Tuesday, July 5, 2011

GLEE: "New York"

The time has come...
I've put this off for far too long...
Season finale...
a full season of posts leading up to this...
Nationals are upon us, and Glee goes on location in New York City (that's right, there's a "City" in the name -- New York is a state).
Now let's talk about it.

At first I was going to praise the show for its use of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" opening the show. But then I remembered that's exactly how Woody Allen opened Manhattan. Even so, the montage of Times Square under the Gershwin is a nice homage to Woody Allen's movie. And one that suddenly transitions into a seeming Mary Tyler Moore Show homage with Rachel standing there in her little beret saying, "I made it." Is this a reference to "You're gonna make it after all"?

Rachel buys tickets to Cats from a scalper. Quinn points out that Cats closed 11 years ago. How is Rachel the theater geek so stupid that she doesn't know Cats closed? Why does she still think it's the longest running show? It WAS... but has been surpassed by Phantom of the Opera. I hope another show comes along to take the title back from Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Rachel asks Finn in a throwaway line, "Do you know why it smells like it's wet here all the time?" One of the few points in the episode that shatters the "New York is the best place in the world" illusion otherwise perpetuated by the episode and all other American popular culture. I can't speak to the observation, as it was raining when I was there. But honestly, New York is just like any city, only more so. If you're from nowhere Ohio, then yeah I guess it's magical. But if you've got a city nearby, it loses its luster. In many ways I prefer Boston.

I like that Kurt says "I feel like Eloise." Though I've never much liked the Eloise books.

Okay, hold up here... they are in New York for the competition and they still haven't written any songs yet??? And yet they think they are going to win?? With unwritten, unrehearsed music? This is wrong on so many levels. It's irresponsible. And it's bad TV writing. Did they come prepared with ANYTHING??

While the kids are left to work on songwriting, Mr. Shue goes to work on the April Rhodes musical. The first of the kids' song attempts is Brittany's ode to a cup. It's funny, of course, but proves why they should have had something solid written before they left. There's a great shot where Santana is struggling not to laugh. But what I also like about the song is that it makes perfect sense coming from somebody whose favorite song is "My Headband". In that way, it's a nice homage. And if you watch the previous scene closely, you'll see Brittany is playing with a cup. So that's nice motivation for her writing it.

The kids decide to go out into the city, thinking the inspiration will help them write songs. They do this bizarre ode to New York mash-up thing that totally destroys the opening from On the Town until it is unrecognizable. Leonard Bernstein is rolling in his grave. I don't know where this song came from, but I hate it. I also would like to know where all the people are in this city. I noticed it throughout the episode, but particularly this part. It seems like there should be a lot more folks out on the streets than there are. There are shots where it frankly looks like the production crew drew an imaginary radius around the actors that nobody could cross. So it's like the club is in the center, there's big empty space around him, and THEN all the normal people hanging or walking around. I know there's a certain "musical" aesthetic we are used to, but it's very hard to know whether this episode is supposed to have a realism or not. The sequence ends with them up on this raised platform around a fountain... how did Artie get up there? Did they lift him up just so he could be there too?

The show perpetuates another myth: that of girls pillow fighting. And why are they always feather pillows with feathers going everywhere? That's not real. And somebody is going to get charged for ruining all those pillows.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shue is alone on an empty Broadway stage back at April Rhodes' theater. So he stands there and sings a song for himself. ...Who is lighting it? April and the crew have gone to dinner. A theater worker comes in and tells him he's got talent. He says he was trying out something for the show. Actually, it was just a way for Glee to plug Matthew Morrison's new album by showcasing him singing his song, "Still Got Tonight".

The guys advise Finn to try having a romantic day with Rachel in the city if he wants to date her. He tells her to meet him at the bridge in the park and dress up. I like that the score in the background is "Someone to Watch Over Me". They eat at Sardi's, and Patti LuPone is there, so Rachel goes up and speaks to her. It's weird for celebrities to play themselves on this show when so often they play other characters. She tells Rachel to "never give up". You know, like they always do. Did this show need her cameo? Not really. And if I haven't said so already, I don't get why people love Patti LuPone so much. She's all right I guess, but I wouldn't go out of my way to talk to her. As night comes, and Finn and Rachel walk down the street, the other guys are there to perform "Bella Notte" from Lady and the Tramp. Since when can Puck play the accordion? Finn goes to kiss Rachel, but she says, "I can't," and leaves. The guys take no notice and finish their song.

