and make stuff up so it seems like it's been that way all along.  I dislike that instead of demonstrating why I should like this pairing, as all good writing would do with any relationship, gay or straight, the writers chose instead to just tell me "love is love," wrapped up in a blatant "fuck you if you think otherwise," standing on the assumption that lesbians would be driven to violence at the thought of a bisexual woman dating a man.  Ah, there's nothing like quickly leaping to the "man-hating feminazi lesbian" stereotype.  Oh, Glee.  You sure do know how to make a girl feel special.  (Floor cereal also makes me swoon.)

Let's move on.  The last aspects of "Swan Song" belonged to Rachel and Kurt.  Rachel, having somehow listened in on the same "seizing opportunities like it's my last chance" pep talk that Brittany heard (in what I can only assume was her own head), adopted the mantra for her turn at the NYADA Winter Showcase.  I thought this storyline might endeavor to drag out Rachel's invitation to the prestigious performance for up-and-comers and sustain the question of whether or not she might get one, but as soon as Kurt finished explaining what the hell it even was, Rachel had a golden ticket in her hand.  I didn't quite know if it was just a Rachel Berry fantasy at first!  But I don't mind that the episode skipped the "will she or won't she?" nonsense and cut straight to the obvious: she will.

After that, Rachel had a weirdly sexual and mostly-unnecessary dance-off with Cassandra July, which naturally resulted in Rachel informing Cassandra that she's a better singer.  I swear, if I were one of Rachel's classmates, I would be so unamused by my teacher constantly feeling the need to duke it out with a freshman.  These kids are paying astronomical amounts in tuition, I can only assume, and that class time is being wasted on Fosse-fueled bitch drama between teacher and student!  I'm waiting for the NYADA administration to call Cassandra and Rachel in for inappropriate student-teacher conduct, just so they can see how awkward they've been all season long.

Anyways.  Rachel realizes that while dance class has given her hell, her singing is still exceptional, and so she gets a chance to indulge in her specialty with - what else? - a Streisand number belted to the rafters.  And, sue me, I enjoyed it.  I mean, at this stage it's perhaps the easiest bet to put Lea Michele in an auditorium and let her sing to high heaven.  There was no lack of magic in "Being Good Isn't Good Enough," and I quite appreciated that it was actually used as a moment of triumph and confidence for Rachel.  She also sung "O Holy Night," which was really abrupt and unnecessary, even before the tonally-and-thematically dissonant cross-cutting to sadface Finn packing up trophies amidst enthusiastically stretching circus performers.  Regardless, "Swan Song" featured a very Zen Rachel Berry in her element.  (Despite the fact that she was also in her element when she bungled up her NYADA audition.  We'll just pretend she's grown since then, and not in a hair-extension kind of way.)  Was this storyline actually the wrap-up to her Dance-Class-From-Hell arc, though?  I sure hope so.  It didn't quite seem that way in execution, but conceptually it makes sense and I hope for Kate Hudson's sanity that this is the case.

Rachel's sage advice and enthusiasm was also used in support of Kurt, who found himself nervous about reapplying to NYADA after his rejection in last season's finale.  This storyline was frustrating because a) it was founded on something arguably inaccurate, b) it paid off something that never really happened in the first place, and therefore c) it could have been so much more satisfying, but didn't quite make it.  The idea was that Carmen told Kurt he didn't have enough complexity, depth of emotion, and vulnerability in his performances - he relies too much on bells and whistles.  And while I guess this has occasionally been true, my brain immediately started scrolling through Kurt's solos and thought, "Haven't this kid's performances been defined by emotional authenticity and vulnerability?"  Or is that breaking the fourth wall, because his solos have been in conjunction with his storylines and are therefore tonally dependent?  Whatever.  All I know is that "Defying Gravity," "A House is Not a Home," "Rose's Turn," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" involved me and/or Chris Colfer tearing up.  I guess in-show, non-narrative performances like "I'm the Greatest Star" and "Not the Boy Next Door" are more flashy, but still.  The claim made me question just how true a statement it was.

Anyways, when Rachel reminded Kurt of his emotion during "I Want to Hold Your Hand," Kurt countered that the authenticity was because he dedicated the song to his dad.  Who would he dedicate this performance of "Being Alive" to?  Rachel replied, simply, "to yourself."  Which I genuinely loved, because I'm always first in line for identity- and independence-based storylines.  I adore them an absurd amount.  But the problem with this construct is that it wasn't set up!  Yes, Kurt received rejection at the end of last season, and needed prodding to leave Lima and pursue his dreams.  But once he got to NYC, his character has been mostly wrapped up in the Candyland World of Isabelle Wright and the angst of breaking up with Blaine, as well as delivering the expository dialogue needed to float Rachel's storylines.  "Being Alive" paid off an arc that never quite happened with Kurt: witnessing him adrift in the city, a bit discouraged and unsure of his place there, away from home for the first time and trying to keep his feet beneath him.  I wish we had gotten a better sense of this untethered feeling, so that "Being Alive" and Kurt's acceptance to NYADA would feel more rewarding.  

