Things were heavier than a full-grown elephant with an anvil on its back at the end of Glee‘s last new episode back in February. Karofsky had attempted suicide (but thankfully survived). Quinn was involved in a horrific texting-while-driving accident. Rachel and Finn were on the precipice of a poorly thought-out trip down the aisle. And we had to endure another performance from New Directions — sans Blaine. (Gack!)
So you’ll forgive Ryan Murphy & Co. for lowering the emotional stakes in Glee‘s first episode back from a mid-winter hiatus (and, coincidentally the first step to a Season 3 finale/graduation for The Seniors). Quinn returned from her cliffhanger crash — paralyzed from the waist down but hanging onto hope that she’d walk again — and wheeled her way into an unexpected potential love triangle. Blaine dealt with some unresolved sibling issues. And seeds were planted for potentially game-changing story arcs for Finn and Rachel, as well as Sue. Plus, Kurt spent half the episode dressed like an extra for Madonna’s “Erotica” video. (O, wardrobe, where art thou?)
If you got distracted replaying Duran Duran videos on YouTube and missed parts of the episode, here’s how the central story arcs played out:
* Blaine, perhaps the only person on the planet who pairs sweater vests with cardigans and bowties, seemed a wee bit ambivalent about a visit from his big brother Cooper (the crazy charismatic Matt Bomer) — star of a legendary FreeCreditRatingToday.com/Savi
* Quinn returned to school, announced her medical diagnosis and instituted a ”no tears” policy on what she dubbed the happiest day of her life. (Hey now, don’t quibble: She could’ve been one of those creepy memorial pages in the yearbook.) Still, being in a wheelchair led to a natural connection with Artie that may or may not be headed in a romantic direction. (I kinda hope it does: New, improved Quinn might go for a guy like Artie, yes?) After he pushed her to tackle the steepest accessibility ramp in Lima — it’s just like having a baby, she cheekily observed — the duo decided to conspiratorially take a pass on spending senior skip day with their buddies and instead hit the skateboard park where they attempted daring new tricks on their own wheels. (I wish some of those extras with prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs had actually gotten a chance to, um, speak like real humans, not just like props for a kicky musical number.) Quinn, though, determined to walk by the time New Directions head to Nationals, wouldn’t entertain the idea that she’d be paralyzed forever. ”I’m getting out of Lima, I’m going to Yale, I’m going to walk again,” she told Artie, who just wanted her to consider that a medical miracle might not be in the cards. What’s more, new guy on campus Joe (Glee Project’s dreadlocked Samuel Larsen) told Quinn he was praying for her to accept whatever fate comes her way. Is Quinn about to be torn between two potential lovers while planning her future on the east coast? Stay tuned!
* Sue, who showed up 15 minutes late for the Cheerios’ regional competiton due to a medical appointment, was enraged to find Principal Figgins had appointed obnoxious Roz Washington as co-cheerleading coach. And while I could live quite happily without ever hearing another joke from Roz about Sue’s aging ladyparts – ”the doctor had to shine a light up your va-jay-jay to get all the bats to fly out” — the threat to Sue’s position got her to promise Figgins she’d help New Directions work out their choreography woes, and win the $10,000 prize that comes with a Nationals win. After using her hallmark techniques of cruelty and verbal abuse, though, Sue found herself softening when her doctor revealed “irregularities” in her amnio test, and Becky told her she should try to be a little more patient once she becomes a mom. Somehow, Coach Sylvester ended the episode praising New Directions’ “optimisim and decency.” See what having a second heartbeat inside your torso can do?
* Puck tried to convince Finn to move with him to Los Angeles — the land of 800,000 pools needing maintenance. And that chat got Finn wondering — and grilling Rachel — whether she’d ever considered how his dreams fit into her plan for NYADA and Broadway stardom. Fair enough, but last time they were on the subject, dude kind of made it seem like Rachel’s dreams were his only consideration for the future, no? That end-of-episode “are you in love with me or the idea of who you want me to be?” ultimatum seemed way harsh, but I guess that’s the way (overly serious teenage) love goes.
