Thursday, December 30, 2010

Re-evaluating Fringe -- part one

When Fox premiered Fringe several years ago, I watched. And I watched the following week. After that I might have caught a bit of an episode, but I had abandoned the show. It seemed like too much of a poor man's X-Files, and I didn't see it lasting or sustaining, so I didn't stick with it. Well, now it's in its third season and considered some of the best sci-fi on TV right now. So in fairness, I've decided to check out what I'm missing and see if it has improved. It's difficult with television, especially serialized television, knowing if you'll stick with something. I hate getting involved with a show only for it to drop away. Some shows grab you right away, others don't. If I don't perceive something to have legs, I ignore it. I gave up on V awhile ago. I haven't even looked at The Event (and it seems I made the right choice there). But then there's things like Caprica which I tried to give a fair chance, though I didn't much like it, and it was canceled. Some great shows only pick up in their second or third year (Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X-Files), and since Lost is gone, I'll risk giving Fringe another go.

I've just finished watching the first season, and it's a better show than I had first considered it, but it's also not much more. While Lost had a great two-hour pilot, Fringe's feels too bogged down in mythology. It tries to dump far too much exposition on us at once. X-Files worked because it's mythology slowly grew over a year and a half. To have all this information about Dr. Bishop, Massive Dynamic, the Pattern, Tony Scott, etc. just felt like too much. And the excursion to Bagdad for a three-minute scene feels really out of place in retrospect.

The similarities to X-Files are glaring throughout the season, whether intentional or not. However, in all cases, X-Files is better. We have FBI agent working for secret government department involving bizarre events, a larger conspiracy, a skeptical character, experiments on children in their past, the woman gets abducted halfway through the season, etc. Fringe's conspiracy is based around evil corporations rather than U.S. Government. Some of these similarities are not surprising; sometime X-Files writer Darin Morgan is a "consulting producer" on the show. Other writers include show creators Kurtzman and Orci (the new Star Trek and the Transformers movies), Akiva Goldsman (Ron Howard's pet screenwriter), and Zack Whedon (Joss Whedon's brother). I'm no fan of Whedons.

I like Walter Bishop as a character, though in the early episodes he was too much of a joke for his own good. John Noble is an actor at his best playing someone insane. It's good to see Joshua Jackson in something good for change.

On the whole, it seems like the season doesn't quite know where it's going. There's a lot of talk of "The Pattern", but it felt more like they came up with a catchy name but had no idea what to apply it to. As the season went on, I'm buying it less. I don't like calling it "Fringe division". It seems like an arbitrary way to use the name of the show, again chosen because it sounds cool. The first chunk of episodes focused on William Bell and Massive Dynamic as the enemy, with John Scott as a double agent. Fine. Then the Scott stuff got strained (an contradictory) until it was dropped altogether. Suddenly we were introduced to Mr. Jones and ZFT and nearly everything from the first half was ignored. Only at season's end did they connect ZFT to William Bell, which frankly was necessary because otherwise they had shifted antagonists on us.

I hate the way the series does location legends. HATE them. And I hate that the same font was used in the new Star Trek movie. On the other hand, I like the little symbols that pop up during commercial breaks. I began to see there had to be some sort of logic behind them, and the DVD confirms that it is code. Cool.

It's also wonderful how long each episode is. Standard television drama these days runs about 42 minutes. Fringe gets a full 49 to 50. That's the same length as classic Star Trek and other series of the 1960s. I love that Fox allowed less commercial time for that. The show feels far less choppy than it otherwise might.

Fringe is set in and around Boston primarily, and this has caused some laughable concern for me. It's hard to suspend my disbelief sometimes, as a resident of the state. In the early episodes, it felt like the writers were just looking at a map and pulling out names. Locales looked nothing like what they should have. Now, as the series improved, so did their settings. It began to look more like Greater Boston. The early excursion at South Station was a joke. I do like the name-dropping of various towns. But just when I was ready to praise them for getting better, the season finale featured Walter taking a train ride to Grafton. This is fine. Grafton is a commuter stop; I used to take that train. But he gets off at a beach-side house. NO WAY. Grafton is west of Boston and is inland. It's almost to Worcester. There is no ocean in Grafton. That's REALLY lazy. I also realize exteriors are never real. David Kelley was good about exterior shots on his series. I could even look past the Boston Public Library being a courthouse on Boston Legal. But Fringe wants us to believe the Hancock Tower is the "Boston Federal Building". I might have bought it if it weren't the tallest and most famous tower in the city. That's like calling the Empire State Building a Toyota dealership.

Kurtzman and Orci are also proving that they have no idea about multiverses. They seem obsessed with the idea, and it's polluting everything they write. The new Star Trek movie, it filtered into Lost briefly (care of Damon Lindelof), and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a point in the next Transformers. They seem to love the idea, and yet don't understand it beyond the TNG episode "Parallels". So far, it seems the show's mythology is about scientists building an army to fight coming invaders from a parallel universe. Fine. I don't know why we will be invaded from a parallel universe, but whatever. But it's becoming more ripped off from Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and confused. Liv has flashed of the other universe, and it's described as "deja vu". They say that deja vu is when you experience another universe. That's insane. That would only make sense if the universes were out of temporal sync, but they aren't. Deja vu means you experience something you've already seen. It does not mean you relive a moment you've already lived in another universe. Deja vu does not describe what's happening. This is not a causality loop we're talking about. I now have a hard time trusting the writers.

At season's end, William Bell is played by Leonard Nimoy. Nice choice. And there's a revelation about Peter that, if you were following the tiny hints from the season, wasn't terribly shocking. But I hate that it ends with Liv in a parallel universe in the World Trade Center. That makes no sense. That would mean that she has not only crossed into another world, but that she's crossed space as well, which never happened in any previous shifts. Did Bell just beam her there? That felt like a cheap gag to get a reaction.

Anyway, I'm liking the basic character interactions and stuff, less liking the overall mythology. I know as the show goes on, we'll be more in the parallel world. But I don't trust these writers with it because they seem to not have a clue about what they write. Well, I'll plow on to season 2 for now.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

I have this album on vinyl.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

GLEE: "A Very Glee Christmas"

Well, they did a Christmas episode and for the most part it just ripped off various other televised Christmas episodes and specials. Not much to write home about, and little of consequence happened.

The main title was on a festive green background rather than a black one. I thought that was cute.

The glee club have found a tree in the street and are decorating it with stolen ornaments. It's pathetic, just like them. Might this be a sly reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas? Mr. Shue suggests they need to get in the holiday spirit, with which Finn heartily agrees. Mr. Shue says they will go caroling around classrooms to raise money and donate it to a local homeless shelter. The classroom caroling is a terrible idea. The students are not into it at all. One questions carolers who bring a band (this is a good point). The teacher throws a shoe at them. That ends that.

Mr. Shuster says that Christmas is about being grateful for what's happened in the year. Puck rightly responds, "I thought that was Thanksgiving." We will see throughout the night that nobody seems to know what Christmas is about.

Rachel asks Finn to meet her in the auditorium. When he gets there, she offers him a Christmas present: a solo sung by her. Way to think of others, Rachel. Despite being Jewish, she offers this Christmas gift as a peace offering to Finn hoping it will make things okay again between them. Somewhere in there someone says Christmas is about forgiveness. Again, no it isn't. I guess in a real stretch you can say that since Jesus came to forgive sin and Christmas is about Jesus it is sort of about forgiveness, but not really. Finn tells her he can't just forgive her that easily, and leaves her to sing her song alone; "Merry Christmas, Darling." It's not a fabulous song, but it's actually appropriate to this moment, which can't be said for many of the songs in this episode. A shame there's no mention of Chanukkah at all considering two of their leads are Jewish.

Artie learns the disturbing fact that Brittany still believes in Santa. But he doesn't want to come down on her and tell her the truth so he suggests they all go to the mall and ask Santa for something. I have no idea what he hoped to accomplish this way, other than continuing to validate a delusional belief. Things seem fine until Brittany does what you know she's going to do: she asks the impossible. Just like in every single TV show ever made where a kid asks Santa for something. She asks for Artie to be able to walk on Christmas morning. And the mall Santa agrees to it! Somebody fire this guy!

Back at Dalton Academy, Blaine asks Kurt to help him rehearse his duet, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Kurt of course takes the female line. It's not bad, though some of the fun suggestiveness of the lyric isn't played up. I love this song, and it rightly won an Academy Award.

Coach Beiste has decided to run a Secret Santa for the faculty. Everyone draws a name and has to buy a gift for that person. Will gets Sue Sylvester. Since Will is terrible at getting gifts (we briefly see a Christmas with Terri in flashback -- yay Terri!), he goes to Dalton Academy to ask Kurt for advice. The gymanstics needed to keep Kurt in the show are starting to annoy me. First, they overused him. Then he's gone from the school but they still feel the need to have him in every episode. So we continue to get weird visits from him and to him each episode. I don't know how long this can last. We're getting into "Mr. Worf, what the hell are you doing here?" territory; where the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies had to concoct reasons for Worf to not be on DS9. Isn't it enough that we see Kurt at Dalton? Do we need to keep him interacting with the old friends too? Maybe as the season goes on, they should have episodes without Kurt. Maybe even do an episode set entirely at Dalton Academy. It can't survive the way it's going.

Kurt's suggestion for Sue's gift is a track suit with a fur-lined hood for the winter months. This is a nice idea. But it turns out Sue has rigged Secret Santa, and thus everyone had her name. She now has a horde of gifts from an angry faculty and won't give them back. This is one reason I hate Secret Santa. It's almost never a good idea, yet workplaces consistently institute it. At least it's better than a Yankee Swap. Later on, the faculty take the gifts back, but can't return them because Sue has opened them all (and licked them, she claims). The faculty decides to donate them to the homeless shelter, and puts them all under the glee club's tree. Sue objects, but Will calls her a grinch and leaves. ...I'm sure you know where this is going.