(Although I suspect his admission to NYADA will force him to choose between the theater school and the job at, giving him a new in-episode arc and a possible new career choice.)

I do feel it bears mentioning my favorite part of the hour: seeing Tina, Artie, Blaine, and Brittany talk to directly to the camera, in weirdly-spaced frames, letting us know what exaggerations befell them after the club's demise.  I almost wish we could get a dark comedy spin-off with those kids being charming delinquents, a la The Breakfast Club.  But I could be biased, because I'm also loving Tina and Artie's new roles this season: to "bitch pls" everyone who offers up an earnest idea.  They're so saucy, and I love it.  I mean, if they're not going to be real characters anyways, I will happily accept the comedy of shade.

By the end of "Swan Song," the glee club came back together to sing "Don't Dream It's Over" in the snow, having left Marley's issues unaddressed, and the fate of the group uncertainly certain in their unofficial togetherness.  Kurt and Rachel are now both officially NYADA students, and Rachel is probably going to start writing fortune cookie messages in her off-time from aggressively battle-dancing with her teacher.  In all, the hour was unevenly paced, a bit disjointed even under the umbrella of its solid themes, and bearing the unavoidably Glee traits of heavy-handed execution despite underdevelopment.  Show, don't tell!

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: N/A
Dialogue: D
Plot: C
Characterization: D
Episode MVP: Kurt Hummel

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Battle of the Proxies" and the Kalinda Cliffhanger Repeat

The general contempt towards Kalinda's storyline this season isn't exactly a secret. Most fans and critics are citing it as the Kings' first major misstep with the show (which, considering that it's season 4, could also be considered a compliment). Nick has turned out to be kind of a lame villain, and worse still, their interactions have confused the character of Kalinda as the audience understands her.  She's passive under probable threat, distracted from her job, and ultimately untethered from her usual calculated existence.  The writers planned this storyline to be a Very Big Thing, but instead it's an Overblown Tired Thing - and underwhelming given the way it exploded onto the scene at the tail end of last season.

I've tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, though. The beauty of television lies in the fact that storylines carry over from episode to episode, and just because one installment is a dud doesn't mean that good things aren't to come. Plus, I love Kalinda, and knowing that this storyline has been in the works since S2 makes me want to have faith in it.

But last night's cliffhanger? That was the moment that showed all the problems on this arc. Because we'd seen it before: the sequence of events in 4.10 were nearly identical to the ones in 3.22!  "The Dream Team" closed out S3 with the threat of Kalinda's husband, and Kalinda resolved to action because of a perceived threat to Alicia. She waits for Nick in the dark, to finish things. 4.10 did almost the exact same thing: Alicia tells Nick that Lockhart Gardner will no longer be representing him because of his drug deals, and Nick threatens her. Kalinda finds out, and finally spines up when she realizes that Nick is a) in some real shady shit and b) threatening Alicia. She waits for Nick in the dark, to finish things. And in both episodes, a cliffhanger: what will Kalinda do? What did Kalinda do?

I really, really want to call this parallel construction. And who knows? With the beauty of TV, we could get more information that might change how we see this sequence of events in the season as a whole. But right now, it just looks a lot like retread. And I am sad for that. Because then it begs the question that the naysayers have been asking all along: what is the point of Nick?  Why do nine or ten episodes of Kalinda/Nick wheel-spinning just to bring things back to where they were in last season's finale? We had so much fear of Nick when he was a faceless presence offscreen, but after a slew of episodes where he's just "huffing and puffing," as it were, the danger's all gone. We're just kind of annoyed, now.

Plus, as so many have predicted in comments sections the internet over, it seems as though Kalinda resorted to lawbreaking to do away with the Nick Problem, which will likely precipitate Alicia having to defend her in court. This doesn't sound so bad, I guess, but it seems so... transparent. It's looked this way all season, and not in a ticking-time-bomb kind of way but an I-know-exactly-where-this-is-going kind of way.  Even if the cut-to-black assumed-violence is a misdirect, how exactly are the Kings going to pay off Kalinda's action in a proportionally dramatic way? It's awfully underwhelming to say, "Welp, she had him arrested. L8r, Nick!"

This whole thing is just messy. I wish Kalinda taking action in 4.10 was pushed up to 4.01, after the FIRST cliffhanger, and then the following episodes offering some glimpse of what Kalinda's plan might be for this situation. Trying to figure out a way to get him out of her life without murdering him, maybe. Investigating him, finding out he's dealing drugs, and then trying to get him arrested without him catching on and endangering Alicia or something. Then when she gets him arrested, he's pissed and leaves death threats that hang over the whole season until he comes back for the final episodes or something. Because I don't see how this storyline can end unless that man has a bullet in his head.

