The RBI Report by Dr She Bloggo
Finally, a Glee episode devoted to these kids and their dreams! It's high time we've learned what mental doors have opened for this scrappy kids thanks to the power of music, theatre, dance, and acting! And what better way to explore the nature of dreaming and success than with the seminal American music genre that best understands what it means to dream: disco. Because, as they say: the higher your falsetto, the bigger your dreams.
Okay, so perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. The idea of kids in a small town dreaming of something bigger is a central tenet of this show, and I don't mean to knock it. But it does get re-tread an awful lot, and I honestly don't know how disco is the best vehicle for the theme. Frankly, it felt more like the last musical genre left to get the Glee treatment - especially since the show's pilot condemned it outright. So what better way to prove its relevance by shoehorning it into Glee's main themes? But disco, to me, is simply fun. If you want to do disco this close to graduation, make it so that the seniors are stressed out by their college decisions, and Will suggests they just take a break and have fun - with disco. The kids can protest, because it's disco, but eventually learn that disco's not so bad, and reach their own conclusions about their futures with or without the help of polyester. And while Saturday Night Fever could be summarized as a guy pursuing his dreams, the same can be said for countless other movies, and the reduction ignores a lot of Saturday Night Fever's focus on the angst of growing up and finding an outlet from harsh "grown-up" realities. (In other words, Will could have used disco to encourage the kids to let off steam while they deal with their grown-up choices.)
The premise of disco was even more bewildering in that Glee just busted out "You Should Be Dancing," right from the top, without any explanation whatsoever. Blaine thought it'd be a good mix of vintage and fun (which it is; I'll give him) - but only when Will worries for the futures of three of his Glee students does disco become the perfect vehicle for self-discovery. Um, I don't think that's what Blaine meant, Mr. Schue. What did help sell this concept was the spoonful of self-referential sugar that Sue sent with it - claiming that Will Schuester hasn't had a good teaching idea since Madonna Week. Burn! (And true. Also, Madonna was Sue's idea. Awkward.) In other words, Glee hasn't logically assembled an artist's tribute that's both fitting and story-driven in quite some time. We even got a further nod to that suggestion with the claim that "Rumours" was great, but had no lasting effect on the narrative. Maybe this was Matt Hodgson's way of warning us that we were about to endure another madcap hour of themed music that would stretch the bounds of human logic and character development to facilitate its song choices, and that we should all just forget about it at curtain's fall.
Oh, how I wish we could.
Okay, okay, I'm being overdramatic again. Of the four storylines threading through "Saturday Night Glee-ver," two were trainwrecks, one was passable, and one was downright excellent. And guess what? The downright excellent one had nothing to do with the episode's frame: the idea that Will Schuester is using disco to encourage three of his students to figure out what they want to do with their futures. What does that tell you about the framework, then?
Trainwreck #1: Finn Hudson searches for his dream, fails to realize his girlfriend has been replaced by a robot.
"Saturday Night Glee-ver" finally confronted the uncomfortable issue that's been conveniently undeveloped yet annoyingly present since the dawn of this season: what does Finn Hudson want from his future? This is a 100% valid question to be asking, given his past confusion on the topic. And frankly, that confusion transcends into the narrative itself. Do the writers want him to be proto-Will Schuester, or a kid destined to take the scene by storm because he's a straight guy who can sing and dance? Is he supposed to be a mechanic, a soldier, or a football player? Is he going to be a pool-cleaning mogul with Puck, or is he a gifted stage performer? He knows not. We know not. The writers know not.
But Finn was allowed this full episode to discover his own dreams for the future - not the ones that Puck or Rachel want for him. Will, Emma, and Rachel all bombard him with pamphlets and brochures for college, but Finn promptly dumps them in the trash. And finally, Will gets him to break down and confess that he's scared of being a loser, and even more terrified that Rachel will realize he has no potential. The only thing he knows he wants is the feeling of being on the football field or on the stage, and Will tells him that deep down, he knows his dream. He just has to watch Saturday Night Fever to discover it and embrace it. (Yes, I laughed. It's a ridiculous notion.)