In yet another flagrant rip-off that far exceeds nodding homage or parody, the show does How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sue decides to steal her presents back. She puts on a Santa suit and paints herself green. Why? "Camouflage". Yeah, because you'll blend right in THAT way and won't look like a green Sue. Come on. There's a funny reference to My Lai though. She dresses Becky up as a "rein-dog", that is, she has floppy dog ears and one antler, just like Max. Why bother making her part dog at all? It's stupid. Anyway, they sneak around the room taking presents, stealing ornaments from the tree, even doing that sliding-around-on-the-floor gag from the cartoon, all while we hear the strains of "You're a mean one, Sue the Grinch." I was so annoyed by this. As if it wasn't bad enough, Brittany walks in on the destruction, and thinks Sue is Santa. Brittany cannot be this stupid. She just met a mall Santa who was black. She now believes a green-faced woman to be the same person. She's that blinded by Santa magic. Anyway, this scene exists solely to make Brittany the "Cindy-Lou Who"; her hair is done up in little braids and they exchange the exact same dialogue. And once again, the fib about the light that's out fools the child. This is not funny, this is just lazy writing.

With the tree destroyed, everyone is depressed but Finn tries to buoy spirits. He and Rachel go out shopping for a new tree, but again Rachel tries to patch things up. The tree place starts playing "Last Christmas" by Wham! which Rachel says is "my favorite Christmas song". Seriously. Okay, I'll forgive you that because you're Jewish, Rachel. Anyway, logic is cast aside as Rachel and Finn sing the song, but the Wham! vocal is never heard. Is the tree place just playing some instrumental version? And then what's worse is a chorus comes in singing back-up. Who is singing that? The music in this episode is so messed up. You can tell that it's all just excuses to use tracks from the Christmas album and not the other way around. And their song choice throughout is bizarre. The club opens the episode singing that song from the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Complete with the silly dialogue about being a train with square wheels and all. What's worse, all the choral parts seem mixed far lower than the solos. This is fine for a record, but completely illogical if they are all singing together in a room. I try to suspend disbelief with this show, but the mix is so far off in this episode. And back-up singers come in when there is no one there on-screen. Not only "Last Christmas", but "Merry Christmas, Darling" have vocals that come from nowhere.

Finn tells Rachel that they are officially broken up, because he can't get over the fact that both of his girlfriends have cheated on him. They do not buy a tree. Back at glee club, Mr. Shuster walks in on the group deciding to "go 'Gift of the Magi'" to raise money to replace the presents. The boys will sell their watches and the girls will sell their hair. Thankfully he stops them from executing this stupid idea. He asks if any of them have ever read "Gift of the Magi" and no one has, which is evident. At least this scene errs on the side of parody. Not like that awful 7th Heaven episode where they did the O. Henry story verbatim. Santana says everyone knows the point of the story is that "Christmas sucks" or something like that. Here would have been a golden opportunity to use a song like "Hard Candy Christmas", but of course the powers that be are not that smart. And whatever point was to be made about "Gift of the Magi" never gets made. The conversation just sort of shifts.

The guys convince Coach Beiste to dress as Santa and go to Brittany's house to explain that he can't make Artie walk. This scene continues a storyline that's already ridiculous. We learn that Brittany's parents "want her to believe" too. So it's their fault that she is so dumb! This is bordering on child abuse. And Brittany believes that Coach Beiste, with a fake beard, is Santa. The same Santa who was black at the mall, and a beardless green woman at school. What saves this scene from total awfulness is that Beiste tells a story of when she was a girl and all she wanted was to be like the other girls. Instead, Santa gave her patience. It's a very moving scene. It's also got a witty line in there when Beiste says there was once a husky little girl, and Brittany asks if it was Ricki Lake. I like Coach Beiste and they way they write her. She is a glimmer of goodness in a lackluster season.

The visit from "Santa" shakes Brittany's faith, and Artie takes her home from school the next day. They miss out on the performance Mr. Shue has arranged: the glee club is caroling for the faculty. Finn gives a little speech about how when things are bad at Christmas, there's "nothing a little more Santa or a few more Jingle Bells can't fix." Nonsense! At this point, I'm just wanting to go all Charlie Brown and shout "Isn't there ANYONE who KNOWS what Christmas is all ABOUT?" Note that Jesus gets no mention at all in this episode. Not saying we need Linus to quote Luke 2, but I need a little more than just recycling Dr. Seuss.

And speaking of which, the circle completes as New Directions start singing "Fa-who fores, da-who dores..." Really, you've come to sing Christmas songs and you open with that? And Sue the Grinch hears from her office and lightens up, bringing back all the gifts. I wonder if she has an enlarged heart now. They also sing "Christmas day will always be just as long as we have glee". Those aren't the words. Do they mean glee like the club? Glee like the feeling? Either way, it totally ruins the sentiment of the song. The lyric is "Just as long as we have we." While it might seem cutesy to throw the name of the show in, it undercuts the message of togetherness that Seuss was conveying.

Artie and Brittany discovered a present under her tree for Artie. It is a robotic pair of legs that enable Artie to stand and walk a bit. Nobody knows where they came from. So the episode ends like all these shows do, with a Christmas miracle and the granting of the impossible. I will give the show points however for showing us that it was Coach Beiste who provided them. Any other TV show would have had "the real Santa" be the gifter. I've seen it over and over. I was very glad that at least that cliché was avoided.

Despite that one brief glimmer, the episode was little to write home about. It was a hackneyed smattering of familiar Christmas tropes. I was glad that they didn't try to cram It's a Wonderful Life in there too, though I fear next year they might try. There wasn't much in the way of real brilliance beyond a few good jokes. And I think part of what bothers me most is this need they all felt to keep Brittany believing in something they know to be a lie. It's aggravating because earlier this season Kurt had expressed trouble with religion, equating God with Santa Claus. But God is NOT Santa Claus, and this episode is a classic example of why the two should be clearly defined. When Brittany finally learns "the truth", what will that do to her? I mean, if Finn had a crisis of faith over a grilled cheese sandwich, what will become of Brittany? But of course, God got no mention at all in this episode; what does Christmas have to do with God anyway?

Songs in this week's episode:
The Most Wonderful Day of the Year
We Need a Little Christmas
Merry Christmas, Darling
Baby, It's Cold Outside
You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Last Christmas
Welcome Christmas

Next week: Glee is on hiatus until the spring. What will the rest of the season hold? We can be sure of a return from Sunshine. I just hope the quality goes back up and we get episodes like "Duets" again, and nothing approaching the awful that was "The Rocky Horror Glee Show".

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

GLEE: "Special Education"

Sectionals are upon us! This episode had a bit more for the Mr. Shue/Emma shippers. He invites her to Sectionals as a kind of good luck charm. She points out what the audience has been saying since last year: that his set list is going to include Rachel and Finn doing some ballad and then a classic rock number where Mercedes hits the final note. I'm glad the show is taking its criticism and working it into the story points. At Emma's suggestion, Mr. Shue decides its time to spotlight some other talent in the group. He announces that the solos will be going to Quinn and Sam. Rachel is not at all happy. Mr. Shue also says that there will be dancing featuring Brittany and Mike Chang. He knows their competition will not be into movement. This is a very good idea. For their past competition performances, the group has been barely choreographed, even though they've had more movement in their repertoire and they have good dancers. Why did it take them a year to realize this?

The group is turned against itself in this episode. It was nice to see this kind of drama back after the "we all love each other" stuff the season started with. I like when Rachel is mean and they call her on it. We don't often get to see that side of her anymore, and there was a throwaway reference to her gay dads who we also don't much hear about. In the chaos of Mr. Shue's bombshell, Santana tells Rachel that she and Finn knew each other biblically. This puts Rachel and Finn's relationship on the rocks, mostly because Rachel is very insecure about her own looks when compared to Santana.

Brittany is nervous about dancing in competition with everything depending on her. Artie gives her a comb, saying it is a magic comb that guarantees they will win. Yes, Rachel is just dumb enough to believe in such things, and Glee has just given us an homage to Dumbo.

There's a point where Rachel seeks couple's therapy for her and Finn... with Emma the guidance counselor. It's not very helpful, but it was kind of funny. The best part was Rachel asking if it would be useful to hit Finn, and Emma saying no, but suggesting she storm out.

Meanwhile, Kurt is having trouble settling into his new life at Dalton Academy. Their glee club, the Warblers, are much more uniform and structured than he is used to. He is used to screaming for attention, whereas the Warblers are about a sense of team. It's tradition to present new members with a literal warbler, a small bird to take care of. Why? To make a handy metaphor for Kurt, of course. Glad the show avoided the phrase "I know why the caged bird sings". Kurt is given the opportunity to audition for a solo in competition. He asks Rachel what he should sing, and she suggests "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina". We are treated to an intercutting of Rachel and Kurt singing the song (similar to the "Defying Gravity" last year). I think it was an odd choice, and the Warblers seem to deem it "trying too hard". The best bit is when it cuts to Rachel and she's actually up in a balcony singing. It's just so absurd.

There's a moment when Rachel walks into glee club with duct tape over her mouth in silent protest over Mr. Shue's decision. Firstly, let me just say I hate silent protests. I find them so snobby and ridiculous. Besides, they are usually perpetrated by whiny outspoken people and the chance to not have to listen to them for awhile strikes me as a boon and doesn't sell their protest. It's a funny gag for the show though because it is the sort of thing high schoolers sometimes try, and because Rachel is so bad at it. She doesn't go a minute without removing the tape to explain why she's protesting. Thankfully, Mr. Shue yells at her for it and her attitude.

Tina becomes suspicious of Mike Chang and Brittany, fearing they are doing more than just dance practice. She starts dressing sort of like a goth cheerleader (which leads to a funny exchange with Artie) and tells Artie she suspects Brittany is cheating on him.

I was wondering what they would do about the missing slot now that Kurt is gone. Mr. Shue asks Puck to help him recruit someone. He tries to sell the football players on joining glee club with a speech about Bruce Springsteen. It doesn't work. It seems any football players who would be interested are already in the club. They lock Puck in a port-a-potty for a day. He is rescued by a large girl wrestler. She becomes their newest member.

Finally, it's time for competition with everyone mad at everyone else. Emma cannot go because her dentist boyfriend still doesn't trust Will. So they proceed without their good luck charm. The first group up is a bunch of seniors who've gone back to high school to get their diplomas. This seems to be a shout out to Young At Heart and those kinds of elderly singing groups. They perform "The Living Years", which I think is kind of a funny choice of song for old people. It was strange though because the song was edited oddly and ended at a weird point.

Next up is the Warblers. Of course Blaine gets the solo (what happened to the two guys who beat Kurt for the solo at auditions? Did the Warblers do another song that we don't get to see?). They do an a cappella version of "Hey Soul Sister", another song that I find terribly annoying. The words make no sense. What's next, LFO's "Summer Girls"? Despite my feelings about the song, they do it with a lot of nice harmonies. Kurt seems to enjoy himself, and when they are done, Mercedes leads a standing ovation.

