Wednesday, September 29, 2010

GLEE: "Britney/Brittany"

Sorry, this is a bit late getting posted. Well, the Britney Spears episode came and went and actually wasn't too bad. I definitely expected worse. There was much more of an early first season feel to the episode than I expected.

I may be the only person watching the show last night to have gone "Oh! Christopher Cross!" at the start of the episode. I understand that most of his music is not hip or relevant. But Mr. Shue had a good point about how not every great song has to be a big rock song or a power ballad. I was hoping that his assignment would lead into performances of smaller, insightful numbers. They could still navigate away from most "adult contemporary" which is just an umbrella term for disposable music that you can't really categorize. But something small like a Don McLean song ("Crossroads" or "Empty Chairs") that isn't bombastic but can be just as effective is something I'd love to see the show take on. I'm a bit dissapointed we never got to hear them do "Arthur's Theme". I may not think much of Christopher Cross on the whole (I think "Sailing" is lame), but "Arthur's Theme" is a great song! They didn't even try! That's an Academy Award-winning song that's still catchy. I say this as somebody who has the 45 of the song from the '80s. I think I was most surprised at Kurt's immediate dismissal of the song.

If you read my previous post, you know how much I was dreading the Britney Spears idea. Thankfully, they handled it differently from the Madonna one. In that episode everyone couldn't shut up about how great Madonna was. Here, Mr. Shue is dead against the group doing Spears, which I liked. He cites that she's a poor role model, which is an interesting side to take. Kurt and some of the others counter that she's culturally relevant and the students want them to do it. Okay, that's fair. But most of her music is crap. Some of the early stuff is okay (none great), but if the people want it, I can see begrudgingly doing one number. Kurt says it was a Facebook campaign. I wonder if this was an actual behind-the-scenes push from the fanbase.

Finally Brittany gets a little bit more to do than just be the dumb sidekick. She still gets some great naive one-liners (including referring to being probed by aliens), but she's a bit more the focus here. She says she doesn't want to do Britney Spears because (get this) her name is Brittany Susan Pierce, thus Brittany S. Pierce. She's always lived in Britney's shadow and likes glee club because it allows her anonymity.

There are several winking nods to YouTube culture in this episode. The first comes in that first glee scene, when somebody says to "Leave Brittany alone." This was a fiercely clever nod to the clip of Chris Crocker telling the media to leave Britney Spears alone that hit big a few years ago. You can see the original video here (language NSFW).

We thankfully got back to the Emma storylines from last season, and meet her dentist boyfriend. Surprise, it's John Stamos! And he makes Mr. Shue jealous. Shue agrees to let him come speak to glee club about oral hygiene as a way of showing Emma how flexible he can be (part of what she likes about Carl the dentist is he's so spontaneous). The spontaneity issue is also an interesting extension of the first season, where you could see glimpses of that from Will that may have sparked Emma's initial interest as well.

Never mind the fact that Stamos looks nothing like a "Carl". He visits glee and promotes good tooth care. Santana comes onto him with a suggestive reference to letting him drill her. I was glad to see a popular show taking a serious issue like oral hygiene to the teenage populace. It's actually a very underrated health concern that gets overshadowed by all the cancer and STD info out there. Anyway, we learn that Brittany's teeth are atrocious because she doesn't brush; she rinses her mouth out with soda because she thought Dr. Pepper was a dentist.

In Carl's office, Brittany is given nitric oxide to knock her out while he attempts to fill most of her 60 or so cavities. While under the gas, Brittany has a Britney Spears fantasy, where she is Britney and performs "I'm a Slave 4 U". Several things to say about this piece. First, I hate this song. Of all the Britney canon it is one of the worst songs which isn't appealing to the ears in almost any way. The fact that it was the first Britney number also was a bummer. Out of all possible songs it was this one you start with? Brittany's vocals were all right, but honestly, vocals barely matter in this song as they are just breathy; it's more about hip gyration. Even Spears' original vocal wasn't that great. On the positive side however, I was happy to see a return to the fantasy song performance on this show. Some of the most creative stuff from the early part of last year was when songs were done as fantasy sequences. Somehow they started to get away from it. Most of the performances in this episode were dream sequences. I also liked that this particular dream wasn't a carbon copy of a video; it had elements from multiple Britney videos. I noticed "Toxic", "Oops... I Did It Again", "Slave 4 U", and a few others. I like this because it's more the sort of thing the unconscious would do.

After waking from this fantasy, Brittany has changed her tune and now wants to be Britney Spears, and demands she get to sing all the solos. No one really takes this seriously. Next, it's Santana's turn in the dental chair, and she brings Brittany along with her -- or maybe it was the other way around. I don't remember. Anyway, Carl gasses them both, and they do the Spears/Madonna duet "Me and the Music". This one is more closely a parody or homage to the video, though perhaps more by necessity. Santana wears that white suit better than Madonna did. This sequence is better than the previous one, for what it is. The vocals are decent, the choreography pretty good for this sort of thing.

Throughout the episode the real Britney Spears makes a couple of appearances in the dream sequences. I'm not sure whether this was a good idea or not. Spears CAN make a delightful appearance on TV; she did get her start on MMC (I refuse to call it Mickey Mouse Club because at that point in the show's run it was called MMC). Her appearances on How I Met Your Mother were good, but I'm not sure what can be gained by her appearances here.

The aftermath of the "Me and the Music" number results in a humourous exchange where Santana mentions sharing Brittany's fantasy, even though that doesn't make any sense. "How did our fantasies combine?"