So, Finn tells Rachel he wants to go to New York and be like Tony Manero in the Big City and take on the world. Of course, this comes after Rachel tells Finn that they don't have to go to New York if his dream isn't there. Because her home isn't a place - it's him. (Yes, I gagged. It's overly saccharine.) She encourages Finn to have his own dreams, because what if they're bigger than hers? They deserve to be focused on.
Here is the thing. I'm quite tired of talking about Finn and Rachel's relationship, so I'll make this brief. Yes, Finn deserves to have a dream. But I dislike that the narrative and the other characters in it are so insistent that he have one now. It is 100% okay to not know exactly what you want to do when you graduate high school. Most people don't end up where they thought they'd be, even just one or two years down the line. If Finn is struggling to find a fulfilled future, then why not let him find it at his own pace? The other characters may as well be turning him upside down and shaking him, as though a wayward dream might fall out of one of his pockets. It's okay to be unsure! And while I love that this show positively portrays young people with big dreams, I dislike that anything other than that standard is treated like a "problem." It's not a problem; it's simply an obstacle to overcome at one's own pace and patience.
Unfortunately, this storyline for Finn is playing out in conjunction with Rachel, to whom he is tethered via engagement band. And here is where it gets particularly troubling. What do you do when your couple might have to put one person's dreams before the other's? It's unfair for Finn to tagalong with Rachel to New York if he doesn't have a dream there. But it's also unfair for Rachel to redirect or postpone her dream simply so that Finn can find out what his is. On any other show, this is a recipe for a healthy and amicable breakup, with the promise that perhaps their timing will realign in the future. On Glee, this is a chance to "develop" Rachel Berry and prove that she's not the same selfish loner she was in the Pilot. She is willing to put Finn before her dreams now! She's grown! She even tells Finn that she used to feel so alienated at McKinley that New York seemed the only way to go home, but now that role is fulfilled by Finn. The writers seem to be wielding this as some sort of character development for Rachel with regards to her personal relationships, but frankly it's just upsetting that they would strip her of all her other identifiers just to make her feel loved.
This all wouldn't be so bad if Finn's dreams didn't amount to "I like it when people cheer for me," or if Rachel didn't seem so insecure about losing Finn that she offered to sacrifice everything that's defined her character for three seasons. It also wouldn't be so bad if Finn didn't match Rachel's insecurity with his own need to fuel his own self-esteem with Rachel's approval. The idea that he wants to be Rachel's Man, that he wants to be exactly how she sees him - capable of anything - reeks of low self-esteem and the need for someone else to fulfill that emotional void. It's unhealthy! This is a terribly unhealthy relationship, if one half of it is so insecure about being alone that she'll desperately set aside her own previously-unchangeable plans, and the other half of it has so little self-worth that he's banking on the validation from his loved one to make sense of his life. Any way you spin this, it's a mess, and the writers have consistently found the messiest aspects each time they spin Finchel storylines. This is not a healthy romance; it's just not.
Honestly, the most compelling person for Finn to interact with on this "dreamer" arc is Quinn Fabray, who spent two and a half seasons stuck in circles when it came to figuring out what she truly wanted. It would be incredibly rewarding for them, as the erstwhile head cheerleader and star quarterback, to have a conversation about the futures that they've been forced to redirect for themselves after everything they thought they wanted whisked away on the wind. But for whatever reason, Quinn was hardly anywhere to be seen in "Saturday Night Glee-ver," which is maddening even without the expectation that she might have an interesting interaction with Finn about self-discovery. Apparently the writers think we have little invested in Quinn's onscreen presence, let alone her recovery storyline.
Trainwreck #2: Santana Lopez searches for her dream; fails to realize she can't win for losing when it comes to her private life.
We all remember Matthew Hodgson, right? He penned a little sojourn called "I Kissed a Girl," wherein Santana Lopez had details from her private life wrenched from her control and displayed for all to see - and then just had to learn to deal with it. Does this sound familiar? Because this is the basic description of Santana's part in "Saturday Night Glee-ver" as well. Santana, according to Schue, is ambitious but has no focus. She crows left and right that she wants to be famous in whatever way she can, without any real merit if necessary, and she's 1000% sure it'll happen for her. Well, Brittany decides to take matters into her own hands and puts hers and Santana's sex tape on the internet. Of course, Santana gets all kinds of (negative) attention for this, and is duly horrified at the consequences. Brittany is hellbent on making Santana's dream come true, and tries to set her up on a series of reality TV shows. In the end, Santana is embarrassed about her original plan, having seen the fallout of being publicly shameless, and decides to go to college. Which is good, because Sue Sylvester got her into a cheerleading program in Louisville, Kentucky, with an option for majoring in business. (Because if there's one state in the union that screams Santana Lopez, it's Kentucky.)