Brittany is upset that she has lost the magic comb (just like Dumbo), and Artie tells her that she doesn't need it (just like Dumbo). She has not been cheating on Artie. Artie and Tina apologize to their significant others. Mr. Shue gives a big pep talk, and on we go.

Oh no, we're starting with a walk down the aisle from the back AGAIN. They did it at Sectionals last year. They did it at Regionals last year. Frankly, I'm really tired of it. Anyway, it's Sam and Quinn singing their duet. Their song is "(I've Had) The Time of My Life", you know, from Dirty Dancing. Their performance is decent. Even though it's not the most inspired of songs, considering the rest of their performance will be dance-heavy, it was nice to have a song that reminds us of dance. As they finish, Santana blasts a solo vocal on "Valerie". Santana's hair looks weird. I don't know if she's wearing some kind of hat thing or something, but it looks stupid. Mike Chang and Brittany have an amazing dance, and the rest of the group have some good moves thrown in as well. If they keep up this sort of thing, they can beat Vocal Adrenaline next time around. It was so refreshing to see dancing at competition.

It turns out that the winner of Sectionals is... a TIE. Both New Directions and the Warblers are going to Regionals. Well, of course they are. Because Kurt's in the other group.

Emma tells Mr. Shue that while they were at Sectionals, she and Carl went to Vegas and got married. Oh no! What will this mean for Will and Emma's relationship? Is it officially over? Personally, I'm hoping this leads to a more permanent return of his ex-wife Terri.

Rachel's jealousy has calmed down and she and Finn seem to have patched things up. He promises no more lies. ...uh oh, you know what that means. Rachel feels the need to come clean about something. She says that she had a little make-out session with Puck in retaliation. I'm curious just what she told Finn, because what we see happened is that Puck backs off, saying he can't hurt Finn that way again. Either way, Finn is ticked at Rachel. He rightly says that they weren't together when he was with Santana, and that Rachel is just mean. It seems they are broken up... again. Sheesh, it's like Ross and Rachel all over again.

The episode ends with Mercedes and Tina singing solos as the group does "Dog Days Are Over" in celebration. It's good hearing Tina sing again! I really wish she got more to do; they don't let her sing enough. Maybe she'll get a solo at regionals.

This episode was much more like classic Glee than the show has been for awhile. There were callbacks to previous episodes, some good lines, most of the major relationship threads, and some good performance. It still frustrates me that they don't know how to do the show this way on a consistent basis. I will say though there was a conspicuous lack of Sue Sylvester this week.

Song's in tonight's episode:
Don't Cry For Me, Argentina
The Living Years
Hey, Soul Sister
(I've Had) The Time of My Life
Dog Days Are Over

Next week's episode: You'd think that with Sectionals over, that would be the end of new episodes until after the holidays. But you'd be wrong! They want to squeeze in a Christmas episode! With Christmas music! Why? So they can sell a Christmas album! One wonders how much the church/state issues surrounding Christmas in public schools will effect the storyline.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What Gives, Paul Simon?

Something has bothered me in the past year. It's not a matter of any import, I just find it curious. It involves the music of Simon and Garfunkel and the messing with songs that were fine the way they were.

Now as it is, there's the two different versions of "The Sound of Silence". But this really isn't Paul's doing and it doesn't make much difference. The original version appeared on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. Then the producer decided to issue it as a single, but added a backing "rock" track. That version was issued as a single and appeared on the Sound of Silence album that followed. That's the one you're probably familiar with, where the drums kick in on verse 2. It's a nice addition. I don't really see the need, and the song is otherwise exactly the same. I guess sometimes I'm in the mood for a little extra kick in it. But that's not the only song toyed with in the Simon and Garfunkel canon, nor the one I want to talk about.

I really like their debut album. It's partially original and partially covers, but I think it's a nice cohesive whole and better than a couple of albums that followed. One of my favorite songs on it is the title song, which closes the album. It's a somber sort of internal monologue on a guy having to leave his girl in the middle of the night after an act of crime. The vocals are sweet, and I think the mood of the piece fits the hour it's supposed to be taking place. It's also an evocative title, "Wednesday Morning, 3 AM." It's like a musical poem.

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

So it's a real head-scratcher for me when I listen to the follow-up album, The Sound of Silence. About halfway in, there's a song called "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" which is just a reworked version of "Wednesday Morning." Chunks of the verses are pulled out or changed, and it's become a pop song, with a repeating chorus. The lead character becomes more of a lowlife figure in this reading, and I just think it harshes the poetry of the precedent song.

Somewhere They Can't Find Me

Furthermore, it's one thing to mess with a previous song but this was the title track of the previous album! It was the last song on the record! It must have been a big deal for Simon if he named the album for it, so why sully that song by changing it so drastically and rerecording it? Was he unhappy with the first version? Was it simply an experiment in telling the same thing two different ways? Did Columbia Records want more pop-sounding stuff? I'm really curious to know. Surely artists sometimes manipulate one song from another, but I don't think I've seen it officially released in both versions or done so blatantly. It's like they become two seperate songs, but they aren't. Dylan often worked one song out of pieces from another that wasn't working. There's a fabulous outtake released recently called "Dreamin' of You" which eventually morphed into "Standing in the Doorway". Both are great songs. But the key is that Dylan picked the one he thought worked and put it on the album. I'm just staggered by what I consider to be an odd blip in the Simon and Garfunkel repertoire. And that the two appear in such close temporal proximity surprises me.

On a personal note, I really don't like "Somewhere They Can't Find Me." I think it takes everything that was good about the first song and kills it off in favor of commercialism. Give a listen to both and maybe leave me a comment telling me which one you prefer. And if you possibly stumble across this, Paul Simon, could you explain please?

GLEE: "Furt"

Well, the wedding episode wasn't quite as bad as expected, however the clichéd elements continue to rear their ugly heads and I'm starting to dread episodes where Ryan Murphy has a writing credit. One of the most annoying elements of this episode is for every plot to have a "wedding" theme. It was transparent and annoying, and they were all set up in the first five minutes. The worst of these was the moment that Sam got on one knee and basically proposed to Quinn with a promise ring that he wouldn't pressure her, he just wants them to be an item and maybe get married someday. Quinn sort of blew him off, but didn't say no. ...And then nothing more happened with that story for almost the entire episode. It's like they knew it was ridiculous. There were a few flirty scenes between the two of them, but nothing much, and nothing that warranted shoving in this silly ring idea. But she still decides to wear it at the end of the episode. Even though it was never mentioned anywhere in the middle of the show.

Kurt's dad and Finn's mom are finally getting hitched, and Kurt gets to plan the wedding. He books New Directions to be the wedding band. ...Which really means he's drafted the musicians who play for them to be the wedding band, while the glee club occasionally sings. Did these kids agree to play a wedding for no money?

And just as odd a storyline, though not as out of place, all the wedding talk makes Sue decide it's time she got hitched. The news anchor she briefly dated last season announced on-air he was marrying his co-anchor. Sue wants a wedding, but it seems there's no one out there for her — so she decides to marry herself. It's just as crazy as it sounds. If you thought television marriages had reached their kooky limit after Denny Crane married Alan Shore on Boston Legal and that kid married a box of cereal in a Cap'n Crunch commercial, Glee just one-upped them all.

But for all the wedding talk, the main dramatic thrust of the episode seemed to be in continuing the Kurt bullying arc. Last week, Karovsky told Kurt that if he mentioned the kiss, "I will kill you". This has Kurt terrified whenever Karovsky is near. Mr. Shue notices something is up, and they go see acting Principal Sue. She says unfortunately her hands are tied unless Karovsky actually does something. I'm grateful that this episode makes a point of differentiating between bullying and harassment. There was a point Tina said that they'd all been picked on but that this reaches a new level. I'm still tremendously aggravated that it's only the gay kid getting picked on. During the session, Sue continually calls Kurt "Lady". He tells her that this is bullying too. Um, well, is it? I mean, the episode wants to suggest that Sue is a bully (because she is, surely. She at least bullies Coach Beiste), but does that mean everything she does is "bullying"? She teases EVERYONE with nicknames. It's not particularly nice, but should we really start calling it bullying? And if so, is that any different from Kurt calling Karovsky names earlier?

There's another bit of stunt casting here. Sue's mom comes into town for the joining of her daughter with herself in bizarro matrimony, and said mom is played by TV legend Carol Burnett. Why is it Carol Burnett always plays a mom? She's good at it, but it feels familiar. Didn't she win an Emmy for the same thing on Mad About You? Three things make this choice work this time around: 1) they didn't advertise the show with her as a selling point, which they usually do, 2) Carol Burnett is not just some current celebrity getting a little more notoriety; she's a legend who doesn't have to do the show and 3) they wrote the character as something very different from the normal "mommy". What I liked is that the character would work even if it wasn't Carol Burnett. She certainly brings her brilliance to the table, but for once in a long time I felt like the character was there first. Sue's mom is a Nazi hunter. That's right, she hunts descendants of Nazis internationally. She missed out on most of Sue's childhood because of it. She's sort of abrasive, and you can see where Sue's bullying demeanor developed as a response and defense (which is, of course, a theme in this bullying episode). A funny symmetry to all of this is that Jane Lynch recently served a similar function as Sam's mom on iCarly.

Sue's mom wants to sing at her daughter's wedding, even if the wedding is insane. So we are treated to a rehearsal of the song she might do, and it's "Ohio" from the musical Wonderful Town. It gives Burnett a chance to sing. It also brings the show back to being a musical, as the dialogue in the middle of the song is Sue and her mom talking about when her mom left. It's totally in character, but also done as song, something the show doesn't often do.

Rachel gets the girls in glee club to convince their boyfriends on the football team to stand up to Karovsky for harrassing Kurt. Santana is annoyed that she wasn't included here, but is told she's not really dating Puck and that he can't get in a fight anyway or he'll go back to jail. She spends most of the episode calling Rachel a dwarf angrily. Is this bullying too?

The boys have a face off with Karovsky in the locker room. Except Finn, because he's more concerned about keeping his place as quarterback and doesn't want to rock the boat. Anyway, when Artie and Mike Chang confront Karovsky, he falls back on his gaytred, then violently shoves Artie. This leads to a bit of a brawl with Sam jumping in and getting a black eye tussling with Karovsky until Coach Beiste breaks it up. Quinn thinks Sam is super sexy for what he did.

