Thursday, September 13, 2012

The RBI Report: "The New Rachel"

Ah, here we are again.  Or rather - here I am again, starting a new season of Glee after having spilled so many words of critique about it.  It's Season 4, the original gang is completely splintered, and the show soldiers on in at least two separate locations.  What can I say?  Curiosity got the better of me.  I'm not sure yet if I'm going to continue blogging the rest of Season 4, but I will say this: all Glee reviews from here on out will be scaled back in depth - and length.  Brevity will be my friend!  (And yours, let's be real here.  I don't want your eyes falling out.)

With that, let's get back to work.

"The New Rachel," written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Brad Falchuk

"The New Rachel" saw the start of McKinley's next school year, after the graduation of Rachel, Finn, Santana, Kurt, Quinn, Puck, Mike, and Mercedes from not only high school but also the glee club.  The seats in the choir room are mostly empty, and so the New Directions has to audition new members - and cope with their newfound popularity after winning Nationals and bringing home a big-ass trophy.  Rachel struggles with adjusting to a new life in New York, Kurt struggles with adjusting to a new life in Lima, and Tina, Blaine, Brittany, and Wade duke it out for glee club stardom.  

We began with Rachel, whom we last saw ugly-crying on a train after getting her ass dumped and shipped off to NYADA - for her own good, natch.  I confess, I wasn't sure what to expect with Rachel after the complete devolution of her character last season.  It nearly took a small army to ensure Rachel's eventual acceptance to NYADA, what is it going to look like now that she's there?  Turns out - not pretty.  Rachel's already incited the ire of her supremely sharp-edged dance teacher Cassandra July, who wastes no time in giving Rachel an insulting nickname (David Schwimmer) and telling her she sucks.  To her face. 

Basically, Ryan Murphy has put Rachel on the Cheerios, except the substitute Sue Sylvester wears breakaway leather skirts.  

Not only that, but Rachel's clearly not getting along with anyone at school - and it's revealed in the littlest of ways.  She admits, nonchalantly, in narration, that everyone made fun of her nightly skincare regime and so she has to shower at 3AM.  For some reason, that was absolutely heartbreaking to me, and I almost wish we could've seen a little more of Rachel feeling socially estranged.  It'd be a nice way to hearken back to how she felt at the beginning of her time at McKinley - except now she's actually used to having friends, and it hurts to go back to feeling alienated.  But the writers sort of passed up that opportunity by giving Rachel a hunky new friend within the first five minutes, that existed simply to give her standing ovations and fortune-cookie advice like "don't fight the new you."  It's not that Brody is useless, but... he's basically Season 2 Blaine - a love interest disguised as Obi-Wan Kenobi when our hero feels like a fish out of water.  Meh.  I almost wish he weren't as present in Rachel's storyline yet, just to emphasize her isolation as well as how important it was for Kurt to arrive at episode's end.

(Truthfully, although I completely predicted Kurt's "turn around" nonsense as Rachel called him crying by the fountain, I was charmed by it, if only because it took a romantic comedy trope and repurposed it for two platonic soulmates.  Let the New York adventures begin!)

Of course, Kurt couldn't make a decision to go to New York without some serious poking and prodding from Blaine and Burt.  (Seriously, when will a main character make a decision for themselves again?  I long for the day.)  After his rejection from NYADA, Kurt got a job at the Lima Bean, enrolled at the Allen County Community College, and boomeranged back to McKinley High School far more than one would expect of a successful gay youth.  (Or so New Queen Bitch Kitty seems to think, anyways.)  But Kurt doesn't belong in Lima, and so Blaine tells him just that, proceeding to create an elaborate serenade in front of the whole school.  "It's Time" is a great song, but truthfully, it should have been Kurt's solo.  The number embodies exactly what's frustrating about so much of Glee's writing - especially when it comes to couples.  Rather than highlighting Kurt making his choice after some encouragement from Blaine, we instead get a spectacle of Blaine's encouragement, as Kurt sits there and passively listens to it.  Kurt is not an active character if his loved ones forcibly put him on a plane to New York!  Just like Rachel was not an active character when her loved ones forcibly put her on a train to New York!  Active characters make choices, onscreen!  Truthfully, Kurt never made his own decision about New York, just like Rachel didn't.  What was onscreen were Blaine's and Finn's decisions, unfortunately.

