AV Club by Todd Van Der Werff (B)
A few years back, when Glee was in its triumphant first season, I had a conversation with a friend who really, really loved the series. Wouldn’t it be great, he jokingly asked, if the show could follow these characters for decades and decades and decades? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to keep expanding the series’ universe, to see what Kurt Hummel was up to 20, 30, 40 years from now? TV doesn’t really work that way, of course, and Chris Colfer would probably be so sick of playing Kurt by the start of season 37. But I had to admit that even if I didn’t want this show to be the one to last forever, there was something oddly tempting about the idea of a primetime series that just kept going and going.
Television is terrible about time. It’s often inextricably tied to the time it’s made in, even if it’s set in the past. Because actors age naturally and good old-age makeup is too expensive to employ on a weekly basis, TV shows have natural lifespans, like organisms or human beings. A novel can cover centuries if it wants. A film can tell the story of a man’s life, from birth to death. But a TV show is restricted to a narrow slice of time. The Doctor may send his TARDIS all the way through time and space, but when he gets there, he has a limited amount of time to get things back on track. Mad Men may take place in the ‘60s, but it can’t really break out of that decade to trace Don Draper’s caveman ancestors or the life of Bobby Draper’s disappointment of a son in the year 2012. And even if Glee could run until the end of time, who would want it to? Would you really want to see Rachel Berry’s full rise to stardom, then the gradual decline, parceled out on a weekly basis until the year 2059? Probably not.
But I can understand the appeal, and understand why it’s tied to this show in particular, as well. Glee is a show—imperfectly, I’ll admit—about growing up, a show about seizing hold of your dreams and hoping you can hang on long enough to get out of your shit-ass little town and off into the life you really want. And it’s also about the people who let go too soon and ended up back on their ass, hoping to encourage the future generations. And it’s about the people who didn’t have those huge dreams and were content to have perfectly normal, reasonable lives in Lima, Ohio, lives where they owned a little garage and got married and had some kids, then supported those kids’ dreams. At its best, Glee uses singing and dancing as a microscope under which it can examine the life and death of the residents of a small town.
The temptation, then, is to just keep expanding, until the show is filmed on all seven continents, two different planets, and three separate moons; until the cast has something like 500 people in it; until Glee is the Island on Lost, and you can never, ever leave; until the show encompasses all of human experience. Can you imagine that 37th season premiére? Can you imagine if it opened with, like, the symphonic strains of Wagner’s “Vorspiel” from Das Rheingold? If, like, we saw the sun rising above a pristine wheat field on the outskirts of Lima and a small child racing through, hands running along the heads of the individual stalks? And then Kurt’s voice saying, “The sun”? And then we cut to Antarctica, where Finn Hudson, now old and alone, is sitting in a little shack, watching the Earth’s temperature slowly rise? And then he turns to the camera and slowly intones “La,” and the camera takes us through all of the 497 other regulars, as they join him, their voices coming together in symphonic grandeur, into an a cappella rendition of “Vorspiel” itself? “We are all alive. Always alive,” says Kurt. And then, like, there’s a velociraptor puppet, who became a regular in season 18, and it’s doing some sort of shit through the bombed-out ruins of the original McKinley High (season 22)? “We stretch. We run. We are one million things, and yet we are one,” says Kurt. And maybe Iron Man is there?! And Rachel is standing there, holding hands with her second husband James Cromwell, watching as her and Finn’s daughter gives birth to her own daughter, whose father is Kurt and Blaine’s son, and Will Schuester is there, and he says, “Gleeeee!”? And then immediately, that baby is slushied in the face? (And, of course, then, everybody would determine who the “new cyborg Rachel” was by performing the hot song of the summer of 2045.) And then I would say, “God, that was unfocused,” and you would say, “Oh, shut up! Glee is all about moment-to-moment pleasures!” and then some guy would say, “Who cares? I’ve never watched Glee because I knew it was bad,” like that somehow preserved his cool guy credentials by saying that on the 2045 equivalent of the Internet, and then the world would end. I mean, wouldn’t you want to see that?
