Glee 3x03 "Asian F"

When Kristin Dos Santos of E! Online began singing high praises after receiving a screener of the episode earlier, I began to roll my eyes. No, not in response to her or her opinions of Glee, but more so the idea that any one episode could be considered “the best ever”…

Here’s the thing with Glee: it is a fickle show with a fickle audience. What is Glee? On any given night, it is a comedy, a drama, a musical or some mixture of the aforementioned. What makes the audience tune in? Some tune in for the plot/storyline and relationships; others tune in for the comedy and biting Sue Sylvester/Brittany/Santana lines.

Some tune-in expecting a recent top-40 number to be covered; others are praying for a classic Broadway number to be featured. Some want to see the main characters {Rachel/Finn/Quinn/Kurt/Blaine/Puck} dominate the proceedings while others hope that the supporting characters can get a small share of screen time or even a solo number.

My point? There is no such thing as a “best episode ever” because Glee has no idea what it is, its creators switch back and forth on their perspective of what the show is and the audience’s opinions and attachments to the show flip-flop every five minutes. With the past two episodes, some people were quick to say that the show has returned to form, whiles others say the show has never been worse. That’s fine; that is how it has always been with the show and I accept that.

The thing is…Santos was on to something; if such a episode exists that would be universally liked or loved by the Glee audience, this episode is a major contender for that honor. I am not being back-handed when I say that; this was easily an instant favorite of the entire series.

Let’s break it down: Glee was always pressured with the difficult task of balancing an extremely large ensemble. That is why plot points and relationships are picked up and dropped in an instant and why it is frustrating for the audience to bear with it all. However, as difficult as it is, they proved that they can pull it off and feature nearly everyone in its cast without being overwhelming. Looking over the series as a whole, they have only accomplished this feat on very few occasions; this week, only Puck and Quinn were on the lighter side of things…and that’s fine considering all of the attention they got last week.

Having Mercedes channel Effie White was a great starting point for the episode largely because…well, that comparison was made the moment Amber Riley sang destroyed “And I Am Telling You.” What I love is that they embraced it whole heartedly and were not even the least bit subtle about it, going as far as having Mercedes and her father boyfriend discuss Dreamgirls early on in the cafeteria.

Right off the bat, they won me over with “Spotlight.” Riley did a great job with the number (not surprisingly), but it was the staging that took it to a higher place. They could of have had her stand in front of a mic and say “I’m Mercedes Jones, and I am going to sing “Spotlight.” Instead, they cut right to the number and made it a mix of out-of-scene and in-scene performing. This way, the number packs more of an emotional punch.

Oh, remember when I pointed out that some people want to see a recent top-40 number featured on the show?

Well, we have Beyonce featured for the umteenth time, but I can’t say I mind. I can’t sign on completely to Heather Morris’ singing, but man, that girl can tear up the dance floor. One thing they also proved they can do is tip their hat to music of different genres while making it all flow cohesively and within the context of the storyline.

Well, it’s about time! Riley knocked it out of the park, but for my money, Harry Shum Jr. stole the entire episode. At least Mercedes had her “Effie White feelings of neglect” going way back, therefore justifying all of her actions. All we knew about Mike Chang prior to the start of the episode is that he is an amazing dancer and he is extremely Asian. It was more difficult for him to pull off considering there was no build-up for him at all. All of a sudden, we are supposed to care about Mike’s demons, from getting an “Asian F” (Hilarious!) to being overwhelmed with extracurriculars to being torn about pursuing the arts or a career as a doctor or lawyer. The thing is…

Awesome suspenders!

Oh, right...I actually cared and occasionally teared up too. It takes a lot for me to have that reaction from Glee because they usually default to some heavy-handed plot device or melodrama. Not this go-around; the writing was well-done, the acting on-point (seriously, Shum did some fantastic work here) and the mood felt so organic and realistic. The scene when Mike was dancing, only to be visited by his father and Tina in ghost form? Loved it. The scene with is mother? A personal favorite of the entire series.

Also, it goes to show the creators of Glee that it all plays out better when it is not trying too hard to induce a reaction from the audience. No social commentary, no lesson-learned or huge wrap-up; just consistent characterization (or in this case, hopefully, the start of it) and plot picking up where it left off episode-to-episode…just how I like it.

Holy Fu**, it can sing too?!? My jaw hit the floor when he began singing “Cool;” a perfect number for him and the character of Riff suits Mike Chang perfectly. It is always a real treat when Glee recognizes a talent that they had harbored away; it is like they grow alongside the audience and come to those epiphanies at the same time we do. I think after the praise of the episode, we will be seeing more of Mike Chang and his family. Minor complaint: even though she had some more screen time, Tina was still under-represented. Darn, but I actually remain optimistic about her future on the show…

Just to remind you, these two have wicked chemistry. That is all.

Another stunner of a number and one that deftly illustrates the power of the musical. Far too often, Glee slips into a comedy/drama peppered with some songs. The result? The emotional whallop is not always there and I remain indifferent. What they did with this last episode with all of the out-of-scene numbers (including Schuester’s final one), is show that this is in fact a musical set to the backdrop of some comedy/drama.

For “It’s All Over,” they broke out into gorgeous costumes with one 360-degree cut (by the way, I gasped when they showed Mercedes all done-up as Effie; I did not see it coming) and recreated an entire Dreamgirls scene (while cleverly re-casting the roles). Implausible? Of course. But HIGHLY entertaining and more appropriately dramatic then having the scene actually acted out. They actually advanced the plot forward with that number, what with the shot of Mercedes standing solo out of costume at the end. Oh Glee; you brought your A-game last night.

A fine job by both, but I cannot say I am as in love compared the other numbers of the night. I have nothing against Fame, but this number is as big of a cliché as any other musical theater number.

Bleh; but okay. They sure have rehabilitated Will this season; how he has acted the last three episodes is a vast improvement over the mess he was last season.

And even though I dislike this performance (loved the staging, hate the actual number), it was nice to see Matthew Morrison get a solo number. It has been a while since he had one to call his own; most of them, going back to season one, tend to be duets with the super-famous guest stars.

All in all, just about a flawless rendition of the show while tipping its hats to nearly every angle of pre-conceived expectations. I know this is another dense review coming from me, but the last three episodes were so great overall that the show actually does look like they course-corrected back to its original golden days. This hiatus comes at a terrible time because I will miss the show for the next month, but the fact that they can make me care goes to show how far they have come since last season. They have set the bar high for the rest of the season, what with the set-up of some potentially great (and juicy) plot lines (Who was not excited after having seen the next preview?) the promise of top-notch numbers and…well, the return of that underdog, feel-good show that we all fell in love with in the first place.

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