What should have happened with Kurt's storyline is this.  Early on, we needed to see Kurt show some hesitation about returning to McKinley.  That way, when Blaine says, "Hey Kurt, you don't belong here," we know that on some level Kurt feels the same way - even if he's repressing it.  It makes it seem less like Kurt is having epiphanies simply because Blaine's dropping truth bombs.  Maybe we even get to see why Kurt's hesitating - is he afraid he's going to change?  Cue "It's Time," as a Kurt solo of introspection, and perhaps even his actual decision in musical form.  Maybe he starts the song unsure, and by the end of the song, he's made his choice.  Because, c'mon, the lyrics of "It's Time" are much more suited for Kurt's own point of view, and not only that, him singing it would help put him back in the driver's seat of his own storyline.  (Seriously, Kurt was still trying to back out of going in the drop-off line at the airport?  Oh dear.  But it's hard to complain about that when it was padded out with a Kurt-Burt interaction that had me reaching for the tissues.  I never want to see Mike O'Malley choke back tears ever again.  Never!  My heart can't handle it.)

Meanwhile, back at McKinley, the glee club needs not only new members but also a New Rachel.  Or at least, that's what Tina, Blaine, Brittany, and Wade think.  (Oh, yeah.  Wade's here now!  Apparently no audition required.)  The foursome, under Artie's judgment, thus decide to battle it out to "Call Me Maybe" in classic Thunderdome tradition.  Y'know.  With violinists.  Basically, things get heated in the spirit of stardom, and this competition is all wrapped up in a larger storyline involving the glee club forgetting their roots: togetherness, and acceptance.  Yeah, sure, it's tried-and-true Glee schmoop, but it worked.  I don't like seeing these kids mean, even if they are being egged on by rando popular kids.

The target of their antagonism was Mrs. Rose, the overweight lunch lady, who, unbeknownst to the students, is the mom of new recruit Marley.  Mrs. Rose doesn't tell anyone Marley's her daughter, so she can avoid the ridicule.  (This lady is an angel.  She endlessly encourages her daughter to pursue her dreams while simultaneously sacrificing her own visibility in her daughter's life so that she won't hold her back.  Tragic character, party of one!)  But it all doesn't matter when Marley stands up and defends her from the rando popular kids' nastiness, and reveals that Mrs. Rose is her mom.  Sam's the first to apologize for the glee kids' behavior, in a lovely bit of character consistency, because he knows what it's like to not have a lot of money for the shallow things "cool kids" care about.  (Marley's mom sews J. Crew labels into her low-priced clothing.)  They all agree Marley belongs with the glee kids, and is welcomed into the fold.  Of course, such a public acceptance of a loser like Marley means that the glee club loses their newfound popularity, and inductees Wade and Marley both get slammed with the McKinley rite of passage: a slushie to the face.  

As for the New Rachel competition, Blaine is the one who wins out, in a result that shocks, oh, absolutely no one.  I'm still not quite sure why no one remembered that there is actual glee club leadership in the form of captaincy.  We don't need a new Rachel, we need a new captain, which was the position Rachel served in the club.  Not only that, she was co-captain with Finn, so clearly we can spread the wealth here.  Regardless, they're apparently going leader-less, at least on Blaine's "everyone's-a-star" watch, and hopefully with this reinstated policy of tolerance and non-douchery in the glee club, we can stop other characters telling Wade not to dress as Unique during school.  Anyone who tells Unique she shouldn't dress the way she does is almost instantly a "bad guy."  Major unlikeable points, and honestly, after witnessing more than one character telling Wade to lay off the makeup and women's clothes, I couldn't believe it when she reported having felt like she was "welcomed with open arms."  Open arms and a few stipulations, more like.

