Houston? We have a problem. Again.
Naya Rivera and Lea Michele of "Glee"
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Well, those good times lasted exactly a week. So, par for the course with “Glee
After scoring its second strong episode based around an album, not an artist, with “Saturday Night Glee-ver” (a spiritual sequel to last season’s excellent “Rumours”), the show went back to less successful areas with its Whitney Houston tribute installment “Dance With Somebody
.” It’s not that these “concept” episodes, for lack of a better term, are inherently a bad idea. In stronger, more capable hands, delving into the back catalog of a single artist is a perfectly good way to structure an episode of a musical. But “Glee” almost never understands the difference between “using those songs to bring out actual emotional notes in its characters” and “simply restaging the music videos just for the hell of it.”
Moreover, past artist-centric episodes have mostly dealt with artists that would ostensibly inspire these high school students. Lady Gaga and Britney Spears certainly fit the bill, and Michael Jackson and Madonna are iconic enough to carry over through generations. That’s not to disparage Whitney Houston’s contribution to the music scene, but “Dance” felt very much like the producers and writers wanting to pay tribute and forced that desire upon the show. Watching Will muse aloud why the students are still mourning two months after Houston’s death, coupled with Sam’s “Why exactly are we doing this?” attitude after Will inevitably wrote “WHITNEY” on the whiteboard, only underlined how arbitrary this exercise was.
Still, arbitrary exercises can yield some powerful results. We only have to look at last week’s episode for an excellent example of this. When “Glee” finds source material to emotionally elevate the action onscreen, it really doesn’t matter why anyone is doing anything in the moment in which it’s happening. Naya Rivera essentially saved “Mash Off” with her ridiculously powerful Adele two-fer at the end of that episode. That performance almost single-handedly wiped away the fifty-five minutes of pure pain that preceded it. The musical numbers last week felt like the members of New Directions taking well-known material and making it their own, applying it to their own lives and thus breathing new fire into those songs. It was a testament to not only the original tunes, but how well “Glee” deployed them.
But tonight? It felt like the show checking off a laundry list of iconic tunes for the purposes of selling records. Out of context, I bet a lot of these numbers play a lot better. The essentially a cappella “How Will I Know” is such a number. Take four of the show’s strongest singers, add in compelling harmonization, and voila: a beautiful song. But as a performance, it’s straight-up bizarre. Why does Mercedes have Whitney’s photo? Why do Santana, Rachel, and Kurt sing along with her? Are they actually singing along, or had Will Schuester just dropped LSD with Roger Sterling and thus tripping balls in the hallway? We’re three seasons into the show and “Glee” still refuses to have actual rules about what governs musical performances, so it’s unclear. Sometimes it’s realistic, sometimes it’s not, and sometimes a host of rubber-suited women straight out of “American Horror Story” backing Blaine up as he scream sings inside his own music video.
Consistency has never been the show’s strong suit, obviously. But it’s hard to know where to start actually trying to find the common thread in an episode that went all over the map in typical “Glee” fashion. Let’s try and break down things on a pure plot level.
We Are All On The Verge Of Never Seeing People We Don’t Really Care About That Much Ever Again: Ostensibly, the point of the exercise this week was to leverage the students’ inexplicable grief over Houston’s death into an analysis of personal pain and potential growth. This is all well and good, except the show has done a pretty terrible job at showing these kids as friends over the years. Two weeks ago, we saw what was I believe the first Artie/Quinn scene in three seasons. That’s a long time for two people in the same group to not share a conversation of substance. The show seems to be ending Kurt/Blaine, because “texting with a random boy from a record shop” is only slightly worse than “texting while driving.” But I thought Kurt’s “I Have Nothing” was actually about his father, not his boyfriend, as we eventually learned. We’ve seen a few pairings work, but even the strongest one (Rachel/Kurt) isn’t in any real danger of ending since the show will likely put them both in New York City for the show’s fourth season. Speaking of random pairings…
Jesus Frowns Upon Physical Therapy: Look, I’m not hating on religion here. I’m hating on Joe and Quinn suddenly thrust together (I know, poor phrasing, given Joe’s faith) as a potential couple. Having them sing “Saving All My Love For You”, a song about ADULTERY, while airing a montage of them having sexy time PT was just odd. It’s even odder than the Artie/Irish Dude/Annoying Girl love triangle from a few months back that we’ve all agreed to pretend never existed. That was just random. This was creepy, didactic, and really insulting to the performers involved. Then again, I pretty much want to give every actor a hug on this show, and let them know that I understand this not their fault. Which brings me to the final message of tonight’s episode…
Will Is Pretty Much Insane. Poor Matthew Morrison. I mean, honestly. Hey, we all want out teachers to be involved in our lives. But not to the point where said teacher trying to move his wedding up in time to ensure we haven’t moved away and thus be unable to witness the nuptials. If this were a dark comedy, then Will’s attitude would be creepy but in line with the text. But here? We’re supposed to find it endearing! And it’s not. It’s so very, very, very not. “Glee” always talks about Emma’s mental issues, but never can decide if Will is just overzealous or off his rocker. I sort of loved his insistence upon rapping at his own wedding, since it felt like the show mocking its early episodes. But it’s less funny if it implies that Will has actually devolved as a person thanks to his experience with New Directions. When he enters the wings as the group sings “My Love Is Your Love,” it’s supposed to be a moment of pride. Instead, it feels like a scene out of the horrible Lifetime film: “The Song Will Never Be Over If I Have Anything To Say About It: The Will Schuester Story.”
All of this is too bad, since graduation is a time in which raw emotions naturally come to the surface. And “Glee” does raw emotion pretty well, even if it does just about everything quite terribly. But while the Kurt/Burt scene played like gangbusters, Rachel trying to make friends with Santana or Puck giving shot glasses to some of the guys in the group came out of left field. Rachel is absolutely right that these two could have made powerful musical allies had they not been at odds for so long. But why did they decide to sing “So Emotional” together? What about that performance made them bond? The show skipped over that hard work, as it usually does, it favor of the reaching the finish line by cutting corners throughout the course. And the less said about the Puck scene, the better, since I’m not actually convinced he knows Mike Chang’s first name. It came from nowhere, and it will go back into the ether. It’s like The Nothing, only we’re all out of luck dragons at this point. (Yes, this will be the only “Glee” review on the web with a “Neverending Story” reference. You’re welcome.)
Next week’s episode is called “Choke,” which either means 1) someone will bomb on their audition for NYADA, or 2) “Glee” is finally doing its long-awaited Chuck Palahniuk tribute. (I’d say the first rule about Regionals is that no one talks about Regionals, but we all know that isn’t the case on this show.) I expect absolutely nothing from the episode. That’s not to say that I think it will be bad. It’s to say that predicting the quality of the episode is a fool’s errand, and attempting to do so is silly. It’s kind of amazing that we’re at this stage, but it’s even more amazing how long we’ve been at this stage. It’s part of the beauty of this show. Its terrible, thorny, occasionally glorious, occasionally rap-filled, beauty.
What did you think of “Dance With Somebody”? Was it early-, middle-, or late-career Whitney Houston in terms of quality? Did Will’s attitudes freak you out as much as they freaked me out? Or have you been text-cheating on “Glee” with another program for some time now? Sound off below!
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