AV Club by Todd Van Der Werff (A)
I’ve been watching a lot of Smash lately because I have to stay up late to make sure I’m awake to write up the network upfronts, and if anything, that show’s utter, drab clumsiness makes me appreciate Glee a lot more. Smash is certainly a more competent show than Glee in almost every way. It looks like we expect television to look, and it has recognizable character arcs (even if the characters within them don’t behave like any human beings to ever have lived). It follows a plot from beginning to end without taking a bunch of weird detours, and it knows the value of using a musical number as something more than a way to prop up the show’s budget with iTunes sales. (Seriously, Rachel had to sing a song to psych herself up to call Carmen tonight? What?) It’s a very disappointing TV show, but it looks and acts like a TV show that’s been somewhat cognizant of the advances made in serialized storytelling these last 30 years.
But it’s not Glee. Everybody wants it to be the “adult Glee,” but it just can’t hack it. After some solid episodes near the start and a couple of randomly good hours in the middle of the run, the show was just a bland, boring mess, a show that had literally no idea what its audience thought about it at any given time and often seemed to race in the exact opposite direction of what the audience wants. Glee is a little like a hyperactive puppy in regard to giving the audience what it wants, and it burns through story like a comic book supervillain burning through wads of cash to bankrupt a small Central American country, but there are times when the show is incandescent, even now, in a season that’s been unbelievably messy (as even its greatest defenders will allow). Glee is always in pursuit of the perfect moment, the perfect storyline, the perfect gag, and if that means it falls on its face more than just about any other show on TV, well, it also means that it can sometimes string together enough of those moments to make an episode that’s like nothing else on TV. Smash could never be Glee for adults because it was too afraid to fail and, therefore, failed all of the time. And tonight's episodes of Glee proved that abundantly.
But we will get to that. First, though, let’s talk about body swaps.
The second I heard about Glee’s body swap episode—the first episode in tonight’s two-hour extravaganza—I assume my friend was joking about it. “No,” he said. “It’s real.” And he linked to a news report that explained how Tina would hit her head and come to see herself as Rachel, and everybody else in the cast would swap roles as well. I had fears that the entire episode would be dominated by this device—which could have quickly grown tiresome—or that it would just be a five-second gag—which would have been a lot of hype for nothing. Instead, the show splits the difference and spends about five-to-10 minutes having everybody swap lives before it gets back to the business of whatever it has to do. The episode’s an Ian Brennan special—he both wrote and directed—and it plays well to his strengths of acid comedy and sad stories of small-town teenagers who’ll never get anything but to sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream. But the body swap thing ends up just feeling like a totally odd curiosity that comes out of nowhere. Seriously. I’m not sure what it’s meant to accomplish, other than being the sort of thing people who work on a time-intensive TV show come up with late in the third season, when they all want to either take a nap or murder each other.
I get that it’s meant to show Tina what Rachel’s life is like—ostensibly the point of this whole storyline—but the show’s really been layering on the “Rachel’s life is so tough, and now, she’s not gonna get to go to NYADA!” storylines a little thickly lately. Therefore, the body swap isn’t nearly as successful at accomplishing this as Rachel and Tina’s later car trip together to see if Rachel can irritate Carmen into letting her attend NYADA. (Surprise! It nearly works!) A cursory glance at Twitter suggests lots of people found the very idea of this storyline—that Tina would eventually realize that her role was to stand in support of Rachel (at least for the time being)—utterly abhorrent, but I found it sort of fascinating. Most of us are going to be supporting players, but all of us think we deserve the solos. (He said, totally thinking he should get all of the solos.) Glee has danced around this from time to time, but it’s never come right out and confronted it as it does in this episode. Tina will get her chance, but she has to pay her dues first. Paying your dues is a frustrating thing, to be sure, but it’s also a necessary thing. This is a blatant attempt to ret-con Tina’s utter lack of involvement in the show… ever, but so long as the show follows through on giving her more to do next year, it could be a successful one. (It also gets bonus points for that utterly amazing “previously on Glee” segment that pointed out how little she’s gotten to do, as well as the meta-level awareness that her little speech about paying dues sounded like Ryan Murphy and company’s warnings to the actors to best not step out of line.)
