It’s hard to blame a flighty, faddish pop culture T-shirt cannon like Glee for not having much of a memory before Journey, but sweet Burt Hummel am I exhausted by the ‘80s nostalgia fomented by television writers of a certain age. We get it: You’re getting up there. I’m not about to lay a decade of mid-life crises at the feet of one episode of one show that’s always been more about the here and now than the good old days (ah, the harmonious ‘80s!). It’s just that focusing a celebration of movie music so tightly on the movies these guys grew up with is like an Oscar tribute to the Hollywood musical nobody but the producers have much of a stake in. If Finn can’t stroll through an airport singing “The Sound Of Silence,” the least he could do is lop off a cop’s ear while Sam and the guys sing “Stuck In The Middle With You.”
This particular high school reunion reminisces the period from roughly Animal House to Ghost (hitting Risky Business, Top Gun, Footloose, and Say Anything) with a couple of bones thrown to Moulin Rouge! The New Directions brainstorm some favorites: Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Working Girl, Beaches, you know, movies beloved by all children of the mid-‘90s. I know, it’s an old saw, but after the stunticular lump of a wedding episode, these full-blooded teenagers are getting a little too transparent.
Case in point: The “Footloose” number, which abruptly dismisses the heavy cliffhanger and gets to the business of selling singles! As usual, the final number has nothing to do with anything. The kids dance around the stage in matching, affordable costumes. They celebrate nothing in particular. They’re just happy to be alive! It’d be unsettling in a Stepford kind of way if it conveyed any emotion at all.
Naked plot mechanics, even half-naked guys, have nothing on the more abstract musical numbers. Will’s dream of Emma and Kurt’s Moulin Rouge! fantasy had me at hello, one ironic, one sincere, but both expressions of the longing that has always fueled Glee. And both monuments to artificiality. An iris takes us inside movieland, where one long shot sees Will and Emma playing Fred Astaire on the walls, singing “You’re All The World To Me.” Never mind that the black-and-white, centered long take of a paneled room screams Kubrick. The dance, the looks, the whimsy: It may not hit all its marks, but I floated away nonetheless. And then Will wakes up and the camera rushes in on him. That's Glee! It’s ambitious and imperfect and laced with disappointment. This episode is supposed to be about theatricality and the language of cinema, but shouldn’t they all be?
The much-hyped 500th piece of tie-in merchandise or something has the cinematic advantage of collapsing space so that the New Directions can conga line “Shout” all the way to the cafeteria (where they receive applause, in case you were wondering how much Glee has changed), but the 501st is the real beauty. And again, it’s not perfect. Editing “Come What May” down to time leaves an awkward rhyme scheme, the commingling of Chris Colfer’s voice with Darren Criss’ is unusually stark, and the gauzy memories are a sequin too far. But holy Nicoley do those hang-ups fall by the wayside when the extravagance of the scene meets the simplicity of two guys singing. The set is this soundstage mash-up between the roof of Kurt’s apartment and the Moulin Rouge elephant, the sky glowing a deep blue against the wooden cutout cityscape. It’s magical, and yes, by “magical” I mean it’s snowing and sparkly and it totally pulls the rug out from under us. Blaine’s the one who sings us into the act, and the editing suggests he’s the one remembering the first time he and Kurt tastefully panned to the fireplace. But it turns out this isn’t another fantasy of Blaine longing for Kurt. It’s Kurt fantasizing about Blaine longing for him. Call me easy or sappy or deeply entrenched in the lone star bastion of neoconservatism, but there’s something about seeing two guys sing to each other on Fox that still gets me.
Note that the two highlights are populated by the Old Directions. “Girls (And Boys) On Film” has the usual hang-up about the new kids on the block: They’re funny, but in a fight for attention, I’ll pick Rachel’s pent-up worry over Marley’s love triangle any day. It doesn’t help that the mash-ups are like highway merges, discrete chunks of music politely going one at a time. Or that Marley confides in Kitty just seconds after Kitty confessed to being the most duplicitous non-gigolo on the show (I stand by my first reaction to Brody’s cash, mostly because I’d be even more disappointed if he’s just a drug dealer, but also because it’s hilarious). When Glee gets around to its Wizard Of Oz episode, I hope Marley gets a brain. Otherwise, what are we rooting for? Hats?