After this incident, Kurt's dad has come by the school for Kurt to teach him how to dance. He notices Karovsky pass by in the hall and give Kurt a look. He doesn't like it, and when he finds out about the harassment, he goes down the hall and threatens the boy. Mr. Hummel then goes to Principal Sue about the issue. They meet with Karovsky and his dad (played very nicely by the guy who was Arzt on Lost). Karovsky denies everything. Kurt insists that he doesn't feel safe and that Karovsky threatened to kill him. However, Kurt keeps silent about the kiss. Sue decides that it is in her authority since a life was threatened to expel Karovksy. He can appeal to the school board.

Unfortunately it is a hollow victory because the school board overturns the expulsion. They decided that there wasn't enough actual evidence. I wonder if things might have been helped by Kurt talking about the kiss. That brings in definite sexual harassment, and we all know how that sort of thing goes down. I'm just curious. Sue steps down as acting principal in protest to the decision and tells Kurt that she will be an extra set of eyes for him in the hall ready to act on any hard evidence on Kurt's behalf. It's a nice little moment for Sue, though starts to feel a little too soapbox-ish.

Sue and her mom fight, and Sue tells her off for being a bully, finally refusing to let her sing at the wedding. But not much is done after that. There was a rehearsal wherein Sue acted as the minister as well, exchanging vows with herself. But this preceded the blow-out. Does Sue go through with the marriage? We have no way of knowing. That bugs me. Even if she did, I can't imagine any governing body accepting it as a legal marriage. And if Sue does find someone, will she have to divorce herself first, lest she be convicted of bigamy?

Santana is still mad at Rachel and tells Finn he should admit to Rachel about how he's not a virgin anymore (since "The Power of Madonna"). He says he can't do that because he loves Rachel and it would hurt her. So he's in an awkward position of being on good terms with Rachel, but feeling like he's lying to her.

Finally we come to the wedding ceremony of Finn's mom and Kurt's dad. There's something annoying about it. Earlier in the episode, Kurt mentioned Finn giving his mother away after walking her down the aisle. Kurt has the whole thing planned. But when the day finally comes, Finn does no such thing! The glee club does this big musical number in the aisle, which Finn leads. He is nowhere near his mother for that whole time. I was glad they didn't do the same thing The Office did, but it still wasn't much better. There were a few clever bits of choreography, like Artie coming in with ribbons that he hands off to the girls behind him. But it was mostly just what you'd expect and kind of annoying. Worst of all was the song choice. The song is "Marry You", and even though it has "marry" in the title is the most inappropriate song for a wedding they could have come up with. The lyric is about two people getting drunk and saying, "Hey, why don't we like get married?" That's not a theme song for your parents' wedding!! That's a theme song for Ross and Rachel's wedding in Vegas! That's a theme song for Britney Spears' 30-minute wedding! It's like no one at the show even listened to it, but just scrolled through an iPod of songs by current artists and went "Hey, that's about marriage." Dylan has a "Wedding Song." Anything would have been more appropriate than the song they did.

I get really tired of this trend on television where characters "write their own vows". What that really means is some TV writer gets to write a flowery love speech, even though the characters rarely ever actually vow anything in that speech. Glee does this, but nicely sidesteps the main problem with it by having them do flowery speeches AND traditional vows. That's at least something. Burt's little speech was better.

At the reception, Finn apologizes to Kurt for not having his back earlier. He should have stood up for him in the locker room. He promises that now they are brothers, and he will always be there for Kurt. He even introduces a nickname for the two of them: Furt. Then to make it even weirder he has prepared a song in Kurt's honor for having planned the wedding, "Just the Way You Are". Not the Billy Joel song, but it's a similar feel, and the lyrics are a little odd if they're all supposed to be about Kurt. They throw some of them to Rachel, but it's still a little kooky. At least we get to see all the guys perform a little dance routine there, something we haven't seen much of even though they were taught to do it in "Acafellas".

It was during that musical number that I found myself really annoyed with the show. You are aware, writers, that Kurt is not the only character on this show, right?? It's an ensemble show, and I'm getting tired of everyone taking a backseat to all of the falling all over Kurt. Hey, I like Kurt, but he cannot be the center of the show.

With Karovsky back in school, Kurt's parents decide to pull him out of school. They will use the money saved for their honeymoon to send him to that snooty academy where Blaine goes. I knew this was coming episodes back. I just couldn't figure out how they could afford tuition on Burt Hummel's salary. Kurt says goodbye to the glee club and says he will never feel safe in a school that doesn't have a zero tolerance bullying policy. First, let me just ask what "zero tolerance" means when it comes to bullying. No name calling? So Santana would have been expelled for the things she said in this episode? I have a problem with "zero tolerance" anything, because there's ALWAYS an exception somewhere. Furthermore, it seems like it's a message to our school system but frankly, it cannot work. Sure, a private school can throw out problem students. A public school generally cannot act that quickly. It may seem unreasonable to Kurt, but from a certain point of view it's also right to keep Karovsky in school for now. He hasn't quite broken any law or major school policy. And the current political rhetoric is that it's the right of every American to an education. If we just expel them, aren't we denying them civil rights? That's where the matter becomes very difficult. It seems to be a common belief that "staying in school" keeps kids out of crime and leads to better lives. From this perspective, kicking Karovsky out of school would only be worse for him and lead him down darker roads. I'm not suggesting there is a solution, but I think Glee came off this week as incredibly naive and preachy. There must be some sort of middle ground between doing nothing and expulsion. But I don't believe stringent "bullying laws" are necessarily the answer. Really, they will be impossible to properly enforce and will bring all this to court where it doesn't belong. Though on another note, I'm surprised that the fight in the locker room wasn't brought up as evidence on Kurt's behalf. Anyway, I'm hoping this is the end of the story. It started as a shallow "ripped from the headlines" storyline and ended as an excuse to get Kurt and Blaine together, thus bringing him romance and creating tension for sectionals. I hated the artificiality of it, I hated the didacticism, the ridiculous "the bully is a closet homosexual" angle, and the fact that it all comes down to sexuality. I would have liked to see this storyline played out in a less obvious manner. Students are bullied all the time for all kinds of reasons. Because they're rich, poor, fat, disabled, black, white, stupid, nerdy. What if it had been PUCK being bullied by someone you might not expect. Oh, what about Santana? Wouldn't that dynamic, the arrogant devil-may-care tough guy being harrassed by a mouthy cheerleader, have been interesting? Because people would write it off, but it wouldn't make it any less real. I think that's what they were trying to say, but it got lost in a sea of "look at all the poor gay kids killing themselves! What can we do to stop that?" in the zeitgeist. And now that it's over, can we please go back to writing Kurt as a person first and a gay one second?

Songs in tonight's episode:
Marry You
Just the Way You Are

Next week's episode: It's Sectionals already? And as expected, tensions rise with Kurt now part of the competition. ...Wait a second, doesn't Mr. Shue have to have a certain number of kids or he's disqualified? Who takes Kurt's empty slot? I hope their performance is better this year (the preview does seem to suggest more dancing), and something other than Journey.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GLEE: "The Substitute"

Once again, last week's episode was a strange hybrid of the very best and very worst Glee has to offer.

Beginning with the good, the episode kicked off with Sue basically using germ warfare against Principal Figgis; she got a sick girl to sneeze on him, thus keeping him out of school. A power play on her part, since she became acting principal. Meanwhile, Mr. Shuster also gets sick. This results in a funny little fever dream where he sees the glee club as little kids. I like seeing the 8 year old versions of them all! It was like Muppet Babies or Flintstone Kids. ...I smell a spin-off...
I'm glad they did this storyline because sickness in schools is a very real problem and one that most shows don't touch on. Teachers do get sick. Of course, this is just a device to get a famous actress in as a substitute, but I liked it anyway.

Mercedes is feeling left out because her gay BFF Kurt now only talks about Blaine. She asks if they are going out and he says no. I also like that he assures her there will be no Jesse/Rachel drama for glee club. That the show is making a point of telling us this right now shows that they are aware of how similar the storyline was getting. That makes me have faith in the show.

Anyway, with Shue home sick, Rachel decides to take over glee club, angering everyone. So Kurt asks the substitute Spanish teacher to fill in for Glee as well. And its Gwyneth Paltrow. Now look, I'm tired of stunt casting on this show. I doubt she would even be considered if she didn't have a musical movie coming out soon (Country Strong). Having said that, she does well with it, and the character is a riff on the difficulties of being a substitute.

There's a great brief moment where we see her filling in for an English teacher and performing Schoolhouse Rock's "Conjunction Junction".

It's tough substituting because most high school kids are dicks, and the ones who aren't will still go along with it for a lark. They always do that "let's swap names" thing. I hate that. It's so juvenile (and I never did it, even when I was a juvenile). So to try to keep this aggression away from her and reach the kids, this character named Holly Holiday (a name Terry rightly makes fun of later) tries to be "cool". As the episode goes on it proves that this only can get you so far, as you can't be taken seriously as a teacher.

On her first attempt at being "cool" with the glee kids, she suggests they sing what the kids want, and not some 30 year old rock songs that Mr. Shue wants. The implication is that he stifles there ideas. Sometimes this may be true, but frankly there have been a number of recent episodes where its been entirely up to them ("Grilled Cheesus", "Duets"). It is however a fair criticism that the current stuff they choose is rarely on their set list for competition. Anyway, Puck says Mr. Shue shot down his suggestion to do "Cee-Lo's new song 'Forget You'". Shue was absolutely right to refuse it; I'm sure most of you know the song is not called "Forget You". It's another word that starts with F. But of course, to be cool, Holly sings "F*** You" with the kids. But it's network television, so they sing it as "Forget You". Sorry, this is just unspeakably lame and ridiculous. No way the kids would be grooving to a euphamised version; there's nothing cool about that. And I have to ask, if you have to change the song, is it really a good choice for your show? Didn't you learn your lesson after "Toucha Toucha Touch Me"? It's not even that great a song. Frankly, I don't generally respond to songs with a lot of profanity in them solely for its own sake, nor when it's so bouncy and catchy. It should be reserved. I think the word loses all meaning the more we dilute it this way. Don't use it just for the sake of using it. There's been some fun playing with censorship on TV recently. Stephen Colbert had Cee-Lo on the show perform it as "Fox News". Zachary Levi from TV's Chuck came on Jimmy Fallon and the roots played "The Name Game" with the name Chuck, with a trombone where the naughty part would be. That's funny. But here Glee just seems to want to be current and looking pathetic, rather like the titular substitute. The only good thing to come from it was that on SNL this week, the parody of "F*** You" was referred to as "The Gwyneth Paltrow song from Glee".