“The New Rachel” isn’t really quite that, but it’s enough of an evolutionary step past what the show has been that you can sort of see how it would become that if Ryan Murphy had an absolute monopoly on his cast and was left unchecked. The series is now being filmed in two separate cities, with the promise of stops along the way to visit all of the other New Directions cast members as the season rolls on. (The season’s promotional artwork promises we’ll visit “Los Angeles”—where Mercedes is based—and “Louisville”—where Santana is based—along the way, and it also prominently features Puck, Mike Chang, and Finn. At this point, it seems like Quinn is the only person who won’t feature prominently, and Murphy has promised to bring her back as well.) I don’t really see a way this doesn’t eventually become untenable, but I actually thought “The New Rachel” did a fine job of balancing two locations against each other and smartly pared down the cast to tell this particular story. Whether it will eventually overload on too much stuff is an open question—okay, it’s Glee, so it’s not—but for one episode, at least, I am sort of intrigued to see how this all works out.
The episode splits its time between Lima, where New Directions is having to deal with its newfound popularity, and New York, where Rachel is trying to get used to going to NYADA. Now, NYADA is about as accurate a depiction of going to a hard-hitting drama school as Lima is an accurate depiction of a small-town high school, but in the opposite direction. Where Lima is a place where the New Directions kids have created an oasis of positivity, a place where, as my friend Matt Zoller Seitz says, the kids can sling intolerant insults at each other, then sing about how much they love tolerance, the show’s New York is basically the hard-bitten city of every backstage musical of the 1930s. This isn’t really a bad thing. The show’s always made use of broad storytelling stereotypes that people more or less understand, and throwing Rachel into the middle of a standard “a star is born” scenario isn’t the worst idea in the world.
What is the worst idea in the world is tossing Kate Hudson into the mix as Rachel’s dance teacher, the improbably named Cassandra July (of the New Bedford Julys, one supposes). Cassandra’s one of those “You totally suck, but I’m going to inspire you!” figures that stories like this always feature, and you just know that Rachel’s going to learn so much from her, and Cassandra’s going to say, “You done good, kid,” or its drama school equivalent, by the time all of this is over. The problem is that Hudson is just sort of a lifeless presence, and the script does her no favors. She’s just meant to stand in for the idea of the hard-case mentor who’s got a heart of gold, and Hudson’s not a strong enough actress to compensate. Her musical number is the episode’s low point, and the conflict between her and Rachel is meant to be one of the things that prompts Rachel’s late episode breakdown, even though there’s no real weight to it. Murphy shows only work with strong actors who can embody the archetypes they’re meant to stand in for. Suffice to say that Hudson’s not that sort of actress. She’s only as good as her material.
That said, plenty of the Rachel material is solid stuff. It does capture that feeling of going off to college, far away from everyone and everything you know, and the moment when she turns by the fountain and sees Kurt wave at her is genuinely heartfelt. I’m not a huge fan of her new love interest, who’s mostly notable for appearing shirtless in a frantic attempt to make us all find him interesting and for being the super-boring love interest on last season’s Terra Nova (which, admittedly, made it very hard for me to take him seriously, so your mileage may vary). But I liked the material about uncertainty, about heading out into the big world and realizing just how little you know and just how unprepared you are. Cassandra’s supposed to fit into that storyline as well, but she’s not nearly as terrifying in that regard as the Whoopi Goldberg character, who conveys all of those fears in just a handful of lines. It’s not a bad start for the New York material, but there’s a part of me that almost wishes the series really had split into two, that we were watching the original parent show and a spinoff about the adventures of Kurt and Rachel in New York. Ah, well.