I'm also a bit bummed that the writing has ignored the potential to turn "the good wife" mantle onto Kalinda and her screwed-up marriage.  The 3.22 finale had the Kalinda-Alicia wives-and-families compare/contrast in spades, what with the cross-cut last sequence. But S4 seems to have lost that commentary, which was so thematically interesting.  Despite this, the storyline is reaping benefits for the once-wounded Kalinda-Alicia dynamic, what with positive interaction and relationship building/reinforcing.  I'm always here for that, and it's wonderful to see after the drought of friendship in season 3. But the execution along the way to foster that is making me frown. And I hate frowning at The Good Wife!

Ultimately, I hope the Kings find some way to make this storyline unique and meaningful on the heels of the development in 4.10, even if it's going to look like something of a "do-over."  After all, this storyline is supposed to be for Kalinda. I want Kalinda's character/arc to get something out of it. So far, she really hasn't. We've seen her passive, distracted from work, and confused - traits that blur the character's definition, and not in an interesting way. Nick is an emotionally abusive bully who threatens all in sight to keep Kalinda under his power. We really don't WANT this guy redefining her character. We want her to redefine him right out of her life, please and thanks.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The RBI Report: "Thanksgiving"

There's probably a Thanksgiving meal metaphor here; maybe something about Glee making all their side dishes the main course, or putting too much food on the table, or forgetting to even cook the turkey or something.  I guess the easiest thing to say is this: "Thanksgiving," in spite of a few good flavors here and there, just wasn't delicious.  

"Thanksgiving," written by Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner, directed by Brad Buecker.

Real talk: I wanted to like "Thanksgiving" more than I did.  I have a soft spot for everyone involved, and not just the returning cast members!  I love when editors get to take a turn at directing, as Brad Buecker has done, and I feel for Lerner and Friend because, well, they're new writers and that can't be fun.  Also, their names sound like they should be on Sesame Street and I find that irresistibly charming.  But alas, Lerner and Friend could not sing, count, or otherwise adorable their way out of the mess that their predecessors have left them.  (Should I call them Friend and Lerner?  I feel like that's what should go on my Twitter profile: drshebloggo, friend and learner.)

What exactly do you do with six returning graduates, two NYC orphans, twelve current glee members, one competition, one national holiday, one love quadrangle, one half-baked eating disorder storyline, and countless scattered relationships to try and honor?  I'd say it sounds like the start of a joke, but that feels a bit too mean.  Truthfully, it's just a mess.  And maybe a miracle, frankly, that there were some good moments throughout "Thanksgiving."  But as soon as the episode started heading towards something interesting, it veered in the other direction before anything really great could come of it.  This makes an hour of Glee less a viewing experience and more an exercise in "what could have been"s.  "Let's Have a Kiki" was so sublimely absurd and infectious (and the happiest Chris Colfer has looked about playing Kurt in at least a dozen - two dozen? - episodes) it begs the question: why no New York spinoff with Rachel, Kurt, and the occasional Isabelle?  I know I complained about adults getting involved in the teens' lives, but for some reason, it's more or less believable with Isabelle and Kurt.  Perhaps it's Isabelle's kooky but competent demeanor, or her similarities to Kurt, or the fact that she's not trying to sleep with him, sabotage him, or force her own dreams on him.  Maybe it's just the magic of Sarah Jessica Parker.  (And by 'magic' I really mean Hocus Pocus.)

Regardless, there were countless little wormholes in "Thanksgiving" that made me wish we could zip into those other universes and see what was happening there.  Kurt and Brody bickering about turkey preparation just made me want a three-handed Odd Couple dynamic with them and Rachel.  Quinn talking about her life at Yale just made me want to see how exactly she got involved with all these extracurriculars (and her professor).  The quick glimpse of Sue and Emma in the crowd at Sectionals made me wonder how they're getting along these days.  Unique's hasty "update" on her post-"Glease" choices, combined with her partnership with Mercedes, made me grumpy that we didn't see any actual onscreen development or interaction there.  The same goes for Marley and Santana, which was actually the Number One Oldie-Newbie dynamic to develop, frankly.  Every other pair was fairly expected given the plot, or shared character traits - Ryder/Mike, Mercedes/Unique, Kitty/Quinn, and Jake/Puck.  But Santana/Marley?  Completely unexpected, and the results we barely saw were intriguing.