Egomaniacal Sue does not quite know what to do with her new principial power. She first tries to get Beiste to can the football team, but Beiste one-ups her saying that who would the Cheerios cheer for? Ha ha! Joke's on you, Sue!

While Mr. Shue is sick, his ex-wife Terry comes over to take care of him. I love this character and I really miss her being in the show. Also, she was gotten rid of so that Will and Emma could be together. The audience wanted this and was made to feel Terry was crazy. But now Will and Emma are still apart and I'm starting to miss Terry. She babies him when he's sick. There's even a rectal thermometer gag. Other shows made make reference to such, but I doubt any other prime time series has the guts to go so far and lubing it up with Vaseline.

When Shue is sick he likes to watch Singin' in the Rain. This leads to a fever dream where Mr. Shue performs "Make 'Em Laugh" with Mike Chang. A couple things about this. First, it's a good song (though famously ripped off of Cole Porter's "Be a Clown" from The Pirate so as to avoid certain legal issues). The performance is almost identical to the one from the film, but varied in a couple of places to make it interesting. I thought there were ways they utilized two dancers rather than one pretty effectively. The problem with this though is it may further confuse viewers who have not seen it. Remember back several episodes when Kurt told Sam that "Make 'Em Laugh" was performed by both Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor? Well that's not true! Having given the audience that misinformation along with this two-man version is going to seriously mislead the naive teenage populace.

To make her even more of a strange TV occurrence, Holly Holiday has a catchphrase, which she even refers to as "her catchphrase". I don't think I like that.

Acting Principal Sue Sylvester decides to rid the school of tater tots. Why? Because she needs a cause I guess. This angers Mercedes and a few others. What we get is a weird cross between Norma Rae and Napoleon Dynamite as students demand their tots back. Now I have to ask, didn't the show already do an obesity theme last year? Isn't that angle redundant? Ultimately, they do get their tots back and Kurt points out to Mercedes that she was substituting tots for love. It's an odd storyline. Ms. Holiday proves she's no teacher when Mercedes suggests she's going to shove tater tots up Sue Sylvester's tailpipe. Not one to quash student rebellion, Ms. Holiday does nothing. Mercedes goes all Axel Foley on Sue's car, and they both get in trouble.

Rachel suggests that she too had a song Mr. Shue refused. She says she suggested to him she sing something "upbeat and dancy" but he said no. By the way, the "flashbacks" when Shue says no are some of the funniest bits of the episode. Anyway, Holly says go for it so Rachel does. But the song she picks is nothing of the kind!! What is it? It's "Nowadays" from Chicago. What's upbeat and dancy about that? Nothing. But of course, she means to include the little dance break thing. But that's NOT "Nowadays", that's the "Hot Honey Rag" that immediately follows it. She performs it with Holly Holiday in a carbon copy of the scene from the end of the movie. Literally almost shot for shot, move for move. Singin' in the Rain was a fun homage, here we seem to just be blatantly copying. Is our choreographer lazy this week? The costumes are the same, they do the bit with the guns and everything. It was boring. And may I ask how this auditorium, when the glee club has no money, has all this fun and fancy equipment all the time? They've got that wall of flashing lights here. I so wanted Sue to stroll in at the end and say "Give me my light board back!" The only plus to this performance, if there is one, is that it doesn't have all the annoying slanted camera angles that the movie had, nor Renee Zellweger's imploded-Kewpie-doll face.

The funniest part of perhaps the entire episode was Mercedes having lunch with Kurt and Blaine. All they want to do is discuss things like Patti Lupone's autobiography. We see things from Mercedes POV, and it's just the two of them saying "gay gay, gay gay gay" over and over. I'm so glad the show has addressed this, because it's been bothering me for awhile. Glad they show that to other people, Kurt is just babbling gay stuff they don't care about. It culminates in a delightfully surreal moment where Kurt says, "Oh my gosh, I open my mouth and a little purse falls out!" holding up a tiny pink purse. Mercedes feels left out. Ultimately, Kurt tries to set her up with a black football player. At first she refuses, but after the tots incident admits that he's cute and decides to try it out.

Terry catches Will having a conversation with Holly Holiday. She gets mad at Will, but he makes clear that they are not together and that he's not getting back with Terry. Terry tells him that if she goes she is gone for good. I so hope this isn't true. I love Jessalyn Gilsig and want her on the show whenever possible!

Holly Holiday realizes she's not a great teacher, but that she does it as a defense mechanism to get through to the kids in the hostile environment of substitute teaching. Mr. Shue is well and comes back to glee club. Fresh from his recent viewing, he wants to do a number from Singin' in the Rain. No one is enthused. Again, why isn't Kurt maybe into it, when he suggested it a few weeks ago?? Mr. Shue goes back to Holly to get her to help him make it current and cool. Side note, when he visits her she is subbing a history class as Mary Todd Lincoln. It's funny. But she also suggests that Abraham Lincoln "was probably gay". Um, what scholarship is there for THAT assertion?

And then we come to yet another terrible attempt at being "hip" on this show; how do they make Singin' in the Rain cool? They mash up the title song with Rihanna's "Umbrella", a song I ardently despise. Let me remind everyone that "Singin' in the Rain" was already old hat when the movie came out. The song goes back to 1929. The film is from 1952. Yet Gene Kelly found a way to slow the song down, give it a swing, and make it cool. I think there are ways to retool the song without shoe-horning it into a terrible R&B song. Furthermore, if you're going to do "Umbrella" the most obvious choice of older mash-up song is "Bus Stop". THAT would have been an interesting take, as the two can fit together lyrically and musically quite nicely. Instead, we get something blah with two parts that don't really go together. It hurts "Singin' in the Rain" terribly, as it's barely in the song. And to top it all off, they all perform it on the stage with umbrellas in the rain. That's right, this school auditorium has a rain machine too. It rains on the entire stage. It's getting very hard to suspend my disbelief here.

A shame the episode ended on such a rotten note for me. Paltrow was a decent addition for a one-off, but I hope that she doesn't recur any time soon. There were some very sharp moments here, but they were overshadowed by all that's been wrong with the show since last year's hiatus. There wasn't much music this time either, and most of the performances were copied from films. Will the series ever get back out of this slump?

Best lines of the night:
Brittany on tater tots: "They look like deep-fried deer poops."
Kurt: "Oh my gosh, I open my mouth and a little purse falls out!"

Song's in tonight's episode:
Conjunction Junction
[Forget] You
Make 'Em Laugh
Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag
Singin' in the Rain/Umbrella

Next Episode: It seems Kurt's dad and Finn's mom are finally getting married. I'm not sure how I feel about a wedding episode. I do know that the ads show dancing in the aisles, which I am so SICK of. It was stupid when everyone was watching viral videos of it, it was just as stupid when that was copied on The Office. And if they do the exact same song here, I'm gonna call this as a possible shark jump for Glee. Please let me be wrong.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

GLEE: "Never Been Kissed"

Well, so much for timely Glee reflections. It's been so long, I don't even totally remember this episode, so hopefully I'll be able to interpret my notes.

I figured pretty early on that this one was written by Brad Falchuck. We got more of the snarky humor back, Sue got to be mean, and the return of Coach Beiste. There were things that bothered me, but will get to those in due time.

The episode opened with Quinn and Sam making out. I gotta say, I like the new celibate Quinn. Compare her to the Quinn we met last year who was in the "celibacy" club almost as a joke; a way to tease boys. After her pregnancy, she sees things differently, and understands that maybe her daddy was right about abstinence. I think Quinn can help make this sort of thing "cool". Anyway, this leads Sam to want some way to cool off when things are getting hot. There's a great callback to Finn's memory of hitting the mailman from last season. That was classic. So Sam needs to find his "mailman" and finds it in the image of Coach Beiste picking a wedgie. What should have been a one-off joke ended up being a recurring theme to the episode. Sam ends up fantasizing about Beiste when he's with Quinn, and ends up calling out her name, which weirds Quinn out (and rightly so). But to make things that much weirder, Mike Chang and Tina have heard about this and use the same technique... and it's TINA who calls out "Beiste". Yeah, that's all kinds of weird. We get some odd funny fantasy moments with Beiste in lingerie or whatever (the best is probably her as a ballerina). But thankfully the episode goes in a more serious direction by showing how this effects Coach Beiste. When she hears from Mr. Shue that the boys are picturing a sexy Coach Beiste as a kind of sexual palette cleanser, she is offended and saddened. So much so that she decides to quit and leave the school. We get a very heartfelt moment as Mr. Shue tries to urge her to reconsider and she talks about how she wants to be able to feel pretty. That she has never been kissed and has always felt like an outsider. I love this character. And as somebody who's also never been really kissed, outside a stage kiss or this one other thing that totally doesn't count, I get it. Mr. Shue kisses her, and convinces her to stay. Granted, if I were her I'm not sure I'd want his pity kiss, but it's the thought that counts.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shue has decided to have another boys vs. girls mash-up competition like they did last year. I was very excited about this. Again, Kurt is forced to be with the boys. This bothers him, and finally Mr. Shue calls him on the fact that he's been acting weird recently. This was a development I was liking this season. Unfortunately, they undo most of that goodwill by having Kurt explain that he's being the only out gay kid at the school is getting to him. So he's acting out because he's gay? Sorry, shut up Kurt. Just shut up. I get that being alone is depressing. I get that it's weird being an outcast. Well you know what, I was alone in high school. It was depressing. I was called a queer. But so was Coach Beiste, and so are others. Others are bullied at this school and others are outcasts at this school; it's not just you Kurt. I get that he has certain feelings, but I just don't see why they had to make it all come down to his sexuality AGAIN. Kurt HAS to be more than sexual orientation or he is not a character, he's a type.

Puck has come back from juvenile detention, on the condition that he do community service. He decides to fill this by being Artie's friend, helping out a cripple. So he hangs out with Artie, giving him secrets to picking up girls, helping him get back with Brittany. He even calls him "Professor X" at one point, which I thought was fun.