The rest of the episode had the same problems this whole season has had with bizarre tonal shifts that are off, even for this show, and with storylines that get started, then utterly disappear for half the show before returning at the end. (Even the Rachel and Tina storyline fell into this category.) The body swap—which was sort of amusing, I guess—gets in the way of the show’s attempts to pick up some of the threads from “Choke,” namely Puck’s fears of not graduating and Beiste’s domestic abuse at the hands of her husband (which has escalated to the point that she sleeps with a knife under her pillow!). Both of these storylines worked better than they did in “Choke.” In the case of the Puck storyline, the show quietly acknowledged just how different the Puck we see today is from the Puck who was in the pilot, and those sorts of character journey bits are appropriate for a show where most of the characters are about to graduate.
The Beiste stuff was, naturally, more problematic, but I think it worked better because Brennan allows her to be her own character, not just an accessory to someone else’s storyline. We actually get a glimpse into her marriage (outside of a montage), and the show gives us a chance to feel pity and revulsion toward Cooter, something that “Choke” was sorely missing, since he was just a cartoon monster in that episode. Where “Choke” felt like an after-school special, this version of the storyline was filled with raw, bruised hurt. Beiste’s students are hurt that she hasn’t left her husband, that sometimes, adults disappoint us with their actions. She’s hurt by what Cooter’s made her. He’s even a little hurt by how terrible he’s been to her. The scenes still feel dropped in from another show entirely, but they’re at least better conceived. Plus, they don’t clash nearly as much with the other storylines, and the fact that both Puck and Beiste’s storylines resolve at the same time in the same scene is a nice piece of writing, with some strong acting. (I probably could have done without the two of them singing “Mean” together, though.)
“Props” is a big ol’ mess of an episode, but it’s one I feel charitable toward because it makes the emotional moments count. Tina and Rachel smooth over their relationship. Sue gets to wear some Schu hair gel. Puck and Beiste have a moment together. Beiste leaves without killing Cooter (or without being hurt further). Puck will get a second chance. The episode largely works because that final act works as well as it does, but the final act is solid enough to bump it up a few grade points. It’s not Glee at its finest, but it’s a solid example of many of the things the series has done well in its third season (including some nice Sue moments, as the show has randomly realized how to use her again, even as everything else is falling apart). The bad was there, but the good was what I remembered, and that’s what I most ask from Glee at this point.
It was all prologue, though, to “Nationals,” one of the finest episodes the show’s ever done and perhaps the best it’s done since the season one finale. (The only one I can see that might trip up this theory is season two’s terrific “Duets.”) Again, there was stuff here that was mediocre-to-awful, but it’s so minimal that I can probably dispatch with it in two sentences. Observe: The scene with the judges at nationals wasn’t very good, and it relied far too heavily on the comedy stylings of Lindsay Lohan and Perez Hilton (two people whose comedy stylings should never be relied upon), even as it returned to a device the show had seemingly abandoned because it realized how uninteresting it was. And having the big montage, in which the characters are greeted joyously by the other McKinleyites in the wake of their triumph, be interrupted by Emma throwing herself at Will was… um… a little too creepy, at best, and possibly reducing serious psychological issues as something to be minimized if you want to give your fiancé something nice when his show choir wins nationals at worst.
But the rest of the episode was awesome. (The script was credited to the great Ali Adler, and it was directed by Eric Stoltz, I should point out here.) It was all of the best of Glee with little of the worst, like another visit from that alternate universe Glee I keep harping about in these reviews. The show had to deal with a foregone conclusion in the fact that it was obvious New Directions was going to win—so the show choir can undergo the inevitable rebuilding phase next season—but it found a nice way to work within that inevitability: It showed what the kids did to really earn their championship. The show so easily forgets that this is a competitive show choir in the week-to-week episodes that it’s nice to see an episode that shows us the kids working their asses off for something, then nailing a triumphant performance of Jim Steinman songs. (“Paradise By The Dashboard Light” was one of the better New Directions group performances, though I’m not sure I’d put it on the level of the show’s best numbers. It was close, though!) I could quibble that Vocal Adrenaline had stronger choreography overall, or that I found Unique a more engaging performer than Rachel (perhaps because I don’t have to watch her every week), but New Directions also used its whole ensemble better than Vocal Adrenaline did, and for once, either outcome seemed reasonable to me.