Contrast that with Kurt’s love triangle. I don’t understand why that old man has no friends or life of his own, but at least he provokes some emotion. (And honestly, I see the sweetness in his final moment with Kurt, even if I’m still attached to Blaine.) Rachel’s pregnancy is equally contrived, but it doesn’t make her worry any less moving. Hopefully Santana’s aimlessness starts to manifest in ways that won’t win her the Guinness record for history’s worst roommate, but even she can bring out human emotion when needed.
The climax, though, is this exquisitely Glee mixture of cringe dramedy and sudden gravity with a hint of suspense. It doesn’t exactly land for me, but the dismount is almost perfect. After a clumsy excuse to get Finn and Will walking down the hall, Finn blurts out that he kissed Emma in order to calm her down. I couldn’t count how many shots went by without Will speaking because it was too unbearable, but Finn just keeps talking and explaining and apologizing, and the whole thing’s still totally clumsy. But eventually Will takes a stab at a disappointed Coach Taylor that plays best as parody (better luck next time) and walks away. Finally this plot holds promise. Glee is never better than when it’s torturing Finn.
- Sam’s Nicolas Cage impression raised the grade a half-step. But the ginger stuff dropped it back down. C’est la Glee!
- Continuity! Sugar wants the girls to do The Artist so they don’t have to sing. Because she’s bad at singing. Except when she sings.
- Santana needs to learn that being that sour is only okay when you’re funny. Her best line: “It’s like Eli Roth decided to make a gay horror movie and this is the scene right before we all eat each other.”
The RBI Report by Dr She Bloggo
Last time we saw Glee, big stuff was happening. A runaway bride! Wedding hookups! Inappropriate kissing! A pregnancy test! A possible gigolo! This is the stuff of high drama, folks. And "Girls (And Boys) On Film" devoted itself to continuing the development of these storylines, in one of the rare episodes that doesn't actually introduce any new plot points and holds responsible to the already-established. Everything within the hour was a linear progression from the events of "I Do," managed neatly within the confines of the week's theme: movie songs.
Generally-speaking, the structure of this episode was a little bananas. Act breaks happened in really weird places, and exposition came from left field. (Seriously, they couldn't figure out a better way for Santana to talk about Brody being a psycho besides just having her get up and announce it?) Beyond that, the choice to pay homage to famous film numbers didn't have as much impact as perhaps the showrunners intended. The musical performances were actually the worst part of this episode, save for the stylized opener, simply because their content wasn't actually all that relevant. They just made me want to watch Moulin Rouge itself, instead of sitting through the songs cribbed from it for less dramatic impact. (Also, shouldn't the girls be disqualified for their mashup being completely snitched from the movie itself? I mean, Marley was spouting Jim Broadbent's dialogue. They don't lose originality points for that?)
Anyways, the backwards (and probably unintended) result of this construct was that "Girls (And Boys) On Film" was an episode of Glee where the actual scene content was stronger than the musical numbers padding out the hour. When's the last time that happened? Usually the music is what hides the imperfections in Glee storytelling, giving the episodes at least a mindless jolt of energy if not, at its best, an emotional anchor. But this episode's musical numbers were flatter than ever, and instead we got three, maybe four nuanced dramatic scenes and a solid smattering of comedy.
The episode's strongest scene goes to Kurt and his new beau Adam, in a refreshing conversation intended to cut the bullshit. I love when characters decide to cut the bullshit! We had to wade through some BS to get to this point, though, naturally. See, Kurt gets all weepy watching Moulin Rouge because he always dreamed he'd sing "Come What May" with Blaine at his wedding. Adam notices, Santana spills the truth tea, and Kurt tries to hide the feelings. I don't think these story elements are all that bullshitty (except for maybe Santana knowing what Kurt and Blaine want to sing at their wedding) - but the musical number was. It's one thing if Kurt watches Moulin Rouge and fantasizes about singing the song with Blaine. But with the way "Come What May" actually happened in the episode, it felt more like Inception than Moulin Rouge. As in, they decide to watch the movie, we cut to commercial, and when we're back, Blaine is wandering on top of a rooftop wistfully singing to the night sky. Kurt is nowhere to be seen.