Anyhow, now that we’ve covered all the pertinent plot details, let’s review the best quotes from “Big Brother”:
“My Droid!” –Mercedes, responding to Sue hurling her cellular device into the auditorium seats
“I have no idea who Porcelain is refering to: I’m assuming it’s gay and niche.” — Sue responding to Kurt’s complaint that she was meaner than Bravo TV’s Tabatha Takes Over
“If Alan Menken isn’t personally writing you a fairytale musical at this very second, I will hunt him down and beat him senseless with a cudgel, because you, sir, are a Disney prince.” –Sue, responding to the general dreaminess of Cooper Anderson
“It’s springtime. I would like to see something give birth.” –Brittany, brainstorming ideas for senior skip day
“It also wouldn’t kill you to let Kurt stop picking out all your clothes.” –Cooper, weighing in on Blaine’s often painful threads
“My nana watches that!” Puck, dishing/dissing Glee’s timeslot competitor NCIS
And now, let’s get on to the grades for this week’s musical numbers:
“I’m Still Standing,” Artie and Quinn
Cute harmonies and wheelchair-ography, though the song choice was a little bit of a groaner, no?
“Hungry Like the Wolf/Rio,” Blaine and Cooper
Too. Much. Auto-Tune. And peculiar choreography.
Xtina’s original is my No. 1 treadmill jam, so it’s hard for anything to compare. Still, Blaine at the punching bag and in the shower had to be a milestone moment/screengrab extravaganza for Darren Criss fans.
“Up Up Up,” Quinn and Artie
I just kept worrying Quinn was going to lose control and get seriously hurt during this number. I know, I know, I’m a killjoy. But everything else felt secondary, y’now?
“Somebody That I Used to Know,” Cooper and Blaine
I bought the sibling angst in the room, and Matt Bomer really is a charismatic fella, no?
AV Club by Todd VanDerWerff (Grade: B)
As soon as I finished watching “Big Brother,” it immediately started slipping out of my mind. Here it is, an hour or so later, and I can barely remember a thing that happened unless I really try. Glee has always been a show most easily measurable via impact. It’s a show that doesn’t do everything right (and never has) but gets just enough things so perfect that you forgive it the problems. And those moments that work—be they musical numbers or hilarious lines or perfectly pitched emotional beats—hang with you like few other shows on TV. There’s just something about a high school show that gets right down to the core of our very beings, reminding us of who we were at that age. Adolescence is universal, as are all its pains and awkwardness. Glee has always dialed right into that when it’s at its best, but the very worst it can be—worse, even, than boring—is forgettable. And “Big Brother” was forgettable.
Well, it was but for one element: Matt Bomer’s performance as Blaine’s brother, Cooper, which was absolutely terrific. Bomer’s been quietly making a case that he’s a huge star just waiting to happen on White Collar, and this episode cemented his status as such. He sings and dances. He stars in a credit report commercial. He gives hilariously bad acting advice. He nails every laugh line he’s given. He somehow makes a storyline that should be kind of ridiculous and/or offensive—all of these kids abruptly turn into dim-witted naïfs who believe anything a guy who’s been in a commercial and might possibly be up for a Michael Bay movie tells them—a lot of fun. There’s no good reason for everybody to get taken in by Cooper’s advice, which is self-evidently bad, but Bomer is having so much fun dispensing it that lines like “Stanislavsky says the fingers are the eyes of the body, but he never mentions that the toes are the ears” kill.
