Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bunheads 1x18 - "Next!"

What a bewildering season finale!  Where most season-enders would find closure, or leave questions dramatically unanswered, "Next!" just kind of scuttles off into an episode-long exploration of teen sex and auditioning.  But, with Amy Sherman-Palladino at the helm, the result is an elevated hour of television where honest moments are doled out in an alternating pattern of stylized comedy and emotional depth.  Few shows can stitch these two polarities into something coherent, let alone engaging and likeable at every turn.  For that, "Next!" earns its stripes.

Conceptually, this episode is a bit weird.  While the girls spend most of the hour stressing out over sex, Michelle drives to LA so she can audition for a Broadway show.  Bunheads nudged Michelle here through her interactions with Talia in “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit,” and “It’s Not a Mint,” so it only makes sense that the narrative would follow through on this pursuit.  At first, I didn’t know what good could come of this endeavor.  Like the girls, I was afraid this would cause Michelle to run again, which is a character retread, even if realistic.  Further still, taking Michelle away from Paradise deflates the whole purpose of the show.  So what's the point of working against yourself, even if Michelle's dreams are still in the big lights?

But Amy Sherman-Palladino did something smart to manage the risk: it didn’t quite matter if Michelle got the audition or not.  This wasn’t a plot expansion or character development.  It was closure.  Michelle’s auditions bookend the show’s first season - in the pilot, she bombs her audition, gets wasted, marries Hubbell, and here we are.  That wound has not healed.  It’s hung over Michelle through her dream performance of “Maybe This Time” in the midseason finale, through her takeover of Ginny’s audition for The Bells Are Ringing.  Narratively speaking, Michelle doesn’t necessarily need to get a role.  She just needs a successful audition.

And “Next!” provided that for her, even though the cattle call was just for show.  With that heartbreaking twist, it keeps Michelle in Paradise a little longer, and suspends that sense of failed potential that identifies Michelle’s character identity.  And even despite that, it reminds us that Michelle is talented as all hell, and reiterates its own suggestion that just because you have potential doesn’t mean you’ll have success.  In all, this mini-arc was the perfect step for Michelle as a character, without messing up her role as the central fixture on Bunheads.  A delicate balance of pushing her forward without loosening the strings on the core tension of the character or her place in the narrative.  Well-played, ASP.  Well-played.

The girls followed Michelle to Los Angeles, to make sure she wasn’t running away again - which was a pretty cute reason, I have to say.  “Next!” was a great showcase of these four girls’ talents and chemistry in a group dynamic, which is rewarding to see in a season finale.  This back half has brought each of the girls into their own, especially Melanie and Ginny, and it's great to see everything firing on all cylinders.  They’ve all gelled so nicely, even with their distinct personalities, and it’s completely entertaining enough to just watch them function as a unit as they traipse through the narrative.  Of course, having four voices for Amy Sherman-Palladino’s screwball dialogue doesn’t hurt.  

Let’s back up for a minute.  The girls also had group content this week thanks to Sasha being obsessed with researching every little detail about sex and dragging everyone in on it.  This turned out to be surprisingly funny, from several angles.  From its most basic concept, it’s pretty hilarious to watch Sasha tailspin herself into a preparedness tornado as she bakes pot roasts, reads Sex and the Single Girl, and requires Tolstoy-inspired letters of romantic inquisition.  But the way she swept everyone up in her path also mined a lot of comedy.  Roman affably - if bemusedly - just kind of went with it, as needed.  Michelle was blindsided, but listening - and gave us the delightful bit of dialogue “I overintellectualized it, y’know?” / “…no, no I don’t.”  (Even in tiny moments, the appeal of these two as a poorly-matched yet effective mentor/mentee duo is wonderfully present and specific.)

But perhaps the funniest - and most interesting - stretch of Sasha’s obsession was the extension to Boo.  The Boo-Sasha dynamic is one of the show’s more complicated and affecting dynamics, simply because there’s a push-pull there that doesn’t ever escalate into actual antagonism.  They are very different, and they may not be best pals, but there’s a level of tolerance and affection there that rounds out their interactions and makes them incredibly engaging.  Boo gamely suffers Sasha’s relentless opining, and Sasha kind of keeps Boo under her wing.

“Next!” demonstrated this dynamic with all its edges, and proved that comedic content goes a long way between these two as well.  Sasha co-opts poor Boo into her tailspin about sex, substituting every “I” for “we,” and forces Boo to try and get an Anna Karenina sex letter out of Carl as well.  (Carl, sweet Carl, sends a comic book.  I mean, graphic novel.)  Boo drags her heels, Sasha badgers her, and eventually Boo fights back - only to have Sasha back down without any ounce of drama.  The whole endeavor was amusing, yes - Boo’s hesitant reply of “…with each other?” in response to Sasha’s boorish “We need to consider having sex, now” slayed me, especially with that little dab of face mask on her cheek.  But it also was an interesting demonstration of the Boo-Sasha dynamic.  Sasha tries to boss Boo around enough, and Boo fights back.  And instead of Sasha rising even higher and summoning wrath, she backs down and lets it happen.  Escalation of drama doesn’t ever quite come to blows.

This brings me back to the interest in watching these four girls interact in their group dynamic - especially with regards to Sasha.  Clearly the de facto leader, Sasha actually flirts with dictatorship over these girls.  She singlehandedly ropes everyone into group study sessions about sex, even when at least two of the other three aren’t interested.  She also unilaterally gets everyone in the car to LA, with the proverbial snap of her fingers.  But they also clearly tolerate her, even love her - and Sasha is also clearly not a monster.  She makes pot roasts and popovers, and still agrees to do night masks, and manages to make bitchy also really gooey.  She’s become such a wonderfully fleshed-out character, and “Next!” showed that in full display.  How hilarious was it to see her go full-on dance mom over Michelle’s audition?  “Suck your stomach in, for god’s sake!” she hisses from the wings, and then complains that the anxiety shaved ten years off her life.  She gets in a pretty mean backhanded burn in response to Michelle’s claim that “artists are so temperamental,” replying, “So’s Ginny.”  But she also coos “look at her!” at Michelle singing and dancing, and lets Boo take a piece of pie home for Carl.  It’s basically a treat to watch Sasha interact with anyone in any scene, simply because there’s no telling what exactly the snarky-to-soft ratio will be.  At this point, she’s Bunheads’ most effortlessly expanded character.

There’s one result of the sex storyline that was pretty unpredictable: Ginny had sex with Frankie, whom she's pretty much stared at like a creeper for several episodes now.  She confesses this to Michelle, then cries because Frankie hasn’t said anything to her in a week.  She’s not entirely sure he knows her name.  He was just so beautiful.  I have to say, I can’t imagine this is quite what they were planning for Frankie and Cozette when they arrived on the scene back in “Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor.”  In fact, it’s kind of a random conclusion on a storyline that seemed to be more about Cozette’s relationship with the girls.  Of course, that’s assuming that Cozette and Frankie won’t be back, on the assumption that Bunheads even gets a second season.  

Regardless, it’s safe to say that this turn of events has catapulted Ginny into the stratosphere of Most Tragic Bunhead.  Usually Sasha is queen of this domain, but lately she’s so freakishly well-adjusted that it was only a matter of time before someone usurped her.  Because really, how crappy was this back half for Ginny?  All her friends found new interests outside their group, she felt betrayed by her best friend, and her home life consisted of her holding her mom together as her dad remarried.  When you add up all those events and realize what stands on the other side of the equals sign - an inconclusive one-night stand with Frankie - Ginny basically becomes the most tragic character.  Her scene with Michelle was painfully honest, and the subsequent dance number to “Makin’ Whoopee” only served to sharpen the emotional blade through contrast.  Even though the girls wore coquettish costumes and danced flirtatiously, the staging was still dark and hazy, accented by swaths of red light - a stirring mix that highlights the complicated message about teenaged girls, adulthood, and sex.  Of course, it’s an obvious choice to make Ginny front and center in this number, but I was intrigued as well by the attention given to Cozette.  There's not really enough evidence to conclude anything from that; but it’s an interesting choice.