The reason for this is because the McKinley stuff isn’t as strong as the New York stuff, though it doesn’t have anything as weak as Hudson’s performance. What it does have is a bunch of new characters, the unceremonious return of Jacob Ben Israel, Sue Sylvester snarking about the show’s implausibility, and Kurt hanging out around the high school like he’s auditioning for a role in a Richard Linklater film. I’m largely undecided on the new characters, who are all entirely defined by their relationships to other characters, either known or unknown. New Rachel Marley Rose is mostly defined as “poor daughter of a lunch lady” (admittedly, for a new character on Glee, this is a lot of definition), while Jake Puckerman is defined as “angry brother of Puck.” (Puck doesn’t know he exists.) Then there’s Kitty, who’s basically “Quinn 2.0,” as well as a handful of extras and background players, who may or may not become the next Brittany and Santana or the next that-guy-Mercedes-was-dating-at-the-star
Of these characters, the show chooses to focus on Marley, played by Melissa Benoist, who really shows off her “singing while walking” skills here. Benoist isn’t bad, but the script doesn’t give Marley much to do, beyond defend her mom when the popular kids make fun of her, which immediately restores the New Directions kids to unpopularity. (Hey, it makes more sense than most stuff on this show.) It’s not exactly a story arc, but at least the show is taking a look at the class war in Lima, Ohio, and if the show finds a way to build Marley out into something more than just what a one-percenter might call “a poor,” I’m hopeful Benoist will be up to the challenge, as Lea Michele was.
The smartest choice the episode makes is to keep its “last year’s graduates” focus entirely on Rachel and Kurt, who spends the episode having other people tell him he should move to New York and finally acquiesces. It’s not the most dramatic arc, but the show plays it out with the same semi-veracity it managed in the “Rachel goes off to NYADA” storyline. It’s easy to see how Kurt would get trapped in the rhythms of his own life, how his father and Blaine would have to give him the shove needed to send him to the big city to live with Rachel. I also like that the episode only directly comments on it a few times. Other than that, Kurt’s just hanging out at the edges of scenes, and it’s always weirdly clear how little he belongs, thanks entirely to camera angles and Colfer’s performance. Again, the show might expand so much that all of this becomes untenable, but for now, this is mostly working.
Unfortunately, Glee is unlikely to last 37 seasons. We’re not going to see what happens when Kurt and Blaine’s son meets Rachel and Finn’s daughter, nor are we going to see when that velociraptor and Iron Man duet on “Starlight Express.” The show’s ratings fell off dramatically last season, and it’s now been shifted to an even tougher timeslot. It’ll have a better lead-in, thanks to The X Factor and American Idol, but it will also have to prove itself up against much bigger shows than it had to before, particularly the still strong (and weirdly surging) Grey’s Anatomy, which competes for a very similar demographic. A few years back, I posited that this series would follow the “four year” pattern, in which a series has a huge, much-hyped first season, a second season that shows all the cracks in the foundation that were always there, a muddled third season that causes lots of people to tune out, and a fourth season that regains what made the show good in the first place and reclaims its legacy right before it’s canceled. So many shows in TV history have followed this pattern (see also: The O.C.) that it would only be fitting for Glee to as well. I’ve been burned enough by this show before to be wary of it somehow reclaiming its legacy, but now that it’s begun its inevitable evolution into that weird Murphy/Terrence Malick hybrid described above, I’m surprised to find how sad I’ll be to not be covering it anymore. The promise of Glee always exceeded what it was capable of, but that promise—even in this episode—is rich indeed.
What I realized as I watched this episode is that that promise comes less from the characters than it does from McKinley itself. Unlike most other high school shows, this one seems dedicated to making sure we keep following the school, even when the original protagonists leave it. Characters leave, but the institution stands. The building—or at least what it stands for—will outlive all of these people, and once all of these people are gone, there will still be a high school for new characters to filter through, even when we are no longer watching, after four seasons or 40. You go back to the places you lived in or worked in or went to school in, and they’re still there. You’ve changed, but they haven’t, not really. Our lives are rivers, carrying us other places, but the worlds we pass through on the way are islands where we get stuck for a while. We pause. We meander. We look out over the current. And we move on.
- Yes, it’s true. I’ve stepped down from covering this show, not because I no longer want to, but because I need a night off, and it just seems like it’s time for a fresh pair of eyes to look at the series. This has already been interpreted as me “giving up” on the show, but I’ll keep watching, and I’ll be spelling my replacement, Brandon Nowalk, from time to time. But Brandon’s going to do a great job, and I think you’re all going to like him.
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God!: I hated, hated, hated “Call Me Maybe,” and I say that as someone who likes that song. I liked the idea of “New York State Of Mind” more than the execution. (If the series had cut more freely between Rachel and Marley, it might have worked better.) Blaine’s number was just kind of weird, with the cups and stuff. But I did really like “Chasing Pavements”!