In fact, what the episode did put forth regarding Santana and Marley, and by extension, Quinn and Kitty, was fairly solid.  It worked reasonably well to have Quinn and Santana argue over their noobs, perhaps because these are two characters who don't often show that they care.  And while I can see Quinn going Mama Bear over another girl in the school potentially getting knocked up by a Puckerman, I sincerely doubt she'd buy into Kitty's crap without trying to get the real story.  Even so, I actually found it endearing how stupidly idolizing Kitty was of Quinn (she has a picture of her in her locker, for heaven's sake), and the Santana-Quinn argument was surprisingly not a two-dimensional excuse for a slapfight.  Quinn touched on a nerve with Santana by basically calling her a coward for not pursuing her dreams.  Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Say what now?  That is actually fascinating.  As is the "TWITTER UPDATE!" (bless) of Quinn being excited about another man defining her life.  And of course, these two notions are buried under six different terribly-developed storylines and completely off-camera... right next to the storyline where Santana cares about Marley's eating disorder because she's been there herself.  Two storylines over from Unique's relationship with her parents, which went from "we love her and accept her no matter what" to "we're going to send you away to a camp."  Lying just below the forgotten detail that Quinn gave Rachel the train pass, not the other way around.  (Unless Quinn fudged the facts because it was more believable that Rachel would do something that over-the-top, and wanted to save face.  I will accept this version of events, but very few reasons as to why exactly they haven't used the train passes.  Those things expire, you know.)

Instead of these more interesting "Thanksgiving" morsels, we instead just got a lot of hot air about Brody and Cassandra having sex, and Kurt and Rachel giving themselves another pep talk about their ex-boyfriends, and superfluous Warbler performances where Grant Gustin is probably questioning, yet again, what exactly the plan was for his character on this show.  Also, during "Whistle," did anyone else doubt if there's ever been a rap performance on this show not done by a white dude?  I cling to Santana's split verses in "Fly" like never before.  (And yes, I do know that Darren Criss is half-Filipino and not technically white.  Arguments abound as to whether or not the same goes for Blaine.  I see both sides.)

The Ryder-Jake storyline was adequate in and of itself, although I question Glee's logic in that it's totally normal to trade girlfriend choices with dance solos.  It wasn't quite framed so crassly, but I won't deny that my brow furrowed at this leg of the love quadrangle.  Plus, I have a hard time swallowing this "we're bros!" détente that Ryder and Jake have created to rise above their romantic opposition, when Kitty's two scenes over scheming to physically and psychologically harm Marley over having a relationship with her ex.  (That is why she's doing it, right?  I can't even remember, and Glee seems to be resting lazily on the excuse that Kitty's a nasty cheerleading bitch and so why wouldn't she?  Sigh.)  

I will also confess that I'm growing to like dear little Jake Puckerman, perhaps because he's the only noob who seems to be unbound by stereotype in the writer's room.  Marley, and Kitty, and Ryder are all still flat on the page, written too neatly in the lines of Rachel, and Quinn, and Finn.  But Jake?  Jake's the "bad boy" who has conversations with the lunch lady no one likes, and secret ballet training.  Combine that with Jacob Artist's sweet little face and he's quickly becoming my preferred 2.0 kid.  And Aisha Tyler's coming to be his mom!  Lord, I pray to all things Teen Jesus that they intend on showing a good relationship with his mother.  This show has been historically all about the dads, what with the "being a man" rhetoric, and Quinn's daddy issues, and Puck's daddy issues, and Finn's and Blaine's and Will's daddy issues, and Rachel's two dads, and Patron Saint of Fathers Burt Hummel.  There's been good dads and bad dads, and focus on lack of dads.  Moms?  Not so much.  There's bad moms, like Shelby, and Quinn, and Mama Sylvester and Mama Pillsbury, and good-but-forgotten moms like Carole and possibly Sue, and drunk moms like Mrs. Schuester and Mrs. Fabray.  May Jake's mom follow in the blessed footsteps of Gloria Estefan as Mama Lopez or Tamlyn Tomita as Mama Chang, our only examples of coherent, existing, and supportive moms on this show.  But if he must have mommy issues, may they at least not be dusted under the rug like Quinn's and Emma's and Finn's and Sue's.  


Now let me discuss, finally, the last two big moments of the episode - Kurt and Blaine's talk, and Marley's collapse.  Despite the Kurt-Blaine phone call's poor placement in the episode (you couldn't have found a better place than right after "Let's Have a Kiki" for Kurt and right before Sectionals for Blaine?), the content was solid.  It was good to finally get the ball rolling on recovery for these two, instead of alternating between "we're not talking" and "I miss him."  I like that we're setting a goal for Christmas, acknowledging their history together, and not forcing Kurt to forgive Blaine any time soon.  It's surprisingly mature for this show to acknowledge that there's a difference between listening and forgiveness, and I appreciated as well that Kurt's actions were framed not with weakness but strength.  Kurt isn't weak for calling Blaine and wishing him well and telling him he misses him.  He's trying to move forward, and, as per Isabelle's advice, trying to do so with acceptance in his heart.  This is actually the picture of strength, and I'm mildly impressed with this wisdom, I have to say.  

