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.

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