Glee 3x20 "Props"/3x21 "Nationals"

As I am one to engage in rhetorical questions from time to time, allow me to indulge in the one question coursing through my brain last night. If repetition offends you, I apologize in advance…

 What is this?

 What show are we watching here?


Seriously, what show is this…I only ask because this is not the Glee I know as of late. Where are the inconsistent, jostled-around characters? Where are the crater sized plot holes? The irrelevant and/or overworked plot contrivances? The uninspired number selection to dupe teenagers into downloading some iTunes songs? The inserted lesson of the week via clunky, ingenuine dialogue? The irrelevant, disjoined episode theme in the Saturday Night Fever mold? Why wasn’t Artie wheeled into a pool or anyone talking about such an action? I can keep going…

Oh, I know what this is…this is the Glee that we fell in love with and have been holding out for. This is the Glee that should have followed suit after this season began with its initial flurry of great episodes. In other words, this is what happens when you have Ian Brennan at the top of his game, holding court for the first episode that aired last night. He should submit this one for Emmy consideration.

I just about loved it all. I only had two criticisms and even one of those ultimately ran dry in hindsight. Obviously, my biggest complaint is the Coach Beiste spousal abuse storyline. Unsurprisingly, it was way too heavy-handed and too serious a tone for the Glee universe. I’ll chalk that up to poor Brennan having to clean up the messes of past writers and for all its horridness. Even he managed to spawn off some good moments and wrap it up before doing any more damage.

But that’s it…I’ll take one of everything else the episode delivered. I have to applaud the show for being so conscious of its own absurdity and mining it for maximum entertainment. Hell, even the “Here’s What You missed on Glee” had self-awareness, right down to mentioning the overplayed “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and the long-winded rant about how Tina has been ignored, not had many solos (and when she does, they end with her in tears) or that most people call her the wrong name. The episode has not even begun yet and it already demonstrated more wit and skilled writing then most episodes combined…

Our girl FINALLY got her due. Her lack of storylines, solos and screen time has long been a fan complaint since the first batch of episodes. When Mercedes and Mike had their moments early on in the season, Tina’s was conspicuously absent or catered around Mike’s journey. Jenna Ushkowitz is Broadway-trained and a great singer…why marginalize her talents, in and out of character?

Almost three seasons later, and we got “Because You Loved Me.” A sweet and pretty performance that is probably my favorite number in her repertoire and it ranks up high overall in the Glee cover pantheon. There was a lot of payoff here and you can almost feel the entire fandom cheering as Tina went from the sidelines to center stage.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the body-swapping sequence. Again, implausible and aware of its own absurdity, the whole sequence provided numerous laugh-out-loud moments. Just the sight of Harry Shum Jr. with Joe’s dreadlocks or Darren Criss with a Mohawk was enough to make me laugh. The cast clearly had a ball with it and nearly every impersonation was SPOT-ON. Dianna Agron nailed all of Sugar’s mannerisms, Naya Rivera was pitch-perfect as Artie and the pair of Mark Salling and Cory Monteith made for a hilarious and also on-point Blaine and Kurt respectively. Go and rewatch it…the subtle facial ticks, gestures and speech patterns was an acting masterclass.

So what do they do? Dump the idea after a few minutes. Wait, pardon me?

That pissed me off because they had a good hold on a great concept and it could have made for an over-the-top, hilarious hour. Once Tina came to her senses, I anticipated that the episode would fall by the waistside.

Oh, how I should have had more faith (granted, who could blame me for having a lack of faith in Glee?). The rest of the episode remained on par with some more great numbers and, spousal abuse plot withstanding, some engaging storylines.

This was an awesome duet and the whole Rachel/Tina plot thing was darling. Lea and Jenna have known each for years and prior to filming Glee, there were in Spring Awakening together. Them having to mimic an instant-bestie pairing was not a stretch by any means; unsurprisingly, they nailed that chemistry perfectly. Kudos to the writing (and this song) for going the extra mile and alluding that Tina will be the lead female vocalist next year, accepting the torch from Rachel.

Ironically, it was the Puck storyline this week surprised me. I know I am going to upset some people, but he always topped my list of most expendable characters from this oversized cast. Mark Salling never was the best in the acting department and his storylines mostly revolved around him banging or trying to bang any female that moved. Hey, that’s his character…but what has he really contributed to Glee? Romantic plot diversion? Definitely. A few great numbers? Yeah okay; he is a good singer. But I’m not holding my breathe regarding Salling’s contract still up in the air for next season…

But man, when he went on that tangent in the locker-room – which I am surprised they took it to that level – that was something amazing. Dot Marie Jones has that talented quality of an actress where she can pull focus off of everyone in a scene, but Salling held his own against her. That scene was heart-breaking and chose the right stopping point before going to far. I can't love their Taylor Swift, petulant pop number, but at least it was sweet sounding and featured one of the most interesting vocal pairings the show has ever had. Between their scenes together and this number, both of these actors did a wonderful job.

