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 clich├ęd 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:
Ohio
Marry You
Sway
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.