Is it really a surprise that this week’s “Glee” was a pale imitation of the great one that aired at roughly the same time last week? Of course not. “Glee” isn’t written so much as concocted by a few writers that approach the show in much the same way that amateur cooks would in creating a new stew on a weekly basis. The basic ingredients that go into said stew might not be bad on their own. Some of them might even be pretty tasty. But there’s no thought process about how those ingredients go together. Occasionally, the mix produces brilliant results. But since these would-be Iron Chefs didn’t bother to write down the recipe that produced a winning meal, they are unable to replicate the process after tasting success.
[Full recap of Tuesday's (Feb. 15) "Glee" after the break...]
Tortured metaphors aside, “Comeback” could have been a pretty good follow-up to “Silly Love Songs.” Intertwining Rachel’s reemergence as a musical, not social, force paired with a lost-then-refocused Sue wouldn’t have exactly set the world on fire, but at least given the show something it so often lacks: thematic focus. Or, you know, just plain ol’ focus. But thrown into the narrative cauldron alongside that twinned storyline was Justin Bieber, Lauren’s stage fright, Will’s visits to a pediatric cancer ward, and other elements that may have worked as a scene but not as part of the whole.
Look, I know I’m a broken record about this stuff. And for millions of “Glee” fans, the inconsistencies in tone and continuity are either ignored or embraced as part of the show’s slapdash charm. But let’s look at the cancer ward scene as embodying everything that’s wrong with the show.
If “Glee” wants to take Sue to a place where even her heart could grow a little, then fine, such blatant emotional manipulation is fine. It’s not like the show’s ever been a “Mad Men”-esque examination of people unable to express feelings. And tonight, Santana seemed more primed than ever to take over Sue’s signature barbs should Sue’s transformation actually stick.* But to include that scene, follow it up with Sue’s own production number, and THEN have her pull the rug out from under Will by showing that nothing has changed? It borders on the offensive.
* Her ever-increasingly vivid description of Sam’s mouth was something to behold. I’d be worried about Chord Overstreet developing a phobia about it in real life, but he’d probably just wash that phobia over his abs and then move on with his life without a care in the world.
For one thing, the scene exists only for audience manipulation, not Sue manipulation, if she simply recants at the end of the hour. For another, we haven’t met any of these kids before, meaning that our sympathies lie with their condition, not the individual that has it. Thirdly, since we’ve never had an inkling that Will’s ever done anything like this, such a move in this episode feels like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, not revealing a side of Will that feels organically related to the man that we, at this point, hardly know and barely care about. And perhaps I’m overly sensitive about this due to personal family history, but for the love of Bieber, even for “Glee” this was galling. Using that scene in the cancer ward to produce a breakthrough for Sue’s character would have been ham-fisted but begrudgingly acceptable. Have it be there to induce audience sympathy and aide a bait-and-switch at hour’s end is just disgusting.
As for the Bieber stuff: it’s hard to get too worked up about something that the show forgot about halfway through itself. But hey, I’ll try. What was annoying about the Bieber storyline wasn’t the way the show introduced his music by the barest of storyline threads (Sam’s a tool, so he could potentially think Bieber was actually rock and roll). No, what was annoying was the way in which the ladies of New Directions turned into screaming zombies over his music. Had this been done in an ironic way, I might have actually enjoyed it. But couple the over-the-top, out-of-character screaming during the performance of “Somebody to Love” with the “how in the HELL did they afford that” set, and you had me repeatedly punching myself in the face.
“Glee” loves to produce big production numbers such as that, and each time they do so, I marvel at how easy it would be to square these lavish sequences with the circle of mundane, lower-middle class life in which these kids actually live. The show could have its cake and eat it too if it just found a consistent way to show that what looks like an expensive set is simply the collective imagination of the group. It could be anything from cross-cutting between a performance in the rehearsal room to an expansive stage, a camera move that shifts perspective from reality to imagination…I mean, it’s not like I’m reinventing paradigms here. Using Bieber really isn’t that different from using any other artist on this show: it’s about how that artist’s music makes the performer as well as audience feel. It’s not about the literal recreation of a freakin’ Justin Bieber concert.
When the show goes small, it usually succeeds. The Rachel/Mercedes duet on “Take Me or Leave Me” was a master class not only in musical theatre performance, but in grounding said performance in character. Having Sue’s plan backfire and actually reinforce the bond that’s been established over the past few episodes was the absolute highlight of the show, and unlike all things Bieber-centric, actually tied into the comeback plot at the supposed center of this episode. Rachel may be destined for greater things, but she’s certainly not going to achieve them on her own. Her plan to write an original song will be a solo effort, but will need the buy-in of others in the group. If it’s good, she’ll probably have Mercedes’ vote after this number.
That’s not exactly an anthem of a plotline, but it’s a start. I’d rather watch that than another round of “Sue suckers Will in and then twists the knife.” In fact, look at the three episodes since the hiatus ended: we’ve had two episodes in which the adults drove the plot sandwiching one in which kids ruled the roost. That’s a mighty nasty “Glee” Oreo, y’all. And it looks to continue, with Sue now running Oral Intensity to compete against New Directions and Tolerance Narnia, absent this week in a fit of narrative economy I didn’t think Ryan Murphy possessed. That keeps the Sue vs. Will storyline in the foreground, which means so much of what I find interesting about “Glee” will be kept in the background.
To paraphrase Mercedes: we’ve all bought tickets to Crazy Town. Strap in for the bumpy ride on the way to Regionals.
What did you think of “Comeback”? Did the show maintain momentum from last week, or simply sink under its own weight? Does Sue’s new position make sense within this world, or simply scream that the writers are simply grasping at straws? Are you rooting for Rachel’s comeback or rooting for her to simply cede the spotlight to others? Leave your thoughts below!
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