There have been a lot of words, many written by yours truly, about pushing past the constraints of regular weekly criticism and attack television from a different angle. It’s not that the format itself is somehow evil, but man, it can be limiting sometimes. So every once in a while it’s interesting to try and push past the norm and try something different. And since tonight’s “Glee” was all about overcoming internal fears and facing a brave new world order, what better time to try and stretch things out a bit? Way back when, I used to write up “Terra Nova” reviews from the perspective of one of the dinosaurs in the show. And while the idea of a singing dinosaur coming in and writing “LUNCH” on Will’s white board sounds appealing, let’s do a little FAQ about this episode, and the show as whole.
 
What was this episode called?
 
Wait…what?
I know, right? Horrible. Terrible. So bad I was prepared to hate it. “Glee” is extremely hit or miss with its concept episodes. They even seem to realize this internally, as Sue snarked about Will not having a good idea since the Madonna week. But having an episode based around “Saturday Night Fever” just seemed like a quick cash grab to augment the iTunes catalog with some disco-infused numbers to fill a particular void in the show’s back catalog.
 
So, it was another bad episode?
Actually…no. This might have been one of the best episodes this season.
 
Can you explain?
I’d be happy to! First up, calling this one of the best episodes is damning it with faint praise. And there were certainly some big gaping flaws at work here. (Apparently, you can get someone into college completely behind their back!) But whereas past theme episodes have basically amounted to, “Eff it, we’re doing Gaga!”, the use of “Saturday Night Fever” actually worked to provide a framework for both the straight and musical aspects of the episode.
 
What do bellbottoms have to do with the state of Lima high school students?
Well, for starters, “Saturday Night Fever” and “Glee” both share a dark, at times overwhelmingly sad atmosphere. This show forgets about the economic and social realities of its world all the time. (For instance: the school has a seemingly unlimited budget for rehearsals, but doesn’t have a DVD player. That’s weird!) But when it brings those realities to the forefront, the results are often shockingly powerful, and work better than most shows in the television landscape.
 
If there’s a real gripe to level at tonight’s plot, it’s that it should have happened much sooner. It’s unclear exactly how aligned the show is with our own timeline. But even if it’s not April in Lima, it’s still really freakin’ late for 1) its seniors to realize they have no plans post-high school, and 2) its teachers to realize they have failed in their responsibilities to nurture their students. I’m not looking for reality akin to the fourth season of “The Wire” here in terms of examining the veracity of the educational experience. But rather than having an episode that reached the culmination of season-long ennui for Finn, Mercedes, and Santana, the show just had Will decide that he needed to kick these three in the pants in order to not have everything fall apart come graduation.
 
But…at least Will did something, right?
Sure, and at least Will didn’t write “Your Future!” on his whiteboard before launching into his disco offensive along with Sue and her replica dance floor from the film. And putting them through the ringer meant that these characters had to come out of the episode different than the way they entered it. It’s a little something called “progress,” and it’s something the show does so little of that one must celebrate it when it does occur. In some ways, “Glee” is like “Harry Potter” in that each season is narratively arranged around certain landmarks of the school year. But unlike the book/film series, “Glee” often passes the time between those landmarks by having people sort of mess around without actually progressing as people. They lurch forward, spiral back, and then scream sing their way back to the starting point.
 
Also? It’s perfectly legitimate that it would take this long to act. All three primary characters tonight admit they are either scared, delusional, or both, and needed a kick in the pants in order to take the next steps. And Will is a Spanish teacher that doesn’t know Spanish and asked one of his students to be his best man at his wedding. That dude is freakin’ hopeless.
 
Even though he didn’t write “Your Future!” on the board, what words do you hope Will writes in the future of the show?
“Lugubrious.” “Totalitarianism.” “Lena Dunham.”
 
What’s more unbelievable: Quinn getting into Yale, or Santana getting into The University of Louisville?
It depends how you define believability. On one hand, Quinn should probably be in jail. (At the very least, she wouldn’t have been texting and driving inside prison.) On the other hand, she actually applied to college herself. I can’t believe it’s possible to secretly get someone into college without them knowing it. To test this, theory I’ve sent out applications for Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg to get into Smith College. Wish me luck!
 
Can you believe they trotted out yet another new character in tonight’s episode?
At first, I died a little inside, especially when Alex Newell’s character Wade/Unique seemed tonally off from the rest of the stories occurring tonight. If there was ever an episode in which to set aside Nationals, this was it. But then two things happened. The first? Vocal Adreneline’s “Boogie Shoes” was a phenomenal performance, anchored by Newell owning the stage in his breakout performance in drag. But that performance also tied back thematically to the struggles of the three seniors in McKinley High trying to break out of their own shells in order to take the next step.
 
What did you make of the fact that it took a video in each storyline in order to force them to the next step?
Brilliant storytelling on a level Matt Weiner can only dream of.
 
Really?
Oh no. Not remotely. But most of New Directions see themselves as the star of their own films, unaware of how they actually come across. So forcing them to see either themselves (Mercedes, Santana) or their avatar (Finn) makes a kind of sense. I wish the show had figured out a way to avoid regurgitating one of the major plot points of the “Touch” pilot, but hey, there are only so many narrative tropes in this day and age. The Santana stuff seemed a little more problematic, until one realizes Brittany staged Santana’s “fame” as a way to grease the wheels for the acceptance to the University of Louisville. Whereas “Glee” seems to have largely (if not completely) figured a way to integrate Sue into the overall show this season, it’s lost its way with Brittany. And that’s too bad: Heather Morris had a breakout season last year, and she’s been all but ignored except for a handful of installments this year.
 
What about Tina?
Who?
 
The Asian girl?
Not ringing a bell. Oh, the girl from the “More Than a Woman” number! Right. She’s a vampire, if I’m not mistaken.
 
How much would this episode have been improved had Matt Bomer returned?
Chances are he would have mocked Blaine’s initial performance of “You Should Be Dancing” and stopped this episode dead in his tracks. Bomer is to disco episodes as Jeff Winger is to spontaneous dance parties on “Community.”
 
Why didn’t you mention the return of Jesse St. James?
Oh, you noticed that, huh?
 
Are you unable to say anything nice about him?
Well, he didn’t wander around randomly looking for partners to sing Adele songs with him. So he seems to have grown as a person.
 
How confident are you that “Glee” can keep this up during the stretch run?
I’d love to think the pressure of wrapping up certain storylines before the fourth season brings…whatever it brings will force the writers to buckle up and tighten in the reigns over these last few weeks. Anything’s possible. Then again, next week’s Whitney Houston episode might be a train wreck. Everything’s up for grabs when it comes to this show. Tonight didn’t change that. But what did change is that I enjoyed much more of an episode of this show than I loathed. Having that re-occur a few more times this season would be quite wonderful.
 
What did you think of tonight’s episode? A big improvement, or the usual level of awfulness? Did the storylines for the seniors come out of left field, or did that suddenness ring true? If Sue has a replica dance floor from “Saturday Night Fever,” what other pop culture sets do you think she has stashed away? Sound off below!