The show often does its best in the competition episodes because the competitions force the series to focus on one thing and put all of the characters in one place at the same time. This is a show that can be lethal when it gets its teeth into something, even in its overburdened, logy, third-season state, and the competition episodes are all about the show sinking its teeth into a storyline and refusing to let go. Plus, it allows the show to be much more purely about the thrill of performance, about the moment when you’re a senior in high school, and the curtain comes up, and you absolutely nail it. There’s nothing like that, because there’s always that abyss of uncertainty on the other side. Even when you’re an adult and have a good day, it won’t quite be like that, because adulthood is a constant tightrope walk across that abyss. But being a teenager and having a good day… man, there’s nothing quite like that. The performance segments for both show choirs here capture that emotion perfectly, that feeling of elation, followed by the cut to black that is everything that comes after.
I said at some point in this show’s first season that what I liked about it most was the feeling that it was all swirling chaos, and then the title screen was just simple white letters against the darkness of a pure black background. It was the simplicity and terror of wanting something so much and realizing you might not get it, juxtaposed with the swirl of emotion that is adolescence. The show’s adolescent swirl has gotten more and more confusing and complex, but it’s never lost that simple, blank title screen, with its silent solemnity. The third season has been a colossal mess in some ways, but it’s worked almost perfectly every time it turns its eye toward the emotion of what it is to not know what comes next. Rachel even says it in that first hour. Some of them are just going to get stuck, and she’s terrified of that, of settling for whatever is just good enough to keep her from wanting to kill herself. The actual plotting of this—particularly in Finn’s arc—has been very, very wonky, but that almost doesn’t matter when confronted with the fact that these are all people who are very good friends, who love each other very much, and in just a few days, they’re going to wake up, and they won’t all be there anymore. Noise and color and excitement and then… just black.
And whatever comes next.
- We have achieved GLEE RUMMY, people. We have achieved GLEE RUMMY. What a momentous day for all of us! I didn’t think we’d ever get here, but I couldn’t have done it without all of you and without my blatant rigging of the grade scales to get us that C- a couple of weeks ago.
- I’m starting to think that “here’s what you missed on Glee” guy is my favorite character. Apparently, that’s Ian Brennan himself. He always makes me laugh.
- The body swap thing was very bizarre, as mentioned, but I was vaguely impressed by how on Jenna Ushkowitz’s Lea Michele impression was. Matthew Morrison mostly seemed to think Sue Sylvester would require a lot of glowering, but Jane Lynch nailed most of the Will Schuester gestures as well.
- I really did enjoy when Mercedes was all, “Hey, Unique, have you considered becoming a series regular next season?” and then Unique was, like, “Oh, no, I hadn’t, but I’ll definitely put some thought into that. Thanks!”
- I also liked the Starlight Express shout-out. What a bonkers musical that one is!
- Okay, I really didn’t like all of the characters referring to Unique as he/she or him/her. It was minor enough that it didn’t upend my enjoyment of either episode, but the show is either going to be trans-friendly, or it’s going to make the easiest possible jokes you can make about trans-people. And it can’t use the excuse that Sue was the only one making the jokes, either, since others did as well.
- Fox’s rampant abuse of the Twitter hashtag thing was much less awful this week, but they still tried to make “#porcelina” and “#LiLoAlert” happen. I feel like the network needs to be whacked across the nose with a newspaper at length.
- I can’t believe New Directions didn’t take smiley-face guitar guy to Nationals. Also, that bus looked really full for the glee club being so unpopular. I didn’t realize it had so many members!
- I saw the confetti bombing at the end coming, but I still liked it. Nice work, Rick “The Stick.”
- Man, Quinn overcame her debilitating physical injuries quickly!
- Here’s a sign of how much I enjoyed that second episode: I found the final tribute to Schu kind of sweet, though I’m skeptical anyone in McKinley other than the members of New Directions knows who he is. Wouldn’t they just see him as a creepy guy, smiling and nodding at them from corners?
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God!: Almost all of the songs in the first hour are a blur to me now, but my wife really liked Tina’s rendition of that Celine Dion song. The big performances in the second episode were all aces.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: Hey, Jenna Ushkowitz really looks nice in bright, primary colors, doesn’t she? See what happens when you give her a storyline, Glee? And also make fun of how she now apparently dresses like she lives in London in the swingin’ 60s? Nice work!