There was one actual wrap-up in “Next!” - with some prodding by Fanny, Milly gives Truly a new space for Sparkles, which has apparently died since its eviction in “Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor.”  This little storyline was handled nicely, in that Truly’s depression manifested in gloomily charming ways - writhing sadly in a pile of tutus, for example - and it paid off in a great scene with the two sisters finally making some sort of peace.  Milly offers up a mostly asbestos-free business space, and promises to waive the rent.  Truly accepts, and all is well with the sisters… until Scotty Simms comes in.  Yes, Scotty’s back, and it seems the only real reason why is to give him some chores and also eye candy for the Stone sisters.  Both Truly and Milly found him cute (“He kind of looks like [Michelle]!” / “Except cute.”) only to realize that… they both found him cute.  “Ugh, crap,” Truly complains.  I hope this is just a little one-off capper on the scene to provide some humor, and Milly and Truly will not actually compete for another man’s affections in a Hubbell redux.  As is, it was a charming finish on a poignant scene.

Also, Fanny was back, mostly to be a responsible adult about sex education, even if it involved using the phrase “clandestine carnal knowings.”

I do want to mention, lastly, some of the heightened moments of both comedy and truth Amy Sherman-Palladino dug out, because there were quite a few.  Michelle making her way through the long audition line was a great bit, in that the line was so exaggeratedly long for comedic purposes as well as illustrating Michelle’s chances at success.  The same goes for the four girls’ sex research montage; it did such a great job of finding a kernel of truth (what smart teen wouldn’t do a little research?) and then expanding it into something quietly madcap.  The moment where all four girls step up to the wall of condoms, in sync, and then fold their arms?  Genius.  Also genius?  Boo reading a Judy Blume book, then just switching to The Hobbit.  Another moment of genius, this time foreshadowing?  Ginny was reading Girls Who Said Yes - perhaps a heartbreaking clue to her offscreen timeline.   (Her desperation to be better at art also makes more sense, in a completely awful way.)

In all, “Next!” manages to be highly stylized yet completely grounded.  It’s still an oddball season finale, especially considering what Bunheads had set up for its back half, but as an episode unto itself it works remarkably well, and looks like nothing else you’d see anywhere else on television.  For that reason alone, I hope dearly that ABC Family renews the show and we’ll see it again for a second season.  And if not, maybe they’ll pick up the Melanie-Ginny spinster buddy comedy.  I’d watch it - especially since Frankie might want to hire a bodyguard if Melanie finds out about his tryst with Ginny.

The Report Card:
Dialogue: A+
Plot: A
Character: A
Joke of the Night: Between Boo and Ginny, at the Methodist church where auditions were being held - "I'm not supposed to be here."/"You'll be home before dark."/"No, I'm Lutheran."
Scene of the Night: The sex research montage
Episode MVP: Tied between Sasha and Ginny.  Sasha for the versatility, Ginny for the sheer power of sympathy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bunheads 1x17 - "It's Not a Mint"

Here's what I learned from Bunheads last night: even though the plot developments were largely centered on the girls' relationships with dudes, the best scenes of the hour still belonged to lady-lady ensemble.  On the one hand, it's hard to complain about meaningful conversations between women onscreen.  It's almost like these moments of poignance come as a reprieve to the more plot-based male-female interactions, as though the writers are hanging a "No Boys Allowed" sign on scenes of emotional breadth.  The importance - almost sanctity - placed on the female-female relationship is near impossible to argue, and I love that it not only exists, but that it's a specific, directed choice.

But at the same time... I find it really hard to care about these girls' relationships with their boys when the ones they have with the other girls are far more compelling and complex.  We'd gotten plot-related developments between the female characters before, but "It's Not a Mint" seemed to drop them in favor of pairing everyone in the group off.  What happened to Ginny's anger over the girls' dynamic changing?  Did she and Melanie resolve their issues?  Is it no longer a concern that the relationships between the core four might be affected by their love lives?  Beyond that, we're one episode away from the 1.2 finale - and some amazing storylines from earlier in this back half are still left dangling.  Do we really not get to see Melanie at roller derby?  Sasha really can just live like an adult, even though her parents basically left her without a second glance?  What ever happened with Truly's rent?  

In short: I'm a little grumpy that the plot arcs that Bunheads set up at the beginning of 1.2 are dust on the wind, and we instead get storylines with cute boys.  Maybe I'm just not the target audience for ABC Family, being a cranky feminist 20-something who just wants to see teenage girls doing their own thing independent of boys.  Is that goal unrealistic?  Maybe.  But we're talking about a show where a sixteen-year-old rents her own apartment, buys her own organic groceries, and does just fine paying the bills without a job.  So.  The realism card is not a strong one here.

But, like I said, it's hard to complain when there are such great female interactions in the mix.  "It's Not a Mint," despite its drama surrounding Dez, Frankie, Rick, Roman, and, well, sex with boyfriends - still was able to put emotionally resonant content in the hands of its capable lady ensemble.  The events of the episode were set against two backdrops: the evacuation of Paradise East into the ballet studio because of a forest fire, and the pending wedding of Michelle's BFF Talia and her aging fiancé Rick.  

Last we saw Talia, she had gotten a random phone call offering her a role in a touring company of "Rock of Ages," but "It's Not a Mint" showed her plowing ahead with wedding plans instead.  This turned out to be an issue for Michelle, as it bubbled to the surface in one of four strong lady scenes in the episode.  When the wedding nearly falls through twice, first on account of the emergency and second because of Rick falling and breaking his ankle, Michelle tells Talia it might be good to have time to think.  Turns out Michelle doesn't quite agree with Talia getting married to an old guy, especially when she seems to be "twisting [her]self into a pretzel for him."  She's giving up performing just for what appears to be monetary stability, and Michelle can't fathom that - especially when Talia had a role for the taking and with her own pull towards performing, even in Paradise.

Michelle's objections towards Talia's marriage reminded me a bit of Lizzie Bennet's towards Charlotte's in Pride & Prejudice, which is a lovely little character angle that's entirely relatable but also flawed.  Yeah, you can judge your best friend's choices all you want, but ultimately their situation is different than yours, and you have to accept that.  Michelle reached that conclusion with Talia, upon realizing that Talia didn't mind turning down "Rock of Ages," and is actually pregnant with Rick's baby.  (How adorable was it though that Michelle offered to raise the baby with Talia, though?  It makes absolutely no sense, which is why it was so endearing that Michelle suggested that so quickly.)  And we even got another always-welcome reminder that Michelle was married to a man for 24 hours before he died tragically, something that wouldn't happen to a person without impacting them.  Especially without Fanny around, it's nice to remember that Hubbell actually existed, and technically Michelle is a widow.

There was another lovely lady interaction as a result of Talia's wedding calamity, this time through the involvement of Truly.  Truly was hellbent on being maid of honor, simply because she's never been asked and believes she'll never be asked again.  (I was waiting for Michelle to be offended by what Truly was implying by that statement, but it never came.  Opportunity missed!)  We got an episode of Truly being wacky as she makes her own bridesmaid's dress and wills the wedding into fruition, but we were also treated to an emotional moment between her and estranged sister Milly.  

I won't lie; I've been a bit grumpy with Bunheads for introducing Milly and her sticky relationship with Truly, only to use Milly as a solo act and forgo Truly from those episodes entirely.  These are sisters, dammit!  There's a story here!  And "It's Not a Mint" found a touching moment, after Truly realizes that the helicopter used to magically deliver Rick to the wedding was actually Milly's doing.  This scene was so lovely and understated, as Truly thanked Milly for ensuring that she got her time as maid of honor, and had a brief conversation about their relationships with their mother, and the concept of marriage.  It sounds like Truly and Milly's mother was a piece of work, and doesn't think they'll ever get married.  For Milly, it's not a big deal.  She adopted, and is happy.  (Assuming the nanny is taking good care of the kid over at the Paradise West evacuation site.)  But Truly still wants to get married, so I suspect we'll have a Truly-in-love storyline coming our way.  I am 100% not sure how I feel about it being with Bash, though, which was hinted at in the scene.  But we'll just have to see.  Regardless, the Truly-Milly scene was a welcome moment of emotional authenticity between these two women and their complicated relationship.  Keep 'em coming!