The emotional side of this storyline—Blaine has always been overshadowed by his charismatic older brother—is a little undernourished, but I like that the show at least took it seriously. The final performance of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” was a strong one, since it featured both Darren Criss and Bomer at their most enjoyable (and a pretty damn good song). Sibling rivalry is a typical source of teenage angst that the show hasn’t really touched on, so it was nice to see the show turn to it, if only briefly, in this storyline. And even if the star status that Cooper held didn’t make a lot of sense, I totally bought that he’s been overshadowing Blaine his whole life. It was a storyline that probably shouldn’t have worked but did, because the actors were so damn committed to it. (And, okay, that rendition of “Fighter” was completely ridiculous, but I sometimes enjoy when the actors realize they’re trapped in a terrible musical number and just grit their teeth to get through it.)
There was at least one other storyline here that worked for me, and that the story surrounding the revelation that Quinn is in a wheelchair after her accident. It’s just about the worst-kept secret in the history of television, but I liked that the show didn’t bother trying to make us think it was going to kill the character off. She rolls in beside Artie in the first minute of the show, and we’re off to the races, with a storyline where Quinn is certain she’ll walk again, since she’s starting to regain a little feeling in her legs, and Artie doesn’t want her to get her hopes up for something that might not happen. There’s a scene where the two sing “I’m Still Standing.” There’s another where Quinn’s speech is poorly written, so it sounds like she won’t be able to go to Yale if she’s in a wheelchair. (In reality, she’s just bound all of her hopes up in being able to walk again, which is healthy, I’m sure.) There’s a scene where Artie takes her to see all of his friends in wheelchairs, and they do some energetic wheelchair dancing. There was also a palpable sense of longing throughout.
Longing is the engine that drives Glee, more than anything else, and though I felt like this storyline rushed Quinn’s arc just a bit too much, I liked the way that it played off of both Artie and Quinn’s desires for something else. Artie liked having someone else in his situation, someone who could understand what he was going through (and I was impressed with the chemistry between Kevin McHale and Dianna Agron, just on a pure “friends” level), but he also could see the idea that she, indeed, might be able to walk across the stage and get her diploma. I don’t want to say that Artie “hopes” Quinn will stay unable to walk, but I’m sure the thought crossed his mind. Similarly, Quinn hopes that she’ll walk again, and she refuses to consider the alternative, because that would mean everything breaking down. It’s another storyline where perhaps everything’s too rushed, but all involved do their best with what they have.
So, yeah, if the episode had been about the above two storylines, it might have been one of the better hours of the season. Instead, the show kept piling stuff on top of that. We had Finn and Rachel realizing that maybe getting married in high school was a bad idea, that maybe both of them will want different things! We had Sue confronting the fact that she might have a baby with Downs syndrome, something that gave her more pause than she might have liked. We had Will and Emma accompanying her to the doctor’s office, because they needed something to do. We had Puck trying to convince Finn that going off to California to help out Puck in his pool-cleaning business was the way to live life. We had… a long and unfortunate vignette at Six Flags.
Here’s the thing: Not a single one of these storylines was bad in and of itself. The actors were clearly invested, and everybody was willing to give their damnedest when it came to putting the emotions across. There are versions of all of those stories that work, and I didn’t find any of them awful. (Well, the theme park sequence was pretty terrible, but it was mercifully brief.) There was room for humor and good music and emotional catharsis in every single one of those storylines. Instead, I found myself forgetting what happened almost immediately. Why?
For starters, check out this excellent article by Willa Paskin, which asks if the show has always struggled as much as it has in the last few weeks. I revisited some season one favorites before this season started, and I concur with Paskin’s assertion that the show’s bad side has always been present, but in season one, it was mostly tempered by the show keeping things relatively simple. Somewhere along the line, the series gave all the way in to its own worst tendencies—and elevated a few things that weren’t problems (like Sue Sylvester) to a status where they couldn’t evolve organically, thus making them problems. There were a handful of episodes in that first season that tried to do too much and came up lacking, and somehow, those became the template for the show going forward. When the show is simply unable to distinguish which of its storylines is most important and when it can’t provide its actors with the space necessary for believable catharsis, we get things like the dud of a cliffhanger in this episode, which is all about whether Rachel and Finn will break up. Ugh.