There were fewer songs in tonight's episode. The first involved Artie and Puck busking in the courtyard to make some money. Now, we can argue the ethics of students busking at school (for those not into the lingo, that means street performing), and students paying them. But they do make money singing the reggae classic "One Love". But this weird moment comes in, when suddenly students come by with steel drums and play along. Why the heck are there steel drummers at this school? Why do they suddenly show up? That sort of thing makes sense in a fantasy, but this is supposed to be real world, and it's just bizarre.

The other main theme in this episode is bullying, as Kurt is constantly tormented by this one football player. I have to say, this whole section of the episode felt so artificial to me. Again, I understand bullying and harassment, but this felt too "ripped from the headlines" for me. I get that there's a rash of teen suicides due to bullying, and that many recently have been gay. But I'm getting offended at the idea that ONLY gay kids are bullied or that gay kids are uniquely bullied. Especially on this show, where kids are routinely slushied in the face or thrown in dumpsters. I think we do everyone a disservice when we focus on the bullied teens as gay rather than as bullied teens. It doesn't matter WHY they are picked on, just that they are. It continues to make them an "other" even after their deaths. Anyway, Kurt here is picked on and feels like nobody notices. This is a fair point. But maybe no one notices because most of the glee kids are picked on in some way. Was this guy on the football team last year when Kurt was? Why isn't Kurt still playing, by the way? Did he decide he didn't need to do it just to win his dad's approval?

The names of their competition for Sectionals are announced. Kurt goes to one of them, an all boy prep school, to spy on their glee club. What he gets is a dream come true for him. They are very inviting, the glee club "are like rock stars" and their lead is gay. Kurt seems to be basking in the glow of it all as 20 or so clean cut boys sing an a capella version of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream". Now, I'm no fan of Katy Perry. But the song is not terrible, and actually sounds better divorced from Katy's vocals (sorry, the girl can't sing). Some of the lyrics sound a little odd coming from male voices, but otherwise it was an interesting choice. This leaves Kurt to wonder if they are all gay. When this scene first started, there was no real context for Kurt being there. He just showed up and claimed to be a new student. There was something so perfect and unreal about the whole thing that I seriously wondered if this was some dream Kurt was having. The use of "Teenage Dream" seemed to reinforce that, but we later learn that this is real and that he really was spying on them. They figure it out because Kurt's a bad spy, and are very accepting of him. The lead (whose name I forget) is played by Darren Criss of A Very Potter Musical internet fame. He tells Kurt that he came to this school after being bullied for his sexuality as well. But he advises Kurt not to run away like he did, but to be brave and stand strong.

So Kurt then confronts his bully the next time he's picked on. The guy throws gaytred at Kurt (new word I'm trying out. Gaytred: hatred of gays. Trying to avoid "homophobia" which isn't necessarily accurate). Kurt stands his ground saying he could never "punch the gay out of me". And then it happens... the dude kisses Kurt. Good God, people, I am so TIRED of this. Every homophobe is a closet homsexual, right? Has this ever been true in real life? It's one of those things that is always done on TV and it felt so strange here. I was hoping and hoping they wouldn't go there, but they did. I find that very lame. And it bothers Kurt especially because he has never been kissed, and now his first kiss was an unwelcome one from some sweaty jock who hates him. Afterward, the guy still hates and picks on him and pretends like it didn't happen. I'm just tired of the assumption and presentation that this kind of vitriol is actually misdirected self-loathing.

Despite these events, Kurt has at least stood up for himself, and now keeps a picture of the prep school guy in his locker. He's totally crushing on him. This leads us to wonder what repercussions it will have for the Glee club. Will the two become an item? Will Kurt leave school for the other glee club? Will the other guy come to New Directions? I really hope not. While someone for Kurt is nice, I would really rather they not just retread the same stuff they did with Jesse St. James last year. In any case, the connection between the two should make Sectionals interesting.

Oh, before we go anywhere else, I should also say that I made a prediction the first episode that Sunshine, the Filipino girl, would return in five episodes. It's been five, and that didn't happen. Oh well. I amend that prediction to say she will rejoin New Directions within 5 episodes that she appears in. But I'm probably wrong.

Back to the boys vs. girls competition. To appease Kurt, Mr. Shue orders that each group perform something by someone of the opposite gender. That is, the girls should embrace more masculine classic rock stuff, and the boys do something more feminine. So the girls rock out with a mash-up of "Start Me Up" and "Livin' On a Prayer", with some very 1980s glam rock style. It's pretty good. The episode ends with the boys doing a performance specially for Coach Beiste: "Stop in the Name of Love" mixed with En Vogue's "Free Your Mind". I thought it was decent, and they do a good job with a girl group song. However, "Free Your Mind" is also very explicitly about race relations, and the lyric about being color-blind just didn't fit the scenario all that well. Last year I preferred the boys' team; this time it was easily the girls.

There were some nice moments in this episode, and some really funny bits with Sue. I loved her running disgust of the image of Coach Beiste running through her head. But there was also some of what I consider lazy television convention that took real issues and in some ways trivialized them or made too much of them. It wasn't a bad episode, but some bits of it didn't sit well with me.

Songs in tonights episode:
One Love
Teenage Dream
Livin' On a Prayer/Start Me Up
Stop in the Name of Love/Free Your Mind

Next week, er, tonight:
No no no, here we go again. It's Gwyneth Paltrow guest-starring on this show for no reason. I'm sure this has less to do with her appearance in that movie Duets and more with the fact that she has a new movie to promote. This is just shameless cross-promotion to remind us that she's in a film soon coming where she plays a country singer. Didn't she just perform at the CMAs too? I tell you, Glee has got to avoid these celebrity guest things or it will be its undoing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

my favorite Alanis song

Now, Alanis Morissette can be very hit or miss musically. She hasn't had anything that hit so well as her first album. But this is one of those lesser known more recent gems that I like best. It's called "Simple Together", and is a very good song for sad and lonely.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waking Snow White

I've added a link in my list to the left to a blog I've been following. With the release of Tangled, Disney's 50th animated classic due out in couple weeks, I watched all Disney's previous animated theatrical releases (even the horrible sequels) over the summer. I even rated them on a number of different criteria to help get a sense of an overall ranking, just because it interested me.

Over on the IMDb message board for Tangled, I came across a poster who said she was going to be watching each of the previous 49 films in preparation for the new one, and blogging the experience. As I had recently done this myself, I thought it would be fun to relive it through her eyes. She has so far also alerted me to a few things I didn't even know. Another nice feature of her blog is that when applicable she ties the film in to some element of the theme parks. As I've never had the opportunity to visit a Disney park, this is an enjoyable feature.

Anyway, if you're into Disney and would like to relive the legacy along with us, pop on over to Breanna's blog. I try to leave my own thoughts for each film in the comments section. I even got a shout-out in tonight's piece on Make Mine Music! Thanks, Breanna!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pain -- Johnny Cash style

This is a Nine Inch Nails song, but many of us believe Johnny Cash's version to be definitive.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What We Left in Kilkelly

There's a very lovely Irish song called Kilkelly written by an American composer named Peter Jonas. The song is taken from the text of actual letters sent to his great-grandfather which he discovered in his parents' attic.

There's this pervasive notion in America that progress and the natural way of things means just "moving on" and leaving things behind; abandoning family or obligations for a perceived freedom. Some of us don't hold to these ethereal notions. One cannot listen to this song, especially knowing the truth behind it, and not feel bad about a culture that leaves people behind like this.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

GLEE: "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

Yet another theme show, and one that's had a lot of press leading up to it. Again, I'm not a huge fan of the theme episodes. The Britney Spears show exceeded my expectations. Sad to say that while this episode was not a total bust, it did not.

From the very opening, I was disappointed. I had hoped that we would just have an episode where the cast does a school musical, and it's The Rocky Horror Show, and we hear the songs etc. But no, the episode opened just like the movie, with the singing disembodied lips (Quinn's I believe), and that's when it was clear that the episode was much more about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Why should this matter? Because it's a distinction that annoys me. I feel like on the whole the episode was trying so hard to do homage, but didn't exactly achieve it as it could have. Having said this, it was a cute opening on its own terms, mimicking the film's opening, complete with title card (the first time an episode title has appeared on-screen) and fake credits.

It seems that Emma and her hot dentist boyfriend have been getting along great, so much that her OCD is getting better. She and Carl went to a screening of Rocky Horror and she was able to handle the mess. This makes Mr. Shue jealous, so he tells her that he loves the show and is going to have the glee club put it on at the school. Emma suggests this will be problematic due to the adult themes, but he brushes it off saying he'll make some edits.

The issue of appropriateness is the source of most of the episode's drama, though it's somewhat poorly handled. Even the kids question whether they can do it. Kurt points out there are high schools that have tried to put on Rent and been stopped. This is true. Of course on the other hand, there are high schools that do Equus. Certainly it's controversial, but is doing an edited Rocky Horror really all that different from doing an edited Grease? I mean, how many schools do Grease, and that show has racy content as well (often the lyrics are changed. Heck, in the script available from Samuel French the lyrics to "Greased Lightning" are all bowdlerized). But I was wondering exactly how Shue was going to edit the piece. As it turns out, not well. But he does do the smart thing and hand out permission slips so that if parents object, the students don't do the show. This seems reasonable.

Mr. Shue assigns parts for the play. Rachel volunteers her and Finn for Brad and Janet (obviously). Artie is of course Dr. Scott, since he's in a wheelchair. Sam is cast as Rocky, which is not surprising; he actually looks a lot like him. When Shue suggests Kurt be Frank-n-Furter, Kurt objects. He says no due to the transvestite outfit and all. ...I'm sorry, who are you and what have you done with Kurt? Where's the flamboyant Kurt who just last episode was performing from Victor/Victoria and embracing his feminine side? Where's the Kurt who put on a leotard and danced to "Single Ladies" in his basement? You would think Kurt would be all into this! Especially since Frank seduces Brad (Finn) and has his boy toy Rocky (Sam). How is this not a slam dunk for Kurt? Plus he gets all the best songs! There is no good reason for this to be that way other than the writers want to be different for no good reason (and create drama for the rest of the episode about who will play Frank). Kurt really has no motivation for refusing. Was it maybe that his voice isn't quite suited to the range of the songs? I just don't get it. He's the guy who had the whole football team doing Beyonce dance moves, and he doesn't want to appear onstage in drag? Give me a break.