As for the bunheads themselves, "It's Not a Mint" took the opportunity to have all the boys and girls in one place, so that everything was a bit more boy-girl than usual.  Boo and Carl are still going strong, and Sasha and Roman are progressing quickly.  The episode also saw the shift of Melanie and Dez from lunkhead and sarcastic girl to potentially dating-type people.  I do not know how I feel about this; I much prefer their dynamic as it was... but who knows?  Maybe I'll be surprised.  Ginny also seems to have taken a step forward with Frankie, thanks to the benevolence of Cozette.  Their scene together was a sneaky favorite, and another instance of a strong lady scene - even if it doesn't quite pass the Bechdel Test.  But Cozette's story of shooting an antelope in the head to put it out of its half-eaten misery was maybe the funniest thing all episode, especially with Ginny's shocked reaction.  Better still, Cozette's version of shooting Ginny in the head was setting up a device for Ginny to hang out with Frankie, which was sweet.  I like this iteration of Cozette: a kind of Milly-type exaggerated character, but who isn't actually mean or thoughtless.  Just very, very blunt.

Of course, all this boy talk was tied together with Michelle finding a condom in the bunheads' dressing room, which she was appropriately horrified and angered by.  I'm so charmed by Michelle's insistence on protecting the girls' innocence.  It's a nice character note, and an easy way to make Michelle embody her reluctant mentor role.  Plus, it's genuinely funny to see her be the "stuffy" adult who breaks up the girls' and boys' cots, and funnier still when she botches that role.  I laughed so hard when she walked up to the girls, silently laid the condom on the table, pointedly glared at them, got nothing in return, then awkwardly made her exit.  Oh, Michelle.  Bless you.

What followed, though, was another excellent all-female scene, wherein the teenagers discussed sex.  It's nice to see a conversation about sex scripted completely from the perspective of teenaged girls only, and this one definitely embodied a refreshing honesty within each of their points of view.  Sasha, who, let's be real, was probably the owner of the condom, behaves very cavalierly about sex.  This makes so much sense for Sasha, because she is a child playing grown-up, and always has been.  It's part of her core construct as a character, and why she works so well opposite Michelle, an adult who doesn't quite have it together.  This season has made Sasha's faux-adulthood more apparent than ever, with the independence and the apartment and basic emancipation from her parents.  

So of course Sasha isn't scandalized by the possibility of sex.  Screw the people who are judgey about teenaged girls buying condoms in grocery stores!  And I love that Sasha brings that up.  But at the same time, even though she's playing it cool, Sasha is still a little kid.  And so the scene shifts to reflect that.  Turns out Boo, who thought maybe the condom might be a mint, is on the pill.  She casually mentions it, as she takes a bite of her sandwich, and all of Sasha's nonchalance about sex goes out the window.  She pretty much flies off the handle at Boo's admission, and Boo's the one who's rather nonplussed about the whole thing.  She doesn't even plan on having sex for another year and a half.  But Sasha has a brain meltdown at the idea of Boo and Carl having sex, and another brain meltdown at Boo and Carl not having sex even though Boo's on the pill. Basically, Sasha's not as cool as she thinks, and it's kind of adorable.  Also, the idea that Boo takes her birth control pill by putting it in a peppermint patty is hilarious and again, kind of adorable.

Speaking of Boo, Sasha, and grownups, it bears mentioning that the Jordan family invasion of Sasha's apartment was another episode highlight, even if untethered from anything else.  Boo's family is endearingly chaotic, and their spastic and panicked concern for Sasha's safety was charming and funny.  Plus, it brought back some of the Boo-related insight from earlier in the season, with the constant presence of the Winkleburn kids and Boo's place as a fixture of sanity in a slightly unhinged family.  The scene worked well enough with Sasha and Roman investigating the possible burglary on their own, but got even better by adding the Jordans.

"It's Not a Mint" finished up with Talia's offscreen wedding going off without a hitch, and the evacuation being lifted.  Naturally, in marched the firefighters, and who was among them?  Godot.  So, Michelle, too, gets a boy storyline for next week.  Sigh!  But even with all the dude-related story arcs, "It's Not a Mint" was a solid episode with a lot of great scenes.  I'm curious to see what Bunheads puts forth for its winter finale, and how it will tie up the stories introduced in this back half, both bad and good.  Also: hopefully Fanny will be back.

The Report Card:
Dialogue: A+
Plot: A
Character: A
Joke of the Night: "Stand down, Hulk." (A+ continuity on Melanie's protective rage.)
Scene of the Night: It's a tie between Michelle and Talia at odds over marrying Rick, and Milly and Truly finally having a meaningful conversation.
Episode MVP: Everyone was on point in this episode, but let's say Talia.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The RBI Report: "I Do"

Here's what you missed on Glee:

It's Valentine's Day and that usually means a miracle descends from above and Glee puts out a reasonably coherent and enjoyable episode and this year it was also Will and Emma's wedding except Emma has a panic attack and sings really fast and runs out on Will but don't worry the reception still happens so that everybody can slow dance together and eat all the food that Emma's ginger supremacist parents provided.  And Quinn and Santana bring fake IDs and get drunk and slow dance too and Ryder's giving Marley Valentine's Day gifts through Jake who thinks he might get some but he doesn't but other people do like Kurt and Blaine who aren't really agreeing on the status of their relationship right now and Artie and Betty who are both in wheelchairs but really like dancing together and Quinn and Santana who hate romance and men and decide to go for two rounds of lady sex instead.  Oh and also Finn tells Rachel they're endgame which is really weird because how could he know that??? but then they have sex and Rachel finds out she might be pregnant but it's gotta be Brody's because it literally cannot be Finn's based on the parameters of time, space, and the human reproductive system so hopefully we're all on the same page about that.  Anyways, it's super awkward because if she IS pregnant it's definitely Brody's and Rachel didn't tell him she had sex with Finn but it's about to get awkwarder anyways because Brody is a gigolo.

And that's what you missed on Glee.

"I Do," written by Ian Brennan, directed by Brad Falchuk

Can I just leave it at that?  It's really all you need to know.  Clearly Glee has decided to indulge in its own ridiculousness, picking up where we left off with last week's Emma-Finn kiss.  "I Do" featured a continuation of that storyline, plus a random Quinn and Santana hookup, a runaway bride, a pregnancy scare, and the suggestion that a new character might be a prostitute.  I can't really tell if this is Glee or a candy-coated soap opera, and I'm beginning to be okay with that?  In tonight's episode at least, we had Ian Brennan in the writer's seat, and he tends to steer his episodes with only two wheels on the track anyways.  "I Do" skidded in all directions, but much like a high-energy carnival attraction, it was pretty entertaining... and I only felt like barfing a few times!

In reality, the closing number should have been the opening: "Anything Can Happen," while super fun, had little purpose in the end, especially with Will scrolling sadly through pics of Emma on his phone and Rachel scrolling through her calendar and realizing she might be preggo.  Yawn.  "Anything Can Happen" could have been so delightful as the very first scene in the episode, to introduce this madcap hour of "what the hell is happening on my TV screen right now?"  In any other episode it may have been too on-the-nose, but in a Brennan-penned Valentine's Day extravaganza of heightened reality?  A great way to set the stage.  (Besides, a ham-fisted musical number is no foreign concept to Glee, and the show frankly has bigger fish to fry with its hamfisted storyline progressions.  But I digress.)

Regardless, there was a lot of doin' in "I Do."  The episode revolved around the romantic entanglings of six pairs: Will and Emma, Rachel and Finn, Kurt and Blaine, Jake and Marley, Artie and Emma's niece Betty, and Quinn and Santana.  Should we just go in order?