This storyline was a downright mess. Firstly, the sex tape part was completely glossed over for the purpose of Santana learning her Big Lesson. Where was Holly Holliday to swoop in and discourage another possible sex tape leak? Has Glee decided to not mention child pornography, or are we supposed to believe that Santana and Brittany are 18 and can therefore make all sex-related decisions as though they're mini-adults? All I know is that a sex tape was casually dropped in as a plot device in a high school comedy, and nary an eyebrow was raised.
Secondly, Santana was actively portrayed as having the wrong dream. She wished to get famous for the sake of being famous, and gets royal comeuppance when she realizes fame is on her doorstep... because her girlfriend exploited their private life for her dream. Which leads me to the third bad part of this storyline: why is it that Santana can't be written in control of her own storylines? Is it because she's a bitch? Because watching Santana completely powerless in her own existence is not rewarding "punishment" for her past transgressions as one of Glee's quasi-villains. It's upsetting. In both "I Kissed a Girl" and "Saturday Night Glee-ver," Santana had her privacy violated with the expressed idea that it was out of love - and in the end, Santana's completely fine with it. Not only that, but it was in her best interests. In IKAG, she's forced out of the closet to show her how awesome she is, no matter that she isn't ready for it. And in SNG, her sex life is displayed for all to see, so that she can discover that she doesn't want to be a fame whore. To boot, she has her college picked out for her and handed to her in one fell swoop, and she thanks them for it.
I call foul! This is not okay! Why does no one ever ask Santana what she wants, and respect that anymore? It's terrible construction for this character, who may as well have her hands tied behind her back so that she can keep shooting off at the mouth until someone "nicer" comes along to show her that she's wrong. It'd be one thing if Santana reacted like Finn, who is no stranger to a temper tantrum when he feels he's being walked on. But the writers love to shove someone else's wishes down Santana's throat, and make her simply say thank you in return. As a result, a character with incredible depth as a result of her flaws is reduced to being a body in orbit, to be yelled at or lectured, or wielded thinly to prove a point. Hell, even Will put words in her mouth when she finished singing "If I Can't Have You." And while she corrected his interpretation with her own intent, she was ultimately shown to be invalid in her opinions after she had the lesson shoved down her throat. Ultimately, she wasn't in charge of her own self-discovery storyline, and what makes matters worse is the idea that Brittany, her supposed "soulmate," was involved in the denial of Santana's agency. Sue and Brittany knew what was best for Santana, without asking her, and that's all there was to it. Party foul on healthy relationships, Glee, and double foul on portraying Brittany as too dumb to know any better. I really shouldn't be surprised at this point.
But let's move on to the more palatable material, shall we?
Passable Storyline: Mercedes already knows her dreams; is reaffirmed that she has the ability to achieve them.
So, Finn doesn't have a dream, Santana has the wrong dream, and Mercedes doesn't know how to go about getting her dream. She wants to be like Mariah, Whitney, and Aretha: women who have #1 hits that inspire people. But how does she get there? She apparently has little parental support from her dentist father, and underneath all of this lies the nagging insecurity: what if she's only good by Lima standards? Cream rises to the top, but what if she's only skim milk? This notion is certainly compelling, and realistic to the situation at hand, so while I'm not usually a fan of bogging Mercedes down with debilitating and self-imposed insecurities, I was more willing to let this one through.
And of course, since this is Glee, her affirmation came in the form of a love interest. Sam filmed her rendition of "Disco Inferno," uploaded it to YouTube sans permission, and garnered enough positive comments to help Mercedes realize that she ain't no skim milk. It was a pretty standard way to wrap up the emotional mini-arc, and while it was cute, I can't help but wish there were something more to it. What if Sam immediately assured Mercedes that she had nothing to worry about in the talent department, and then they set about researching the music industry? That way, Mercedes could get an added boost of self-confidence in the fact that she's studied up and acquired some business savvy. As they say, you can learn tips and tricks, but you can't learn talent. Mercedes already has talent - she just might need to gain some savvy to really capitalize on it.
