Tuesday, February 8, 2011

GLEE: "The Sue Sylvester Shuffle"

The post-Super Bowl episode of Glee was surprisingly one of the best episodes of the season. I went into it expecting spectacle, retreads of storylines we were tired of, and an overindulgence, but instead we got an episode which recalled the best of season one.

It opens with a Cheerios rehearsal. Remember when Glee used to use the cheerleaders a lot more? I've been really missing that, and was glad that they opened the episode this way. Granted, it was Katy Perry, who I have no respect for at all. But her music is just the sort of thing trashy teenage cheerleading was made for. The girls do "California Gurls" complete with bikini tops on some of them, megaphone bras that shoot confetti and blue Katy Perry wigs. There are guys doing motocross stunts while girls hula hoop with rings of fire. But Sue finds herself bored by it. That's interesting because I also think that ultimately if there is nothing but spectacle it will eventually bore. Anyway, Sue is now on a quest to top herself for competition so she can feel that rush again when they win for the seventh consecutive year.

And Sue finds that rush in... a human cannonball. She's so intrigued by the idea of firing a girl out of a cannon that she buys one. The girls are not keen on this idea. Sue tries to get Brittany to agree to being shot from the cannon, but she fears dying. The Cheerios are not convinced that it will be safe. Sue is reprimanded by the principal, and she responds by saying she will get consent from the girls. So in case you were wondering where the line is drawn when it comes to endangering cheerleaders in a public school, hoops of fire are okay, cannons are not.

The show also returns to the football team. And not just in a "we're on the football team" way, but actually with games and such. This seems an obvious choice with it being post-Super Bowl and all, but it's also something we haven't seen since early this year. Karofsky is making things difficult for Finn, and the guys in general who aren't in glee club don't get along with those that do. This all feels very much like season one. Although there's a nice nostalgia to it, there's an element that feels like a retread of that "Single Ladies" episode. What happened to all of last years players? Anyway, Coach Bieste and Mr. Shue try to join forces to get the team cohesive. Bieste knows cohesive teams win championships.

After the encounter with the principal, Sue Sylvester has a fabulous, destructive tantrum destroying everything in her path. And then just when you think it's over, she's in the locker room still destroying things!

Coach Bieste makes it mandatory for all the football players to join glee club (like I said, it's a bit of a reverse on the "Single Ladies" episode). This doesn't sit well with either group. Rachel objects to the presence of Karofksy, "a known homophobe". At first I thought this point was being made too hard, but when I remembered that Rachel has two gay dads, it made more sense coming from her. To unite the men on the team, Mr. Shue proposes that the glee club performs at half-time of the big game. What will they be doing? Michael Jackson's "Thriller", the grand-daddy of spectacle song and dance numbers. I knew this was coming as it had been rumored for months. I was very glad however that they didn't try to do an all Michael episode. They also didn't just stick with "Thriller", which has been done. Instead, they put a Glee spin on it by mashing it up with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Heads Will Roll". I loved this idea. I haven't heard a lot of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' stuff, but I remember seeing them no Conan years ago and liking it a lot. The team still has some reservations about glee club not being cool.

Rachel and Puck perform a song for the group, and it seems to go down okay with them. I didn't think it was the best choice to showcase that glee club isn't gay, but it was nice and I dug the Puckleberry vocals which we don't often get.

It did start to bother me though that glee club was still seen as the height of uncool even after the Britney Spears episode where they incited a riot (and orgy?). It also proves that they should do more performances of relevant music for the school, and more of this stuff at competition instead of just classic rock and showtunes. Their performance at sectionals was a step up, but it can get better.

This has nothing to do with the episode, but there was a special Chevy ad with a Glee performance in it. It was a lot of fun and made me think how awesome it would be for the show to do an episode where all the music is classic American ad jingles.

Sue decides to fight back against Mr. Shue by moving the Cheerios' slot in competition to the day of the big football game, thus making the cheerleaders in glee choose one or the other. Again, this is terribly similar to when the football players in glee had to choose last year. But it's organic to Sue's character so I'm okay with it. Quinn is still concerned about her popularity and after missing so much of the Cheerios last year, she reluctantly drops out of glee club. Santana and Brittany follow.

It turns out Karofsky is sort of talented, and starts getting into the glee thing. The show teetered dangerously on a television cliche here where bullies are all turned into nice guys through song and dance. But it didn't go quite that far. Karofsky does suggest to Finn that the guys do a kind of warm-up number to prepare for the game. So they perform (in their zombie make-up for "Thriller") a song by, who else, The Zombies. It was a good song choice, and pretty fun to watch. I like when the guys are allowed to perform themselves every now and then.

Now that the football team isn't throwing slushies in everyone's faces, the power in the school shifts to... the hockey team! There's a hilarious moment when the school's as yet unseen hockey team show up and slushy all the football players. The hockey kids all have stereotypical Canadian Wayne Gretzky-looking hairdos. It was very funny. The sudden jolt of unpopularity is too much for Karofsky, and he quits the team. The other non-glee football players join him. They don't believe Bieste will prevent them from playing the big game because she has no team with just five guys.

At this point the show shifts back to Dalton Academy, where the Warblers are hard at work on another song. It was a bizarre choice this time around, and I didn't like it so much. Certainly not as much as their previous ones. I was watching realizing I hadn't missed Kurt at all in the episode. Why did we need this scene. Then I thought that perhaps at least this would be a chance to see him in his element, just to remind folks he's there, and not have him interact with everyone else. You know, like I suggested in one of my reviews a few weeks ago. This was not the case. After the song, Blaine and Kurt have lunch with Rachel and Mercedes and discuss the football situation. I would have much rather not seen Kurt at all in this episode. The Warblers did make me wonder though why New Directions never perform anything a capella. That would be really cool, and better than having to find crazy reasons for those band people to always be around and always know how to play every song.

