Put down your sheet music. It’s time for a Glee-cap.
Okay, Ryan Murphy. I’m glad you got that out of your system. Now that you’ve exercised your secret, late ’90s bubblegum pop performance fantasies, perhaps you can get back to the business of writing episodic television with a forward-moving plot, buoyed by thematically appropriate musical selections, featuring characters with continuity.
This whole episode, like the characters within, seemed to be on some kind of hallucinogen. “Britney/Brittany” was almost a parody of Glee. It was loud, over-the-top, gratuitous, and self-indulgent. Not even Sue Sylvester was spared. I’m fairly sure that winding, ridiculous alternate history of the 1968 Democratic convention was written just to see if Jane Lynch would actually say it. And yet, despite the heightened wattage of the episode, it also seemed flat. But that’s what happens when you go from three dimensions to two.
That’s not to say there weren’t things to like about the episode. My only issue is that the things I liked were fleeting and trivial; things like Emma’s self-help brochures, the giant picture of a mouth in Carl’s office, and what I assumed was Kurt’s nod to The Devil Wears Prada. I thought John Stamos made a fine debut and fits well with the cast. You may recall that I once suggested the former Full House star would flourish in such a format. Perhaps I have some readers in Hollywood?
While it was nice to meet Carl, to reconnect with Emma, and to be reminded of Terri, I couldn’t stand the hack jobs being done to our core characters. Kurt was a sixty-minute hissy-fit that never abated. Santana would have made Samantha Jones blush with her forward come-ons. And Jacob Ben Israel’s frustrating social awkwardness was turned into uncomfortable sexual depravity. Yet all this broad caricature seems palatable when compared to the gross mischaracterization of what is arguably the show’s most central pair, Rachel and Mr. Schue.
Now, if Ryan Murphy plans to make Rachel the villain of Season 2, that’s fine. I’m sure I can get behind that. But we’ve already had so many little dust-ups between her and the rest of the club, each and every one always resolved with a quivering lip and a hug, that unless she goes the full psycho-bitch, this is just time wasted. I thought that the writers were putting Rachel down this path with her ultimatum to Finn in the locker room. Now, I know Finn is not the sharpest tool in the shed, and he does truly, if inexplicably, care for her; but where does Rachel get off making these demands? She’s a social misfit with terrible self-image, desperate for attention and praise, who regularly infuriates the only people in her life who ever make even a half-hearted effort to stick up for her. The only thing she has going for her is a handsome, caring boyfriend, and not even he is immune to her shit. She thinks she’s the star. Yes, she is the star…of a losing club. We’ve been given no evidence to support Rachel’s new, even more wildly inflated sense of self-worth. There had better be a purpose to this.
Even more confounding was the change in Mr. Schue. All through the episode, other characters implored Will to kick back, to let loose, to stop being so rigid. I’m sorry, when has Mr. Schue ever been rigid? He raps and breakdances with his students after school, for cryin’ out loud! He chased down Emma after sectionals, acting solely on the impulse of his heart. He’s had the entire gang to his apartment for a pizza party. Are these the actions of a man who has to learn to live a little? I understood his competition with Carl, and I look forward to seeing it play out; but to say that Emma left Will because he was predictable is ridiculous. She broke things off with him precisely because he had become too unpredictable: indulging April Rhodes again, hooking up with Shelby, stooping to Sue’s level of Machiavellian schemes. I watched the back nine episodes, writers. Did you?
As for the star of the episode, I applaud Heather Morris’s perfectly timed delivery and outrageous dance skills. However, now that we’ve spent a whole hour with her, I would be perfectly happy never to hear more than two lines per episode from her again. Brittany works best as that random background character. Bringing her to the forefront this one time was fine, but like I said of Glee once before, less is more.
Now, shall we move on to the music?
I’m A Slave 4 U: The first number of the episode frames all others that follow; that is, each Britney-fied performance is going to be nothing more than the nitrous oxide-addled fantasy of any one of the main characters. This also means that none of the songs are going to do a single thing to advance or inform the plot. “Slave” should have been our first warning that something was amiss. Executed as it was, though, it was admirable; something of a “Best of Britney” catalog. Heather Morris fit seamlessly into the former Mouseketeer’s most famous looks and routines. The girl can seriously move. Yet I still wonder why they chose this song, other than to find an excuse to drape a giant snake across Morris’ shoulders. I give it a B-.
