The key to a successful ‘Glee’ episode has always been a careful balance of the creative and the contrived. So much of the show requires that you suspend your disbelief and go along for what is – admittedly – a fun ride, and I’m not just talking about bursting into costumed and choreographed song. It’s always seemed to me that Ryan Murphy gets credited for bravely confronting and dispelling the myths of high school cliques and politics, but he’s willing to be just as cavalier with them as well, when they serve his purposes.
Take, for example, Artie’s decision to join the football team to win back the heart and lustful attentions of Tina. Really? Considering last year’s revelation that Artie longs to be a dancer, it seems like a missed opportunity to not explore his heartbreak in a more meaningful way, now that Tina has fallen for the club’s primary male dancer. Instead, by golly, Artie’s gonna join the football team because according to decades of formulaic television, football = popular jock who can win the heart of any lady (except when it means misunderstood rebel, ala Puck; or kind-hearted doofus, Finn), and that MUST be what Tina wants… since she’s dating… a dancer in the Glee club? Yeah, that kind of falls apart there at the end. Here’s where contrived overshadows creative. Because Artie enlists Finn’s help to join the football team, Finn gets kicked of the team, and OH NOES! he’s not popular anymore and it all plays into the ongoing Sue-Coach Beiste-Mr. Schue storyline, which shows once again, that Mr. Schuester is one of the more fully formed characters on the show because they’re willing to show him be a jerk instead of always the white knight.
‘Glee’ is at its best when it’s subversive and off-hand (“I was playing a marathon game of Halo, woman!), and there’s more of that than you realize because sometimes the drama overshadows the more subtle dialogue and even production elements that make it more than a rehash of a Disney TV musical. The best parts of ‘Glee’ are the ones that make you press pause and say, wait, what? Did I just see/hear what I thought I did? Asian camp? Army recruiting at a daycare center? Rachel’s sign-up sheet, which read “Co-(star) with Rachel Berry?” Awesome.
Two notes on those two scenes, though. One – did I drink too much over the summer (yes) or did I miss the use of the internal monologue voiceover last season? When Finn started talking in the locker room, I was thrown. Maybe it’s been used before and I just forgot, or maybe the writers just really wanted a way for Finn to get a few zingers out. I’m not sold on the concept – seems it should be incorporated frequently or not at all, and I’m leaning toward not at all in a show that is already so gimmicky. Two, the Sunshine/Rachel scene in the bathroom is a perfect example of walking the line between creative and contrived and doing it right. Rachel Berry is such a caricature, and just as you start to get annoyed and distracted not only by how overbearing she is but also by the fact that she never seems to grow up or change, she has a fun, wild scene with foreign exchange student Sunshine Corazon (played by the diminutive Filipina break-out star Charice), where they sing Lady GaGa’s telephone – Rachel singing aggressively (It’s a motherf’n sing-off!) to try to intimidate her newfound competition.
Indeed, intimidation and competition seemed to be the themes of this episode. Rachel is threatened by Sunshine. Vocal Adrenaline is back to its devious, dastardly ways, and Coach Beiste is challenging the Sue-ocracy. In her first episode, Coach Bieste (played by Dot Jones), is a little all over the place, but I’m withholding judgment until I see if there’s some payoff on some of the more bizarre character development points from her role in this episode (referring to herself as “The Panther?” “You’re all coffee and no omelette?”). All in all, a good first episode – lots of set-up, which is to be expected, but just enough of the fun and subversive silliness that makes Glee, well, fun and subversive and silly, to tip the creative/contrived balance in the right way for the season opener.
This week’s shoehorned-into-the-plot song (because there’s one in every episode; remember last season’s terrible mother-daughter rendition of Poker Face? *shudder*): “What I Did for Love”
- I’m interested to see if Kurt’s wardrobe continues to get increasingly, for lack of a better term, “gay.” I’m hoping it’s a conscious effort to show that he’s becoming more comfortable and accepting of himself.
- Only Jane Lynch could make “ghost friends” not seem completely and totally groan-worthy and ridiculous. But only barely.
- Puck, in a perfect non-sequitur: “Dude, your mouth is huge. How many tennis balls can you fit in there?”
- Sam (Chord Overstreet, but I’ll be calling him Blonde Justin Bieber): “I don’t know. I’ve never had any balls in my mouth. Have you?”
Seriously, though, his mouth IS huge.