- Straight women, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: I am reliably informed that this Dean Geyer fellow who plays Rachel’s new love interest is an attractive young man. My panel is split on the attractiveness of Jacob Artist, as Puck’s brother.
- Weird moment: Kurt says goodbye to his dad, who says he can always come back, then says “But you won’t” after Kurt has exited. Except, the window is open, and Kurt is going into the backseat to get his bags. I almost wanted to see Kurt say, “Who are you talking to?”
- Stoner guy is my new favorite character, and I hope there’s a whole spinoff dedicated to him.
- Brittany’s line about scissoring a webcam is obviously meant to be the, “Hey, this show’s on at 9 now!” marker, but I just found it really improbable to think about. I mean, how would you even do that? (I get that the joke is about how hard that is to do, but c’mon!)
- I’m really glad Unique is now a regular and a member of the glee club somehow. (I’m just going to guess that the school districts were changed, or Will invited her to come live with him, or… you know what? Let’s just accept this and move on.) But the whole thing about the other members being upset about her presence, then upset about wearing makeup at lunch, is seriously undercooked. In general, the “competing to be the next Rachel” thing is such a throwaway plot that the episode seems to forget about it, halfheartedly wrapping it up with Artie telling Blaine that he is the new Rachel. He totally should have then given Tina courage, Brittany a brain, and Sugar a heart and told them to believe in themselves.
- Isn’t it great how the show seems to have forgotten that Artie and Tina were once a thing?
- I liked Sue pointing out that Quinn had been “in and out of a wheelchair.” However, if the show had just decided to forget she had been pregnant, I wouldn’t have minded.
- You’re all going to be super sad when Will has to have Marley put down in the season finale. Just saying… that’s coming up, and you’re going to cry. (Sorry. I had to make that joke.)
- And with that, I’m out! We’ll see you all on Twitter or whenever Nowalk deigns to let me take the reins again.
Hit Fix by Geoff Berkshire
Being brand new to the cutthroat world of "Glee" recaps, I was really hoping to write something about why I like the show, why I've stuck with it over the years and why I've often been annoyed with its status as a designated punching bag in some corners of the web. An episode like the season four premiere, "The New Rachel," makes that hard to do.
In many ways it was a fresh start for the show. We've been hearing for several months that season four will take on the ambitious challenge of splitting screen time between New York -- where Rachel Berry is newly enrolled at NYADA -- and the usual setting of McKinley High, where a handful of returning cast members will be joined by new recruits. There's a lot of potential in this approach for both success and failure, and after watching the first hour I'm more concerned than optimistic.
That's because "Glee" has a whole new problem. For the first time they've introduced a slew of characters who are one thing the show almost never is: boring.
The impulse to shake up the status quo is a good one. I've loved the entire "Glee" ensemble cast since the start, but there's no question that the show has always had more characters than it comfortably juggle. So if the post-graduation plan means we're going to be seeing a lot less of Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron, Mark Salling, Naya Rivera, Amber Riley and Harry Shum Jr. in either the short or long term, I'll miss them. But I'd be happy with an increased focus on the kids left behind. Or to see the obvious stars, Lea Michele and Chris Colfer, step into the spotlight in New York.
Instead, "The New Rachel" spends a lot of time establishing five new characters. Two of them essential to fleshing out Rachel's experience in New York, three of them provide something "fresh" at McKinley. None of them worked, and here's why:
Cassandra July (Kate Hudson)
She's Rachel's dance instructor at NYADA and the new Sue Sylvester. Why does the show need a new Sue Sylvester when Emmy winner Jane Lynch is sitting around with almost nothing to do? Even if you believe Sue has become redundant (and I don't, Lynch had far too many great moments in season three when they gave her room to play, it's foolish to just write off her immense comedic and dramatic gifts), why start off Rachel's story with someone designed to make the audience think of nothing but Sue's unique teaching methods. And if you're gonna remind people of Sue, you better bring it better than "muffin top" or "Little Miss David Schwimmer." It's not Hudson's fault that her dialogue wasn't funny, but it sure didn't help. And her big solo number was disappointment. Hudson tackled the mash-up of Jennifer Lopez's "Dance Again" and Lady Gaga's "Americano" with gusto, but that couldn't disguise the lackluster vocals and choppy editing obscuring what little we saw of the unimaginative choreography. (C'mon, Zach Woodlee, we know you can do better.) So far, Cassandra is little more than that crazy woman from "Dance Moms" reimagined in the form of Hudson's ridiculously thin body. Not good enough.