Will and Emma

Will and Emma are getting married!  Except Emma is still in full-on panic mode after last week, and despite Finn's best efforts to calm her down with love's truly inappropriate kiss, he may have just exacerbated the problem.  In a flurry of OCD relapse and bitching about the glee kids' incestuous dating, Emma tells Finn to keep a wide berth and his mouth shut.  Finn obeys, but Emma's anxiety doesn't ebb.  The resulting freakout at the church and the "(Not) Getting Married Today" performance was easily the highlight of the hour.  Manic and unhinged, it somehow managed to hit the proper dramatic beats for Emma as well.  More than that, it successfully incorporated Sue into the sequence, as a reluctant confidante for Emma but also a harsh truth-teller about Will and a comedic foil to the purpose of the scene.  It all ended abruptly with Emma breaking down and crying in the cab, and in all I was rather impressed with the execution of the whole thing.

After that, Emma and Will are summarily not the point anymore.  Emma's run off, and Will mopes about while Finn heroically tries to pull him up by his bootstraps.  I don't know; anytime anyone utters the phrase "glee club taught me that," I tend to tune out.  But as Will's best man, Finn tells him that Emma needs a husband and that together, they're going to win Nationals and track down Will's wife.  I'm not really sure about any of that, largely because I'm imagining something where Emma goes away until the Nationals episode and then she comes back so Will can sweep her off her feet and win a competition.  Frankly, it's a bit brutal to rip happily wedded bliss away from two people with such messy relationship histories with regards to marriage - so ideally, it'd be nice to honor that and let the characters feel their feelings and work through the development without cheapening the payoff.  But we'll have to see.

Rachel and Finn

Rachel and Finn are reunited for Will and Emma's wedding, and teamed up to deliver Finn's best man performance, because this is Glee and we sing our feelings.  (Sue probably has the acoustic version of "I Will Survive" already waiting for Emma.)  Their stuff was simultaneously touching... and really weird.  On the one hand, it's interesting to see these two interact again after having undergone fairly significant life changes independently.  They're different people now, and it's compelling in concept to explore the slight shifts in their dynamic as a result.  "I Do" managed to tap into that notion a few times, once when Finn bluntly informed Rachel that not everything was about her, and when he quietly explained he'd been dieting.  Rachel's whole cavalier attitude was fairly intriguing on the whole, especially in contrast to Finn not really covering up the fact that he's had a rough time of it lately.

Where their interactions went a bit south was after Rachel caught the bouquet.  What could have been a painfully genuine moment for Finn to see Rachel with the flowers and acknowledge the fact it probably won't be him by her side on her wedding day... was instead traded out for a stilted conversation designed around Finn plucking petals off a flower.  There are a few things that weren't really working for this exchange:
  • The "she loves me, she loves me not" angle might be interesting on paper, but it really interrupted the flow of the scene and made Finn seem a little bit like a serial killer trying to decide how he should off his next victim.
  • Also, no relationship metaphor should involve the words "seed," "soil," or "bud."  Besides, that "seed" allegory may have bit you in the ass, Mr. Hudson, considering the ending events of the episode.
  • The conversation's tone as a whole felt more in keeping with a feuding married couple in a spy thriller à la Mr. & Mrs. Smith than a pair of estranged high school sweethearts.
  • I just don't know how much I can express my distaste for writers scripting metatextual commentary about relationships into the mouths of the people IN the relationship.  In other words: no one should be talking about how they are endgame, ESPECIALLY when they are officially broken up.  This is not a sophisticated means of telling a story - no one within a narrative should make non-diegetic statements.  Not only does no one in life know who's "meant to be" with each other, it's also just sloppy to include that sentiment in dialogue instead of action.  If you want me to believe it, then show me.
  • Even disregarding the previous point, it's not sexy to hear your ex tell you all about how you're going to be together forever.  (I'm looking at you too, Blaine.  I'll get to you in a minute.)
  • Pretty sure attached women are allowed to catch the bouquet, as long as they're not actually married.  And what is Finn, the wedding police?
  • This is perhaps a personal diatribe of my own, but I don't think I can properly express how much I hate when male love interests smugly tell their female love interests that they're lying to themselves.  It may be the souring of many romcoms gone horribly wrong, but I cannot think of a scenario where I don't want to punch a guy in the face when he says that to a woman.  It's an overused trope that trivializes a woman's right to her own wishes and decisions by melting her into the arms of the man who "knows her better than she knows herself."  And I won't have that shit.
In the end, Rachel had sex with Finn, thanks to their dynamite musical chemistry, and snuck out without saying goodbye.  She returns home to Brody, who vomited Valentine's Day all over their apartment, and they talk more about their open relationship.  Brody, being of modern mindset and few inhibitions, informs Rachel that "open" means "honest" as well as "label-less," and yet Rachel still hid her fling with Finn.  But they're tit for tat, because apparently Brody is hiding something which can thus far only be interpreted as prostitution.  I mean, what else are we supposed to glean from Brody leaving an apartment with a wad of money during a flashback embedded in a conversation about being truthful about your sex life?  So, baby and gigolo will make three for Rachel Berry.  (Although that pregnancy test looked like it was packaged sometime in the 70s, so I wouldn't rule out a false positive.)

Kurt and Blaine

The reunion of these two was presented somewhat unceremoniously, as they made their entrance horizontally in the back of a car.  Core conflict here: Kurt wants to stay friends even despite a hookup, and Blaine wants to be together forever.  (Okay, Tina went all Miss Emily last week; this week, it's Blaine.)  Meanwhile, Tina's pissed at Kurt for toying with Blaine's emotions even though Blaine cheated on him, but it's basically out of jealousy because she's still in love with Blaine.  The silver lining of this storyline, other than an amusing back-and-forth between Kurt and Tina, was the resolution of Tina's obsession with Blaine, with hopefully no traumatizing emotional consequence in its wake.  The downside was hearing Tina gush about Kurt and Blaine's "legendary chemistry" as "two soulmates" performing.  Yikes.  Again, Glee, may I direct you to the note about including sweeping extra-narrative commentary in character dialogue.  The audience does not need to be beat over the head with third party assessments that could easily just be demonstrated.  

As for Kurt and Blaine's relationship conflict, the writers chose to script Blaine similarly to Finn - portrayed as lonely and adrift without their significant others, and insisting that they're meant to be together when in fact the other party has expressly chosen to cultivate another life.  It's trying to be sweepingly romantic, but really it's unfair to Kurt and Rachel.  Sure, they're not blameless in any scenario - these relationships get progressively messier by the episode - but at the same time, they have the right to their decisions independent of what their exes want from them.  The writers seem to be operating under the notion that it's only a matter of time before everyone is happily ever after with their true loves, and unfortunately tethering the narrative to this tentpole leaves little wiggle room for story expansion and fresh ideas.  Predestined journeys aren't always interesting.

Jake and Marley

All you need to know: Ryder still has feelings for Marley, but also bro feelings for Jake, so he Cyranoes Marley via Jake's Valentine's Day presents and then kisses her in the end.  Er, on the mouth.  In the middle of the hallway.  So that probably will go well.  Meanwhile Marley and Jake are very happy together, and apparently have good taste in music, judging by their selection of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "You're All I Need (To Get By)."  But they don't have sex, because Marley isn't ready - despite the fact that the boys have a whole conversation speculating that fact without her present.  I must say, I'm getting super tired of Jake and Ryder discussing their relationships with Marley while she's not even around to have her say.  Also tired of the show referencing Marley's eating disorder so cavalierly, without ever having made any narrative efforts to show her recovery.

Also, this storyline gave us confirmation that Puck is indeed dating Kitty, and because we didn't see her all episode, I am now concerned for her safety.  The thing on Puck's head might have eaten her.

Artie and Betty

Turns out Emma has a niece named Betty, who is in a wheelchair, and who she assigns to sit next to Artie at the wedding.  She's pretty rude to Artie at first, but I'd like to think that Artie learned a thing or two about appreciating sassy women after his encounter with the Righteous Blade of Equality, and so he pursues Betty without being weird about it.  This storyline also features a tongue-in-cheek twist where Artie tries to have a glee-style poignant moment with Betty over being in a wheelchair, and she shuts him down.  In the end, they dance, they laugh, they have sex, and Artie scores digits.  It was charming, cute, and harmless.  

