OK, now this? THIS? This should have been the 90-minute episode of “Glee.” Last week’s entry “Born This Way” was overlong, undercooked, and designed primarily to hurt the premiere of “The Voice” rather than show scenes that simply couldn’t land on the cutting room floor. Now, in saying that “Rumours” should have been the extended episode doesn’t mean the hour was flawless by any means. But it had enough good ideas that it could have used the extra breathing room in order to flesh them out.
It seems like I say this every week, but it bears repeating: “Glee” is strongest when it’s at its simplest. Hanging an entire week around one of the great rock albums of all time isn’t inherently a great idea. But hanging it around “Rumours,” an album whose creation directly ties into the melodrama surrounding New Directions? THAT is a great idea. It’s such a great idea that I thought not even the show’s inherent need to bounce around narratively like a piece of Flubber could undo such a potent idea. Naturally, God laughed at my optimism and proceeded to layer on the plots, drown in it treacle, and have me longing for the good old days. You know, before Act 3 of tonight’s episode.
Here’s the simple story they could have told: an open examination of the fact that no one in New Directions seems able to date anyone but another member of the group, trading partners periodically as hormones dictate. The show uses Rachel at one point to voice in-show what countless blogs and message boards have noted since the dawn of the show: these singers are incestuous when it comes to dating within a certain social circle. With “Rumours” as inspiration, tonight’s episode could have examined the states of those relationships as a litmus test to their strength as a team heading into nationals.
Instead, it turned into The Sad Tale of Trouty Mouth.
Honestly, where to begin with Sam’s storyline. On one hand, I’m glad the show actually gave him one. He’s been essentially forgotten all season, occasionally drawn into the main stories to act as romantic nemesis or romantic consolation prize to someone in the group. But he’s primarily been defined by Santana’s merciless mocking of his mouth. There’s nothing exactly wrong with making him eye candy, but it turns into a problem when you invent a crisis for him and expect anyone to feel bad about the predicament thrust upon him.
The show’s relationship to reality has always been tenuous at best. There are hints throughout certain episodes that this show takes place in the same universe as our own, where the economy tanked in 2008 and still hasn’t completely recovered. But it’s hard to rectify the situation that Sam’s family finds themselves in and the over-the-top, lavish productions that New Directions puts on FOR EMPTY AUDITORIUMS. For many, this isn’t a problem. Once people in the show start singing, plenty of viewers can just suspend their disbelief until the music stops. And if “Glee” never actually tried to put real humans into their parade of silliness, then I could probably go along with it as well.
But there were plenty of moments tonight in which “Glee” strove for actual pathos, only to be undercut by its own desire to stage whatever it damn well wants when it wants to stage it. Staging something doesn’t just mean filming a big musical production number, it also means staging a scene in which three grown women drink placenta-laced margaritas. Placing a scene like that alongside what should be heartbreaking moments for Sam, Santana, and Artie just serves to underline the disparity of the realities within the show. But “Glee” can’t decide if the group functions as an escape for miserable, blue-collar people that might never leave the borders of their small town or functions as a way to sell singles on iTunes.
In a perfect world, the group should do both. There’s nothing wrong with the show hawking its catalog for people to download and listen to outside the context of the program. But those songs out of context should still evoke an emotional response related to the initial performance of them on television. “Glee” often earns those responses, but it never seems quite sure of when its own product truly works. Thus, the numbers that truly connect are happy statistical accidents. It’s not nearly as infrequent as a broken clock always being right twice a day. But I defy any of the show’s writers to explain why “Songbird” worked and “Don’t Stop” didn’t.
But since they aren’t here to respond, let me at least offer up my own take on these two numbers. “Songbird” worked on every level to which I wish “Glee” would aspire: 1) it stayed in a recognizable reality, 2) it was story-driven, and above all 3) featured someone singing to another person because simply speaking it wouldn’t have been close to enough. Artie’s rendition of “Never Going Back Again,” possessed similar qualities, along with a striking Mumford and Sons-esque arrangement that honored the original but brought something new to the table. Both songs were about the same girl, and both spoke to emotional connections that have been swirling all season long.
But rather than truly get any of these three closer to something akin to closure, the show spent the last half hour with Finn/Rachel as Fred/Velma, scooping out a scenario that had a nominal tie to the episode’s title but missed the point of what made those particular “Rumours” so potent. Yes, the sleuthing was driven by jealousy and interpersonal squabbling, but the resolution was so over-the-top Hallmark Channel (even for “Glee”) that by the time Sam’s little sister emerged to beg her older brother to stop crying, I was punching myself in the face to keep from screaming. Bringing Sam’s moppet siblings onstage to sing “Don’t Stop” was the coup de crap, a move so false that I couldn’t believe it existed in the same episode as the emotionally resonant numbers listed in the previous paragraph.
Then again, why shouldn’t I believe it? This is “Glee,” a show that wants to be all things to all people all of the time. It’s a show that thinks “more” always equals “better,” which means that once again a large chunk of show time that could have been spent digging more into the group dynamics of New Directions were spent on Butt Chin’s search for purpose in life. Honestly, “Glee” shouldn’t be so cruel as to tease me with the prospect of a Will-less show. That’s nothing against Matthew Morrison. After all, it’s Will that turned the douche up to 11 during his pairing with April for “Dreams,” not Morrison. But his storyline with April (and small scene with Emma) just reinforced how much this show is no longer about him. If he were a character on “Chuck,” he’d be working in the Buy More, watching Jeffster hone their act in the break room.
Now, if the show went for the socio-economic realism it occasionally trips over on the way to Lavish Numberville, Will could work. He could be the ultimate failure, a man whom April correctly points out is still on the same stage as he was in high school with nothing to show for it. That would be a fascinating character, but one perhaps too dark for a show that aims to be as mainstream as “Glee.” Will’s incredibly tone-deaf attitude, his failure in relationships, and his love/hate relationship with the school would all fit into a world in which he’s the prime example of how much New Directions members can expect out of their own life. I would watch that show. Instead, I have to watch “Glee.”
There are pleasures to be found in this show, of course. But they come with a lot of baggage. Wading through the muck to find the occasional piece of pop perfection can be a frustrating exercise at times. I’m not sure if the show coming so close to its previous heights tonight has me feeling optimistic about the final run of the season or more depressed that it squandered an idea that was perfectly suited for the show. To paraphrase “The Chain” (a number from “Rumours” inexplicably chosen to only play on Finn’s radio during his motel stakeout): I don’t love you now. But I might love you again. Breaking the chain that is “Glee” proves difficult for me. I need to go eat some fondue for one and gear up for next week’s installment.
What did you think of “Rumours”? Top of the line “Glee,” or bottom of the barrel pandering? Did Sam’s story hold any resonance, or has the S.S. Trouty Mouth already long sailed for you? Can we ever truly believe Will would leave “Glee,” and if so, would that actually improve the show? Sound off below!
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