Kurt is surprised by the news and wonders why Finn doesn't tell him any of this, since they now share a house. This is a VERY good point. Up to now I hadn't thought of it, maybe assuming Dalton was a boarding school. But since it's clear that Kurt and Finn do live together, why DON'T they discuss this stuff? And as a corollary, why don't we just see Kurt at home instead of constantly having to come up with reasons for him to run into people at Dalton???? On a similar note, I miss some of the home-life in general of the group. We got more of that in season one. I really miss Mr. Shue's private life. And Terri. Anyway, Blaine points out that regulations for high school football are less strict and that they only need a few more players on the team to be able to play. Kurt says they will both be at the game since "we love football. Well, Blaine loves football. I love scarves."

The girls get a wacky idea: they will be the needed extra players. Bieste is against it, as is Mr. Shue. But they are insistent, saying that they don't really have to play, they'll just lie down on the ground during plays so they don't get hurt. Now, the new girl is a wrestler, so she can play football no problem. But I was concerned about Tina getting hurt. Anyway, they begrudgingly allow it since they have no choice.

And it was a stupid decision. All the good players on the team are gone, so McKinley is losing. Finn, Sam and Puck can't win by themselves (sorry Mike Chang). Tina decides she's tired of just lying on the ground, and when one of the opposing players fumbles the ball, she grabs it and makes a run for the end zone. It's a good play for the team, but she gets sacked pretty hard. She's ultimately okay, but it worried everyone. This plays to some very interesting ideas regarding feminism and such. Even after all the "girls can do whatever boys can" stuff the modern society likes to feed us, there is still this fear factor about girls and football. It also made me wonder why there is no girls' high school football. Doesn't Title IX sort of dictate it needs to be offered? If it was girl on girl and not giant guys going to sack them, might it be okay? I'm just thinking out loud here. Girls play hockey with no problem. But for some reason football seems to maintain this great American divide where boys are jocks and girls are cheerleaders. I don't know why that is or whether it should be changed. I'm just thinking out loud.

Half-time is coming, and the team is getting creamed. So Finn tells Puck to convince their AWOL players to perform the song at half-time, while he tries to get the girls back before they leave for cheerleading. Finn convinces Quinn that she's awesome and the other girls that they love glee club, and they don't go with Sue. Sue is mad. I wonder who she plans to shoot off in a cannon now? I was so hoping that she would do it herself, but that didn't happen.

Puck assures the group that Bieste will let them play the second half if they get out and perform. The guys all don't want to see the team lose anymore and agree. All except Karofsky. He just can't bring himself to risk public humiliation. Everyone else goes to put on their zombie make-up. Okay, gotta say something about that zombie make-up. It looks awesome, and I will forgive these points because it's TV, but there's logical problems with it. First, everyone is doing their own make-up, and I don't believe that those football players would all be skilled at it. In reality, the girls would be doing some of their make-up. Second, it's pretty involved detailing and some of them have latex appliances. That stuff takes TIME. Even with everyone doing their own make-up, I've gotta think it would be at least a twenty minute job. That is all.

The "Thriller" number goes spectacularly. As the girls open with "Heads Will Roll", the crowd gets really into it. As Karofksy starts back to his seat, he is overcome by how awesome it is and and wants to join in. So he throws on his jersey and does. It's good to see him smile in this episode. Everything goes fantastically. Coach Bieste even tells them to leave their zombie make-up on to intimidate the other team. They play a good second half, and when it comes right down to the wire, Finn concocts a plan to distract the quarterback so he'll fumble the snap. The players start chanting "brains.... brains...!" The girls join in, then Coach Bieste, and soon before you can say "Quack quack quack" it's a Mighty Ducks moment where it seems everyone is chanting "Brains!" The quarterback's concentration is blown and McKinley wins the game. ...On a totally unrelated note, why do zombies always want brains? There must be zombies somewhere that prefer heart or pancreas, right?

Things did not go so well for Sue Sylvester. She loses the competition and is chastised for even entertaining the notion of endangering a student's life with that cannon stunt. We learn all this in an interview Sue has with Katie Couric. We don't get to see any of that competition. We don't know what exactly happened. Were they disqualified? I didn't like hearing about it this way, and the scene felt very artificial. Admittedly, it is the sort of flimsy news story Katie Couric WOULD cover, but it just didn't feel relevant enough to have her in the show. This scene was easily the weakest of the show, and I kept expecting it to be a dream but Sue never woke up.

That scene aside, the episode was pretty spectacular. Good performances, great character moments, some of that witty humor. The "Thriller" number was great, and they should do more things like that at regionals this year. Karofsky is still his mean old self at the end of the episode. Finn expects he will join glee club, but he refuses. He also suggests Karofsky apologizes to Kurt, which he refuses to do. While it still makes him a jerk, I liked that they didn't try to suddenly change things in one episode. This episode was good though for the redemption of his character; he's been a horrible one-note stereotype for too long. We got to see a lighter side of him, which I liked. But I'm also really glad he didn't just stay friends with them all right away. I'm hopeful now that they will write this storyline more organically and it will be more enjoyable. Also, it was great to not have to watch The Let's All Love Kurt Hour for a change.

Songs in tonight's episode:
California Gurls
Need You Now
She's Not There
Bills Bills Bills
Thriller/Heads Will Roll

bonus: See the USA in Your Chevrolet

Next episode:
It's Valentine's Day! And there's a kissing booth set up. I ask you, have you ever seen a kissing booth outside of television?

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