Well, readers, it’s finally here. The eagerly awaited second season of Glee began last night and I, one of its harshest critics and biggest fans, was pleased. The writers took things back to basics while carefully setting up new trajectories for our favorite fictional outcasts to follow in the future. We got some new characters, and learned some new things about old characters. And there was Cheyenne Jackson, so really, you can’t go wrong there.
Now, in case you’re wondering, this is going to be the first of what I hope will be regular discussions (or is it dissections?) of the show. I’ll briefly go over some plot highlights, critique the performances, and close things out with the best Sue Sylvester quote of the week.
So, what did I like in the non-musical portions of “Audition”? Well, Jacob Ben Israel’s opening expose was brilliant. I liked that Coach Beiste was both a peculiar punchline and a multi-faceted character. The Sue-Will dynamic is always fun to play with. The only person who is more enjoyable to watch against Sue is Quinn, and their first encounter since last year didn’t fail to disappoint. I liked the Asian jokes, Rachel’s near psychopathy, and Finn’s Cheerio try-out. And damn, Santana is scary when she’s pissed. She will cut a bitch!
As for the newbies, Sunshine (played by Charice) and Sam (played by Chord Overstreet), I like what I see so far. There’s a lot of potential there, and some new blood might be just what this show needs, to test the waters with some new relationships and alter existing ones. Anything to avoid the gratuitous, indulgent mistakes of last season’s back nine episodes.
Now, on to the songs…
Empire State of Mind: The biggest show of the last two years performs the biggest song of the last two years. Well, if you define “biggest” as “most played-out”. I’m sorry, but this song was done for me after Jay-Z planted himself on one of the parade floats in the Canyon of Heroes last November. Maybe in other media markets, it’s still fresh. But here? If I never hear this song again, it’ll be too soon. That being said, they did do some good things with it. I liked that they performed somewhere new (the concrete lunching grounds of William McKinley High, it seems). I thought the performance was a clever way to give us our first glimpses of Sunshine and Sam. And I liked that nobody paid attention to their performance. Unfortunately, I felt more like those other kids than I did the New Directions gang. I realize it wasn’t supposed to knock anyone’s socks off in the story; but for the loyal viewers, this is what we get after a summer of waiting? “Empire State of Mind” was exemplary of one of Glee‘s biggest problems when it comes to appropriating Top 40 music: it isn’t exciting to hear singers rap. The only one with reliable but by no means outrageous skills is Artie, and here he had to share the song with Finn and Puck. Ultimately, I thought this number was less exciting than the music-free cold open. I give it a C+.
Telephone: Here was our first chance to hear actress Charice sing…so Ryan Murphy chose one of the most heavily processed songs on the charts as her debut? Honestly, Ryan Murphy, no more Lady Gaga. You had a whole freakin’ episode devoted to her and her voluminous catalog of music. It’s done. The song had little, if anything, to do with what was going on in the scene. The staging was boring, but that’s what comes from confining a performance to a restroom. And what the hell was Lea Michele doing during this song? She circled that poor little Filipina girl, craning her head and bearing her teeth, like a great white testing the hunk of tuna those Discovery Channel guys hang over the sides of their research boats when making Shark Week documentaries. Seriously, what the hell? I half expected her to just bite Charice on the throat, therefore combining Glee with True Blood and instantly giving birth to the grandest, gayest show on television. But, alas, it was only a dream… “Telephone” only escapes being a complete failure by virtue of the fact that it was mercifully and hilariously cut off by Sue. C-, girls.
Billionaire: Finn convinces Sam to a pre-screen with the boys to great effect. I wasn’t familiar with this song, and I still think there could have been a better choice for Sam’s first performance (I’m not counting the shower solo). I mean, why couldn’t we have just heard Sam by himself? We know Artie can rap. We just saw it twenty minutes ago. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun watching the boys jam out. They gelled quickly and amicably, a noted contrast to Rachel’s surreptitious attempts to kill Sunshine. Chord Overstreet’s got an appealing if indistinct sound. I’m interested to see what range he has. I give this song a B-. It lacked something in being a true character introduction, since it succeeded more in reintroducing us to existing characters and reminding us not only why we loved them but how far those characters have already come.
Listen: Ah, the proper debut for Charice. This is the kind of thing that I hope Chord Overstreet gets in the next two weeks: a big, character- and objective-defining solo. “Listen” was a solid choice, but it seemed kind of lazy, too. I think that’s just a danger inherent in lifting songs from musicals. The music supervisors must be tempted to just go to pieces or to characters with similar narratives and pull their biggest, turning-point numbers. In this case, it was Beyonce’s defiant anthem from the end of Dreamgirls. Charice has a big and powerful voice in that little body. I was just a little disappointed to hear that not only had she captured the emotions that Beyonce brought to the song, she had also captured–practically identically–Beyonce’s modulations and riffs. Seriously, pop in that Dreamgirls soundtrack (come on, you know you have it). To a note, it was almost the same performance. The Glee gang has taken chances tinkering with songs before. Why get lazy now? Also, I understand it may have been an acting or directing choice, but Charice, keep your damn hands at your sides! All those little waves and punches and pounds and reaches–Christ, just stand still and sell the song! Still, it was leaps and bounds beyond her first performance. I give it a B.
What I Did For Love: Rachel may not have been able to convince her friends that she deserved the Glee Club Soloist’s Crown, but she sure as hell convinced me. Here was a song perfectly suited for the moment, the character, and the performer. And even better, the context put a twist on the meaning of the lyrics. Rachel has to face up that she used her self-professed love of her friends as a cover for her selfish love of herself. She admits to not just wanting but needing the spotlight. Shamed by everyone, including Finn, she nevertheless sings that she “can’t regret” what she did. She did what she had to do then, and in the closing moments of the episode, she sets off towards what she has to do now: earn back the trust of her friends (again). The song also functioned as a coda for Artie’s failed plan to win Tina back, a pivotal and, one would assume, continuing subplot. Shot in the vacant, cavernous auditorium, “What I Did For Love” put Rachel where she is simultaneously at her strongest and her most vulnerable. At center stage, you can’t your eyes off her; and yet, with no one there behind her, you know there’s something missing. Well done, Glee team. A-.
Sue’s Q of the Week: “Now take your juicy, vine-ripened chest fruit and get the hell out of my office.”
Until next week, Gleeks!