Anyways.  Let's chalk that up to the glee club forgetting that they embrace their differences and hope it's not a recurring thing.

The final tidbit of the new New Directions storyline belonged to Jake No-Last-Name, who slyly turned out to be Jake... Puckerman.  Somehow, Noah Puckerman, who presumably is wandering around Lima somewhere, does not know he has a brother with the same last name as him... also wandering around Lima somewhere.  Glee writers, I need more details here to help this construct fly!  Did Jake just move here?  Does his dad know he exists?  Is Jake's mom in Lima as well?  Can we meet her?  Can we give her a storyline with Puck?  (Wait.  Let me rephrase.  Can we give her a storyline with Puck where he doesn't sleep with her?  I forgot that I need to specify these things.  Sleeping with inappropriate moms is in no way out of the question for this show.)  There's certainly interesting things to be done with Jake Puckerman, and maybe his arc won't be nearly as erratic as his older half-brother's.  

Truthfully, the storylines at McKinley have just as much potential as the ones in New York.  While it's inherently interesting to watch Kurt and Rachel at the start of their new journeys, I'm almost equally as interested in the reconstruction going on within the New Directions.  There is such a random smattering of students left behind, and I'm excited to see new dynamics shake out.  Of course, there's also four couples split apart in this scenario as well, and it should be intriguing to see how Glee handles that.  Personally, I am really not married to any of them at this point.  These are seventeen- and eighteen-year old kids.  Their significant others won't always stay the same.  They're still growing individually, and that process is more fascinating to me.  It's like Tina's new tattoo says: Make change forever.  Change is good.  This seems to be the motto for the whole season, and I hope the writers embrace it.  Shake things up.  Surprise me.  Impress me.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B-
Dance Numbers: B
Dialogue: B
Plot: B
Characterization: B-
Episode MVP: Burt Hummel, World's Greatest Dad


  1. Thank you so much for this report. Coupled with others I've read this evening, I now know I have zero interest in watching this show. That is what I was hoping would happen. I do hope you continue to report throughout the season. I enjoy your writing an awful lot...

  2. Even though I haven't watched the new ep I feel (from what I've read) Glee is once again "playing to the crowd", again hiding the continuity errors and bad characterization through the music. Creating "new" versions of old characters (Quinn 2.0) as the writer's don't know anything else then to write bad stereotypes and use them as plot devises. Soon it will be back to it's old ways. I'm sure.

    Glee lost me long ago; Grilled Cheesus was the end for me but the real nail in the coffin was a mix between "First Time" episode and the messages it send about Virginity and Finn outing Santana in the hallway.

    Long story short this show has horrible double standards of knowing the power it can wield, but sending horrible messages to young girls just to get a few laughs.

    Everyone should just watch Fringe instead.

  3. Still an excellent report in spite of the brevity. I agree with your B grade. It wasn't awful. In fact, it might've been better than some of the awful season premieres we've had in s2 or s3. But it wasn't brilliant either. In fact, I wonder if I am too cynical to enjoy Glee anymore. If the best I can say for it is that I wasn't terribly insulted, then why can't I look away!?

    "There is such a random smattering of students left behind, and I'm excited to see new dynamics shake out."

    100% this! The left-behinds are all kinds of random, plus decoupling the entire cast lends itself to a fresh start. I would've thought they'd need to add more people, but they technically only added 2. Guess Will hasn't figured out the JV system. But alot of the oldies are just downright unlikable right now. I always hate on Will, but cutting a kid off during an audition that he *liked*. High-level douchbaggery. He'll always be a crap teacher imo, but I am sure the other kids will learn their very special lesson soon enough.

    I am curious as to what became of the other grads. It looks like they'll not be getting a ton of screen time. I guess Santana is not in NY? I had secret hopes they'd pair up Santana and Rachel as the ultimate odd couple. Not romantically but in an us against the city kind of way, even though we don't really like each other. In the right hands their bristly frenemy dynamic would be comedy gold... or maybe I am biased b/c they are my two favorite characters and pretty much the only reasons I still watch this trainwreck.

    Bonus points: NO FINN!


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