As for Marley's collapse... eh.  After two seasons with overworked conflicts that dissolve too easily into an expected Sectionals victory for New Directions, I appreciate the switch-up in format.  There's no confetti or trophy waiting for them at episode's end, just a medical emergency.  I can dig it, in theory.  But this Marley eating disorder storyline is just too terrible for me to be wholly okay with the cliffhanger.  Obviously, I feel badly for Marley, as she's clearly not okay.  But the machinations of the writers to get to this point were just too ass-backwards and forced.  The storyline was overwrought in places it should have been left alone, and underdeveloped in areas it should have been worked a bit more.  It's also one of Glee's rare storylines that carries over from episode to episode, and it actually didn't need to be.  The plausibility of the circumstances is stretching, and about to break.  What's left is the romantic interest of Jake and Ryder and not the mentor concern of Santana, and the shock factor they clearly intended all along: Marley collapsing on stage.  So it feels cheap, and that sucks.  A serious disorder that affects plenty of people like Marley shouldn't feel cheap.  

In all, "Thanksgiving" didn't feel much different from any of the other offerings Glee has served up this year, despite the familiar faces.  Most everything was stretched and contrived to precipitate an end result we're not all that emotionally invested in, padded out with untethered musical numbers, and spread thin with expository dialogue.  What's worse, this episode featured the most appearances by previous graduates, and so every once and awhile we got a brief shining glimpse of something we'd be far more interested in if only the Glee writers would put a light there.  

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: C
Dialogue: B for jokes, D for content
Plot: C
Characterization: C
Episode MVP: "Let's Have a Kiki"

The Belated RBI Report: "Dynamic Duets"

I'm on my third Glee episode in four days and it feels like my brain is leaking out my ears, so this one for "Dynamic Duets" will be brief.  Cool?  Cool.

"Dynamic Duets," written and directed by Ian Brennan

Is this our first episode doubled up with Ian?  I can't remember.  Regardless, it definitely showed - "Dynamic Duets" didn't take itself too seriously, and was firmly grounded in absurdity.  The theme of the hour was "superheroes," and Ian left no stone unturned in exploiting that theme.  The direction in particular was a bit unhinged, with whip-tos, push-ins, and freeze frames underscoring the devotion to comic book style.  And, even though most superheroes work alone, "Dynamic Duets" went instead with the Avengers theme: there's strength in numbers.  

Ryder and Jake
Finn paired up these two so they could work out their differences through collaboration.  But, duetting only flared up their competition over Marley.  (Ryder thinks Jake is a manwhore who's going to hurt Marley blah blah blah.)  They brawled.  So, Finn required them to share a secret with the other, and, after Jake makes the first move, Ryder reveals he has a hard time reading.  Jake decides to tell Finn, who gets a school counselor to test Ryder for dyslexia.  This was an adequate storyline for these two dudes on the outs, and it's nice to see guys on this show bonding over actual emotional authenticity instead of the "you're teaching me how to be a man" card.  Jake and Ryder's bonding was specific, meaningful, and well-played.  

Kitty and Marley
Meanwhile, over in Girlville, Marley and Kitty's storyline should be so lucky.  The two are paired up for a superhero duet, and of course, Kitty takes every opportunity to undercut Marley's self-esteem with comments about her weight and Marley completely buys into it.  Sigh!  Why do Ryder and Jake get meaningful interactions when Kitty and Marley's are built on sabotage?  It's frustrating!  There's absolutely no reason why the girls can't overcome their boy-related opposition, especially when Ryder and Jake did just fine getting past their Marley issues.  Worse still, Kitty's pretending to be Marley's friend, which makes their interactions all the more frustrating.  If you remove the element of manipulation from the scenario, Kitty and Marley actually have great interactions - Kitty's kind of like Marley's sassy gay friend who says bitchy things but means well.  If only that were the reality here.  There's no coming back from the kind of psychological warfare Kitty's actually waging against Marley, so may as well enjoy the friendly-ish interactions while we can.  If we can.

Blaine and the New Directions
So, like any hero, Blaine is tempted to go to the "dark side," aka back to the Warblers.  This has been brewing all season long, since Kurt left, and it made sense for the show to explore this.  I will say, though, that I'm grumpy about the Warblers singing Kelly Clarkson's "Dark Side," because it has long been a song that my brain associates with Quinn Fabray.  I mean, I know the show doesn't care about Quinn enough to give her that solo, nor would it be in Dianna Agron's vocal wheelhouse, but... all I'm saying is if I had enough fannish devotion, I'd totally be making a fanvid right now.