There’s still room for the unexpected in Glee. That’s always what the show has done best with, and that’s always where its strength has been. Bomer’s performance—and the surprisingly soulful material in the Quinn storyline—were new and fresh enough to carve out a little space in the imagination. And in both cases, the actors’ commitment to the material kept things that could have been rough and choppy on an even keel. There were story cheats here and there and emotional beats that got rushed. But the show gave them (and the actors) just enough room to make the stories land. The problem is that it continues to try to do too much, to ladle on item after item, when, say, a quick beat between Finn and Rachel might have been enough. The show has always burned through story quickly. That was exhilarating at one time, but as with The O.C. and Heroes before it, it’s created a situation where it’s run out of things to say. Here’s hoping the just-announced fourth season provides a much-needed overhaul.
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God!: Outside of the very silly “Fighter” and that theme park number, I rather enjoyed the songs in this episode. “I’m Still Standing” was fairly fun, and I liked the Gotye number a lot.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: Lea Michele’s really giving it her all this season, despite being saddled with some pretty silly material, and she looked very fetching tonight. Golf claps, gentlemen.
- In case you were wondering, Quinn’s accident delayed Finn and Rachel’s wedding. But you probably assumed that already.
- I kind of liked Quinn’s positivity, until it was revealed it was all she could do to not confront the possibly devastating consequences of the accident. I liked that, too, but this episode gave Dianna Agron more shades to play than she’s usually asked to, and that was a good thing.
- The “don’t text and drive” PSA in the first act was very, very odd (did Agron take that right to the camera?); the long string of commercials around the same theme was even more puzzling. Are teens really that oblivious to the idea that texting and driving could lead to their deaths? I have to assume most of them know the risks.
- In case you were wondering, part two, there was no mention of Karofsky, so far as I could tell.
- Kurt’s glee over seeing Cooper was a fun little moment and well-played by Chris Colfer.
HitFix by Ryan McGee
We’re back, “Glee” fans, for eight consecutive episodes to round out this third season. And with a fourth season confirmed this week, we don’t have to spend the next two months wondering if the show will be pushing towards its final Nationals or not. Instead, we can focus all of our attention on what we always do: trying to make sense of the here and now. And Lord knows that takes up enough mental energy in and of itself. “Big Brother” was pretty run-of-the-mill “Glee,” with only Matthew Bomer’s pretty fantastic guest appearance lifting this up as anything particularly memorable.
But before we get to Bomer, let’s talk some Quinn. After all, her texting-and-driving PSA ended the Winter run, leaving us with one singular question during the hiatus: “WTF?” The show had built up a bumpy yet semi-intriguing plot with Rachel and Finn getting married way too early, with everyone around them seemingly unable to stop the inevitable. Well, what stopped them from getting married was Quinn getting T-boned on the way to their quickie ceremony. Would the show kill Ms. Yale? Anything was possible, including the idea that the accident would somehow turn Quinn into a live-action version of a character from “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”
Instead, the show played it fairly safe, picking up a few weeks/months after the accident. Luckily, absolutely not one piece of glass managed to cut a single inch of Quinn’s porcelain skin, but she did suffer a compressed spine. I won’t given anything away to those who haven’t seen it yet, but I got quite a few “Downton Abbey” flashbacks while watching her cheerily explain her new condition to the group. Everyone seems to buy into Quinn’s sunny disposition, save two: Rachel is still feeling guilt over the accident, and Artie is simultaneously delighted to have someone on his (literal) level while afraid of the inevitable day when she can walk again. The Artie/Quinn material was quite ham-fisted at times, but that’s “Glee”: the word “subtle” isn’t in its dictionary. But while the script often let them down, I quite enjoyed Dianna Agron and Kevin McHale playing off each other. That’s not a pair the show has ever really explored, and it’s worlds better than throwing Artie into a random love triangle with Irish Guy and Rich Tonedeaf Girl. (Yes, they have names. No, I can’t be bothered to remember them.)