Quinn and Santana

So, here's a pair that we probably never thought would make it to any kind of "couple" status, even if only in the bedroom.  But Quinn and Santana rolled into Schue's wedding with bitterness, disenchantment, and a couple of fake IDs... and before we knew it, they were getting drunk, flattering one another, and slow dancing.  Basically, their portion of the episode was spent selling the fact that they were going to have sex by evening's end, and it did a reasonably good job doing so.  Actually, even with some awkward dialogue and the whiff of "drunk experimentation" about it all, everything boils away to one overriding strong point that resonated through the entire storyline: there was no hint of gay panic!  Quinn was the one being forward with Santana, throughout the course of the reception, and even though there was the inevitable post-coital "but I'm straight!" moment! - a more kindly-phrased "it's a one-time thing" - it was immediately overturned for... a two-time thing.  Woo, so not-traumatizing they did it twice!  Which was good, because round two was definitely more sober than round one.  So in one fell swoop, Glee managed to dissipate the clichéd "drunken" and "experimentation" parts of their Quinn-Santana hookup.

Beyond that, even though it was heavily suggested that Santana getting closer with Quinn was a result of her alienation from Brittany and her relationship with Sam, it never manifested in a moment of panic for Santana either.  Basically, for two Slap Queens who subsisted on stirring up drama for most of their high school careers... this was a surprisingly chill coupling.  And, if the writers chose to develop a character-based explanation for their tryst, it's easily there - the connection between Quinn and Santana was established in their first post-graduation reunion, where they knew exactly what each other's insecurities were and attacked them.  These characters are essentially mirrored, each others' greatest ally and greatest foe.

Sure, this may rise and fall within one episode.  We may never hear about it ever again.  You may think it fan pandering or ill-conceived or a cheap hookup.  But for all the show's dramatically-delineated permutations of teens confronting their fluid sexualities with the tear factor turned on high, this was a happily drama-free addition.  It doesn't have to be a big deal!  It's a nice little piece to include on Glee's mantle of Good Things They've Done With Regards to Queer Representation, simply because it shows a common situation from a refreshingly different angle.  And best of all: V-Day has a new meaning for Quinn!  Congrats girl, you can't get pregnant!  (Rachel, take notes.)  (Does it totally undermine my point by ending this section with a series of inappropriate joke?  Oops.)

Stray appreciation: Naya Rivera's delivery of "Al Roker is disgusting, by the way" was maybe the funniest line all episode, second only to Jayma Mays' delivery of "you glee kids have dated so incestuously I'm not sure who can tolerate who anymore."  Other random bits of delight were Sue getting asked to dance by some nameless character, Becky being pissed as hell about serving as a flower girl when she's a goddamned high schooler, and Marley spastically rocking it out in the background of "Anything Can Happen."

Anyways, ahead on Glee: Rachel is pregnant with Quinn and Santana's baby, Marley and Emma form a club of Women Who Don't Appreciate Being Kissed by Non-Significant-Others Without Permission, and Will and Finn sweep the nation in search of a Mrs. Schuester, only to come up with Will's drunk mom.  

Yes, "I Do" showed off a lot of exaggerated story developments.  But it was also entertaining, and for the most part, it made good decisions for the storylines it chose to use.  Another charmingly off-kilter Ian Brennan episode goes into the books, and this makes three years running for a solid Valentine's Day offering.  

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: B
Dialogue: B-
Plot: B
Characterization: A
Episode MVP: Emma Pillsbury

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bunheads 1x16 - "There's Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit"

Full disclosure: I’m on the fence about tonight’s Bunheads!  While “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” moved the story forward in basic plotting, the episode as a whole felt like a pivot point for the season.  To that end, I am nervous.  Because everything that was set up in episodes 11 through 15 now feels slightly irrelevant as we may or may not be adjusting our sails and heading in a different direction.

Mainly, this is to do with Michelle’s arc.  “You Wanna See Something?” beautifully executed Michelle’s return to Paradise, and her renewed commitment to the town.  The subsequent episodes embedded her in the community, involved her with mentoring, and made her fight for the life she’s building.  Wonderful stuff, right?  Well, “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” muddled that clear trajectory for Michelle, and thus I find myself questioning the plotted pace and obstacles for our heroine’s arc.

I have two beefs.  One: is this too soon?  We’ve gotten five episodes with Michelle seamlessly incorporated into Paradise, involved without qualm or query.  She opens her home to Truly, and Sasha, she knows every diner at the Oyster Bar, she makes plans and commitments both logistically and emotionally.  Yet, in “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit,” we see a Michelle who’s cowed by the denizens of Paradise in a storyline we’d expect from Bunheads 1.1 - the angle being, “how kooky are these townsfolk?” from an alienated Michelle’s POV.  Beyond that, there’s a scripted storyline for Michelle to actually mentor Ginny on her audition, and instead… she shows up late, hijacks the session, and makes it more or less about her insecurities.  This retro-Michelle treatment begs the question: is it too soon for Michelle to be retreading on her arc?  Is the news that Talia booked “Rock of Ages” enough to scare Michelle back into her aimless, auditioning existence?

I don’t know.  Obviously, it’s 100% valid to portray little “bumps in the road.”  I actually love the idea that Michelle might always want to be a part of show business again; it’s set up in “You Wanna See Something?” that both Fanny and Michelle are not irrevocably beheld to this town and this life.  But that’s just it: it was already set up.  So the introduction of this concept leads me to believe it’s going to actually manifest in Michelle trying to skip town on Paradise again… and it feels too soon for me.  

There’s also the question of how this suggestion was broached in “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit.”  Here we are at Beef the Second: Michelle’s identity crisis was structured very plainly, in black-and-white.  While there was no outright opposition between Talia and Milly, the two polarized personalities were brought to the forefront in this episode for the purpose of embodying Michelle’s conflict.  There’s Milly, who owns land and wants Michelle to wear a pantsuit and crush her enemies.  And then there’s Talia, who has one good lay ten years ago and lands a role in a touring company today.  

In essence, everything boils down to the metaphor of that pantsuit.  As soon as Michelle found out about Talia’s success, she wanted out of the suit.  She literally needed to shed the facade of businesswoman that she was playing dress-up with, presumably because Talia’s news was a reminder of who she really is: an entertainer, a creative person.  In the end, she rejected the pantsuit completely and said she wouldn’t need it for whatever she’s doing - again, presumably something creative and artsy.  Which... seems a bit too clear-cut in its message, frankly.

Michelle vs. the pantsuit was endearing at first, and I appreciate the fact that someone like Michelle would absolutely not feel comfortable in that skin.  But it actually grew on her a little, which I appreciated even more.  It was a lovely way to show Michelle growing a bit, without actually losing sense of who she was.  A teensy step on Michelle’s arc this season, without making her a completely different person.  Except apparently feeling good in a pantsuit was roughly equivalent to a betrayal of Michelle’s real identity, and she rejected the change.  And while I don’t think it’s particularly out-of-character for Michelle to say no to business dress, I also wish the episode had left a little shaded in the gray area of a Milly vs. Talia, pantsuit vs. dance conversation.  I fear, that for the sake of the metaphor, the nuance of what could be an interesting character exploration, was instead flattened.

Because I ask: is the takeaway that Michelle is always going to have some level of creative unfulfillment while she’s still living in Paradise?  Are we meant to brace ourselves for Michelle trying to run out again?  While these are certainly interesting topics to explore, they also go against the core sustainability of the show.  How much can the writers entice Michelle into leaving Paradise when the show’s entire success rests on that character remaining there as the lynchpin in the whole piece?  It’s lovely when Michelle chooses Paradise and her new life, but how often can we recycle that beat before it loses its impact?

In short: I’m conflicted, and nervous about what may come next for Michelle’s arc.  I was anticipating, based on setup, that the journey would make steps in Michelle’s dynamic with Truly, and Sasha, and Fanny, as manifestations of her easing into Paradise normalcy.  But “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” redirects (Michelle hardly interacts with any of the aforementioned three) and I’m not sure yet if I like where it’s headed - or if it’s headed anywhere at all.  Perhaps this is merely a hiccup.  Regardless, the next episodes will surely develop this one way or the other, and we’ll get a clearer picture about what exactly the Bunheads writers are trying to pull here.