Anyways, Blaine gives in to the encouragement from that weird dude with the cat, and Sam steps in to stop Blaine from doing something he'll regret.  I did like how "We Can Be Heroes" actually showed the New Directions doing heroic things on a small scale.  For as much as this episode indulged in over-the-top expressions of heroism, they still had the kids participating in volunteer work, which is a lovely display of real-life heroics.  Plus painting montages are always fun.  

Finn got a nice background arc where he came into his own as a glee club leader.  Sure, dialogue like "be their hero, Finn" grates a bit, but I liked the underlying issue of Finn trying to establish himself as an adult to kids that are only a year younger than him.  Plus, it allowed for the coffee bit, which was actually a great little moment of comedy and character insight.  In the end, Finn's guidance to Ryder and Jake worked, and the team welcomed him as their leader.  After all, how better to tell someone you view them as an old person than to give them a fanny pack?  Congratulations, Finn.  The group sees you as an eighty-year-old woman in a casino.  All joking aside, Finn's leadership was actually believable in this episode: well-intentioned, a bit goofy, and ultimately very quarterback-esque, what with the huddle up and the pep talk.

In all, "Dynamic Duets" felt a lot like an Ian Brennan episode from S1.  It was thematically exhausted, but wacky and weird enough to not be taken too seriously.  Kind of like "Funk," which Ian cheekily name-checked in this episode as a bad idea.  (As an aside, how much do I love that Tina and Artie now exist to deliver "bitch please" comments to everyone in the narrative?  If they're not going to be wielded as actual characters, then this is the next best thing.)  "Dynamic Duets" was certainly not the best Glee's ever been, nor did it feature anything I'm personally invested in, but it was executed with tongue in cheek and workable development.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: C
Dialogue: C
Plot: C
Characterization: C
Episode MVP: Jake Puckerman

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Belated RBI Report: "Glease"

Well, that was an asinine hour of television.  Almost as dumb as the name "Glease."

"Glease," written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, directed by Michael Uppendahl

This week, I'm tripled-up on Glee episodes, so, for time management, as well as my sanity, I'm doing a simple run-through of what was good and what wasn't.  With "Glease," it's a lopsided list, and not in a good way.  Even so, let's start with the good:

I actually enjoyed Finn and Rachel's episode-ending discussion, mainly because it felt authentic to what we've witnessed with them as a couple: it's been good, it's been bad.  We don't always get that even-handed interpretation, and so when Finn started listing Rachel's different types of cries, I braced myself for maximum schmaltz.  But the last one - "crying over a guy," changed my opinion, simply because Finn admitted that Rachel spent much of her time in high school crying over him.  As far as I see it, that's not exactly ideal, and I appreciated that such a downer of a truth was embedded in what would ordinarily be a basic schmoopy and two-dimensional ode to Finn and Rachel's relationship.  I'm intrigued that the writers are cutting the cord between the two (I'm sure it's temporary, but at least it's a firm decision for the meantime) and want to see each character on their own for a bit.  (Although the conflicts this episode found for them, individually, were really dumb, so who knows.  More on that in a bit.)

The dialogue this season has been exceptionally bottom-of-the-barrel.  That's what happens when your cast is comparable in number to the population of a small city.  Each scene juggles someone new, in which they say exactly what they're thinking or what their purpose is, and the audience winces at the blatant dismissal of "show, don't tell."  But!  There was one single moment in "Glease" where this construct didn't completely obliterate any authenticity of emotion, and for that, it goes in the good (miraculous?) category.  While most of Brittany and Santana's pre-show conversation was suuuuuuper on-the-nose and suuuuuuuper expository, the final shot somehow made it work.  I don't quite know how this happened.  Brittany literally identifying all the reasons that Santana should be sad during her solo is not exactly the best way to demonstrate why Santana is going to be sad during her solo.  And yet, something about that lingering shot of Santana looking in the mirror, bubble burst, punctuated the otherwise dull moment with a pang of genuine heartache.  Maybe it's because she didn't look in the mirror and say, "I'm so sad."  Maybe it's because we got a split second of quiet time to spend alone with a character's emotional POV, something Glee is sorely lacking these days.  Or maybe it's just Naya Rivera's face.  Whatever the reason, I was surprised and impressed at the sudden elevation of bargain-basement material.

The news that Puck and Mercedes stay in touch in LA.


The bad - nay, terrible:

Marley's storyline was basically a trainwreck from beginning to end.  The main culprit was one of Glee's classic constructs: Character A, at center of storyline, doesn't have agency.  In order to overcome their obstacles, another character just fixes everything for them, thereby depriving them of a choice, and oversimplifying emotional depth.  Marley's storyline went even further in this paradigm to show all the symptoms of Glee's recurring and gross perception of women.  Behold: Marley thinks she's gaining weight.  Marley panics because her mom is overweight.  Reveal!  Kitty, bitchy cheerleader, is going to comically absurd lengths to sabotage Marley because she hates her for "stealing" her boyfriend (which, annoyingly, didn't even happen).  Kitty convinces Marley to purge as a solution to this nonexistent weight problem, which Marley does with little protest until Ryder finally steps in and tells her she's too beautiful and amazing to do such a thing.  Phew!  I'm glad there was a penis around to save the day.  What would Marley have done with only mean bitches to guide her?