But all the credit goes to Brennan behind the script and the camera, restoring the show to a level of excitement, clarity and engagement then any other episode has had in a long time. It is disappointing that it took a while for the show to find its footing and turn out a near-flawless episode, but better late then never. I really hope the reaction around this episode will convince the entire team of Glee to let Brennan have a stronger influence over the script and direction of this series because it would be a shame to see wonderful episodes like this one get overshadowed by the horrendous ones.

BONUS...we get Nationals too! Oh Glee; you are spoiling us. You are such a card.

The first episode of the night was such a knockout that I was legitimately excited for another one to follow (and I cannot say that about many other episodes this season). However, a competition episode made me nervous because the last one, the Regionals episode, squeezed in so much plot that the musical performances were overpowered by the teen gay suicide plot and Quinn’s car accident cliffhanger. Hey, if you want to have some storylines accompany a bevy of musical performances, go right ahead. Glee was never one for narrative tension, so they need something to obscure the fact that the episode is just a waiting game until the New Directions take down the trophy. I was just hoping that it was not something heavy-handed, that’s all…

Thankfully (and somewhat surprisingly), they sidestepped that land mine and put together a competent lead-up. Mercedes is sick, Schuester has some doubts, his students love him for some reason I’ll never understand, tensions are brewing, Jesse St. James is saying evil things to annunciate how evil he is, Wade/Unique is nervous, the judges table is nonsense, blah blah blah….

All Nationals really has to do from a content perspective is bring it on the performing front. Exhibit A – "Edge of Glory" kind of brought it…kind of. I understand why people loved it (Gotta love a Gaga power number), but I just never really liked this song and their version is a literal vocal adaptation. Weirdly, the choreography and enthusiasm seem to wear off as the number went on.

Exhibit B – BROUGHT IT and SHUT. IT. THE. EFF. DOWN. A prime number in Rachel Berry’s wheelhouse is powerful, if irritating (the number or the artist it came from…or both) and divatastic to the max. Oh look, a Celine number…the only thing that would have completed the picture is if she wore a sequined ball gown atop some over-the-top set piece, like a float or a ship.

Exhibit C – BROUGHT IT, PART TWO. The orchestrations/vocal arrangements are divine and kudos for spreading the solos around. They were serving up some fierce energy, attitude and face…oh, lots of face. The perfect conclusion to the setlist.

You know…the Warblers sucked during Regionals, so while New Directions earned the victory then, they earned it by default. The best part about New Directions winning this go-around is that the competition (basically, Vocal Adrenaline) also was on their A-game. Wade’s numbers were campy, fabulous and energetic…all competently performed and fun, but just not good enough after the fantastic New Directions performances.

One thing that I should point out is that similar to Lindsay Pearce’s Harmony character from earlier this year, the door is open for Alex Newell to return next season. Oh sure; they both may have earned a cheap entrance to the show thanks to reality television mechanics, but they also made amazing impression that warrants them returning down the road. The high school choir competitions are going to need some diva voices to match the ones of the graduating class…

Oh, and I loved this scene to death. Every character needs a little rehabilitation sometimes and they managed to achieve that for Jesse St. James, of all characters, and did it without forcing it. Oh sure; I love the idea of Jonathan Groff watching his wife kill a Celine classic and brag about her to Whoopi Goldberg Carmen…but he’s a great enough actor to make that seem believable. Not to mention, everytime he graces a television screen, a gay angel gets its harp.

New Directions won, they are treated like rockstars, Will and Emma fornicated for some reason (which is creepy under any circumstance, but sort of a hilarious idea here) and Will gets some teacher award, for some reason. It’s all lovable cheese and that is practically what Glee built its show upon…taking all of these clich├ęs and expected moments, adding in believable emotions and musical performances, to turn the dials up to an eleven.

And while I did love the song choice of 'We Are the Champions" and another solo scatter, Cory Monteith’s voice was sketchy in some places. But still…THAT is how you go out with flair.

All and all…just a near-flawless two hours of the show right up there with the series all-time best. Just like the characters in the show, the show itself pulled itself together and churned it out, making us wonder why this is not a weekly occurrence. Up until now, the prospect of another season of the show seems misguided to me (now that they won nationals, the story arch that drove the last three seasons of the show, what’s next? Internationals?). But if they demonstrate the same craft and tact the last two hours had…well, the outlook is better for sure. Since we all are scrambling for a reason to keep with this erratic, cray cray show…a positive outlook is a step in the right direction.

Photo Credit: Glee/FOX
Screengrab Credit: NRNW
Video Credit: GleeOnFOX

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