Of course, I also can't help but wonder why these three storylines never intersected. Why did Mercedes, Finn, and Santana all have to receive help from their significant others, but never once did the writers purposefully cross their paths? After all, they were scripted as having the same general problem: a lack of preparation for the future - so why not team them up and let them work through their issues together? Mercedes and Santana could drop some (productive, not cruel) truth bombs on Mr. Hudson about his aimlessness, Santana and Finn could both easily reassure Mercedes that she's amazing (Santana in a backwards way, of course), and Mercedes and Santana could realize that they inadvertently push each other to be better simply through competition, and make a pact to keep pushing one another in the future. Hell, both Kurt and Rachel dealt with the same insecurities as Mercedes fifteen episodes ago, and no one knows about the nagging possibility of being destined to loser status quite as well as Noah Puckerman or Quinn Fabray. So why boomerang the wayward dreamers into their significant others only - especially when two of those relationships suffered in the execution?
Finally, excellence: Wade is Unique.
At long last, we were treated to the fourth and final winner of The Glee Project: Alex Newell. He played Wade, a Vocal Adrenaline student who seeks out Kurt and Mercedes for a piece of advice. He confesses to them that he's their number one fan, and that he wants to know if they think he should perform at VA's Regionals dressed as a woman. See, Wade only feels like he's his real self when he's "Unique" - a female alter-ego. Kurt and Mercedes tell him that Ohio isn't really ready for the likes of Unique, but ultimately Sue Sylvester urges them to encourage Wade so that VA will tank. But when Kurt and Mercedes attend Regionals to save Wade from the pending disaster of introducing drag to Ohio, he tells them he has to go through with it. Then he gets up on stage, in wig, dress, heels, and makeup, and performs the hell out of "Boogie Shoes" to thunderous applause.
It is not often that mainstream television tackles the "T" in LGBT. Truthfully, we're still trying to get the "L," "G," and "B" represented fairly and frequently. So transgender issues are rarely scripted, and usually cross-dressing is seen as comedic device or throwaway joke, and it's almost always separated from any actual gender dissociation. So to see Glee, a television show marketed to the mainstream, putting forth a young character who expresses his true identity without any ounce of shame or confusion - even when his true identity is a girl - is a huge deal. They even went so far as to point out that Kurt, while being "effeminate" as a gay man, still identifies as just that: a man. It's implied, however, that Wade identifies as a woman, and in embracing that identity, he shone. Glee made good on a promise that most television shows don't even go near, and I applaud them.
In all, disco served as a mostly random backdrop to the usual business of the glee kids figuring out their dreams and discovering their potential. Unfortunately, the individual storylines involved some poor choices in terms of agency and character relationships, and at the end of the day I'm still not sure I feel any better about these kids' futures. Truly, the most enjoyable part of the episode was seeing each of the kids deliver their own dance moves during "Night Fever," and I wish the episode had been more in keeping with the gang having fun and coming to conclusions more naturally than forcibly adopting the lessons of a disco film from the '70s.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B+
Dance Numbers: A-
Episode MVP: Wade
AV Club by Todd Van Der Werff (A-)
Glee is at its best when everything is executed so well that you don’t really stop to think about how none of it makes a lick of sense. In this elaborate, messy season of television, the one fairly consistent throughline has been that the story about what the kids are going to do after graduation has been handled mostly well. It’s a good spine to base a season around, and try though the show might, it hasn’t been able to fuck it up. Every time it heads for material about how these people have big dreams that they’re scared won’t come true, everything snaps into place, like a camera abruptly focusing on a far-off object. This has even held true in otherwise awful episodes, where one or two scenes about post-high school plans would take a giant mess and reorient them. In short, this whole conundrum gives the series stakes, something it’s lacked since the first half of the first season. The show, of course, barely focuses on this, in favor of other stuff. But when it does, it’s easy to remember why we all loved the show in the first place.