I'm sorry, but aren't we in Kurt's fantasy? Why did he not even bother showing up for it until it was time for the harmony? Couldn't we at least have him watching Blaine sing, like Marley watched herself confuse her love interests over the potter's wheel? As it stands, we have a Kurt fantasy that doesn't even seem like a Kurt fantasy because it's not even from his point of view. And the writers tried to cover that up by sticking a commercial between Kurt's POV and the actual musical number, to break it in two. You can't fool me, show! I have DVR! I fast-forwarded through the ads! Honestly, the whole things smelled like a reason to give Blaine most of the song, with the nasty side effect of completely marginalizing Kurt from his own POV and also confusing the hell out of the audience. It was like a fantasy within a fantasy within a fantasy. But look - slow dancing and twinkly lights! How romantic.
Sorry. That was the BS that set the scene for Kurt and Adam's BS-cutting interaction. Adam is straightforward with Kurt, who does his best to be truthful in return. In an echo of the conflict between Kurt's wishes and reality, it's not as simple as wanting to forgive someone, or be over someone, and making that materialize emotionally. I appreciated that continuation of Kurt's complicated feelings, and the acknowledgement that it's near impossible to move on when you're stuck hoping for a fantasy. While Adam making it clear that he can't compete with that is perhaps a gloomy harbinger of their demise, I still liked that he brought it up. Because it's true. And Kurt knows it, judging by his forced enthusiasm at scene's end. All in all, it was an interesting interaction to shake out onscreen.
The other darling thing from these two was their impressions of the characters from Downton Abbey, which frankly showed up Sam's blowhard impersonation of Nicolas Cage. I'm less about Adam's take on Mr. Carson, mostly because I couldn't stop laughing at how accurate they were at imitating Mrs. Patmore and Daisy. Not only are they two of the funnier characters to mimic, Chris Colfer and Oliver Kieran Jones were eerily spot-on with it. So delightful.
The roommate dynamic has much more possibility for this type of goofy comedy now, with Santana around to poke fun of Kurt and Rachel, accentuating their dork status by contrast, and getting dragged into it herself. "Girls (And Boys) On Film" already made good use of the new trio's back-and-forth(-and-back) by pitting Kurt and Santana against Brody, as they think he's actually a drug dealer. They got a lot of joke mileage out of this concept - my personal favorite is a toss-up between Santana's confusion over Brody offering her a New York makeover, and her description of him showering: "scrubbing the drug shame from his frictionless body." But the montage of Santana going through all of Rachel and Kurt's belongings was pretty great as well, if only for the sight gag of Naya Rivera flailing on the ground with her head under the bed. How nice to see her getting some physical comedy to go with the usual verbal charge!
The Rachel/Santana scene didn't quite rank as high for me as a few others in the episode, but it was an interesting vehicle for the new turn in this duo's dynamic. I confess, I'm still not really on board with Santana saying things like, "Rachel, I'm your friend! You can trust me!" in complete earnest, but hey. We can get there. What I liked more is how defensive and angry Rachel was in response to Santana, which felt like a very real reaction for someone who is scared and alone and taking a lot of crap from an uninvited house guest. And I like the idea that because Santana is an uninvited house guest, who has decided to pry into Rachel's business, she's kind of all Rachel has, whether she likes it or not, and so Rachel kind of has to open up to her. It's a nice way to show both sides of this prickly friendship, in the classic "lock them in a room together and make them be friends!" tradition. So, cue the floodgates, and the moment we thought we'd never see on Glee: Santana holding Rachel in her arms and telling her it'll all be okay. You know what they say; babies make for strange bedfellows! Erm, metaphorically-speaking.
I think the best scene of the episode, for me, was Will and Emma finally getting a chance to talk about their botched nuptials. Again, this did a lot to cut through all the BS people like Finn were spouting all episode long. Because naturally, Glee applied its classic male-female interaction paradigm, and even hung a lampshade on it through dialogue:
Will: She's made it clear she doesn't want to see me.