Me Against the Music: Here’s where the wheels came off for me. This song was rather pointless. Putting aside the fact that all a collaboration between Britney Spears and Madonna could yield was this rather forgettable song, look at how blatantly it had to be shoehorned into the episode. The thinking seems to have been, “Well, Brittany and Santana are a package deal, so they have to sing together at one point. Did Britney Spears write any duets? Oh, just that one? Okay then!” In an effort to impress the audience, I suppose, this number was the first shot-by-shot remake of a video since last season’s “Vogue”. Too bad that not only is “Vogue” the better song, it’s the better video, too. Sure, the cane choreography in the last minute was sweet, and Naya Rivera was joyfully hamming it up, but the long-awaited not-so-secret cameo at the end proved underwhelming as well. Seriously, this was all the hype? Three lines? And, you know, for a show that takes care to lovingly, truthfully portray Kurt’s struggle as a gay teen, what’s with the recurring lesbian jokes at Brittany’s expense? “Me Against the Music” gets a C.
Hit Me, Baby (One More Time): “Hey, kids! Did you like that nifty, shot-for-shot remake of Britney’s video? Not really? Well, too bad! Here’s another!” Forget the unoriginal visuals for a moment, and try to think back to the audio. I don’t recall the Glee music team ever much tampering with their selections before. If anything, they AutoTune the vocals to sound as close to the original artists as possible. But not this time. No, sir. What freakin’ key was this song in, and more importantly, why? I don’t think of Britney Spears as having a particularly deep voice. Are you telling me Lea Michele couldn’t land those notes, so they had to jump up the scale? It sounded bizarre. And what are we supposed to make of Rachel’s Britney epiphany? She wants to dress like a skank for the boy who already fell for her when she dressed like a grandma? She never knew she was pretty, even though the most popular guy in school was crushing on her? This whole sequence was just a complete mess. I give it a C-, just because I can’t imagine something on Glee will ever be so awful that I’ll have to go lower.
Stronger: Well, this one was a nice change of pace. What I mean is, how nice to have a song that actually fits the story. Artie’s fantasies aren’t about Britney Spears; they’re about Tina. Artie decided last week that the only way to win her back was to join the football team. I understand the motivation, but color me suspicious. The fact that this scheme has gone unchallenged for two episodes already has me fearing it’s going to be the “fake pregnancy” subplot of last season. But I’m not grading the plot; I’m grading the song that the writers paired to it. And it was a pretty good one. It was more of a montage than a dance number, but that worked. Kevin McHale’s voice sounded more AutoTuned than normal, but he gave it his all. And seeing football players dance in full uniform is always fun. I give it a B+.
Toxic: You can imagine my excitement once I realized that New Directions was about to perform what I consider to be one of the greatest songs in the history of recorded music. And you can imagine my disappointment when this is what I got. I give the choreographer credit for trying to pair Bob Fosse’s style to 21st century techno-pop, but it just didn’t gel. The moves weren’t sexy; they were silly. More than that, this song was the closing argument in how off-course “Britney/Brittany” had taken Glee. Will performing with the kids? I was just as embarrassed as they were. And it was impossible to believe that he would perform this particular routine with them. Remember how in the second episode of Season 1, they performed Salt N Pepa’s “Push It” with maximum smut, much to his disappointment and disapproval? Well, I guess we have a new Will Schuester on our hands, one who isn’t afraid to sensually gyrate into a bowler hat (yeah, I saw that, Puckerman). Right, because everyone said he needed to loosen up…except Will was never uptight to begin with. And I suppose he can win Emma back with this unpredictable act…except that she hates surprises. Does anyone else see the contradiction? For highlighting everything that was wrong with this episode, and for wasting a hell of a song, I give “Toxic” a C.
The Only Exception: Since Britney was never too big on the ballads, the writers had written themselves a way out so they could close the episode with Rachel tearfully singing her regrets…again. Can we have an episode that ends on an upbeat note for once? And maybe one that doesn’t end with Rachel? Paramore’s “The Only Exception” has a nice sound to it, even if the lyrics aren’t top-notch. The only satisfaction I really got from this number was that things remain largely unresolved. Rachel seems to have come around, but notice how Finn’s adorable grin sags the longer Rachel beams at him. And Emma isn’t thinking twice about Will. I thought there was some poetic justice in the fact that these characters remained at a standstill, proof positive that this episode did nothing to move anything forward. I give this final and most forgettable number of the evening a C.
Here’s hoping things are better next Tuesday. I leave you now with…
Sue’s Q of the Week: “I mean, seriously, you wear more vests than the cast of Blossom.”