Take, for instance, an absolutely amazing scene in the second half of tonight’s episode, which is entitled, unfortunately, “Saturday Night Glee-ver.” (Yes, just typing it made me throw up.) Finn Hudson has realized that he doesn’t know what he wants to do after college. Rachel, Will, and Emma have tried to talk him into any number of possible options, and he’s smiled and laughed through their presentation, before chucking the materials he gave them in the garbage. Will confronts him about how he doesn’t care, and he unleashes a devastating attack on his teacher: He doesn’t know what he wants to do because what he wants to do is freeze time. He wants to stop everything in this moment and be young forever. Finn, uniquely aware of his status as future protagonist of a John Updike novel about the cruelty of aging, wants to bottle the feeling of being 18 and just keep taking long pulls from it. Will, who started a high school glee club just to run away from the phantoms of his own failed adulthood, gets a pained look on his face. He was afraid of this.
I talked in my review of the first season finale about how this show occasionally gets visitations from the alternate universe version of the show, the one that took a much smaller-scale approach to the show’s premise and remained basically Friday Night Lights crossed with Election with show tunes. What’s odd is that when this other version of the series drops by, it’s rarely all that awkward. It somehow fits alongside the other 16 variations of itself that Glee likes to parade around dressed as. I think that’s because the pain of adolescence is universal. We all know what it was like to have that first serious relationship, to have a crush that just didn’t notice you, to worry about where you were going to go after graduation. The show is ruthlessly good at tapping into these emotions at the drop of a hat, so good that I wish it did it more often. Instead, the alternate Glee has mostly been missing for the past two seasons.
It returns with a vengeance in the second half of tonight’s episode.
The Finn scene is just the finest example. You’ve got the sheer joy of Unique (the drag persona of a boy named Wade who’s gained inspiration from Kurt and Mercedes, despite being a member of Vocal Adrenaline) performing “Boogie Shoes” and winning over the crowd at VA’s regionals competition. You’ve got a surprisingly sweet scene where Sue and Brittany outline the alternate future they’ve lined up for Santana—just in case. You’ve got the strange sadness of ”Stayin’ Alive,” which positions itself as a potential “last number ever” for the group, even though we know we’ve got seventy-billion episodes to go. It’s enough to make one realize that if Ryan Murphy had actually gone through with his plans to write some of these characters off the show, these scenes would have even more punch.
What’s interesting is that most of these scenes don’t make any sense whatsoever if you step back and think about them for a moment. How on Earth does Finn have this much cognizance of the emotions he will have when he’s 28 at the age of 18? How does Unique keep her appearance at regionals from everyone who would be able to stop her, despite all of VA almost certainly having to know what she’s about to do? How, in God’s name, does Sue somehow apply to college behind Santana’s back, without the girl even knowing she’s going to do so? None of it makes sense if you think about it. All of it strains credulity. All of it crumbles into ashes.
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. For instance, I don’t give two shits about Finn and Rachel as characters. Whether they get married is of no interest to me because I don’t think their pairing is all that interesting, and I’m pretty sure it’s a terrible idea. But I am interested in them as archetypes, as basic examples of the high school boyfriend and high school girlfriend who are about to be split apart by the simple fact that time passes, and you keep getting older. Finn doesn’t matter to me as a singer or a dancer or a quarterback or a guy who makes stupid faces, but he does matter to me as a very basic example of a guy I once was, somebody who was leaving home and struggling to hold on to friends I didn’t know I’d ever see again. The show’s two-for-two on episodes based on albums, instead of artists, now, and I think that’s because the idea of an album forces the series to focus in on a theme, rather than a general iconography. Saturday Night Fever is about having big dreams, so that’s where the episode goes. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Was there stupid stuff in the episode? Of course there was stupid stuff in the episode. This is Glee, where the show could create a scene where Puck is going to buy a soda at a convenience store and then have that scene somehow end with him falling in love with a polar bear. For starters, there’s a bit where Sue Sylvester has a disco floor—just like in Saturday Night Fever!—that she tears down and brings into the choir room for no real reason. Also, we’ve got the blatant rigging of the contest to win the Travolta suit (that everybody’s weirdly excited about), so that only the students Will’s concerned about get to the finals. There’s a scene where Will tells the kids their assignment is to “perform a song from Saturday Night Fever and then tell us about your hopes and dreams,” which is just about the stupidest thing ever. There’s a whole bit about Mercedes’ performance of “Disco Inferno” getting uploaded to YouTube that both misunderstands the website and undercuts the show’s own reality about how its musical numbers occur. There’s a sex tape intercut with a cat doing household chores that—okay, that was pretty great and very amusing.
