Glee-cap: “Duets”

Sorry for the delay, Gleeks.  I’ve been a bit busy this week.  I also wasn’t quite as blown away with this week’s episode as I was with last’s.  Oh, I enjoyed it, for sure.  “Duets” was quite good, considering it had two strikes against it from the start: no Puck and no Sue.  Nevertheless, there were some head-scratching moments that left me with an overall “well…meh” feeling.  You’ll tell me what you think.  After discovering that I was in the minority who loved and wasn’t offended by “Grilled Cheesus”, maybe I’m off the mark again.

The best thing about “Duets” was that we finally got to spend some time with Sam.  How nice of the writers to remember they had a new character to play with.  What did we learn about Sam?  Well, he’s plain-spoken, impressionable, surprisingly dorky, and he puts lemon juice in his hair.  Also, it appears he’s already courting Quinn.  Very interesting.  I like Sam so far.  He’s got Finn’s dim-witted innocence, Puck’s sly confidence, and a bit of Kurt’s don’t-give-a-damn pride.  I can see Sam causing a little friction among the New Directions gang.  This should be fun to watch.

By design, “Duets” focused on coupledom in the “Glee” world, both musically and romantically.  I was surprised that I had issues with the latter as well as the former.  I don’t think there were weak moments, per se, but definitely some that were out of the blue.  Case in point: Brittany and Santana.  What’s the story there?  Throughout the run of the show, we’ve had these throw-away lines from Brittany about beautiful ladies; and like the rest of Brittany’s lines, they got played for laughs.  Now we get a quick cut to some genuine Cheerio smooches and it puts things in a different light.  It’s not that I’m demanding a label be put on it.  I don’t care if the characters are gay, bi, or curious.  It’s just that I think there’s a dangerous double-standard developing.  Kurt’s sexual identity is portrayed as this perilous path of near martyrdom, an emotional battle that affects everyone close to him, while Brittany and Santana can apparently just scissor away with no consequence.  Add in the fact that the dynamic cheerleader duo are also reputed to be McKinley High’s two biggest sluts, and it starts to seem disingenuous.  I always felt that Glee went to great pains to avoid treating its characters as objects; but without further development, Brittany and Santana are just going to become titillating punch-lines.

Ryan Murphy, these girls deserve better.

I had more to cheer and jeer with the musical numbers.  Shall we revisit them?

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart:  In the grand scheme of things, this was really a throwaway number.  It was a fun moment for the central couple of the show.  It’s a catchy, corny song.  They sang it wonderfully.  They’re very clearly in luuurrve.  Nothing really to complain about here, with the exception of the absurdly strained facial expressions from both actors.  Seriously, guys, turn it down.  It’s like their faces are threatening to just leap off their skulls.  B.

River Deep, Mountain High:  The minute the brass section started tearing into this song, I typed three words: “Fuck.  And.  Yes.”  Glee needs more Tina Turner.  Yes, we had the tongue-in-cheek “Proud Mary” last season, but Santana and Mercedes’ rendition of “River Deep, Mountain High” should be the final argument in why Ryan Murphy needs to utilize the entire catalog of one former Miss Anna Mae Bullock.  “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” “The Best”–I can think of scenarios for each of these classics.  Of course, few of Ms. Turner’s songs have the fire and energy of this one.  And I think Amber Riley and Naya Rivera knocked it out of the park.  This was a display of sheer power.  There was a little too much riffing; I would have rather heard another verse of the song instead.  They redeemed themselves by perfectly mimicking Tina Turner’s trademark strut, which, now that I’ve seen other people do it, is so patently ridiculous you just have to shrug your shoulders and enjoy it.  An A- performance.  I only wish this had been the episode’s biggest production number, instead of…

Le Jazz Hot: Get comfortable, because we’re going to talk about this one for a while.

Kurt was a big part of “Duets”, as he tried to determine whether or not Sam was a fellow gay.  Getting his hopes up, he asked Sam to be his duet partner.  Finn tried to talk Kurt out of it, but seeing as how they’re not back on good terms yet, Kurt chalked it up to homophobia and refused to listen.  It wasn’t until old reliable Burt advised his son to learn to “get used to being alone” that Kurt relented and let Sam choose his own partner.

Before we go any further, can we agree that this was pretty shitty advice to give to a kid?

In what I thought was a demonstration of just how bad this advice was, Kurt marches into rehearsal and announces he’s going to perform a duet with himself, because he’s too different and too talented for anyone else in the room.  He then explains that he’s going to sing a song from “the seminal classic movie Victor/Victoria,” a film that’s about “embracing both the male and female sides”.

Well, now, Kurt and I must have been watching different movies.  I’ve seen Victor/Victoria, and it is neither a classic nor is it really about what he says it is.  Victor/Victoria is a slapstick musical comedy in which an unemployed opera singer, played by Julie Andrews, finds success and a small modicum of celebrity by masquerading as a man who plays a woman on stage in a scandalously trendy (or is it trendily scandalous?) Paris nightclub.  There are broadly drawn characters and cases of mistaken identity.  Shakespearean comic mischief ensues.  Well, at least that’s what happens when the film isn’t meandering off-track, focusing on its less interesting characters, and staging forgettable musical numbers.  But most importantly, the points made in Victor/Victoria regarding sexual identity are less about finding yourself and more about the perceptions thereof.  Julie Andrews’ character never questions her heterosexuality, and once the clever ruse is explained to her puzzled male love interest, they live happily ever after.  It’s all a joke.  And, as I’ve said earlier, Glee never treats sexuality as a joke…well, almost never.