The next day, Kurt and Rachel go have breakfast at Tiffany's. You know, as you do. And once again the score gets points from me for being "Moon River". It's the best incidental score of the whole season. Rachel has decided that she is coming to New York for college when she graduates because it is where she belongs (you and a million others, kid). She doesn't know whether to choose Finn or Broadway. Kurt says he can help her decide and brings her to the theater where Wicked plays. They sneak into the theater. Some usher catches them, but gives them fifteen minutes, like this happens all the time. I like the ghost light on the stage.

Before I go further on this scene, I want to mention that Kurt has his gayest hairstyle ever in this scene. And I don't really understand why gay men seem to all want their hair to be pouffy and pointy on top. I've always thought it looked tremendously stupid. Anyway, Kurt tells Rachel to imagine singing with an audience. Then suddenly he waves his hand and the whole set changes. At what point did Kurt obtain MAGICAL POWERS?? And in case you think this is all imaginary, they use all the set pieces as they sing, and it doesn't change back when they are done. Kurt and Rachel perform "For Good" from the show, and it's pretty good. I'm not a fan of the show (it is NOT Oz), but most of the music is fine. Last year I thought that the album duet of "Defying Gravity" was the best version I'd ever heard. This performance tops it, maybe because the song is better. It's one of the few I kind of like. Though I dislike how it treats the characters. But I still like the song all right, and sometimes have entertained the notion that it will be my wedding song. The performance is good, but I don't really see that it answers her question any. It was just an excuse to put the Glee kids on the set of Wicked. There was a moment when Kurt sings "I guess we know there's blame to share" that it almost sounded like "Blaine to share" which made me laugh to myself.

Quinn is still upset about Finn. There's a funny moment where she thinks Santana is coming on to her. And then Santana and Brittany give her the same pick-me-up advice that Steve observed years before on Coupling: to get a haircut. There was this one rant where Steve says that men would never "reach that level of earth-shattering boredom and mind-numbing despair where we would get a haircut recreationally." But that's apparently what Quinn does. The real reason is that Diana wanted to cut her hair, so they wrote it into the show. I grow tired of these young women chopping all their hair off, but at least the end result is better than Emma Watson's pixie cut. We never actually see the haircut though. This makes me wonder if the scene was written after the fact to explain it.

Hey, nice continuity! The hotel guy chastises Mr. Shue about the destroyed pillows in the girls' room. And here I was complaining. On the whole I will say that having done hotel stays with large groups of teen drama kids, the show has a pretty good sense of what goes on. The Vocal Adrenaline coach knows that Will is planning a Broadway debut and is using it to his tactical advantage. he told the kids about it, and they are angry. I don't really understand what everyone is so angry about, since the plan was to do the show after Nationals during the summer, and then be back. But Will decides that he already had his moment on the stage, so he's not going. Wait, why can't he still do it over the summer? There is no reason to worry about it, or tell the kids about it. I have never felt there was any drama in this story point.

Why does Will think they have "a really good shot at winning this thing"? Has he even heard their original songs? When the heck did they rehearse them? It didn't seem like they were ever all in the same room very long! We are informed that the Nationals level is a multi-layered event with several rounds of finalists. From 50 schools, it's narrowed down and then narrowed down again. So this is a built-in trick of the writers to ensure that there's always a level for the group to strive for and lose next season.

The first group we see is an all-girl group doing some standard club song. Their outfits are these grecian things which look nice when they are standing still, but ridiculous when you see their choreography. It's mostly white girls trying to act black. There were some black girls too... why didn't one of them get the solo? And can I just ask why anyone continues to call girls "Shorty"? Do any girls actually like this? Mercedes says, "They're really good" and I'm thinking, no they're not!

In the bathroom Rachel runs into Sunshine. Remember her, the girl that left the school back in the first episode? She's so nervous and hates Vocal Adrenaline, so she is thinking about going back to the Philippines. There's a sort of reconciliation here where Rachel helps her get over her nerves. This character was one who went nowhere this season.

So Vocal Adrenaline performs. But I spent more thought wondering why there are always these glittery microphones. It starts with just Sunshine on an empty stage, but ultimately the rest of the group comes on. You know, like New Directions did for Regionals. The choreography was good, though we've seen better from the group.