But all of this—and all of the weirdness listed earlier, about how the scenes don’t make any sense—is washed away by the fact that this episode nails the emotional moments, and the emotional moments should ring true with anyone who’s ever been a U.S. high school student (and probably most high school students in developed countries the world over). You can only be a kid so long. Eventually, you have to grow up and start pursuing the person you’re going to be as an adult. That scene with Finn and Will gets at that, via the character of Will, who’s often terrible but here resonates as a cautionary tale. He’s a guy who got stuck, and the last thing he wants is for the kid who reminds him so much of himself to get stuck as well. Finn and Rachel could be the next Will and Terri, if they don’t watch out, and that possibility haunts him.
TV writers have a term called “fridge logic.” The idea is that if something in the script doesn’t make sense, it’s okay if the viewer only notices it after the episode is over, when he’s going to pillage the fridge for a snack. I don’t think this is always the case—you can be pretty dazzling in the moment but be completely undone by the slow unraveling of the series’ fridge logic (this happens to a lot of genre shows)—but Glee is a show that can get away with a myriad of logical leaps if it just grounds everything. As I was watching the episode, I started out in a place where I sort of snidely didn’t buy what the episode was selling, but then, around the halfway point, the long string of solid musical numbers and that Finn-Will scene won me over. Then the episode started to floor me on a pretty regular basis.
And then I did something I haven’t done with Glee in a long, long time. I went back and watched it again. I didn’t want to leave home either, once upon a time, but I did, and I moved far, far away, and I learned more about myself in the process. But there’s still a part of me that would go back and do it again, just to be young again, to realize that there’s so much still ahead of me. Glee somehow tapped into that reservoir, and it led to its most powerful episode in ages. If it can keep tapping, it might salvage this season yet.
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God!: Honestly, I quite enjoyed every single musical performance in this episode. I always enjoy the competition numbers, however, and “Boogie Shoes” had to be the unquestioned highlight here.
- Just tell us how the cameos were, VanDerWerff, God!: Jonathan Groff returns as Jesse St. James, and he’s mostly wasted, but he’s also not wandering around causing romantic strife for no particular reason. I have no idea, however, why the show brought on Neil Patrick Harris just to have him yell, “Jean jackets,” unless Harris is going around to every show on television and yelling one randomly chosen phrase on all of them, which I would support.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: As a renowned fan of both Naya Rivera and Heather Morris, this was a good episode for your humble columnist, but I think I was most impressed with the way Lea Michele seemed completely uninterested in whatever Cory Monteith was singing to her in that “More Than A Woman” number.
- Speaking of Heather Morris, I think there should be some sort of Heather Morris Dancing Quotient, which predicts how enjoyable an episode will be based solely on how often she dances.
- Sue Sylvester’s personality transplant is complete, but it looks like Jesse will be the one making fun of teenagers for shits and giggles now. I did like Sue calling Finn “Solomon Grundy,” though.
- I would so watch Lord Tubbington doing household chores. You wouldn’t even need to intercut a sex tape. I just want to see how he manipulates those dishes with his tiny paws!
Hit Fix by Ryan McGee
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?
“Saturday Night Glee-ver.”
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.
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?
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.
“You Should Be Dancing” — Blaine, Brittany and Mike
- TV Line: The episode’s opening dance sequence felt, well, a little out of sequence, seeing how Blaine’s classroom disco-ball fantasy occurred well before Sue and Schue foisted the Saturday Night Fever theme on the kids. Still, the Blaine-Mike-Brittany choreography was terrific, especially Brittany’s sidestep shuffle when they got to the McKinley auditorium.B
- Washington Post: Is this a dream sequence? If not, why is there a disco ball in the classroom where this number begins? You know what, it doesn’t matter. This Bee Gees cover provided the perfect showcase for the smooth moves of Darren Criss, Heather Morris and Harry Shum, Jr. I liked their hitchhiking thumb gestures, I liked their fake hair-washing move and I was especially imprssed by Criss’s toe-touch, cheerleader jump. A.