Brody Weston (Dean Geyer)
Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist)
Puck's little brother should've been an easy character to create. Even if he's a half-brother who has no real relationship with "Glee's" original bad boy, there's a built-in history that should be fun to mess around with. But Jake turned out to be just a whiny brat with anger issues and no other distinguishing characteristic. Also, Artist performed a solo during the audition sequence. I only remembered that happened because I went back to rewatch parts of the episode.
Kitty (Becca Tobin)
Sue's "new head bitch" is a bad knockoff of Quinn version 1.0 (back when she was convincing Finn he got her pregnant in the hot tub, and Dianna Agron pulled off nonsense like that because she's wicked talented). Of all the new characters, we see the least of Kitty in the premiere. But it's enough to know that Tobin is in over her head when it comes to the new Cheerio's raison d'etre: mean girl quips. Her put-downs are weak ("Gimpy and the tarantula head and Richie Poor," really? At least she got "Pre-op Precious: Based on the Novel Barf by Sapphire") and the delivery doesn't help. Santana would eat this twit for breakfast, and still have time to make a couple cracks about Finn's man boobs.
Marley Rose (Melissa Benoist)
Finally, and perhaps most problematic given the amount of screen time she had to carry, there was wallflower waiting to blossom Marley Rose. Benoist got to sing twice (including the lead on the closing number, Adele's "Chasing Pavements"), received the week's designated "After School Special" subplot, and became the darkhorse contender for New Directions' "New Rachel" slot that Artie appropriately assigned to Blaine. Through it all Benoist demonstrated all the range and charisma of Katharine McPhee on "Smash." And if you consider that a compliment, well, maybe Benoist worked better for you than she did for me.
We've heard Lea Michele's powerhouse voice juxtaposed with co-stars before (Chris Colfer on "Defying Gravity," Amber Riley on "Out Here on My Own," Idina Menzel on "I Dreamed a Dream"), but never heard her blow someone completely out of the water the way she did Benoist on "New York State of Mind." Although it's clear that Marley is supposed to be a completely different kind of character than Rachel -- humble, shy, more interested in being "on the radio!" than Broadway -- and Benoist has a completely different voice than Michele, it was still an odd way to try to get your audience invested in a potential new (co-)leading lady.
Look, I didn't want to hate any of these characters, and I don't want to condemn the actors too swiftly without allowing them time to grow into the roles (or for the writers to find actual roles for them to grow into). But I was shocked to meet five new additions to the show and not be interested in a single one of them. I'm more than open to the idea of "Glee" introducing fresh blood (it worked like gangbusters on the fourth season of "Friday Night Lights"), and I've always considered the ability to create compelling new characters one of the show's consistent strengths.
Darren Criss' Blaine and Chord Overstreet's Sam fit right in from their very first episodes. Even Vanessa Lengies' Sugar -- still on the sidelines, still amusing and adorable -- hit the ground running at full speed. They were funny, charismatic, unusual characters and actors completely in line with "Glee's" cockeyed view of teen dramedies, unlike the bland and blander newbies who would be right at home in ABC Family central casting. The only immediate dud I could think of before tonight's episode was Grant Gustin's one-note evil Warbler Sebastian from last year.
Now there's Sebastian, plus five.
- Heather Morris can do no wrong. Just the way she delivered the throwaway line "Yeah, just a little bit" in the scene with Kurt and Blaine at the Lima Bean was roughly twenty zillion times better than anything any of the new cast members did.
- I'm glad to see Jenna Ushkowitz's Tina speaking and singing more than usual, but it's frustrating the writers (and Ryan Murphy is the one specifically credited with this episode) still can't come up with any better angle for her than "I want to be like Rachel!"