Meanwhile, Finn is being harassed by his former football team members. He is no longer cool and they call him gay (perhaps in the aftermath of last year's "Theatricality"?). Artie steps in to defend him. Coach Bieste secretly witnesses this. Rachel is also teased for her clothing style. When she goes in for dental work, she has a Britney fantasy too, and it's "...Baby One More Time." At least this one is decent. It's almost a shot for shot remake of the original video. This makes a certain amount of sense too, since Rachel's fantasy world is more structured, I can see her replaying it with her in the starring role. Still, at this point I'm starting to tire of the video-remakes. Can't they do a fantasy that's more original? I also sincerely did not like that they raised the key for Rachel to sing it in. The original was weirdly low, but this one was too high.

Rachel's hallucination also gives us the second viral video shout-out of the night. As she comes out of her dental anesthesia, she says, "Is this real life?" This is a nod to a popular video with a kid having received dental anesthesia saying this very thing.

Jessalyn Gilsig makes a return appearance in this episode! She played Shue's wife last season, and Shue's wife is back! I like her and miss her as part of the show. Shue has bought a convertible he can't afford (just like Carl's) to impress Emma. Then his ex shows up and tells him what an idiot he's being. I was just really happy to see her again.

There's a scene in this episode where Kurt is wearing this weird gray suit and a bow tie. I thought the gay community was trendy. I thought Kurt was all about style. Why did he come to school dressed like some guy's Uncle Mortie?

While on the Kurt subject, I do want to point out something very good about his character development. With this episode, they've started to take him away from being the stereotypical queer poster boy who can do no wrong. First, he disses Christopher Cross. Then later, he mouths off to Mr. Shue for not letting them do Britney Spears. This results in detention for Kurt. It's about time the writers made a point of how he's a normal kid who still does stupid things and still gets in trouble; he's not always the innocent victim. I appreciated this moment a lot. Being gay doesn't give Kurt free license to mouth off whenever he wants, just like Mercedes had no excuse for her racist comment last season.

Fresh from her fantasy, Rachel comes to school dressed as Spears in the "Baby One More Time" video. Finn is embarrassed by this. Jacob is turned on by this. So much so that Sue catches him naked and masturbating in the library. It's a bit of a Chocolate War moment. She blames Spears for this. Knowing it will upset her (and also make him seem spontaneous), Shuster changes his mind and agrees to do a Britney Spears number for homecoming. He's even going to perform with them.

Coach Bieste decides to let both Finn and Artie on the football team. This leads Artie to his nitric-induced Spears song, "Stronger". We watch as he pumps iron, and dreams of getting buff to impress Tina. I think this was the best Spears song of the night. It's a reasonably good pop song that's not all about gettin' busy on the dance floor, and is the most character-related piece.

At the homecoming assembly, Will is all decked out in a vest and hat for the Spears number. In my favorite random shout out of the night, Emma says he looks like one of the Kids Incorporated. For those of you who are not children of the '80s, Kids Incorporated was a TV show that used to run on Disney Channel (though I don't think it was original to them. Probably Canadian). It was like a cross between Glee and The Partridge Family. Fergie (from Black Eyed Peas) was a cast member as a kid. I was never a huge fan of the show, but I watched it here and there. I was more of a Mickey Mouse Club guy though (but the early good ones with Damon, Chase, and Keri Russell -- not the awful couple years with Timberlake, Spears and Aguilera).

The group performs "Toxic" for the assembly with choreography that feels like Fosse channeled through Skinemax. The students love it, culminating in almost orgiastic glee. One girl swoons for Mr. Shue. The scene reminded me a lot of the "Push It" scene from last year. They served similar functions; the group did a number to be popular with the kids, it was sexually suggestive, and the kids loved it. Sue however does not, and she pulls a fire alarm at the end of the number, forcing a mob evacuation that results in Jacob getting trampled.

Rachel fights with Finn because she feels like they can't be together if they aren't both losers. She issues him an ultimatum: football or me. He chooses football. She then sends Quinn as a secret agent to flirt with him and see if they can be together. Finn says he's with Rachel. Bolstered by this, Rachel (having gone back to her old look) decides to stay with Finn. In the final scene, she sings an adult contemporary song "for my boyfriend Finn." That's a sweet gesture on her part. But the song isn't anything to write home about. At least it brings the episode out of Spears for awhile. Brittany says she thought she was getting to do all the solos, and suggests that next week she'll be doing Ke$ha. I wonder if that's true (dear God, no).

On the whole, I was surprised by this episode. I thought it felt much more like an episode rather than an event (sorry Madonna episode), and was better than the Lady Gaga one. It was good to see a return of fantasy song sequences and Jessalyn Gilsig. Bits of the show were welcome reminders of last season. Though it didn't all work for me, the episode actually came off far better than I expected. I am a bit dissapointed that no mash-up got worked in though. I would have liked to have seen them mash up "Baby One More Time" and "Oops" to prove to America that they are the exact same song with the exact same structure (you unfortunately can't play them together though because "Oops" has a slightly faster tempo). I also would have liked to see an attempted mash up of some Spears song with "Arthur's Theme". I'm sure it's possible. Any of you out there in computer land wanna try one, please do and send me a link! And preferably, mention that it was my idea!

Best line of the night: Sue comments on Will's many vests: "You wear more vests than the cast of Blossom!"

Songs in tonight's episode:
I'm a Slave 4 U
Me and the Music
...Baby One More Time
The Only Exception

Next Week: Apparently this will be a religiously themed-episode with Kurt's dad in the hospital! Unfortunately the musical choices don't seem particularly inspired, including Joan Osborne's "One of Us". It's a decent song, but there are a lot of others to choose from. Considering the substantial contemporary Christian market out there, I hope they get broader in their selections next week, and don't just end up doing "Spirit in the Sky" or "I Can Only Imagine".

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