Mike Chang suggests he would like to play Frank. Interesting idea, though he doesn't quite have the voice. Then again, a lot of Tim Curry's style was talking on pitch for chunks of it. But before we get to see Mike do any performance, his mom refuses to sign the permission slip and he is out. It's a bummer because I would have preferred it to what we got.

Meanwhile, word has reached the local news channel where Sue does her weekly "Sue's Corner" segment about the production. They want her to do a piece on it and how wrong it is, promising it could earn her an Emmy (which is it's own inside joke now that Jane Lynch has an Emmy). And the execs from the station are played by none other than original movie cast members Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf! It was a nice cameo appearance. Again though, it makes the episode more about being a disjointed love letter to the movie than its own entity.

I started to get really annoyed that "the show" was used to refer to the movie and the stage show interchangeably.

There's another of those teeny little dialogue gags that I love when Carl meets Sue Sylvester. He's wearing a black suit; he shakes her hand and says, "Sue, how do you do?" This really felt like a nod to Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue" (he even inflects the same way).

Sue has been cast in the show as well as the criminologist (actually, a decent part for her). In the end, she will use this as an excuse that she was "undercover" investigating the play. With no Frank, she suggest to Carl that he get involved in the show since he knows all the songs and such. He auditions with a performance of "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night" (also known as "Hot Patootie"). The song is pretty good. It's nice hearing Stamos sing on TV again and he does a good job. The choreography is fun. Why did it take so long to get him a song on this show? He sang on Full House all the time! He performed with the Beach Boys! Get him singing more! But I was watching thinking, "why is he singing for Eddie?"

Thankfully when the song was over, Sue asked my question. "That's Eddie's song and I cut him out of the show in my rewrite!" Apparently, Carl refuses to play Frank as he feels it would be inappropriate to come on to high school students in drag onstage. He wants to play Eddie. So Eddie is back into the script and we still have no Frank. Oh wait, Mercedes just volunteered. That's right, Mercedes volunteered. Um, darlin' do you understand what you're doing? She says that she was taken with the lyric "don't dream it; be it" and that she always wanted to be a lead, so this is her chance. Sorry, no. The role is for a man. That's the whole point of the character. And Mercedes, that lyric you fell in love with, you have no idea what it means. In context, it's sexual brainwashing from an alien being meant to tempt humanity to decadence. I mean, there's even the reference to Lily St. Cyr in the song. Who was she? A burlesque performer. ...What exactly were Shue's edits here?

So then we are subjected to Mercedes as Frank performing "Sweet Transvestite." There is so much wrong with this I don't know where to start. Was the only reason Kurt refused just for the writers to get Mercedes singing this? She has also altered the lyric. I thought it might have been passible if she were "a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman" a la Victor/Victoria. But no, her lyric changes make clear that she is a woman ("I'm not much of a girl by the light of day"). And what's her costume? She's in a leather bustier and skirt with some big ol' boots. Or more simply, she's dressed like a girl. So she's a girl, dressed like a girl. But she keeps singing "I'm just a sweet transvestite." No you're not, you idiot! If you're not crossdressing, you're not a transvestite! There's even further sacrilege in that she sings that she's from "sensational (or sinsational?) Transylvania" instead of "Transexual Transylvania". Was this just for the kids watching at home? In the context of the show, Transexual is the name of the planet they are from. Come on! The whole number was a mistake, and to make it worse, Mercedes totally oversang it. Few can match Tim Curry, but this was nothing CLOSE.

At that point, Carl bursts through the wall as Eddie. But that wasn't his cue. He just "felt it was right". Mr. Shue points out he doesn't come through the wall until the dinner party. ...Wait a minute, I'm trying to remember the film, but Eddie DOESN'T burst in on the dinner party, does he? He interrupts them in the lab during the Charles Atlas song.

The best part of the episode for me was the very relevant issue of male body image. Finn is insecure when he learns Brad spends much of the show in his underwear. Sam on the other hand is ripped so he doesn't mind being half-naked. Or so he thinks. After some time in the costume, he gets a little embarrassed too. There's some very good interaction with Finn and Sam as they work out and talk about looking good and the work that it takes and why they should have to be so self-conscious. These are real issues and I'm glad they were being discussed; eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders are not female only. Men really are as concerned about appearance, more then they let on. I was a fat kid in high school; I remember. I remember doing King and I and having my gut exposed (and having to shave my chest for it). However, for all this the show missed a golden opportunity to use more Rocky Horror music. Wouldn't this have been a sensible way to work in "Charles Atlas Song"? Come on, writers! This thing writes itself! Why are you so clueless?

Anyway, Mr. Shue continues to be jealous of Carl and sees Sam's slight reluctance as an opportunity; he will relieve Sam of the role and play Rocky himself. He claims that the role is just too mature for a high schooler. Um, okay, so this means that a teacher is going to have a student fondle him and sing "Toucha Toucha Touch Me"? Yeah, 'cause THAT's more appropriate... It's really all just to impress Emma.

In that vane, Emma helps him "rehearse" the aforementioned "Touch Me" song. Now I have to ask again, what edits did Shue make? There are a few klunky lyric changes that feel like a censored performance of "Beauty School Dropout" (I've seen it done with the lyric "no customer would go to you unless somebody took 'er" instead of the other). Wouldn't it have been safer to cut the entire song? I mean, a few lyric drops aside, it's still all about getting boned by a stranger. It's nice to hear Emma sing again, though her voice sounded a bit odd here. Some of the best lyrics in the song were changed. They swapped "heavy sweating" for "heavy petting" and the brilliant "seat wetting" was altered to something like fretting which sounded awful. I mean, why even do the song without that? Thank God we only saw it done with Emma and Shue; perish the thought of seeing Mr. Shue and Rachel perform this (coming off of last year's crush on him, this would have been really awkward with Rachel I think). To make matters worse, the whole thing was staged just like the movie. Santana and Brittany watch out the window in place of Magenta and Columbia. Then there's a really awkward moment toward the end of the song where Emma is lying on the desk, and we see everyone do the "creature of the night" lyric just like in the movie. Only it makes absolutely no sense in this context. Why is Finn suddenly there singing? Or Artie? Or Kurt? I hope Emma's not actually fantasizing this? It all seemed like a slavish retread of the film that made no real sense in context.

There's a sweet subplot running through the episode with Becky trick-or-treating dressed as Sue. When she comes to Mr. Shue asking for candy, he apologizes, saying he forgot about it. After the scene plays out, she gets a brilliant capper for it. In full Sue Sylvester mode, Becky turns to Mr. Shue and says, "Give me some chocolate or I will cut you." It was just so hilarious. I love that they continue to let Becky make jokes instead of MAKING Becky the joke.

Mr. Shue discovers Sue's plan to expose the show as bad for the community. They discuss it, and Sue gives a rousing speech about exposing children unnecessarily to things they need not be exposed to. That they may be bombarded by adult content all the time, but that's no reason to give it to them willingly. Shue agrees, and decides not to put on the play. Um, that's all nice and all, but since this entire episode of Glee just exposed the kids of the nation to Rocky Horror, isn't the episode sending a VERY mixed message? It's also funny that this comes on the heels of the GQ photo shoot scandal.

I also have to question all the logic of this episode's stage production. How much time elapsed between the decision to do the show and that first dress rehearsal? Because Halloween was approaching at the start of the episode. Am I to believe Mr. Shue cast, rehearsed and costumed an ENTIRE MUSICAL in the span of maybe two weeks at most? What? And what about the set construction? Furthermore, now that there will be no performance, what becomes of all that wasted effort? They were going to use the admission money to fund the trip to Nationals. Now they don't get that revenue. And who payed for the elaborate set and costumes? What kind of an irresponsible decision was that?? Now the glee club is financially in the hole! Maybe Sue payed it out of her Cheerio budget. I hope they at least rent some of this stuff out to some theater company or something.

The episode ends with Mr. Shue deciding the group would put the show on for themselves without an audience. And they do (with an all student cast). We watch them do the Time Warp, the end. Mr. Shue even goes so far as to say that what midnight screenings of Rocky Horror were really about was the unity of outsiders or some such thing. Sorry, I think that's nonsense. Furthermore, it's really specious to link the point of Rocky Horror to the point of the midnight screening culture. The show and film existed before it became the cult thing that it is now. They might seem inextricably linked but it wasn't always that way. Man, I found this episode rather simplistic. Oh, and the Time Warp vocals weren't even that good. Kurt's Riff Raff was okay, but Quinn's vocal was terrible. And she can sing! She affected some odd deep register that just sounded bad.

I was really underwhelmed by this episode. I would have much preferred they stick to a normal Glee episode and base it around the stage production. But they didn't. This episode further proves the inability of the writing staff to differentiate between stage and film, though it wasn't as egregious as last year's Cabaret debacle. It felt too like Puck was written out of the show solely so there would be a lack of men available for this episode. I know Ryan Murphy wanted to do an homage to the movie, but it felt very disjointed. Frankly, when you have a character who is a dentist, Little Shop seems like a much more obvious choice. But of course, this year is the 35th Anniversary of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fox owns the rights. It came off as little more than a marketing gimmick. There's even rumor that Ryan Murphy wants to remake it for televison. It felt a little like this episode was a dry run for that. Talk about unnecessary.

The funny thing is, there are ways this could have worked. Early in the episode Mr. Shue refers to these events as a nightmare. Well, why not have just made it a nightmare? A dream sequence. Lots of good shows do special parody dream episodes. Like that Boy Meets World which was a Scream parody. Make it like a special Halloween event. Northern Exposure did a Halloween dream episode. That would have justified the different opening that paralleled the film. Then they could have just staged the whole episode as a truncated version of the movie with the cast of Glee, and made it all somebody's dream. I feel like that would have been much more cohesive (man, maybe I should write for this show). In the end, it was not cohesive. Some of the dramatic events were ridiculous. Moments were stolen from the film for no other reason than to reference them. Some of the most obvious songs were chosen, even when better ones might have served. Wanna showcase Mercedes' voice as Frank? What about "Going Home", which is my favorite song in the show? This was a golden opportunity too to perform "Once in a While" which was cut from the movie. Finn would have sounded great on it. Oh well. Not a total bust of an episode. The stuff with the guys and their body image was well done. On the whole though, the episode was having too much fun with itself to be completely fun for its audience.

Best line of the night: Brittany discussing her Halloween costume -- "I'm going as a peanut allergy."