Hit Fix by Ryan McGee
There’s a shot halfway through the second hour of tonight’s two-episode “Glee” gauntlet in which the camera zooms in tight around Finn Hudson’s face. He and the rest of New Directions have just finished their set at Nationals, ending in a lengthy performance of Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. His face is triumphant, but more importantly, his brow is sweaty. For the first time I can remember in the show, performing seemed like actual hard work. It’s an easy thing to forget in “Glee,” a program in which flawless numbers seem to fall out of the sky only to disappear into the ether.
Now, was that sweat earned? Well, no. Of course not. Nor was New Directions’ win at Nationals, a win three years in the making only because it made sense for the show to break its story that way. What should have been a cathartic moment years in the making turned oddly anticlimactic, but this really shouldn’t be surprising. Plenty of shows have plenty of Achilles heels. “Glee” has Achilles ankles, knees, shoulders, and ears atop said heels, to be sure. But one of its most glaring, inexplicable shortcomings lies in its treatment of the judges at the ostensibly important competitions towards which New Directions spends up to three hours rehearsing for.* Even if the show treated these competitions as anything more than narrative signposts, it wouldn’t matter: The clowns that render judgment upon these poor show choirs essentially reduce the entire endeavor to a farce.
* Artie’s line in Chicago slayed me, in which he complained about them working hard for the equivalent of 180 minutes. This would have been the most ridiculous line of the night, had Will not uttered this gem just moments before: “I don’t want everything we worked for to collapse because of one bad burrito.” This show, you guys.
Somehow, having Lindsey Lohan, Perez Hilton, and Rex Lee’s local government official was the most legitimate panel thus far on the show. Think about THAT for a moment. The fate of these kids lies in the hands of people who function as jesters more than judges. This means that the show has an out should New Directions lose, but also delegitimizes tonight’s win as well. There’s plenty of discussion about the dissonance in “Smash” between what people see inside the show and what those at home see. Tonight, I would offer that Vocal Adrenaline fairly clearly won Nationals. Granted, we only saw two groups perform substantially in tonight’s Nationals competition. But of the two we saw, Vocal Adrenaline simply had the better performance. But the story of “Glee” needed New Directions to win, and thus the decision went that way. In that respect, it really doesn’t matter that the judges are stooges: What really matters is the whims of those in the writer’s room.
That’s too bad, but the show really wrote itself into a corner by this point in the run. So much had gone wrong for so long, and so many stakes were wrapped up in an “all or nothing” attempt to win Nationals, that having New Directions lose would have sent everyone involved into a Jonestown-esque pact. “Glee” has been fairly good, all things said, about painting a portrait of a town in which not everyone achieves their dream. But other than Rachel not winning Individual MVP, everyone won tonight. New Directions won Nationals. Will won Teacher of the Year.** Rachel is probably going to get into NYADA after what’s tantamount to stalking Carmen Tibideaux. Puck gets another shot to graduate. Emma won in her battle against virginity. The final song was “We Are The Champions,” for crying out loud. And yet, I double dog dare you to tell me the name of the Irish kid who is now a champion. Yup. Thought so.
** Do I have to point out that McKinley High’s Teacher of the Year is a Spanish teacher than didn’t know Spanish, and had to switch departments?
The lack of attention to non-primary players was the thrust of the first hour, in which Tina turned into this week’s mouthpiece for Ryan Murphy. If you paid attention to the “Previously On” this week, you heard an extremely long account of how much the show has forgotten about Tina. It’s accurate, but hardly counts as something actually planned by the writing staff. Tina rages against her second-class citizenship on the show, angers Mike, and then takes a total dive into the mall pool while fight texting with Mike. (Quinn was right: walking while texting IS dangerous!) What followed was a body-switching act of television that, incredibly, didn’t fall apart upon execution. I’m not sure it was actually good, but it was fairly amazing to see all the actors commit so heavily to the concept. It seemed like great fun for them, and that energy rubbed off. Since actors like Darren Criss usually have “Please Help” tattoo’ed on their eyelids, it was a nice change of pace.