So, with his conflicting source material in hand, Kurt launches into “Le Jazz Hot”, the only good song from the film.  But the song, both in and out of its original context, has nothing to do with the themes just discussed.  It’s just a song about jazz.  It only carries a semblance of weight when placed in the context of the film it comes from, in which it’s being performed by a woman doing double-drag duty.  Here on Glee, it’s just an excuse to reproduce one of the creator’s favorite musical sequences and dress Kurt in half-drag (and lousy half-drag at that).  Yes, Chris Colfer’s voice is clean and strong, all the way up the scale.  Yes, there’s some fun cinematography and choreography here.  But for me, this number was a complete conceptual misfire.  Even when viewed as a “let’s show ’em what they’re missing” act of defiance by Kurt, it still comes off as shallow.  There had to have been a better–and honestly, more daring–way to handle this subplot.  “Le Jazz Hot” gets a C.

Sing: One of the high points of this episode was delving more into the Mike and Tina relationship.  They’re already having some trouble, with Mike never budging from his chicken feet salad comfort zone.  So, Tina pressures him into taking the lead on their duet.  What results is delightful.  As Tina herself says, it’s a perfect match for him and for this situation.  Their choreography was outstanding, as was their chemistry.  “Sing” was actually every bit as romantic as “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”.  My only reservation is that Jenna Ushkowitz actually sounded a little flat.  Given how little she had to do in this song, that’s kind of inexcusable.  Sorry, Tina, but this time, you’re holding Mike back.  B+.

With You I’m Born Again: This little ditty was the disappointing culmination of Finn and Rachel’s rather lackluster subplot this week.  Immediately following the mushy adorableness of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, Rachel had the epiphany that she’s been a right bitch all season long.  Additionally, she and Finn come to the conclusion that their awesomeness will somehow push Sam away, and they desperately need him to compete with the Glee Club this year.  Um, okay.  So they conspire to throw the duet competition by giving a terrible, totally inappropriate performance.  Except…they don’t.  For one thing, they still sound wonderful.  Call me crazy, but if you want to lose a singing competition, maybe you shouldn’t sing well.  As for the “controversy,” they dressed in traditional/religious vestments while performing an obscure slow jam.  The rest of the gang was flabbergasted, while I was left wondering exactly why.  Haven’t there been far more tasteless performances on this show?  “Push It” comes to mind.  “Born Again” was, like the plot it served, weak and forgettable.  Sorry, lovebirds, but your efforts earn you a C.

Lucky: I liked “Lucky”.  Musically, it was a new style for Quinn.  Sam seems to be staking claim to all young-white-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar songs, but I’m sure he’ll be given some other styles later.  For the moment, as his character develops, songs like this are fine.  This was actually a great character moment for both of them.  It was simply but smartly staged.  The fleeting physical and visual contact between Quinn and Sam felt authentically apprehensive and exciting.  Now that I look back on it all, romance really was in the air on Glee this week.  In their first of what I imagine will be many pairings, Quinn and Sam earn a B+.

Come On, Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again: So, readers, let’s test your pop culture historical knowledge.  Did the last performance of “Duets” remind you of anything?  Well, it was meant to.  See for yourselves…

For those who don’t know, that’s Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, circa 1960.  If you caught the reference, as I did, you might have thought, as I did, “Wow.  Giving the Jewish princess and the gay kid a Streisand/Garland duet.  Original.”  They even dressed Lea Michele in the same outfit, every bit identical as her mimicry of Babs’ very inflections.  Yet on repeated viewing, this number’s grown on me.  Vocally, I think it’s the strongest duet in the Glee canon since Matt Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth did their Burt Bacharach mash-up.  Initially, I had issues with the context.  For one thing, not everyone is happy at the end of the hour.  Brittany and Santana are reaping what their bad behavior sowed, Artie’s heart’s been doubly broken, and Kurt is still suffering in silence and caring for his recovering father.  But Rachel sees that Kurt needs a boost and, trying to turn the page on her selfish past, reminds him he is loved and offers him a reason to smile.  What she offers him is a momentary escape.  She offers him a song to lose himself in, a performance to be himself in.  She offers him a reminder of what he loves about Glee Club and why what he loves is wonderful.  It’s a beautiful gesture, amplified by the fact that this feeling is what’s at the theoretical heart of the musical itself.  Yes, Lea Michele’s still pulling outrageous faces, and Ryan Murphy just lit another candle on his Streisand shrine, but the “Happy” duet still merits an A-.  If they ever do another Glee tour, I demand that this be on the set list.

Sue’s Q of the Week: Well, we don’t get a Sue Q this week.  As compensation, I offer up Santana’s best line of the evening: “I’m like a lizard.  I need something warm under me or else I can’t digest my food.”

See you in two weeks, Gleeks, when McKinley High mounts a production of Rocky Horror!

~ T

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