The other curious development of “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” came with the further devolution of the core four dynamics, and Ginny’s continued consternation about that fact.  Sasha’s dating Roman now, and he starts sitting with them at lunch, which prompts poor heretofore-rule-abiding Carl to start sitting with them as well, and of course Melanie has her new hobby with her new friend Cozette and it’s all a bit much for poor Ginny.  Perhaps in an effort to strike out into something new and only her own, she decides she’s going to audition for a part in the school production of “Bells Are Ringing.”  She also asks Michelle to help her audition, and Michelle toughens her up by channeling some of her own harrowing experiences.

There were some lovely things about this storyline.  First, Melanie and Ginny’s clipped interactions continue to be the most heartbreaking thing in existence.  Especially when Melanie's asking Ginny to come be her cheerleader at her derby game, with a painfully hopeful little face.  Ugh, just make up, you dumdums!  But I suppose that’s what makes it heartbreaking: the possibility that they’ll never quite be the same anymore.  Wah.  Second, I love that Ginny’s being scripted a passion outside of dance, just like Melanie is getting roller derby.  Sasha was kind of doled a second helping of dance already, so that just leaves Boo for taking on a new interest - which I’m excited for.  Of course, that begs the question of the group dynamics possibly changing further... which is good drama even though it makes my heart hurt a bit.  Third, this allowed for Sutton Foster to sing on this show and I’m always down for that.

Things that make me nervous: the development between Ginny and Cozette.  I'd thought Bunheads might be going the route of innocent puppy for Cozette, based on her screentime thus far, but as soon as Ginny got snippy, Cozette hit back twice as hard.  Damn!  I guess this is going to come to blows soon?  And we now have Cozette standing between Ginny and Frankie as well as Ginny and Melanie, and I fear Ginny may soon blow a gasket.  In fact, “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” more or less escalted the conflict in Cozette-related group dynamics, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel much different.  I know it can’t all come to a head too quickly, for the sake of logistics and drama, but I also wish the conflict were evolving a bit instead of staying more or less the same, over and over again.  There’s only so much we can watch Ginny go apoplectic over outside threats before she either moves on or plot points exacerbate the situation.

Stray observations: I love that even though Sasha has a boyfriend now, she’s still slightly revolted by public displays of affection.  I also love that the girls’ history shines through in anecdotes about Sasha having punched Ginny in the face for asking about a boy.  Relatedly, I appreciate Bunheads’ skilled use of Boo as endearingly naive, because so many TV shows have difficulty making that kind of character appealing - and Boo’s earnest “So, is Wilt Chamberlin still alive?” had me both charmed and laughing.  I’m also digging the random continuation of Melanie’s interactions with brainless but down-for-makeouts Dez.  Although any opportunity for Melanie to be sarcastic and/or threatening is A+ in my book.  As is every joke Michelle makes about Talia's aging fiancé, Rick.  I laugh at them all.  Every single one.

Also, I miss Truly.  Surely it's not just me?!

By the end of the hour, “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” had taken the trajectory of Bunheads 1.2 in a slightly different direction, and I’m left wondering what’s going to happen next.  Obviously, this level of engagement is hardly something to complain about, but there’s a level of concern too that the redirection may not be the best direction, considering the previous setup for the characters and their arcs.  But I generally trust Palladino & Co., and will happily wait for further developments.

The Report Card:
Dialogue: A+
Plot: B+
Character: B
Joke of the Night: “I got a pantsuit rash.”  (The delivery killed me.)
Scene of the Night: Ginny helps Michelle find her suit jacket; asks for help
Episode MVP: Carl.  A man who procures french fries against all odds and without complaint is a hero and a godsend

Friday, February 8, 2013

The RBI Report: "Diva"

Well, it was Diva Week on tonight's Glee, and frankly that mantle didn't feel any different than any other week of Glee.  In fact, I think the theme of "diva" actually overshadowed the possibility of developing other, more interesting material in the hour.  "Diva" spent too much time fussing over the identifying traits of a diva and too little time fleshing out what could have been really great character-driven storylines.  

"Diva," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Paris Barclay

First things first: we should've known this wasn't a silly episode because it wasn't called "Gleeva!"  I would have been more impressed if Fox hadn't decided to ruin it and put #gleeva in the corner of all the scenes.  Thanks, Fox.  I will take to Twitter and hashtag all my posts with a word that sounds like an artificial sweetener.  Or Emma Geller-Green's first word.

Anyways, I think the second indicator of a more emotionally resonant episode comes with the fact that all major storylines in "Diva" belonged to old school favorites: Kurt and Rachel, Santana, Tina, and Emma.  We've spent three years and some change with this gang, and it's helpful to have that emotional history providing some weight to what might otherwise be less meaningful moments or situations.  Where "Diva" told and didn't show (as to be expected these days), there was actor performance and character canon helping to bear the emotional impact.  Because even though "Diva" had a lot of good material in it, its design still didn't quite showcase that as well as it possibly could have.

One problem plaguing the storytelling, I noticed, was Glee's tendency to rush their musical performances.  There's this strange pattern where the first scene introduces and explains exactly what the purpose of the upcoming performance is, and then BOOM - scene two is the performance.  Immediate setup, immediate payoff; everything rises and falls within back-to-back scenes.  It happened with "Diva," with "Don't Stop Me Now," "Nutbush City Limits," "Make No Mistake (She's Mine)," and you could even make an argument for "Hung Up."  The only performance that was allowed to serve as payoff to something set up more than thirty seconds before was "Bring Him Home."  And the irksome thing about that is that it was plot payoff only; the performance didn't provide any character insight to Kurt and Rachel, as moving as it was.  

In fact, I think the Kurt/Rachel storyline may have been the textual low point of the evening, despite the best efforts of Lea Michele and Chris Colfer to elevate the shit out of it.  (Maybe literally.)  There are a few things frustrating about this mini-arc.  One, it's a retread.  Rachel v. Kurt dates back to the show's first season, and while the episode at least acknowledged that in an interesting way... it's still recycled material.  Strike two: Rachel's POV was entirely absent from this until it was time for her to feel bad about how much of a bitch she is.  Which leads me to three: what are we supposed to be getting out of this?  Rachel might lose herself to narcissism if she doesn't have her BFF Kurt to call her out on it?  

Here's the bottom line, and what this episode failed to acknowledge: the real definition of 'diva' is a woman who is self-confident without apology.  Society doesn't like when women don't apologize for themselves, so 'diva' becomes a negative thing.  Rachel Berry, by character design, is this show's diva.  She is therefore a divisive character, and it's almost always a problem when the show tries to make Rachel's "Rachelness" play nice with "normal" teenagers.  This episode was no different.  We get a Rachel who's off the rails, and needs her best dude to put her in her place... but also to be her white knight who puts her back together again after he's successfully unglued her.  Bleh.  What happened to character agency?  I don't care if the diva-in-moderation message is the same - why not have Rachel come to her own conclusion without forcibly inflating her ego and then popping it cleanly with an air of "she had it coming?"

Honestly, something more interesting about Rachel Berry in "Diva" was the fact that she seemed to be... popular.  She had people following her around, hanging on her every word.  Suddenly it was like her high school fantasy come to life.  She walked through the halls of NYADA the way Season 1 Quinn Fabray strode through the halls of McKinley.  Wasn't that exactly what Rachel wanted?  Love and acceptance?  Perhaps a stronger storyline here would have been the idea that just because Rachel has people surrounding her paying her compliments, doesn't mean she has necessarily has friends.  And I don't mean that the underlying idea should be a 'you still don't have friends, Rachel Berry!!!!" message, because that's a dick move.  But I can see where Rachel would get caught up in having people fawn all over her, because it's all she ever wanted in high school - only to realize that fifteen peers who only like you for your talent don't equal one person like Kurt, who knows who she really is and loves her anyway.  