Unfortunately, the body swapping soon yielded to a series of lectures about knowing your place in this world. It was odd, didactic, tone deaf…in other words was totally “Glee”! Tina’s berating of those who felt costume committee was beneath them got a lecture on putting in the work in order to shine. It’s an odd speech not only because it sounds like a veiled threat from the show’s creator to his young cast, but also because New Directions has never put in the work over the past three years in order to achieve the things they have. Tina notes that Rachel is constantly working to perfect her craft, and in this case the show makes a good point. But while it’s impressive that the cast of “Glee” can perform so many numbers over the course of a year, it’s downright insane that New Directions only hones its performing acts days in advance of the competition.
It’s also insane that “Glee” tried to re-introduce Beiste’s domestic abuse storyline into this initial hour. But it’s still preferable than never, ever returning to it again. The show time and again shows that it doesn’t understand that sensitive topics need room to breathe (and probably shouldn’t involve jokes about William “The Refrigerator” Perry). I maintain my anger about this storyline’s introduction in the first place, but having it solved via Puck’s own struggles was about as good a way for the show to extricate itself from this mess as possible. It’s still conceivable that Cooter will turn into a Carver-esque serial killer in Season 4, hunting down victims in both Lima and New York City. But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t a little moved by Puck/Beiste’s duet in the auditorium all the same. I don’t buy for a second that Puck would choose to sing Taylor Swift’s “Mean”. However, I completely bought that he tied into the emotion of it, and Mark Salling/Dot Jones harmonize surprisingly well. For all the obvious, anvilicious moments in tonight’s two hours, I didn’t see this one coming. I never anticipated how well it would work. It was the type of surprising moment “Glee” is somehow still capable of pulling off.
Still, too many moments were too predictable tonight, and more importantly, the show didn’t earn them. I wouldn’t mind seeing a show in which Sue Sylvester isn’t in charge of the Cheerios, where New Directions isn’t now beloved by even hatahs such as Rick The Stick, where Will realizes that he’s five seconds away from a restraining order at any given moment. Rather than being a show in which good sits along the bad, everything came up roses for everyone tonight. It makes sense on paper. But it simply never achieved flight onscreen.
One final thought: as I alluded to earlier, “Glee” is going into a fourth season in which time is split between the two towns. Little is known about how this will break down at this point, but…is staying in Lima even worth it at this point? The problem with installing that trophy in the rehearsal room is that the ostensible goal of the show has been achieved. But there’s a world to explore in New York. I’m not interested in putting people like Jenna Ushkowitz out of work, especially since the first hour tonight heavily suggested she could be a lead in Lima next year. But when you’ve achieved everything, shouldn’t the curtain close?
- TV Line: Grade: B
- Washington Post: This was Rachel Berry’s Jason Mraz moment to declare, while wandering through the McKinley High hallways, that she refuses to abandon her Broadway dreams even though she choked during her NYADA audition. Her vocal power was, as always, present and accounted for even if, as noted above, it seemed a little weird that it took her this long to muster a sense of determination. Grade: B.
- Entertainment Weekly: Sad times for Rachel. She talked a big game about being fine about the NYADA “incident,” but to the surprise of no one, she was still struggling. Classic Berry power ballad. B+
- Rolling Stone: As a part of her coping, she makes Jason Mraz's sappy ballad mildly more tolerable, but there's not much you can do to make the sleepy song more dynamic. Wiped from Memory
- TVL: Grade: A-
- WP: Anyway, this was a clever piece of work that finally gave Tina some time in the spotlight after a season in which she did pretty much nothing. She did a nice job although, at the risk of not being supportive, I must acknowledge that Rachel would have sung it better. Grade: A-.