- Entertainment Weekly: By the end of this tune, I was bopping around on my couch. And I have less dancing ability in my entire body than Brittany and Mike have in one of their jazz hands. Also, it needs to be pointed out again: Splits! But, setting the tone for the entire show, so.much.falsetto. A-
- Rolling Stone: The ringing bell inspires Blaine to start tapping out a rhythm to the Bee Gees tune and pretty soon he, Mike and Brittany (and a conveniently placed disco ball) turn the classroom into a disco. In other words, this episode is starting off pretty similarly to "Michael," right down to Blaine kick-starting the episode-long dance party. The dance moves are as slick as you'd expect from the show's top three movers, but Blaine's breathy voice has nowhere near the allure of Barry Gibb's unmistakeable falsetto.
“Night Fever” — Will, Blaine and Joe
- TVL:Some people just shouldn’t do falsetto. And Matthew Morrison is one of ‘em. [Shudder.] Fun dance sequence, though, seeing all the glee-club kids working their individual dance styles. I liked Trouty Mouth using his trademark “stripper ripping open shirt” move the best. D+
- WP: Mr. Schu and Sue Sylvester busted out a light-up disco floor that they clearly bought at Home Depot, then showed those whipper snappers that they both have night fever and know how to show it. I was kind of digging the whole thing until Finn did what is, officially, the whitest John Travolta impression of all time. Cory Monteith is a doll, but his “Saturday Night Fever” pose belongs in the Caucasian Awkwardness Hall of Fame. B.
- EW:It was fun to watch the entire cast boogie, but switching off lyrics so everyone had a solo gave the number a disjointed feel. B
- RS: Cue Schue kicking off "Night Fever" with an uncomfortable falsetto that goes down easier thanks to his doing a great Hustle with Sue. Blaine and Joe join them, and Joe hits both high and low notes with surprising ease. The dance floor turns into something out of Soul Train with everyone taking a turn and Sam channeling his stripper past. In case you couldn't predict it: soon everyone is having a great time, despite their previously proclaimed hatred of disco.
“Disco Inferno” — Mercedes (with Brittany and Santana)
- TVL: Loved the growly power Amber Riley brought to this disco gem, and girlfriend was looking pretty fierce in that red dress, too.A-
- WP: Amber Riley looked pretty fantastic with feathered hair. Also, she sang the hell out of this song. Nothing else to say but grade: A.
- EW: Was anyone surprised Mercedes totally killed it? Sam picked the right song to post to showcase her huge vocals. A-
- RS: "I have the dream. I just don't know how to get there," Mercedes says to herself in a voiceover. In fact, Mercedes' desire is so hot, it's "a freaking inferno." Like, say, a "Disco Inferno"? Why, yes, indeed. And to prove her point, Mercedes lets it rip down the halls of McKinley into the choir room, punctuating her soulful vocals with throaty growls to emphasize that, yes, Mercedes has a dream.
“If I Can’t Have You” — Santana
- TVL: A solid if not especially memorable vocal from Naya Rivera. Dug the pink jumpsuit, though. B
- WP: Naya Rivera did a perfectly nice job of singing this Yvonne Elliman track. But the number’s success was marred by its too-familiar choir room staging. There wasn’t much in the way of choreography, and the only drama came from loving glances between Santana and Brittany and wistful looks exchanged by Rachel and Finn. B-.
- EW: This was the first Santana solo in a while, and I absolutely loved everything about it. She looked seventies spectacular in her bodysuit and headband, and this slowed-down number was a lovely reminder of her talent. A
- RS: Santana's song of the week is "If I Can't Have You," originally done by the Bee Gees but later recorded by Yvonne Ellerman. It seems like she's singing yet another love song for Brittany, which Schue takes to mean she's heading to law school with a plan to make marriage equality a reality. Just kidding! The song was really about Santana's love for fame. Unfortunately, while she proclaims to room, "I'm gonna be famous if it's the last thing I do," Santana has yet to articulate how that will happen. Also unfortunate: the song is too high and doesn't allow Santana to show any of her power.
“How Deep is Your Love?” — Rachel
- TVL: Awww, pretty! B+
- WP: Lovely vocals by Lea Michele, nice back-up by the perpetually present jazz band and a sweet premise — that Rachel was finally willing to show some generosity to Finn and encourage him to consider his dreams first. Nothing earth-shattering, but a cute enough number. Grade: B.