- I was willing to put up with Alex Newell's insufferably sassy Unique provided the role didn't stretch beyond what he was promised for being a runner-up on "The Glee Project." And I appreciate that a transgender character isn't something you see often on TV. But I'm not so willing to tolerate his transformation into the new Mercedes. Especially if all Unique's going to do is complain about not getting solos.
- The Burt says goodbye to Kurt scene didn't hit any new beats in their relationship, and was probably one of the laziest scripted moments they've ever shared, but good lord, Mike O'Malley still killed it. If you want to feel extra depressed about the new characters, compare this to any scene with Marley and her lunch lady mom.
- Fortunately, I've already seen next week's episode, "Britney 2.0." And it's a lot better than the premiere. So if you're like me and borderline hated this week, hopefully you have something to look forward to.
The RBI Report by Dr She Bloggo
Ah, here we are again. Or rather - here I am again, starting a new season of Glee after having spilled so many words of critique about it. It's Season 4, the original gang is completely splintered, and the show soldiers on in at least two separate locations. What can I say? Curiosity got the better of me. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to continue blogging the rest of Season 4, but I will say this: all Glee reviews from here on out will be scaled back in depth - and length. Brevity will be my friend! (And yours, let's be real here. I don't want your eyes falling out.)
With that, let's get back to work.
"The New Rachel" saw the start of McKinley's next school year, after the graduation of Rachel, Finn, Santana, Kurt, Quinn, Puck, Mike, and Mercedes from not only high school but also the glee club. The seats in the choir room are mostly empty, and so the New Directions has to audition new members - and cope with their newfound popularity after winning Nationals and bringing home a big-ass trophy. Rachel struggles with adjusting to a new life in New York, Kurt struggles with adjusting to a new life in Lima, and Tina, Blaine, Brittany, and Wade duke it out for glee club stardom.
We began with Rachel, whom we last saw ugly-crying on a train after getting her ass dumped and shipped off to NYADA - for her own good, natch. I confess, I wasn't sure what to expect with Rachel after the complete devolution of her character last season. It nearly took a small army to ensure Rachel's eventual acceptance to NYADA, what is it going to look like now that she's there? Turns out - not pretty. Rachel's already incited the ire of her supremely sharp-edged dance teacher Cassandra July, who wastes no time in giving Rachel an insulting nickname (David Schwimmer) and telling her she sucks. To her face.
Basically, Ryan Murphy has put Rachel on the Cheerios, except the substitute Sue Sylvester wears breakaway leather skirts.
Not only that, but Rachel's clearly not getting along with anyone at school - and it's revealed in the littlest of ways. She admits, nonchalantly, in narration, that everyone made fun of her nightly skincare regime and so she has to shower at 3AM. For some reason, that was absolutely heartbreaking to me, and I almost wish we could've seen a little more of Rachel feeling socially estranged. It'd be a nice way to hearken back to how she felt at the beginning of her time at McKinley - except now she's actually used to having friends, and it hurts to go back to feeling alienated. But the writers sort of passed up that opportunity by giving Rachel a hunky new friend within the first five minutes, that existed simply to give her standing ovations and fortune-cookie advice like "don't fight the new you." It's not that Brody is useless, but... he's basically Season 2 Blaine - a love interest disguised as Obi-Wan Kenobi when our hero feels like a fish out of water. Meh. I almost wish he weren't as present in Rachel's storyline yet, just to emphasize her isolation as well as how important it was for Kurt to arrive at episode's end.
(Truthfully, although I completely predicted Kurt's "turn around" nonsense as Rachel called him crying by the fountain, I was charmed by it, if only because it took a romantic comedy trope and repurposed it for two platonic soulmates. Let the New York adventures begin!)
Of course, Kurt couldn't make a decision to go to New York without some serious poking and prodding from Blaine and Burt.
(Seriously, when will a main character make a decision for themselves again? I long for the day.)
