GLEE 2.1: Audition

GLEE faced the monumental challenge of following up last year’s breakout season as the critical darling or, if you prefer, the teacher’s pet of television. So what could GLEE do you do for an encore? Why, more of the same – only different, of course! And, for the most part, the sophomore season’s debut succeeded by quickly establishing a new status quo that was actually the old status quo with a fresh coat of paint.

Fresh off losing at Regionals (McKinley High finished third out of…three schools.); the members of New Directions find themselves back for another fall semester at the bottom of the social ladder. (They are the “plankton” of the food chain, Kurt (Chris Colfer) notes, wryly. Will (Matthew Morrison) decided the answer lay in recruiting new members. Two promising newbies presented themselves: Sam Evans (newcomer Chord Overstreet) and Sunshine Corazon (pop star Charice). The problem was, Sunshine was a little too good. Rachel (Lea Michelle) feared that Sunshine might hog the spotlight from her, so Rachel set about preemptively eliminating Sunshine before she got a chance to shine.
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GLEE 1.22: Journey’s End

Talk about going out on a high note! GLEE managed to save the very best for last, wrapping its inaugural season with an extraordinary episode filled with fantastic musical performances, suspense, and a really moving story. Oh, and grace notes in all the right places.

GLEE usually saves the sentimental stuff for the last act, but the finale started tugging at the heartstrings right away. And it also went for the heartbreak, too. While the kids were demoralized about their prospects at Regionals, Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) talked about the importance of living the experience to its fullest, and he said something that really froze me. Looking ahead to the future, Will talked about how the kids will look back on this experience. “It’ll take you a second to remember everybody’s name,” he said. And that’s what got to me. That was the voice of experience talking about the tragedy and pain of nostalgia. Right now, these kids constitute are each others’ world, but someday everything will inevitably become hazy memories. And everyone who has ever dusted off an old yearbook or peered at a grainy scanned photo on Facebook knows how selective (and cruel) memory can be. Indeed, this was their time…
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GLEE 1.17: Don’t give a damn ‘bout my bad reputation

GLEE got off to a rough start for me this week, because I actually did not like the opening number, a rendition of “Ice Ice Baby” performed by Will (Matthew Morrison). I don’t have a problem with Morrison’s rapping – I really enjoyed his versions of “Gold Digger” and “Bust a Move” for example; it’s just that something about “Ice Ice Baby” left me cold. In fact, it wasn’t just Will. I thought the backing vocals were off as well. Maybe the song just wasn’t mixed properly from broadcast. I’ve been trying, but I can’t recall another performance on GLEE that I really actively disliked.

In another misfire, Sue Sylvester did another video, which meant the wonderful Jane Lynch got to perform with guest star Olivia Newton-John on a refurbishing of her hit “Physical.” I thought the vocals were electronically manipulated a little too much, but perhaps the producers had to do it to cover up some mistakes. Sue herself suffered from the mistake of giving Kurt access to her office, so he was able to get hold of video of Sue rocking out to the original “Physical.” The video went viral on the Web (after the gleeks uploaded it) and Sue was humiliated — on a global scale. Of course, in Sue’s case, everything is larger than life, right? Still, it was shocking to see Sue on the other side of the popularity coin – as the butt of “slow-motion laughter.”
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GLEE 1.16: Home is where the singing is…

Will and April duet right.

Each episode of GLEE since its return has been better than the one before, and this week’s installment, called “Home,” was no exception. A treatise on the concept of finding someplace to belong, the story also saw the welcome return of Kristen Chenoweth as April Rhodes. This was one of those episodes that had viewers laughing, singing along and then crying – sometimes practically all at once.

The storyline saw Sue (Jane Lynch) boot the glee club from the auditorium, sending Will (Matthew Morrison) in search of rehearsal space. That quest brought him into contact with April, who was running a roller rink because she got sidetracked on her journey to Branson. April, too, was searching for someplace to belong – was she really happy playing the mistress of a local strip-mall king? When she and Will dueted on “Fire,” it felt like she rediscovered where she belongs: by his side. Morrison’s and Cheno’s voices mesh perfectly, and they look good together, so it was no wonder April wanted to move in with him immediately. (I’m sure Emma would have something to say about that…) Their duet on “One Less Bell to Answer” was heartbreaking.
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GLEE 1.15: The Power of Madonna

Sue's new look

GLEE channeled “the power of Madonna” this week — not that the show needs to borrow anyone else cachet at the moment — and the episode was even better than last week’s. GLEE is moving from strength to strength with the initial installments of the back nine, with next week’s story being even better still.

But this week the show cashed in on an offer from one of its highest-profile fans, after Madonna made her entire songbook available to the high-school musical series. The result is an inventive, funny episode peppered by a plethora of the Material Girl’s songs.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that Sue Sylvester would worship Madonna — she is the very personification of a self-made woman. And Madonna’s quote, “I’m tough, I’m ambitious and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay,” clearly would not be unusual as a line of dialogue coming out of Sue’s mouth.
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GLEE 1.14: Hello, I Love You

Will and Emma

Psssst! Have you heard? GLEE is back!

I am certain other folks will go on at length about the Finn/Rachel/Jesse triangle, and Sue’s condo in Boca and casual contempt for Will’s hair, the or the way Santana and Brittany manipulated Finn — and especially Brittany’s observation that “dolphins are just gay sharks.” So I would like to go in a different direction and look at one of the show’s unsung pairings: Will and Emma.