- EW: Oh, Tina. She just wants someone to love her. Or even notice her. And dressing up like Berry got things done. She sounded lovely, but I’m sorry, she doesn’t have Rachel’s powerhouse pipes, and a Celine Dion song is all about the vocals. B+
- RS: Now, I am admittedly biased from singing this (along with a hundred or so other 12-year-olds) at my sixth grade graduation, but this is my favorite Tina solo since season one's "True Colors." The richness of her voice removes some of the Lite FM softness embedded in the tune, and it really is great to see Tina get a song that suits her vocal abilities (Florence and the Machine's "Shake It Out"? Not so much.). Loved 'Em
- TVL: Grade: A
- WP: Puck kicked it off with a slightly whiny pitch but once the two started singing together, there was something charming about it. In a way, it was more effective than even Swft’s version because I can believe that both Puck and Beiste have been bullied. Taylor Swift? Not so much. Also, I liked the way Shannon referred to Puck as “Punkin’.” Grade: B+
- EW: Emotion central tonight. No one warned me to have my guard up. This Beiste/Puck duet (with Puck on guitar) was lovely and thematically perfect. Although I’m shocked it took three seasons for Glee to do a Taylor Swift cover. B
- RS: In a moment of what I'm going to chalk up to therapy through song, Puck kicks off Taylor Swift's hit sounding vaguely like the lead singer of Wheatus ("Teenage Dirtbag," anyone?) which was disorienting, especially when he found a whole other accent midway through the song. Bieste chimes in with something that attempts to be a country drawl, but doesn't quite get there. I feel slightly guilty criticizing a song that's called "Mean," and is clearly therapeutic for these characters. . . but let's be real: it was quite unfortunate. Wiped from Memory
- TVL: Grade: A-
- WP: can’t believe it’s taken this long for “Glee” to delve more deeply into the Irene Cara songbook. Seriously, how is it possible that the New Directions haven’t covered “The Dream” yet? Anyway, Rachel and Tina’s bonding moment was sweet although the pounding on the lockers — meant to evoke Jennifer Beals’s dance moves from that 1983 movie — came across as awkward. Ultimately, this wasn’t as soaring as it could have been, but I did like the way it took us from hour one into hour two and Nationals. Grade: B-.
- EW: Okay, I love cheesy over-the-top ‘80s music. And this allowed Rachel and Tina to finally get their duet on. Any word on where I can buy Rachel’s purple dress? I think I’m coveting that more than anything I’ve ever seen on this show. “Let’s go to nationals!” Schu exclaimed. I’m so on board that bus. Sing us to Chicago! A-
- RS: Though I actually would have loved to see the bonkers crazy legwarmers and sparks choreography Sue was trying to implement, there was a glimmer of old-school Glee in the performance, carefree underdog status that made me smile. Loved 'Em
The Troubletones, ‘Edge of Glory’
- TVL: Grade: A-
- WP: Santana, Brittany, Quinn and Mercedes led the charge on this first song in the New Directions’ nationals performance. It started strong but even with the quick edits, it seemed like some of the choreography was slightly out-of-synch and lacking the high level of energy one would assume thiese kids would being to a this stage of competition. Grade: C.
- EW: Along with “All Coming Back” and “Paradise” this was part of New Directions' Nationals routine. I absolutely love this tune, and this arrangement was nice and also (props to them!) different. The Trebletones got a chance to shine, and it kicked off what was a truly an all-time great performance. A-
- RS: Though aptly titled for where the New Directions are relative to winning, there's something seriously lacking in the performance, which doesn't do much to deter fears of the first slot being the death slot. Given what Glee has already done with Gaga, I was hopeful, but the girls seemed emotionless and rushed as they performed – and Mercedes' extra riffing on the chorus wound up taking away from the performance. Wiped from Memory
- TVL: Grade: A+ (One of Glee’s five best vocals ever? I say “Yes!”)
- WP:.Let me be clear about something: I hate this song. It gives me bad early ’90s adult contemporary flashbacks that I find difficult to handle. So it’s a testament to Rachel Berry’s/Lea Michele’s gifts that I found it compelling to watch her use the soaring vocals of a Celine Dion song to rediscover her onstage mojo. And rediscover it she did, knocking this one out of the park. She even made Carmen Tibideaux, Oberlin master instructor, whistle in approval. Grade: A.
