Well, after what seems like 45 years, “Glee” returned tonight to start the march towards the end of its second season. Many shows would take the time to hone scripts, rethink final arcs, and generally sharpen things up on the way to an all-too-close finale. But “Glee” isn’t most shows, so “A Night of Neglect” was a typical grab bag of plots, tones, and enough characters to fill the wide shots in an epic motion picture. Odd, since so much of the episode took place in a sparsely filled theatre.
[Full recap of Tuesday's (April 19) "Glee" after the break...]
It’s frustrating to type out the same complaints about the show, and I can’t imagine it’s insanely exciting to reach differently worded iterations of the same concerns. But for the first time I think all season, I’m actually struggling to say anything analytical about the show. It’s not that I’m unwilling to talk about the show, except that there was remarkably little to comment upon that wasn’t there in the primary text of the show. Even when “Glee” is horribly bad (“Britney/Brittany,” “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”), there’s usually a treasure trove of things to discuss, pick apart, and read between the lines. Tonight? Not so much. “Glee” not only once again neglected the basic building blocks that make up an episode of television, it neglected to be at least interesting while breaking the rules.
That “Glee” doesn’t follow the strict structures of other hourlongs isn’t inherently a negative thing. Plenty of shows take what is “supposed” to be done, throw them out the window, and still produce compelling, original art. But those shows also often are tonally consistent with their rule-breaking, which makes their acts of anarchy contain an internal logic inside of the seeming mayhem. There’s a method to their madness. There’s really no method at work in “Glee,” other than the staunch desire to not even bother to connect one element of the show to another in any meaningful way. “Glee” focuses on the moment at the expense of the grand picture. It’s almost like television pointillism: it takes great pains to construct the perfectly colored dot without thinking about how it fits into the overall picture. (Mostly because it’s not always clear that even the writers know what that picture is.)
Such an approach has the odd effect of producing a lot of small things that I like while almost never producing an entire episode that I love. Seeing Stephen Tobolowsky as a general rule makes me incredibly happy, so watching “The Pink Dagger” in action made me smile even as I struggled to figure out why on Earth Sue’s Legion of Doom plotline even existed. The nuns at Nonnberg Abbey worried about solving a problem like Maria. “Glee” should be worried about solving a problem like Sue Sylvester. Unfortunately, Jane Lynch is too damn popular to ever consider removing her from the show. Her character is so far past the point of narrative expiration that she’s starting to reek.
If I have to reiterate something from past reviews of the show again, let it be this: “Glee” works best as a sad group of kids who, not unlike many of the Dillon Panthers over on “Friday Night Lights,” are enjoying what is unfortunately the highlight of what will be their lives. They are the current iteration of Will Schuester, a man who has still never gotten over the high from being in that group as a teenager. The show wants to throw things around to see what sticks on the metaphorical wall, but my God, this show’s potency lies in what should be its simplicity. “A group of high school kids sing what they can’t say.”
Boom. Done. Make THAT show and I’d not only watch, but try to get as many people as I could to watch it. But look how many plots tonight, most created out of thin air for the purposes of this hour and this hour alone, obscured that central premise. First, the kids need to raise money for their New York trip. Next up, Sue’s Legion tries to destroy the group. After that, a Will/Holly/Emma/Dustin love quadrangle. After that, let’s reintroduce Corazon Sunshine, only to write her out of the second half of the episode after singing a song for the next iTunes compilation. Just for fun, let’s bring back Karofksy for a brief scene to tease Kurt’s return to the school. And as the cherry on top, let’s reveal a quarter of New Directions also needs cash for an athletic decathlon. Damn. I need an inhaler. Talk about neglecting the central strength of the show: the interpersonal relationships between the glee club.
That “Glee” has cut back on the overall numbers this season seems obvious, but also seems as random a choice as anything else they have made this year. I would hate for each episode to be forced to produce a minimum or maximum number of tunes, but with the exception of Holly’s cover of Adele’s “Turning Tables,” none of the songs tonight seemed to mean anything to the person performing them. I would even say that Mercedes’ number was a show stopper, but designed more to show her talent than her actual connection to the song. (It didn’t help that Rachel condescendingly explains Aretha Franklin’s biography to her just before the performance.)
Mercedes’ number is a great example of missed opportunities in the “Glee” world. Had the writers designed it ahead of time as the culmination of a long-simmering feud between Rachel and Mercedes, then it might have been a slam dunk. But for the most part, the two have been friends all year, with Kurt along for the ride most of the time as a divalicious trio bonded by their love of music and the spotlight. Nothing Mercedes said about Rachel’s constant place in the spotlight is inherently wrong, but let’s be frank: the most passion Mercedes has shown about ANYTHING this year concerned tater tots. While turning her into a diva thanks to Lauren’s sudden, random interest in being her manager might have sounded hilarious in the writers’ room, it just made both characters look cartoonish in execution. None of this is Amber Riley’s fault: the fault lies in the show trying to create an impactful moment for her after letting her linger in the wind for a better part of the season.
To have such broad, obvious comedy sit alongside Emma’s incredibly raw hurt at being ruled by her OCD only made Mercedes’ storyline look even broader. “Glee” has basically forgotten about Emma this season, bringing her back just in time for Holly to teach French in Cleveland. When she has been onscreen, she’s been singing “Afternoon Delight” when not being generally awful and one-dimensional as a character. But there was a realness about her short scene with Will tonight that took me by surprise, and gave me hope (however fruitless this may be) that the show has figured out a way for her and Will to try and reconnect in a way that might actually heal both in the process. In ways not as obvious but just as crippling, Will is motivated by forces past his capacity to control. At least Emma acknowledges the chains that bind her. Maybe by the end of the season, so will Will. I’d prefer that Will/Emma weren’t remotely the focus of the show, but if they are, that’s how I’d like to see that play out.
As I stated before, I’d much rather spend 90% of each episode with the members of New Directions. There are so many different combinations of characters left unexplored at this point that it would be difficult to exhaust them in the foreseeable future. Letting them talk to each other would be a start. Letting them sing to each other when words fail would be an even better one. C’mon, “Glee,” you might not know it, but I’m rooting for you. Not just because I’m reviewing this on a weekly basis. But because I believe in the central concept of the show so strongly that it pains me to think that after nearly two seasons, you don’t even know how powerful that concept could be if properly put onscreen.
What did you all think of the return of the show? Better than ever, more of the same, or simply tone deaf? Does Sue still work for you? Do any of the adults? Sound off below!
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