While those two paired off for most of the episode, the rest of New Directions falls under the spell of Cooper, Blaine’s older brother. It’s important to separate out the success of the performance versus the success of the storyline. The latter was pretty insulting, taking a dim and semi-offensive view of the Midwest as the land of people instantly dazzled by semi-celebrity and willing to eat up bad acting advice when it comes from a pretty face. “Glee” is often really smart about demonstrating just how smart and savvy these kids are, but also isn’t afraid to make them temporarily stupid in order to sell a joke or a storyline. Having said all that, Bomer’s over-the-top, egotistical Cooper was a delight from almost start to finish. I couldn’t believe that Rachel would earnestly take notes from a guy preaching that live theatre is dead, but I dug how much Cooper reveled in having people feed into a clearly starved ego.
The storyline between the two brothers didn’t really move me in the slightest, but it’s hard for any story on “Glee” to really shine when it’s desperately competing for screen time real estate. When Artie wasn’t taking Quinn to “Crip Skip,” Sue was learning news about her pregnancy. When that wasn’t happening, Puck was trying to create the version of “Cougar Town” that those not actually watching that ABC gem think happens on a weekly basis. When THAT wasn’t happening, Finn was contemplating a 180 from his previous desire to marry Rachel and think about their future apart. While all of this is going on, Mike Chang sits around dutifully and prays for the chance to dance. It’s all exhausting, guys.
In a weird way, this was the worst week to bring in Bomer’s character, because you could make the case that every other story line was about people realizing the next steps of their lives might not be as rosy as they thought. Quinn was inexplicably looking at a perfect life mere months after trying to plant evidence in Shelby’s apartment. But now, the likelihood of walking again is possible but not guaranteed. Sue has long been an independent woman, and her love for her sister has translated into a pretty sweet relationship with Becky. But the thought of raising a child with Down’s Syndrome gives her slight pause, pause that shocks her as much as Peggy’s racism shocked her in this week’s “Mad Men.” And Finn/Rachel: Well, even if Quinn’s accident didn’t knock them completely out of love, it knocked them off course enough to realize they have probably been driving down parallel yet rapidly diverging paths.
I’m not saying any of these plots would have been any better given extra time to breathe. But one could feel the notes coming down from FOX on the script: “MOAR BOMER PLEAZE KTHXBAI.” (LOLcats run FOX. In case you were curious.) If nothing else, we would have been spared Darren Criss’ performance of “Fighter,” which God help me was the funniest thing I think I’ll see in all of 2012. I like Criss in general, and think he’s generally misused on the show. (The same could be said for 90% of the cast, actually.) But God, the boxing…and the showering…and then a bizarre restaging of The Architect scene from “The Matrix Revolutions”…I just don’t know, guys. The idea of using the stage as a psychic space appeals to me. Too often, like in the final number “Somebody That I Used To Know,” there’s a band and light show just waiting for what’s ostensibly an impromptu performance. But in numbers like Season 2’s tango-slavored “Kiss” or “Fighter,” the stage turns into what’s ever in the performer’s head. But why oh why did he have to shadowbox that image? Poor Criss. Poor us.
Next week we are losing Matthew Bomer but gaining John Travolta…well, in the form of “Saturday Night Fever,” which will inspire the episode. I’m serious. No, I’m not making it up. Stop laughing. After that, we get a Whitney Houston tribute. Maybe there’s a way those two theme episodes take these characters down the paths hinted at tonight. Mostly I’m expecting bell-bottoms and Mercedes mad that she already performed “I Will Always Love You.” But hey, maybe the show will surprise me. Anything’s possible. Except Tina getting lines. Let’s be realistic, people.
More Recaps and Reviews:
AfterElton / AfterEllen
The Atlantic Wire
Billboard (dedicated to kutie_kiki)
Dr. She Bloggo
Los Angeles Times
Wall Street Journal