...barring the whole "I have to put her in her place" thing, anyways.  Actually, the whole exchange about their friendship made me cringe.  Really, Kurt and Rachel grew close only when Rachel became tolerable?  Really, this New Rachel is a self-righteous Lima Rachel on steroids?  Yikes.  Look, I get that Rachel can be unlikeable.  In fact, I quite appreciate that about the character.  But the narrative plays her in extremes, and fails to embrace what's interesting about the interacting polarities.  When they're behind Rachel, they basically shove her down our throats without any hesitation.  When they're not in her corner, they're really not in her corner... they're like, out the door and around the block and firing flaming arrows at her instead.  Is there no happy medium?  Can Rachel be self-confident without apology, or is that not allowed? 

The other overarching storyline of "Diva" came between Blaine and Tina, paid off with Tina performing a pretty badass rendition of "Hung Up."  Seriously, how slammin' did Jenna Ushkowitz look in that black leather number?  Tina should just wear that all the time.  Plus, I like that homegirl is finally getting some screentime and storylines.  What I am not loving is that in order to make this happen, the writers have hitched her wagon to Blaine's gilded chariot of screentime - and they have hitched it in a super awkward, cringe-y kind of way.  Every time this storyline actually ventured into emotionally honest territory, its footing slipped and things got weird and alienating.  Case in point: a touching moment where Tina bravely lays it all on the line, only to discover that Blaine's fallen asleep... so, naturally, it's time to unbutton his shirt, straddle him, and rub his chest with Vapo-Rub.  All capped off, of course, with her laying her head against him like Miss Emily and the rotting corpse of Homer Barron.  (Did I just reference a William Faulkner short story?  You bet your ass I did.)  

I guess I still don't understand this Tina-is-in-love-with-Blaine thing, especially when it makes her obsess over his physical wellbeing and utter lines like "Mr. Anderson, you find new ways to inspire me every day" in earnest.  Not only that, but it seemed to serve as a reason to empower Tina's diva ways, what with her internal struggle to behave as a diva, combined with Blaine's insistence that she already is a diva, and the "fuck you" performance of "Hung Up."  (Okay, but seriously, how hilariously great was it that Tina cut off Emma's compliment with a smug "don't even worry about it" - ?!)  I think what sticks in my mind, though, is that Tina was already a diva before this episode.  Self-confident and not apologizing for it?  Hello, did we not remember Ms. Righteous Blade of Equality?  Do we not recall an Asian Vampire threatening the principal of her school so she could continue to dress whatever the damn way she wanted?  Have we forgotten her hijacking a Gandhi quote and saying she was going to be the change she wanted to see in the world?  Tina Cohen-Chang was a badass motherfucker who inspired herself, goddammit, and this Blainey-Blaine storyline is reducing her to less than that just so he can help her reachieve the mantle?  No, thanks.  Their interactions can be cute, don't get me wrong - but let's not sacrifice Tina's character on the altar of awkward and comedically devoted.

Moving on to Santana - perhaps the aspect of "Diva" that had me the most interested, and left me with the fewest answers.  This is probably because so much Santana-related happened offscreen!  Babygirl roared into town, had conversations about her life, sang a little bit, and then wound up in NYC by episode's end.  At first, it seems she's just back for Diva Week.  Then, it seems like she's back to kick Sam's ass (but not steal Brittany back).  Finally, we understand: Santana boomerangs back to Lima so much because she dropped out of college a month ago.  Interesting, no?  I love the idea that Santana had to make a few mistakes to find her way, and I love even more the idea that the real world kind of knocked her on her ass.  She's lost, right?  She has no place with Brittany now, no place in Kentucky, no place in Lima.  But these points were flattened into basic dialogue with Brittany that wrapped up their relationship and put Santana on a new track with little motivation.

Knowing how everything shook out for Santana in "Diva," I wish that her storyline hadn't been so much about Santana-and-Brittany-and-Sam and more about... well, Santana.  The triangle conflict went absolutely nowhere, and resulted mostly in a really awkward song transition (and placement) for "Make No Mistake (She's Mine)".  Seriously, in what universe would that song come on the heels of an argument?  And why on earth would you make it a real thing happening on a stage?  That shit needed to be later in the episode, and also with the treatment of magical reality.  The storyline also lacked a moment for Brittany to sit both Sam's and Santana's asses down and remind them that she gets to choose who she dates, thankyouverymuch.  The whole thing seemed super pointless, and if the purpose was to get Santana on her way to NYC, then why not let Santana realize on her own there's no place for her in Lima anymore?  Much like Blaine telling Tina she's a diva, much like Kurt telling Rachel she's a nightmare... Brittany told Santana she needed to go someplace that suited her better.  My queendom for a Glee lady with agency!  ('Coz the kingdom ain't delivering.)

What would have been better was a Santana returning to Lima bitching about Sam because Santana hasn't properly moved on at all in life.  Her first semester was a wash, and she's in no better place than she was when she broke up with Brittany.  So she lashes out at Brittany not because she wants her to date someone better, or even that she wants them to get back together... but because she's projecting her own issues onto Brittany.  The place beside Brittany has now been taken by someone else, and Santana can't get that back.  She has no place at all, anymore.  Resolution: Brittany tells her she always has a place beside her, and that Santana can always find a new place, too.  She just has to keep trying.  Cue the move to NYC.  This way, Brittany's still supportive, without making Santana's decision for her, and Santana's arc is more identity-based and doesn't screw around with romance politics.

Finally, Emma.  Opinion bomb: Jayma Mays is the best actor on Glee.  When the show is a comedy, she's the funniest; when it's a drama, she's the most heartbreaking - consistently.  (Sure, she has considerably less screentime, but whatever.)  It's a shame that Emma has been rendered into a love interest role, and a project for Will to fix.  Because when Emma gets her own POV, she's super great.  In "Diva," she's stressing about wedding planning without Will around, and her OCD flares up.  Weirdly, Finn's around to be Will 2.0 (if you squint at his scenes with Emma, you can barely tell it's not Matthew Morrison on the screen) and support her.  Of course, this escalates into a panic attack during which Finn kisses her as a desperate attempt to calm her down.  Wait - did I just write 'of course' for that scenario?  Oops.  

Now, we know that I'm pretty stingy with any kind words about Glee's storylines that feature the strapping young buck wooing the much older insecure woman.  (See: Puck's entire existence.)  However.  Once I got over my initial "what the hell just happened?" reaction... I had to laugh a little bit.  I think, if this storyline is played for comedy, it could be okay.  It's an extraordinarily dumbass thing to do - kiss the guidance counselor while she's having a meltdown, and something that I can easily see Finn doing in a moment of panic.  Like it worked on Rachel and Quinn, and it's the only card he knows how to play.  What a goober.  It also bumps Joey Tribbiani from holding the title of Worst Best Man Ever!  (Kissing the bride a week before the wedding probably ranks worse than letting water foul ingest the rings.)  So, I'm going to reserve all judgment until it plays out a bit more.  Mostly, I can't be too mad at a storyline where Jayma Mays owns pretty much every second of her screentime.

Oh and boys can be divas too.  Thanks Blaine!  (Fiercest runway walk still goes to Tina, though, with a special runner-up shout-out to Kitty.)

In the end, "Diva" had a lot of really great source material, and the added bonus of inherent emotional impact through its use of the show's original characters.  But the "diva" theme took away from the character-based content of the episode, and ultimately the more interesting aspects weren't quite developed front and center.  An entertaining hour, but it could have packed more punch.  #gleeva

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A
Dialogue: C
Plot: C
Characterization: C
Episode MVP: Emma Pillsbury

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bunheads 1x15 - "Take the Vicuna"

Usually, during a Bunheads episode, I've come to expect a prolonged, even wandering, setup - knowing that a really great emotional payoff will come by episode's end.  But "Take the Vicuna" didn't quite live up to that expectation.  The hour wasn't nearly as developed in its conflicts and consequences as it usually is, and so the whole thing was a bit underwhelming by comparison.  

"Take the Vicuna" started off strong; the opening sequence featured an intricately-choreographed dance of dialogue, conflict, and, well... dance.  All in one take, no less!  I feel like I can't overlook just how difficult that must have been to rehearse and perform to perfection - on both sides of the camera - juggling all the variables in one two-minute take.  Plus, it picked up where we left off with Melanie and Ginny's falling out, and Ginny's issues with Cozette.  The number swung all the girls into each others' orbits, and allowed for all sorts of bickering.  I genuinely laughed when poor peace-loving Boo returned to the partnership of RayRay and sighed, "I missed you."  