This storyline does no one any favors except Ryder, for being a sweet guy who barges into bathrooms and stops girls from forcing themselves to vomit after a meal.  It puts Kitty beyond the realms of human sympathy, and it makes Marley a spineless putz.  And for what?  A PSA about eating disorders?  Surely there's a better way to do this.  For the exact same result, it'd just be cheaper to put Blake Jenner's face on a billboard in LA with the caption, "Hey ladies.  You're beautiful.  Keep your food down."

Instead, there was never any moment where someone sat Marley down to talk about body image.  There was no "Hey, Marley.  Hollywood wants you to be a size 2, but fuck the haters and be happy with who you are."  There wasn't even a "Hey, Marley.  Yes, we understand you don't want to be the same weight as your mom.  But you're your own person, and as long as you eat healthy foods, with moderation, and learn to love your imperfections, you're the most beautiful you can be."  There wasn't even any acknowledgement that being size-2 skinny isn't the end-all, be-all.  In fact, the episode breezed right by that lesson and had Marley's mom basically reinforce the idea that if she's going to be a star, she has to be thin.  Sigh!  Every step of this storyline felt like a pitstop on the Missing the Point Express, and what's worse is knowing that the writers are forcing Kitty to conduct the train.  Marley showed no sign of body dysmorphia before Kitty basically brainwashed her, and it's slightly horrific to think about the emotional consequences.  Body dysmorphia is a real thing, and yet the Glee writers are weaponizing it into the hands of a high school sociopath and dissolving it with the mere appreciation of a cute boy.  It's obscenely two-dimensional, and a bit unsettling, when you think about it.

Basically, this storyline needed to swerve on that track within the first botched Grease fitting.  Why not have Tina notice the inconsistencies in her measurements, which seems like it would be fairly obvious, and have her investigate the situation?  It would certainly give Tina something to do, instead of get skipped over for solos and then gripe about it.  And putting Kitty in her place would be a nice moment of an upperclassman sticking up for an underclassman, and a hero moment for Tina as an important member of the glee club.  (Don't you dare tell me she's not.)  There's even opportunity for Tina to mentor Marley a little bit, which makes Tina less of an afterthought and Marley less of a social climber in the narrative.

In summary: this storyline is best enjoyed by muting Kitty's and Marley's scenes, and pretending that every time Kitty raises two fingers to tell Marley to purge, she's really offering lesbian sex.  You're welcome.

The second bad thing in this episode was the treatment of Unique.  The issue here is not dissimilar to Marley's - Unique had little to no agency in her storyline, when in fact, she should be the emotional focal point.  Because of Sue Sylvester's squabble with a 19-year-old, Unique has been removed from the play and told she can't wear women's clothing at school.  Now, I understand that it's realistic to think that Unique's safety might be of concern in a small-minded Ohio town.  I get this.  But how fucking sad is it that she can't be who she is, and this outcome is precipitated by a pointless Finn-Sue antagonism?  Boo.  If Unique can't be who she is at school, then at least show me scenes where she can be herself at home.  Show me with her parents, who accept her.  Show her happy, show her fulfilled.  Let her be Rizzo, no questions asked!  I love that this character is representing transgender teenagers, a group that gets little to no visibility in mainstream television, but for the love of humanity don't crap on the character.  It does more to change minds by letting Unique be Rizzo, without any question or doubt.  But even if you're going to give Unique these obstacles, at least let her be at the center of the storyline, with choices and agency and empowerment.  It's the most important trait to give any character, especially one representing outside the kyriarchy.  

What's even more unfortunate about the marginalization of Unique in this episode is that it was done for a lame conflict between Sue and Finn.  Why is it that the adults on Glee are extraordinarily adept at getting way too involved with the drama of young people?  It's an age-old issue, but "Glease" had it bad: Sue has a vendetta against a 19-year-old, and Cassandra July gives her JetBlue points to Rachel Berry just so she can emotionally traumatize her by sleeping with Brody.  How ridiculous is that premise?  First, it's kind of dumb for Cassie to think that sleeping with Brody would hurt Rachel.  It's not even like they're dating.  Second, Cassie shouldn't even know if Brody and Rachel are dating.  Third, WHY DOES CASSIE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE LIFE OF A NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD?  This conflict with Rachel and Cassandra was the absolute worst.  It took the bitchy-female-relationship aspect of the Marley-Kitty storyline, shook it together with the adult-engaging-pathetically-with-a-teenager element of the Finn-Sue storyline, and created a gross Leviathan of No-No-No-Please-Make-it-Stop the likes of which we haven't seen since Shelby stuck her tongue down Puck's throat.  