Songs in tonight's episode:
Late Night Double Feature Picture Show
Over at the Frankenstein Place
Dammit Janet
Sweet Transvestite
Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?
Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me
The Time Warp

Next Week: nothing. but...
In 2 Weeks: Puck's back from Juvey, and things are gonna shake up a little. It's hard to get a sense of plot from the promo, but Coach Beiste is back, so that should be fun.

GLEE: "Duets"

Again, excuse the lateness here. There's no real excuse; I've had two weeks. Oh well.

First things first, I have a problem with the recap of the show. It says that "Finn called Kurt a bad name" last season, and they refer to the incident that way throughout the episode. No he didn't. Sorry, but he said the decor was "faggy". He did NOT call Kurt a fag. It's related, and I'm not defending it but that is still very different from calling Kurt a name which he did not do.

Puck's in Juvenile Hall! I wonder how many episodes he'll be gone for. I also wonder what motivated his absence from the show this week. Was it simply so the numbers would work out favorably with Sam joining the group and the kids pairing off for duets?

Speaking of which, Sam has joined glee. And Kurt has a thing for him. Mr. Shue assigns the group to come up with duets, and the winning couple gets an evening at Breadsticks (you know Breadsticks; it's that restaurant with the great breadsticks). Kurt wants to sing with Sam. Then we get into yet another example of the writers not doing their homework. Sam says, "Aren't duets supposed to be between a guy and a girl?" and Kurt says, "Gene Kelley and Donald O'Connor would protest. ...'Make 'Em Laugh'? Singin' in the Rain?" WRONG. Kelley and O'Connor are a good example, but "Make 'Em Laugh" was NOT a duet!! Don't these writers ever know what they're talking about? "Moses" or "Fit as a Fiddle" were duets. This sort of thing just makes me sad. Especially when a character is acting as if they know exactly what they're talking about.

We are given a little more of the hinted bisexuality of Santana in this episode. With Puck gone, she's been making out with Brittany a little. Brittany seems to be into her, but for Santana is not about love. Now, can I just ask, watching these sorts of interactions coming off Kurt arguing against gay being a choice in the previous episode... how do we account for this? Clearly SANTANA is making choices regarding her sexual behavior. And is Brittany gay or not? She seems to have very bicurious tendencies as well. Sorry, but the "I was born this way" argument gets a whole lot weaker when you throw in the bi- community. This scene had a fun moment where Brittany suggests she and Santana do the duet together: Melissa Etheride. Santana replies that she's not making out with Brittany because she wants to "sing about having lady babies."

Santana really wants to go to Breadsticks, so she enlists the help of a partner she thinks could help her win: Mercedes. I love that Santana calls her Wheezy at one point.

Finn notices Kurt's crush on Sam and points out to him that being gay doesn't give him an excuse to fall all over someone. He points out that how Kurt was to Finn last year would never fly if it were Finn and a girl. Then Finn hits him hard with this point: "You don't understand that no means no." Wow. Kudos to the show for that one. It's so refreshing that they are really exploring Kurt and the implications of his character more. Again, gay is not an excuse to do whatever you want and then say "You're just a homophobe!" Respect for boundaries is a very good point here.

This theme continues when Kurt's dad gets involved. There's a bit of a fight when he tells Kurt that Finn has a point. Kurt counters that he wants a relationship like everyone else. Kurt's really kind of a jerk these days. I think Kurt's feelings too are not just gay-centric; they are universal. That is, there are a lot of outsiders who never get a relationship or who have a hard time finding someone to pair off with. I never had anybody in high school. So I get where he's coming from. This is good stuff!

Finn and Rachel rehearse "Don't Go Breaking My Heart". It's a solid, if obvious, duet choice. They realize they are awesome and will win the competition, but that causes them concern. Finn is worried that if Sam sings with Kurt it will kill Sam's reputation, he'll leave glee and then they won't have his voice for competition. Finn wants Sam to win as a confidence booster. Rachel meanwhile claims to be thinking of others and wanting someone else in the spotlight for once. Her reasoning is similar to Finn's; build Sam's confidence so they can win at Nationals. So they conspire to throw the competition.

Tina and Mike Chang are fighting because all he ever wants to do are very Asian things. When they eat out it's always at Dim Sum. She wants to win competition so she can go to Breadsticks and eat a normal salad that doesn't have pig's feet in it.

There's a nice bit of costume design in this episode. While Finn tries to convince Sam that it's bad for his rep to sing with Kurt, Sam is wearing a T-shirt with a bulls-eye on it. This reinforces the point that to the rest of the school Sam is something of a moving target. And then, he gets slushied!

Sam begins developing a thing for Quinn, who helps him wash the slushie out. We also learn that Sam is sort of a dork. He tries to chat up Quinn in Na'vi because she references Avatar briefly. Dude, that's just sad. Na'vi is just slightly above Klingon. If you're gonna pick a fake language to learn, it's ELVISH dude. Chicks dig the Elvish (okay, that is probably not true in general, but there's a large female population of Tolkien fans, and it's bound to work with one of them).

Santana and Mercedes do their duet: "River Deep, Mountain High". It's an ebullient performance with Santana giving Mercedes some moves. It's fun watching them shake their rumps like they just don't care. Santana's voice goes well with Mercedes' and it's a really good vocal.

Finn and Rachel worry about how they will be able to convincingly fail at their duet, until Rachel suggests that they take a lesson from Grease 2; pick a bad song. The difference between Grease and Grease 2 is that the songs were bad. I love this because it's so true. Aside from a couple that are funny as novelties ("Do It For Our Country") the music is terrible in Grease 2! And I say this as someone who owns the CD. So they decide to sing not just a bad song but an offensive song.

Sam doesn't end up singing with Kurt, and Kurt decides to embrace his queer side again (like that's working out for him so well) and do a duet with himself. Okay, I'm down with a solo duet, I think that's fun. I like to sing with myself. But I thought he'd sing along with a recording or something. Instead, he does a bit from Victor/Victoria in partial drag. He says its a duet between the male and female side. I don't buy it. Sorry, that's not a duet. Why not just do something from Hedwig and the Angry Inch? The performance wasn't bad, and I liked that he enlisted the Cheerios to make it a real performance with choreography and all, something we haven't seen much of this year. But it does feel like a reach to me.

Sam is kind of like Kurt in that he's new in the school and he's an outsider who's just trying to fit in. That symmetry interested me.

Mike Chang is reluctant to sing with Tina because he's a dancer, not a singer. So Tina comes up with a brilliant number to perform: "Sing" from A Chorus Line. If you're unfamiliar with the show, kill yourself. No sorry. If you're unfamiliar with it, the song is about a dancer who isn't really a singer, singing with her husband. It's funny. Now do yourself a favor and go listen to the soundtrack (NOT the movie soundtrack). Anyway, it was the perfect song choice for Mike and Tina, with some cute choreography. I also liked that it flipped the original gender roles of the song. This was my favorite performance of the night.

Brittany teams up with Artie in hopes of beating Santana. She tells him she'll be his fake girlfriend, basically. This culminates in Artie and Brittany in her room rehearsing. I love that Brittany has wallpaper. It may seem like a minor thing, but everybody just paints walls these days and there's something very homey and nice to me about wallpaper. Eventually, Brittany picks Artie out of his wheelchair, lays him on her bed and has sex with him. This later leaves him feeling used when Santana tells him how many guys she's been with. He's bummed because he feels like she just used sex as currency, something that was a big deal to him. I really appreciate that the sex roles were flipped here and its the girl who is promiscuous and the guy who wanted more. That sort of thing does happen, and it's good to think beyond stereotype. For her part, Brittany seems genuinely distressed that she hurt Artie. She said she wanted to go to breadsticks so they could be like Lady and the Tramp and share a plate of spaghetti. She's even been practicing rolling meatballs with her nose. On another note, I wonder if, because he's paralyzed and couldn't as easily leave her bed, one might suggest the act had overtones of rape. Just a little?

Finn and Rachel perform and it is hysterical. Finn's dressed like a priest, and Rachel's in this little proper black number, and they sing a saucy love song about how "with you, I'm born again." It was all very Thorn Birds. The group was just stunned, and Mr. Shue called them out for being totally inappropriate. The only bad thing about it to me was that it didn't quite follow the set-up. Shue points out that it's a good song but badly executed. What happened to picking an offensive song? It wasn't an offensive song, it was an offensive interpretation. So that was a tiny bummer. But really funny otherwise.

Quinn and Sam do their duet with Sam playing guitar, and having Quinn do the chords for him. There's something really sexy about Quinn fingering his frets. Their performance is groovy and fun and they win the competition. Personally, I liked it but I don't think they were the best. But because it was put to a vote, everyone except Finn and Rachel voted for themselves.

The voting has a tiny joke in that Kurt's paper lists his name as Kurt Elizabeth Hummel. Elizabeth? Is that a Producers reference?

Sam and Quinn do go out to Breadsticks and we learn that Sam is not gay as Kurt had suspected. It's a nice scene, but the capper is the camera panning past their booth to Brittany sitting alone with a plate of spaghetti rolling a meatball to no one. So sad! It's that sort of thing that keeps Brittany endearing and not just vapid.

In the end, Rachel decides to help Kurt out and sing a duet with him to make him feel better. They do a very interesting mash-up of "Happy Days Are Here Again" and Judy Garland's "Come On Get Happy." While it does take something away from the gospel feel of "Come On Get Happy" it was a nice and inventive blend and a solid ending to the show.

I thought that this episode would feel very slight, but it was actually a lot of what made the show fun in the first season. It wasn't the strongest episode ever, but it was enjoyable, and it was good to hear from some of the cast who don't always get to really sing.

Best line of the night:
Mr. Shue: What's a duet?
Brittany: A blanket.

I love this exchange. You can tell that Brittany is thinking, but it still feels non sequitur. For those who don't know, the word she is searching for is duvet.

Songs in Tonight's Episode:
Don't Go Breaking My Heart
River Deep Mountain High
Le Jazz Hot
With You I'm Born Again
Happy Days Are Here Again/Come On Get Happy

Next Week... er, tonight:
Glee does Rocky Horror. On the one hand, I'm getting very tired of theme shows that feel like desperate pleas for ratings. Glee doesn't need to stoop to stunts like that. On the other hand, it looks as though there will actually be a stage performance. It's good to see them actually do a stage show. I hope the writers don't continue to bare their ignorance and make it based on the stage show and not the movie. But I'm looking forward to it.