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!" d├ętente 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.  

Amen.

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"

7 comments:

  1. Regarding Blaine's ethnicity, I recall that in "Blame It on the Alcohol," Rachel commented that if Blaine turned out to be bisexual and interested in her, he potentially could keep up with her vocally AND give her "vaguely Eurasian children." :-)

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  2. I actually thought that the episode was quite good. I mean, it wasn't great, but there were enough things to surprise me in the good way to make it work for me, like :
    - an actual twist in the Sectionals plot that isn't "somebody is trying to sabotage them" or "omg this rival group is sooo good"
    - the Kurt/Blaine conversation
    - watching them all actually rehearse (Mike ftw !)
    - a few friendship scenes, like the one in the bar
    - actually, almost everything in NYC was good
    - I thought that the Marley storyline, if you ignore how we got there, was not that bad
    All in all, there was much too much going on in this episode and a lot of it felt underexploited, but at least not too badly done.
    I'm mostly disappointed at the Quinn/Santana storyline since I've been wanting something like that since S1 and it has such a fantastic potential. I could just have been... more.
    Oh, and I HATED that the Warblers got TWO songs. What a waste of time.

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  3. My favourite part of watching the episode is reading your reviews later!

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  4. This episode had such a great start that I felt disappointed with the rest. I felt a tug on my heart strings during Homeward Bound/Home. :') It was simple but beautifully done & made me realize how much I miss these characters. After that opener I was expecting an amazing episode & got "eh". I agree with much of what you said. I felt that Santana/Quinn argument was brilliant but I wish we would have seen more of this when they were on the show. :/ I loved "Let's Have A Kiki", which I thought I wouldn't. I agree completely with the Rachel & Kurt spinoff! Hm, I also loved the Unholy Trinity singing "Come See About Me", a la "Say A Little Prayer". (God, how I miss season 1..) All in all, I really just cared about my old characters. I like Jake but I don't really feel much for the rest of the new characters. I felt bad for Marley but I couldn't help thinking how none of her friends noticed how sick she was. Not only that but Marley seems like a smart girl. Should she not know how mistreating your body is a terrible thing. I thought when Santana & Quinn saw her get a little woozy they would try to help her through it as Quinn did for Mercedes. But alas :/ I've lost so much interest for the show these past few episodes but this episode I was excited for because of the old cast. Sadly, the writers did what they usually do & skimmed over most of what could have been great story lines for these characters. Disappointed.

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  5. I, for one, loved that the Warblers got two songs (even though Trent and Thad weren't present). But then again, I am part of a rare breed that adores the Warblers and couldn't care less about Rachel.

    Weeeeeell, Gangnam Style is kinda a rap song. Or all we all just better off pretending that didn't happen?

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  6. If Quinn hadn't gotten t-boned by a truck, emerged without so much as a bandaid, and was out of that wheelchair and dancing in a competition 2-3 months later....
    If Dave hadn't survived a hanging without so much as a sore throat...
    If Emma's sexual phobias hadn't been cured by the sight of a big shiny trophy...
    Then I'd worry about Marley.

    Thanks for the review, so far I haven't been tempted to watch this year.

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  7. Darren may only be half-white, but his rapping was whiter than white.

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