Will crooned Neil Diamond’s “Hello” to Emma as they danced, and the admiration in Emma’s eyes was evident. The camera swirled around them in an approximation of the giddiness of love, and it was almost enough to make the viewer lightheaded and get swept up in the moment. Like Emma almost did. But she stopped things to reveal — in a painfully awkward moment — that she is a virgin. Jayma Mays packed so much embarrassment into that little half-whispered admission. She was actually blinking, and Emma never blinks. But her lashes were batting like crazy. “It’s not cool, I can tell,” she sighed. Will was taken aback, but handled it sensitively.
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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/22/09

I am really glad that GLEE is on the air, and that Fox has picked up the back nine, giving it a full season of 22 episodes.

GLEE is generating a lot of positive buzz and good ratings because the stories tend to be edgy and raunchy, often addressing the ugly realities of real teen issues like popularity, and sexual and religious identity. Sure, the cast looks politically correct (There’s a guy in a wheelchair, as well as various ethnic minorities!), but the way the kids are treated is so not PC. Artie’s (Kevin McHale) wheelchair was wedged into a portable toilet by “pranksters,” for example. This week’s episode, in which cool kids Finn (Cory Monteith) and Quinn (Dianna Agron) were knocked to the bottom of the social totem pole because of their association with glee club, was hilarious. From quarterback and head cheerleader to objects of ridicule and slushie attacks overnight!

Of course the songs are always a highlight, but I have to give special props to Puck’s (Mark Salling) rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” which was possibly better than Neil Diamond himself, and will make you forget every time you had to suffer through some drunken rendition of it at karaoke night. Will (Matthew Morrison, ex-Adam, ATWT) busted a move like Young MC, and Emma (HEROES’ Jayma Mays) finally got to strut her vocal stuff. I could have watched all night…

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: 11/19/09

There has not been a more consistently wonderful show this fall than Fox’s GLEE. What started as a lark of a musical comedy set in a high school has matured into a complicated drama with deep characters and layered stories. And songs.

Take this week’s installment, which saw the choir kids assigned to work on ballads. The task uncovered hidden passions, some surprising, some not so much. Kurt tried to manage his crush on Finn by helping the football hero in his struggle to deal with Quinn’s pregnancy. Kurt’s romantic advice — which may have been colored by his wish to free up Finn for himself — led to a hilarious scene in which Finn crooned “(You’re) Havin’ My Baby” in front of Quinn’s mortified parents (which included DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ former Eve, Charlotte Ross). The staunchly conservative couple had no idea their princess was pregnant, and in a shattering scene, threw their wayward daughter out of the house! I felt sure Quinn would feel guilty enough to tell Finn he is not really her baby-daddy, but…no. The story also examined Kurt’s and Finn’s feelings for their dead parents (Kurt lost his mother at a young age, and Finn never knew his soldier father) in a heartbreaking sequence. Those heavy emotional sequences were contrasted with Rachel’s loopy schoolgirl crush on Will, which resulted in a fun mash-up of The Police‘s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap‘s “Young Girl.” And it all ended with an uplifting (if ultimately misguided) version of “Lean On Me.”

And that is what I like best about GLEE and makes it the most entertaining new show of the fall: It’s funny and sad at alternating (and unexpected) moments, just like real life. But with songs.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: 11/11/09

Tonight is the night that Gleeks everywhere will get a chance to convert their skeptical friends into true believers when GLEE airs its most moving episode so far this season. Appropriately called “Wheels,” tonight’s installment (at 9 p.m. on Fox) focuses on Artie (Kevin McHale) and delves into his life with a story that is sensitive without being maudlin. In fact, the entire episode is intensely moving and features redefining revelations about a host of characters you only think you know.

Assuming you can focus through the tears — we’ve seen the episode here at WEEKLY, and certain people almost needed to be sedated afterward — you (and the grateful new best friend you have just converted) will see fun interpretations of some pretty well-known songs, and an elaborate finale quite unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Thanksgiving Thought Balloons…

Technical difficulties at the office prevented this blog from being posted at the SOAPOPERAWEEKLY.COM site. Figures that a time-sensitive piece would be delayed. Anyway, I figured if it cannnot run there, why not post it here?

Thanksgiving is upon us, and genius that I am, I stumbled upon the shockingly original idea of compiling a list of things for which I am grateful. (Hopefully no one else will copy me!) Being thankful for family and friends almost goes without saying, but we already don’t say it enough, so it’s worth repeating: I am thankful you are all in my life. But now, here are just a few of the TV-related things (in no particular order) which are worth acknowledging:

•Carly is back on AS THE WORLD TURNS, meaning Maura West and Michael Park get to work their wonderful alchemy together again. The CarJack whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
•GUIDING LIGHT went out on a high note that almost compensated for being canceled. (Okay, it didn’t even come close to compensating; it just made the loss more painful. But it’s a holiday and I’m trying to be charitable.)
•THE SHIELD also ended its run on a near-perfect note.
•JON AND KATE PLUS 8 was canceled! Thank you! If only we could erase any record of the show ever existing…
•Fox gave a show as “out there” as GLEE a chance to not only survive, but thrive. I am a confirmed Gleek!
•STARGATE UNIVERSE got to take flight on SyFy, despite the spotty record of STARGATE: ATLANTIS.
•24 returns next month!
Tom Pelphrey is back on a soap (this time ATWT).
•Even though the brilliant David Tennant is leaving DOCTOR WHO, the show — as always — will carry on with a new face (Matt Smith’s) in 2010.
•After this weekend, I won’t have to hear the words “Black Friday” for another year.
•Soaps are slowly (but surely) making the transition to online.
•There are still seven soap operas on the air! Hang in there, folks!