GLEE 2.7: The Substitute

Another GLEE episode that takes its title literally (see Britney/Brittany and Grilled Cheesus), this one was all about substitutions, both physical and emotional.

In the most obvious sense, Gwyneth Paltrow portrayed Holly Holliday, a substitute teacher called upon to cover Will’s Spanish class when he fell in. An enterprising Kurt convinced her to replace Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) at the head of glee club, and she did. Literally. Meanwhile, Mercedes (Amber Riley) was trying to substitute food for love, even as Sue (Jane Lynch) tried to substitute…healthy foods for Mercedes’ beloved tater tots. Also? Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) feared that Holly was trying to replace her in Will’s life,

The most effective substitution for me was probably Holly’s move to replace Will’s tired old songbook with a few more modern numbers. She also sought to usurp Will’s more autocratic style of “advising” the show choir by turning over most of the decisions about songs to the kids themselves. (Thus, the students became the masters — another substitution.)
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GLEE 2.3: Grilled Cheesus

Ya gotta give GLEE credit for not backing down from the Big Issues. It’s not every light entertainment program that will tackle a heavy subject like religion – let alone address it in a mostly balanced fashion that did not implicitly endorse organized religion in general and Christianity in particular. In fact, it was so even-handed that no particular belief system was demonized.

Finn (Corey Monteith) got the ball rolling by trying to make lunch one day. He tried to make a grilled-cheese sandwich, but what he got was a charred piece of bread upon which he perceived the image of Jesus Christ. Being Finn, he dubbed his lunchtime apparition “Grilled Cheesus,” wrapped it in plastic, and began praying to it.
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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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Glee: Join the club

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. 

cast of Glee

Glee cast

GLEE is generating a lot of buzz and good ratings (last week’s episode ruled the demos in teens, adults, men and women for the 9 o’clock hour), but there also seems to be a lot of confusion about what the show is. People who have never seen an episode have dismissed it as a riff on the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL tween flicks. Um, no. Although GLEE is set in high school and there is singing, the execution is entirely different. The stories are raunchy, and touch on the ugliness of real high school issues like the dark side of popularity,  and sexual and religious identity. Sure, the cast looks politically correct (Name another show that features a guy using a wheelchair, as well as ethnic minorities), but the way they are treated is so not PC. Artie’s (Kevin McHale) wheelchair was wedged into a portable toilet by “pranksters.” And there is a real undertone of sadness and resignation to Finn and Quinn’s pregnancy storyline. Both kids are genuinely frightened that they have ruined their once-promising lives already. (This is especially poignant in Finn’s case, since he’s…well, watch it and find out.) 
I thought 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, was a microcosm of the show and the way it is perceived. When Finn was known solely as the quarterback of the football team, he was hailed as a god. (It didn’t matter that the squad was bloody terrible.) But when his involvement with glee club was exposed, suddenly he was branded as less than manly, and subjected to sexual slurs and assaulted with slushies by ignorant people who feel threatened by glee club. Look at the online hate directed at GLEE and its fans — a lot of it is childish slurs about the imagined sexual preferences of its devotees. Maybe the whole world really is high school… 

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