But then the episode dropped any real development on the Ginny/Melanie conflict, and I think it may have been the worse for it.  Why not give them a storyline where they're forced to work together and air their grievances, as it were?  Or, if Ginny needs more time, then use that as fodder for an in-episode arc where she realizes how much she misses Melanie at the end of it.  Ginny's issue with Cozette threatening the group's friendship is compelling material, in that it makes her incredibly relatable.  Who doesn't not like change?  It's understandable that Ginny would feel that way.  But she's got to confront it sometime, and I would like to see a mini-arc, from her POV, that allows that for Ginny.  As is, she's just coming off as a snippy teen who holds a grudge against her best friend and harbors irrational anger towards outsiders. (The latter can be funny; don't get me wrong.  But we should probably work through it a little bit, especially when it's cramping a fixed relationship on the show.)

Regardless of what specific content might have been potentially given to Melanie and Ginny, I think it's clear that "Take the Vicuna" could have used the extra bulk.  There were only three main storylines in the episode, which might ordinarily be enough for Bunheads... but these three weren't all that hefty.  The only emotional payoff of the hour came with Michelle's encounter with her mother, and that was purposefully left obfuscated for the point of demonstrating their disconnect.  The little coda with Michelle and Sasha was a nice addition, but doesn't quite count as meatier emotional weight.

The main chunk of the hour was devoted to the logical progression in Fanny and Michelle's amphitheatre project: working with Milly as they begin construction.  This storyline was inevitable, considering Milly's status as a supporting character comedy mine, and the natural conflicts that arise when you put a hardcore businesswoman opposite Fanny or Michelle.  But I think that's what left this arc a bit lackluster: it was entirely expected.  Nothing in it surprised me at all, and weirdly, very little of it made me laugh.  Fanny put forth several excellent arguments about the role of financial backers on creative projects, but ultimately the plotting was plain and the resolution weak.  Milly just wants to be seen as a purveyor of the arts, and so Fanny crowing about it is enough to satisfy that?  Oh.  The episode also glossed over the fact that Fanny was pretty much taking advantage of Milly's loose wallet, and expected us to be on her side when Milly provided too much input.  Sure, Milly's input was ridiculous and over-the-top, but still - it was perhaps comeuppance for Fanny manipulating the situation.  

I also felt Truly's absence was undue in this storyline.  At the end of "I'll Be Your Meyer Lansky," Truly expressed concern over Fanny and Michelle going into business with Milly at the possible expense of their relationships.  It seemed so strange to give over so much screentime to what appears to be a guest star over an established recurring character - especially given the narrative circumstances.  Why not add Truly predicting what Milly's next step will be at each turn, with each prophecy coming exactly true?  Maybe with Truly's feelings and brand of neurotic in the mix, it could have added some zest to the obvious progression of this plotline.  But now that Fanny and Milly have gotten their extreme Type A and Type B personality conflict out of the way, hopefully we can find some more fun material waiting in this multi-episode arc.

The other portion of the hour was devoted to Sasha's skyrocket into adulthood.  This storyline kept me waiting for the shoe to drop.  I was expecting Sasha to fall apart at some point, because she is a 16-year-old living as a twenty-something.  How could the weight of that not possibly be a struggle to handle, especially considering her tearful stoop realization in "I'll Be Your Meyer Lansky?"  But all of Sasha's scenes had her tackling even the most difficult aspects of being a grown-up with implausible ease.  With no shoe drop!  There's some Sasha-loving smug part of me that delights in the fact that Bunheads scripted her to be preternaturally competent at life management, but at the same time... where's the narrative fun in that?  I'm torn.  

I think I would have preferred a slightly different route on Sasha's storyline.  I loved that moment when everyone left her party and Sasha was faced with an empty apartment, suddenly alone.  I almost wish that we could have seen that moment sink in a bit.  That sense of what now? instantly taking over the second you've sat down to rest.  The writers aren't skimping on Michelle-Sasha parallels, and this was maybe a good place to write that in.  After all, isn't Sasha starting a new life just like Michelle?  A lost soul making a new home for herself?  I don't think that element was quite present for Sasha in "Take the Vicuna," and I wish it were.  It's much stronger than a fairly superficial plot progression with Roman.  Sure, that part was cute, but I think it could have been sacrificed or rearranged for a better narrative angle on Sasha's portion of the hour.

Speaking of Sasha and Michelle... I confess, their moments in "Take the Vicuna" have caused me to worry a little bit.  We all know I love the Sasha-Michelle of it all.  Their scenes are almost always a high point of an episode, whether comedic or dramatic, and there's a lot of material to mine there.  But "Take the Vicuna" did a few things that made me question where exactly the writers are taking this.  Mainly, it was Scotty's acknowledgement of Michelle's "mini-me" and his observation that it's cute but possibly dangerous.  I know we're not supposed to take Scotty's word as the end-all, be-all here, but in an episode where Michelle is confronted with her own bad mother-daughter experience and the idea that she's inadvertently picked up a devoted daughter-type... I worry.  I hope it's all for naught.  I hope we stick with the idea that Sasha and Michelle are both lost soul loner types who can commiserate on mommy issues and lean on each other - and veer away from Michelle potentially stomping self-deprecating mommy issues on the little baby bird following her around.

Regardless, the ending with Michelle and Sasha sleeping parallel in frame was pretty adorable, especially with Michelle simply staring at Sasha on her couch and Sasha replying, "We'll sleep at my place tomorrow."  Cuties.  Keep up the narrative parallels and the scripted healthy interactions, Bunheads, and I will be a happy little bee.  

The closest thing we got to an emotional punch in "Take the Vicuna" came from Michelle's sudden reunion with her mother, as facilitated by Scotty.  This storyline confused me a bit - it didn't seem like Scotty wanted Michelle to see that he was meeting with their mom, but her mom made it seem like she'd wanted to see Michelle and asked Scotty to set it up?  Either way, we didn't see anything of Scotty and Michelle's brother-sister tradition outing, and that confused me as well.  Did they go?  Did Scotty not actually plan anything?  I guess it doesn't matter.  But it seemed strange to not get a scene from it, especially after the incident at the diner.  And I have a hard time believing that Michelle and Scotty's mom successfully gaslighted them into believing they'd been on wonderful family road trips just by letting them sleep in their moving car and telling exaggerated stories when they woke up.

But I suppose the point of the Simms family exploration is that we're intended to find out a little at a time, all the while asking questions about what kind of childhood these two had, particularly Michelle.  She hasn't seen or talked to her mom in 12 years, so obviously that's begging for some screentime.  I'm not sure I necessarily want Michelle to reconcile with her mom, though, unless it's in a kind of healing way that benefits her progress.  As is, it's damn hard to argue with her rant about newfound family in "The Astronaut and the Ballerina," and I think I will be just fine if Bunheads sticks to the notion that Michelle and her mother are never going to have a happy functional relationship.  We'll see if they actually try.  My heart broke the tiniest bit when Michelle's mom told her she just wanted to see her face, as she silently walked out the door.  I'm curious to see where this goes, especially in conjunction to the arc that Bunheads has outlined so beautifully for Michelle in the first four episodes of Season 1.2.

Unfortunately, "Take the Vicuna" skimped on a few storylines, leaving them a little too uncooked and basic.  Hopefully next week will pick up with developing the Cozette storyline, the Melanie-Ginny conflict, making heads or tails of Sasha's weirdly not-weird-but-still-weird adult life, and moving forward on the amphitheatre arc with fresh problems and an involved Truly.  The first four episodes of Bunheads 1.2 have spoiled me, and this episode just wasn't quite up to snuff.

The Report Card:
Dialogue: A-
Plot: C+
Character: B+
Joke of the Night: Ginny reintroducing herself to her lab partner
Scene of the Night: the opening one-take dance argument
Episode MVP: Sasha
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