After his rejection from NYADA, Kurt got a job at the Lima Bean, enrolled at the Allen County Community College, and boomeranged back to McKinley High School far more than one would expect of a successful gay youth. (Or so New Queen Bitch Kitty seems to think, anyways.) But Kurt doesn't belong in Lima, and so Blaine tells him just that, proceeding to create an elaborate serenade in front of the whole school. "It's Time" is a great song, but truthfully, it should have been Kurt's solo. The number embodies exactly what's frustrating about so much of Glee's writing - especially when it comes to couples. Rather than highlighting Kurt making his choice after some encouragement from Blaine, we instead get a spectacle of Blaine's encouragement, as Kurt sits there and passively listens to it. Kurt is not an active character if his loved ones forcibly put him on a plane to New York! Just like Rachel was not an active character when her loved ones forcibly put her on a train to New York! Active characters make choices, onscreen! Truthfully, Kurt never made his own decision about New York, just like Rachel didn't. What was onscreen were Blaine's and Finn's decisions, unfortunately.
What should have happened with Kurt's storyline is this. Early on, we needed to see Kurt show some hesitation about returning to McKinley. That way, when Blaine says, "Hey Kurt, you don't belong here," we know that on some level Kurt feels the same way - even if he's repressing it. It makes it seem less like Kurt is having epiphanies simply because Blaine's dropping truth bombs. Maybe we even get to see why Kurt's hesitating - is he afraid he's going to change? Cue "It's Time," as a Kurt solo of introspection, and perhaps even his actual decision in musical form. Maybe he starts the song unsure, and by the end of the song, he's made his choice. Because, c'mon, the lyrics of "It's Time" are much more suited for Kurt's own point of view, and not only that, him singing it would help put him back in the driver's seat of his own storyline. (Seriously, Kurt was still trying to back out of going in the drop-off line at the airport? Oh dear. But it's hard to complain about that when it was padded out with a Kurt-Burt interaction that had me reaching for the tissues. I never want to see Mike O'Malley choke back tears ever again. Never! My heart can't handle it.)
Meanwhile, back at McKinley, the glee club needs not only new members but also a New Rachel. Or at least, that's what Tina, Blaine, Brittany, and Wade think. (Oh, yeah. Wade's here now! Apparently no audition required.) The foursome, under Artie's judgment, thus decide to battle it out to "Call Me Maybe" in classic Thunderdome tradition. Y'know. With violinists. Basically, things get heated in the spirit of stardom, and this competition is all wrapped up in a larger storyline involving the glee club forgetting their roots: togetherness, and acceptance. Yeah, sure, it's tried-and-true Glee schmoop, but it worked. I don't like seeing these kids mean, even if they are being egged on by rando popular kids.
The target of their antagonism was Mrs. Rose, the overweight lunch lady, who, unbeknownst to the students, is the mom of new recruit Marley. Mrs. Rose doesn't tell anyone Marley's her daughter, so she can avoid the ridicule. (This lady is an angel. She endlessly encourages her daughter to pursue her dreams while simultaneously sacrificing her own visibility in her daughter's life so that she won't hold her back. Tragic character, party of one!) But it all doesn't matter when Marley stands up and defends her from the rando popular kids' nastiness, and reveals that Mrs. Rose is her mom. Sam's the first to apologize for the glee kids' behavior, in a lovely bit of character consistency, because he knows what it's like to not have a lot of money for the shallow things "cool kids" care about. (Marley's mom sews J. Crew labels into her low-priced clothing.) They all agree Marley belongs with the glee kids, and is welcomed into the fold. Of course, such a public acceptance of a loser like Marley means that the glee club loses their newfound popularity, and inductees Wade and Marley both get slammed with the McKinley rite of passage: a slushie to the face.
As for the New Rachel competition, Blaine is the one who wins out, in a result that shocks, oh, absolutely no one. I'm still not quite sure why no one remembered that there is actual glee club leadership in the form of captaincy. We don't need a new Rachel, we need a new captain, which was the position Rachel served in the club. Not only that, she was co-captain with Finn, so clearly we can spread the wealth here. Regardless, they're apparently going leader-less, at least on Blaine's "everyone's-a-star" watch, and hopefully with this reinstated policy of tolerance and non-douchery in the glee club, we can stop other characters telling Wade not to dress as Unique during school. Anyone who tells Unique she shouldn't dress the way she does is almost instantly a "bad guy." Major unlikeable points, and honestly, after witnessing more than one character telling Wade to lay off the makeup and women's clothes, I couldn't believe it when she reported having felt like she was "welcomed with open arms." Open arms and a few stipulations, more like.