Backstage, Finn makes a good point: all Rachel's ever done is beg to be with Finn and now he's basically begging for it and she says no. These conversations always happen just before they go on, don't they? So they come on and perform a duet called "Pretending" which is all about whether they should be together. I wonder if Finn wrote it. It's basically an anthem to underlying sexual tension. I'm waiting for someone to do a little YouTube video about Mulder and Scully with this song. The song ends and before you can say Mitch and Mickey, Finn and Rachel kiss right there onstage. Many in the audience are shocked. Jesse St. James considers it unprofessional. I think they might have gotten away with it if it weren't so long.

Next up is a song that allows almost everyone a solo moment, which is nice. Some of the choreography was nice. But it was mostly clear that it was a bit thrown together. It was a fun performance, but not a winning one. So it was totally obvious that they were not going to place. Actually, I figured from the beginning they wouldn't win, because that would give next season somewhere to go. In the realm of predictable television, you can generally bet that Glee will continue losing in each finale. The show is built on struggling losers. Once they win Nationals, it becomes about maintaining a title, which is a different energy. Like comparing Karate Kid III with the first one.

It's a shame they couldn't have at least beaten Vocal Adrenaline. The best thing about the list of Top 10 schools is some of them have really funny names. Names like Singaz Wit Attitude, an obvious parallel to N.W.A. Then there's Teenage Scream, Soundsplosion, and Jefferson City Airplane. The writers room must have had fun coming up with these. But my personal favorite is The Waffletoots.

Maybe it's sad, but did they really think they could coast into Nationals that way? They came to the city completely unprepared and they were SURPRISED they didn't place? Santana goes nuts, like Ricky Ricardo nuts, shouting in Spanish. When Kurt tells it all to Blane afterwards, he doesn't mind. He got to sing on a Broadway stage and all. Then they exchange "I love you"s faster than any couple ever has on this show. Kurt says, "When you stop and think about it, Kurt Hummel's had a pretty good year." What?? Maybe Kurt's had a pretty good two weeks. But we are talking about the same Kurt Hummel who had to change schools because of threats to his life, had an unwelcome kiss from a closeted homophobe, the bird he was watching died, his father nearly died of a heart attack, and he was embarrassingly singled out as queen of the prom. And he had "a pretty good year"? Time to put down the glass of optimism, Kurt; it's now half-empty.

We also learn that Mercedes and Sam are indeed now an item. Which is good for Mercedes, but not an odd ending knowing now that Chord Overstreet is not returning as a regular next year. Will Sam at least show up here and there?

Brittany and Santana have another of their weird locker love scenes. Brittany sums up the year saying it was about acceptance. As if any of us who watched it all couldn't have figured that out. Trust your audience a little more, Ryan Murphy!

Finn is blaming himself for losing Nationals. To blame it all on the kiss is wrong, since they lost out of their own lack of preparation. I fear that they won't see it that way now that they have something else to blame. Rachel at least has decided it's okay to date Finn for awhile.

They finished in 12th Place? Why are they so depressed? Don't they know how fantastic that it? That's out of FIFTY. That means they did better than more than half of the schools. That they were two slots away from placing. And that was all with stuff they threw together in a hotel! If they actually planned and prepped properly, they could EASILY place next year. So why not learn from this and be optimistic?

In the end, this season has been all over the place. The finale was okay, but was it as good as it should be? Probably not. But better than some other episodes this season. Much that was teased last summer didn't happen. The MySpace audition search for new cast members was essentially a lie; that all got thrown out. Did any of those people end up on The Glee Project? One could seriously charge them with false advertising, I think. Characters were introduced that went nowhere. Mercedes was supposed to get a boyfriend this year, and it took the whole season. Not fair to her. I did like Coach Beiste, probably the best new character. A shame she seemed to disappear at the end of the season. The series had some of its lowest points ever, and relied too much on Kurt and being preachy, but there were great moments of the sarcastic wit that made this show so good originally. Those few times showcased why it's still a good show and if they can harness that back again, they can pull together an amazing third season. If not, the show will continue to steadily decline. I hope not.

My hope for next year? Nationals in California, and a Beach Boys-themed episode. That would be awesome. See, I should write for this show. If you're out there reading this, Ryan Murphy, can I join your writers' room?

Songs in tonight's episode:
New York, New York
My Cup
I Love New York/New York, New York
Still Got Tonight
Bella Notte
For Good
As Long As You're There
Light Up the World

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