Basically, every adult on this show needs to be shipped off to a Blue Ribbon Panel of Learning to Have Responsible Interactions with Young People.  The end.

I'm very, very torn about seeing the graduated kids in the halls of McKinley.  On the one hand, it's nice to have them onscreen.  On the other hand, Glee is wielding them terribly, and mostly I just want to think that they've gone on to bigger and better things.  (The actors as well, frankly.)  It's so dumb to randomly toss Mike and Mercedes and Santana into storylines where they're not really necessary!  These characters are already too much like puppets; I don't like seeing every string on the marionette as the writers dance graduated seniors back into the picture for a half-baked appearance.  If all they're going to do is yap about what they're up to and be pushed to the background behind the underclassmen, then just cut them loose!  Absolutely nothing about bringing the college kids back makes sense: why Mike and Mercedes were still there, why Santana was the "obvious" choice for Rizzo, why Kurt and Rachel really wanted to go home to see their exes.  None of it makes sense.  None!

Bottom line: I like seeing the old gang reunited again.  But the transparent ways in which the writers tether them back to McKinley High School is putting them on the path to become one of Glee's classic pathetic adults who can't seem to not be involved with high school drama.

And, while I would ordinarily appreciate checking in on our bereft couples, none of the scenes between Brittany and Santana, Kurt and Blaine, or Mike and Tina gave us any new information.  Why not take the screentime divvied up to all three for basically no content, and allow one couple (my choice: Mike and Tina, since we didn't see them in the break-up episode) an actual plotline?  It would be so much better that way.  Focus, Glee!  I know you have a lot of characters to juggle, but if you try to do right by them all at once, you're not doing right by any of them!  

Including the faceless theater critic was dumb.  It was used as a weird last-minute way to raise the stakes on Marley's performance (to facilitate a Marley/Ryder kiss?) and then just to overly praise the performance, as if we needed to be told, in way-exaggerated language, just how amazing everything was.  Uh, thanks.  That wasn't really necessary.


Okay, there were a few things that came so close to being good, but were interrupted by bizarre decisions in directing.  Detailed here, in all their middling glory:

As mentioned earlier, I loved the Santana moment that preceded her solo, and I loved the idea that Unique got an emotional moment about her loss of the role of Rizzo.  "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" came very close to making good on both promises, and boasted a three-handed solo that I would usually find intriguing in its cross-character parallels.  But this did not work, largely because there was too much going on.  It lacked focus.  Santana's emotions about Brittany and Unique's emotions about losing the part vied for the predominant POV, and the inclusion of Cassandra July flat-out ruined it.  Together, there was actually no common thread between the three singers' emotional POV, and Unique's and Santana's link of sadness was not quite similar enough to be tonally harmonious.  It's a shame, because the vocals on the song were great, and I loved that Unique sang her part from the audience, even though she wasn't under the spotlight.  It was the one element in Unique's storyline that I'd been waiting for.  Unfortunately, its context was a bit muddled.

Similarly, "Glease" made some weird choices involving "You're the One That I Want."  I loved, loved, loved that Rachel had a fantasy sequence where she imagined herself singing the song with Finn - after all, it's the first song they ever sang together.  That was a glorious, lovely decision that actually made my heart pang for their broken relationship.  But then Glee took it too far, and nothing about any of it came to make any sense.  It's one thing for Rachel to get the hallucination, as it were, but then suddenly Finn shared the same one?  And that wouldn't be as bad, I suppose, but then suddenly all the broken-up couples were dancing happily like they had no problems in the world?  What the hell?  It would have been so much stronger to keep the fantasy sequence to Rachel alone, and allow her that moment of sadness.  Then, when she snaps out of it, she sees that Finn is looking at her, and we get the idea that he's thinking the same thing - but we don't have to see him having the same visual that Rachel did.  Because that was weird.

And, more than anything, I was super peeved that every old couple reunited for that number: Mike and Tina, Kurt and Blaine, Finn and Rachel, and Brittany and Santana... but not Sam and Mercedes.  Really, writers?  Really?  You're gonna pretend they never existed?  Even though both parties were in the building, as a result of your dumbass machinations anyways?  Sigh.  

In all, "Glease" was a hot mess of bad decisions, from the spread-thin content and characters, to the poor development afforded to larger conflicts.  Nearly everything was contrived, and brief moments that flirted with authenticity were unraveled by lack of focus and too much going on.  

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: C
Dialogue: F
Plot: C
Characterization: D
Episode MVP: uh... Mercedes?

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