- EW: In my notebook for this song all I wrote: “She. Has. It.” And then I rewatched three times. Outstanding. A
- RS: And now it's time for one more Quintessential Rachel Berry Performance, complete with chandeliers like the mansion the video takes place in! She's slow, measured and just the right amount of emotional as the song starts and – oh my God, you guys! Carmen walked in. No one saw that coming, right? The only thing I didn't like about the song was how it ended. No, seriously. It had an abrupt cliffhanger. Loved 'Em
- TVL: Grade: A
- WP: Okay, Mr. Schue, why did this song seem like a good idea? It’s about two kids doing it and it’s eight minutes long. Not exactly appropriate fare for a high school show choir competition. Fortunately, our plucky crooners truncated it and edited out some of the saucier parts. The singers boasted plenty of feeling — this may have been Finn at his absolute best in the history of “Gleedom” — although I still wasn’t thrilled with the choreography. Enjoyable overall but I still think they were better at regionals during the season one finale. Grade: A-
- EW: The real group number of the trio of New Directions performances. The vocals, choreography and energy were all top-notch. A
- RS: They weren't going so far as to reprise Journey, so the next best vintage tune was Meatloaf's opus. It's a Quintessential New Directions Competition Performance: Finn does a surprisingly decent Meatloaf, and everyone gets their moment to shine. The already theatrical song is somehow made better by the show choir arrangement and, surprise – the crowd goes wild. Even Carmen whistles her approval. Loved 'Em
- TVL: Grade: A
- WP: Let’s just be honest: Vocal Adrenaline was better than New Directions. Their dance moves were sharper and more in sync, and Unique’s Minaj-esque magnetism factor sold the whole thing. Plus, they actually tossed some of their members like human starships as if they were on one of those ESPN-broadcast cheerleading competitions. Sue, weren’t you supposed to bring those sort of moves to the table as a Gleek mentor this year? Still, the number did lack a certain underdog emotion that the New Directions, of course, had in spades. And as some YouTube commenters have noted, Vocal Adrenaline’s season-one “Bohemian Rhapsody” was also superior to this effort.Grade: A.
- EW: This combined with "Pinball Wizard" was Vocal Adrenaline’s Nationals offering, with lead vocals by Unique. Unique rapping even gave Minaj a run for the outrageous wig money -- is there anything she can’t do? A-
- RS: For as much as Unique's first performance impressed me, "Starships" has the opposite effect. This version feels more subdued than the warp-speed of Minaj's hit. Though, as expected, Vocal Adrenaline's stage acrobatics trump everything anyone else does. Wiped From Memory
- TVL: Grade: B+
- WP: Okay, this number had spinning pinball machines. If I know one thing about life, I know this: Nothing beats spinning pinball machines. (But) this didn’t feel like a true choir’s effort. It felt more like a performance by Unique with a very large group of back-up singers and dancers behind her. And we all know from the lessons “Glee” has taught us that teams are better than soloists. Vocal Adrenaline was great but in the end, New Directions wins. Grade: A-.
- EW: For the vintage part, V.A. went with this Who classic. Dancing on the giant pinball machines was a bit much for my taste, and this arrangement wasn’t too different from just karaoke of the original. But it still made me want to dance. B+
- RS: In a transition that I still can't quite wrap my head around, Vocal Adrenaline shifted from Minaj's current Top 40 hit to a disco-fueled version of the Who's Tommy classic, complete with light-up pinball machines on stage. Unique riffs the hell out the song and the crowd is immediately on its feet, but the robot dancers of Vocal Adrenaline make it hard to glean any personality from the performance. Just Fine
New Directions, 'Tongue Tied'
- TVL: Grade: A-
- WP: Technically this wasn’t a number so much as a musical celebration of New Directions’ championship status. But I must recognize it because it delivered all the elements one hopes for from a montage set to a Grouplove song: confetti, sparkling cider fights and Will and Emma having intercourse. Grade: A-
- EW: Mostly background for their awesome homecoming. Montage music! B
- RS: Finn doubles his and Rachel's honeymoon fund by winning a bet against Rick Nelson and Emma decides it's finally time to have sex with Schue, what appears to be bubbly is poured and splashed, Rachel makes the day of an underclassman by signing the girl's yearbook as spirited take on Grouplove plays over the scene. Just Fine
- TVL: Grade: A
- WP: It was a sweet way to honor their mentor. Plus, the choice of song worked wonderfully as an assertion of the New Directions’ championship status and a hearkening back to the Vocal Adrenaline use of “Bohemian Rhapsody” during season one. Nicely done. Grade: A.
- EW: Excellent song choices all around last night. Like their other Queen cover “Somebody to Love” from last season, it really showcased the group’s harmonies. A-
- RS: Then the New Directions chime in with Queen, each senior getting a moment in the spotlight in a performance rife with emotion. It's moments like this that are pure and straight to the show's original appeal that make it easy to forget all of the chaos Glee unnecessarily burdens itself with. Just Fine