- EW: Rachel sang her love to Finn. Sweet and pleasant enough, but not an episode standout. B+
- RS: Though thematically in line, Rachel's "How Deep Is Your Love" didn't strike an emotional chord
- TVL: Um, why was Jesse St. James trying desperately to stop the show when it was clear that a show-stopper was occurrin’? One of the most fun, frothy treats Glee has delivered this year. Unique is going to make Vocal Adrenaline a real threat at Nationals, no? A
- WP: Wait, who is Wade, you ask? Why, he’s the random Vocal Adrenaline member invented to give a third contestant from the “Glee Project” — that would be Alex Newell — a place on “Glee.” Fortunately, he demonstrated that he deserves to be in the mix by playing a cross-dressing teen who wasn’t afraid, despite Kurt’s and Mercedes’s concerns, to throw on a dress and some glittery high heels and perform a K.C. and the Sunshine Band tune. He was great. But would audience members in a Lima, Ohio auditorium really applaud him so quickly and unabashedly? I’m not sure. The fact that they did is no knock on Newell’s effectively energetic performance, but it did make his decision to go full-on “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” seem less brave than it really was. Grade for performance: A. Grade for realism: C-.
- EW: Unique, welcome to the show! New Directions, the (disco) ball is in your court after this showstopping, powerhouse performance. A
- RS: So they watch from the sidelines as Unique takes the stage, platform high heels and all, to do an aptly titled "Boogie Shoes" that leaves Mercedes and Kurt watching open-mouthed. Jesse tries to stop the performance, but he, too, is left standing in shock when he sees the crowd eating it up. LIke we said last week, the show's best moments these days are from guest spots – and this is no different. The Wade storyline is a perfectly crafted vignette that captures the essence of what Glee is about. Plus, of the four Glee Project contestants to score a role on Glee, this will likely be the only one that anyone remembers.
“More Than a Woman” — Finn (with Santana and Kurt)
- TVL: What I said about Mr. Schue and falsetto? Um, it also applies to Finn Hudson. I did enjoy Kurt’s backup support, though. And speaking of which, an entire night of Bee Gees, and not a single solo for Chris Colfer? How come we never hear that kid sing anymore? C-
- WP: Monteith had some strong moments on tonight’s show, especially when he made that speech about how he just wanted time to stop so he could stay in high school longer. The guy’s at his best when he doesn’t have to sing or dance. Here, he had to do both, while employing a Bee Gees-style falsetto that I will refer to henceforth as a Finn-setto. It was a bit much. Also, Kurt's ‘70s hairdo made him look way too much like Mike Brady. C.
- EW: Vocally, this wasn’t my favorite arrangement of this tune. Again, so.much.falsetto. But the message was sweet and the costumes and hair were to die for. B-
- RS: Finn's song – eerie Barry Gibb impersonation and all – manages to convey his feelings for her better than all his talk.
“Staying Alive” — Santana, Mercedes, Finn and the cast
- TVL: Everybody in white polyester, gettin’ down with the get-down! B+
- WP: A lot of white polyester suits, a lot of quick edits and, again, a heavy dose of Finn-setto. C+.
- EW: “You know what I want to do? Strut.” And strut they did. ‘A’ for the pile of white polyester fun we all knew was coming since the moment they announced Glee-ver was happening.
- RS: There's an expected three-way tie for this week's competition (everyone wins in glee club!), and Santana, Mercedes and Finn all show up in custom-made leisure suits and gold chains. Then it turns out that everyone has a leisure suit and wears them onstage while dancing their way through the aptly titled number. It's hard to say which episode's dance moves were more impressive: "Michael" or "Saturday Night Glee-ver," and once again, Finn's vocals help Glee faithfully tackle the Bee Gees.
More Recaps and Reviews:
AfterElton / AfterEllen
Dr. She Bloggo
Wall Street Journal
I'm switching up the format slightly; removing most of Slezak's TV Line recap (it's linked in the 'More Recaps and Reviews' section if you still want a straightforward recap) and instead including his musical grades with those of a few other reviewers in the new "Performance Reviews" section. Cool? Cool.