Finn: Well, then make her want to see you.
I don't know if the urge to laugh of cry was stronger, when these awful words fell on my ears. It's classic Glee: when a lady's not doing what you want her to, just ignore her wishes and make her see it your way! She'll come around. Trying singing to her. It'll work. And, of course, this is exactly what Will did. Finn advised him to make the Grand Gesture, which sits at the end of every romcom, when a dude goes all out to "win" his girl back. My main problem here is not even on principle; it's the fact that this generalized movie bullshit was applied to a situation where it didn't even fit. Emma left Will at the altar; this story involves her POV more than anyone's. It's not about Will getting Emma back and proclaiming that he'll never leave her again. Fool, she left you! This whole exercise completely marginalizes Emma from her own story and replaces her with bland Hollywood nonsense. The arc should really be about Emma getting a chance to voice what made her run, and why.
Luckily, after another dumbass musical number cribbed from Say Anything, Emma actually got that opportunity. Turns out she felt like she didn't know Will anymore when he got back from DC, and didn't know what to do about it. Sure, it's kind of an underwhelming reason, but it's believable and a bit heartbreaking that something so small blew up so big. Plus, Jayma Mays was on my screen effortlessly acting her butt off and it's a surefire way to enchant me. But narratively speaking, this basically returns Will and Emma back to square one, and an eensy part of me wonders then what the point was. It'll be interesting to see the couple after this development, simply because the writers have deconstructed them so far away from their original fairytale paradigm that I'm curious to know how intent they are on demonstrating that in practice. Will and Emma, weirdly, feel like more real a couple than ever, with a lot of problems to work through and no promise for the future except the one they keep making to each other, despite the obstacles. In a strange way, I find that more romantic than any narrative promise of "endgame," the talk of "soulmates," or even any heartfelt duet. The little nod to the tradition of date-night moviegoing was a nice touch to theme, as well.
But the little hiccup in Will and Emma successfully moving forward at this point is, unfortunately, Finn's confession that he kissed Emma during her pre-wedding panic attack. This was another solid scene, although a bit melodramatic with Will's silent walkaway, and lacking the one element I really wanted, which was for Will to think Finn was joking when he first confessed it. How great would it have been for him to laugh in response to it, and then realize that Finn was being serious? Alas, that was not meant to be, as mostly we got Finn hurriedly explaining everything and Will looking more and more betrayed. So, the true love story of Glee has now been sullied by treachery and lies, and it's unclear whether these dudebros will recover. But I think they're going to sing about their feelings next week, so the broken trust stands a chance.
In the final continuation of "I Do," Marley confesses to first Kitty and then Jake that Ryder kissed her. Awkwardly, I didn't really care. Although for a brief moment - speaking of dudebros in love - I was confused by Marley's out-of-body experience and thought she might be watching Ryder and Jake canoodling over the potter's wheel. Anyways, I have little invested in this triangle, perhaps because Marley and Jake's innocent sweetness isn't interesting enough on its own, and somehow becomes even more boring with the added complication of the best friend. Wake me up when Kitty comes around to make fun of them all.
At the end of "Girls (And Boys) On Film," we were reminded that this "mash-off" was in fact a competition, one in which... everybody wins. The resulting outrage from the overly-competitive glee kids was pretty hilarious, I must say. Gettin' real tired of this shit, Mr. Schuester! But then they did another musical number that didn't matter, this time to "Footloose." By that point I'd taken to picking out the most attractive glee club member in each performance outfit. (Tina won the girls' mashup, Jake won the boys' mashup, and Sugar won "Footloose.")
Weirdly, the musical numbers of "Girls (And Boys) On Film" fell short of engaging and relevant, as Glee's scripted scenes actually took up the challenge. The added element of Santana in New York shakes up the dynamic and provided both comedic and dramatic content, and we got a few refreshing scenes that actively worked against the show's own BS! It was an unexpected hour of Glee, still telling outlandish stories and presenting its own half-baked universe of romantic drama and random character progression, but at the same time it found some good moments and refreshing emotional honesty in the spaces between.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: D
Dance Numbers: D
Episode MVP: Adam, for his flawless Daisy impression and intolerance of bullshit
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