Anyways. Let's chalk that up to the glee club forgetting that they embrace their differences and hope it's not a recurring thing.
The final tidbit of the new New Directions storyline belonged to Jake No-Last-Name, who slyly turned out to be Jake... Puckerman. Somehow, Noah Puckerman, who presumably is wandering around Lima somewhere, does not know he has a brother with the same last name as him... also wandering around Lima somewhere. Glee writers, I need more details here to help this construct fly! Did Jake just move here? Does his dad know he exists? Is Jake's mom in Lima as well? Can we meet her? Can we give her a storyline with Puck? (Wait. Let me rephrase. Can we give her a storyline with Puck where he doesn't sleep with her? I forgot that I need to specify these things. Sleeping with inappropriate moms is in no way out of the question for this show.) There's certainly interesting things to be done with Jake Puckerman, and maybe his arc won't be nearly as erratic as his older half-brother's.
Truthfully, the storylines at McKinley have just as much potential as the ones in New York. While it's inherently interesting to watch Kurt and Rachel at the start of their new journeys, I'm almost equally as interested in the reconstruction going on within the New Directions. There is such a random smattering of students left behind, and I'm excited to see new dynamics shake out. Of course, there's also four couples split apart in this scenario as well, and it should be intriguing to see how Glee handles that. Personally, I am really not married to any of them at this point. These are seventeen- and eighteen-year old kids. Their significant others won't always stay the same. They're still growing individually, and that process is more fascinating to me. It's like Tina's new tattoo says: Make change forever. Change is good. This seems to be the motto for the whole season, and I hope the writers embrace it. Shake things up. Surprise me. Impress me.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B-
Dance Numbers: B
Episode MVP: Burt Hummel, World's Greatest Dad
"Call Me Maybe" byTina, Brittany, Unique and Blaine
- TV Line: B+ (side note: What was Artie smoking when he didn’t name Tina the winner of the “Thunderdome-style” sing-off?)
- Entertainment Weekly: the singing/dance-off (which Blaine won), judged by Artie, was amusing, although, much like Carly Rae Jepsen’s follow-up singles, not altogether impressive. Watching it, I felt the beginning of a panic start to creep in -- none of them had Lea Michele’s voice, and her presence was missed..While the tune is still certainly infectious, it seemed to me a beat too late. The fact that the crew didn’t really put a different spin on the track was a disappointment. Vocally there was something missing. C
- Rolling Stone: to be posted
"Americano/Dance Again" by Cassandra
- TVL: A-
- EW: Welcome to Glee, Kate Hudson. And is there anything more initiation-worthy than a mash-up? (Besides a slushy). She danced, she sang, she made seductive moves to the cameras. B
"Never Say Never" by Jake
- TVL: B
- EW: New guy Jake has quite the voice, and this smooth, soulful number was definitely a high point if you ignore his actions afterwards. B
"New York State of Mind" by Rachel and Marley
- TVL: A
- EW: Sung in part by both Marley and Rachel, in an arrangement that was lovely for both voices, it was a great introduction for newcomer Marley, as well as a reminder after a summer apart that Berry has still got it. A-
"It's Time" by Blaine
- TVL: C+ (Sorry, Darren Criss, it’s not really your fault. This song is kinda weak for me, and in the context of the scene, even weaker. Plus, those aggressively rolled jean legs are working my last nerve, especially since your character doesn’t dig clams for a living.)
- EW: I’m incapable of giving a poor grade to anything that involves choreography with cups. His charismatic performance of new hit pop song was winsome and fun. B+
"Chasing Pavements" by Marley and New Directions
- TVL: B+
- EW: A classic ensemble ending number made better by the emotional stuff that was going on with Rachel. Marley sounded just as good as the rest of the club. For now, I’m excited to hear more – and from the looks of things, so is Jake. A-
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