I finally figured out the perfect way to describe the maddening inconsistency that is “Glee”. Basically, it’s like the weather in New England: wait a few minutes, and whatever is onscreen will inevitably change. Notice that I don’t assign a value, good or bad, to what’s onscreen at the time. Just know that whatever it currently is, it will soon morph into something completely unrecognizable before long. Many found last week’s season premiere a refreshingly restrained effort (by the show’s standards, at least). As for me, I watched, I “meh”ed, and I closed up the storm windows for the Britney Spears Storm on the horizon.
That storm hit tonight in the form of “Britney/Brittany,” an episode that no doubt sent a certain segment of the show into a state of bliss. It also undoubtedly sent another segment of the show’s fan base into a complete rage. Now: if you loved this episode, don’t think I don’t respect ya. I just completely and utterly disagree. “Britney/Brittany” wasn’t so much aired as inflicted, making last season’s Madonna episode seem like “The Constant” from “Lost” or “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” from “Mad Men.” It indulged in every type of excess possible, transforming what should have been an episode of television into something with as much dramatic heft, emotional weight, and narrative thrust of an episode of “Solid Gold.”
[Full recap of Tuesday's (Sept. 28) "Glee" after the break...]
Let’s get this out of the way first: there’s a difference between grading “Britney/Brittany” and grading the performances therein. Heather Morris? She killed this episode, taken the opportunities afforded her and earning the spotlight. It’s not her fault that the show was content to wipe away any form of realism reestablished last week in favor of a series of hallucinatory dream sequences with no internal logic all related to a pop star a few years past relevance. That’s all on “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, who, through Kurt last week, essentially told critics like me to screw. Sorry, Ryan: I’m fine with bending the parameters of what an episode of television can do. All the best shows break the mold in some manner. But the worst Murphy-written episodes of “Glee” decide that a mold isn’t necessary at all, yielding an episode that isn’t so much constructed as slapped up against a wall.
The episode facilitated all the dream sequences through the introduction of Emma’s new dentist boyfriend, Carl. Think of Carl less as Emma’s boyfriend and more as The Demon Dentist of Fleet Street. Luckily, instead of turning McKinley students into meat pies, he merely sends them all off into a magical world where they recreate Britney Spears videos to varying levels of authenticity. Individually, these all more or less worked as mini-films. Musical numbers in this show, when divorced from the rest of the show, have a pretty good track record for providing the good. But, as per usual, good production numbers does not a solid hour of television make.
The best episodes of “Glee” utilize the music therein to provide commentary on the action of the episode, provide honest/humorous insight into the mindset of the characters, and generally allow these people to express their innermost thoughts in ways that mere words could not. The worst episodes of “Glee” come off as Auto-Tuned iterations of “American Idol” Theme Weeks. Ostensibly, Brittany’s cavity-induced epiphany led to her finding her independence (along with Rachel finding her midriff), but did any of these changes feel anything more than a lazy way to justify an all-Britney soundtrack? Of course not.
Moreover: Lima, Ohio is apparently more behind the times than Scranton, PA. The folks over at “The Office” were a year late in their lipdub homage in their season premiere last week. But Lima was about five decades too late in reacting to New Directions’ version of “Toxic”, behaving in ways not unlike teenagers seeing Elvis’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Indeed, the Fosse-lite routine was slightly risqué, to be sure. And sure, said reaction let Sue declare a “Britney Spears Sex Riot,” a funny enough line in a vacuum. But so much of tonight’s episode took place in scene-sized vacuums: interesting enough as a morsel, but completely tasteless as a 42-minute cookie. (I’d try and fix that metaphor, but I’m taking the Ryan Murphy approach to this review and just letting things fall where they may.)
Amidst all of this cacophony, “Glee” continued with “Operation: Kill Any Extant Rachel Sympathy.” While she was content to be simply intolerable last week, Rachel turned truly psychotic this week. Even when she got to sing a ballad of love to Finn by episode’s end, it’s clear that she doesn’t understand 1) how miserably she treated him, 2) how self-centered she still is, and 3) how she threw Quinn under the bus just to ensure that her man wouldn’t stray now that he’s back on the football team. Yes, he’s back on the team. Already. So’s Artie. Don’t ask. Just throw a brick. You’ll feel better.
But that’s how things roll on “Glee”: it inhales some happy gas, forgets where it put its keys, and then walks away, hoping it eventually comes across its home. Honestly, if the show just threw up its hands and said, “Screw it: We’re setting Season 2 in CandyLand!”, I’d be fine with that. I wouldn’t agree with that direction, but at least it would be a consistent one. Turn Carl fully into Sweeney Todd, make Rachel the Wicked Witch of the East Wing of the High School, and remove any and all semblance of what resembles “reality.” You’re sooooo close already. Embrace the artifice, “Glee.” You’d be solid gold if you did.
It would be fake gold, but it would still shine all the same.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Leave your thoughts below!
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