Last week's "Grilled Cheesus" episode was a unique entry: it was heavier on the dramatic, with less comedy or music than the average episode. Now, I thought it was an excellent episode, and a perfect showcase for Chris Colfer's Kurt (more on him in a minute). But how exciting and refreshing was "Duets," an episode that returned to the comedic and, more importantly, musical strengths of the show and reminded us that the show still has the potential it showcased in the pilot.
On this week's episode, Mr. Schu introduces Sam, the blonde guy who temporarily took Finn's place as the quarterback (wasn't he injured last week, though?), as the newest member of New Directions, since Puck is now in juvie for driving his car into a gas station and stealing the ATM (that doesn't seem very Puck-like, but whatever). He also creates a duets competition, in which the winners get a free dinner for two at Breadsticks. Rachel and Finn, of course, are in it to win it, until they realize that they need Sam to win to keep him in the club so that they can make it to Nationals in New York. So they go through the convoluted motions to ensure that he doesn't pair up with Kurt (which would be damaging to his reputation - I'll get to that later) and instead sings with Quinn. Meanwhile, Brittany and Artie hook up, Mike Chang and Tina face a crisis in their uninteresting relationship, and Santana and Mercedes form an unlikely alliance.
Let's talk about that last bit: part of what made this episode work so well was the unusual duet pairings. Ian Brennan, who wrote the episode, managed to reinvigorate the show by making characters who had never really interacted before work together and forge new relationships. This works to minor success with the Brittany/Artie pairing, if only because it makes Artie realize he still has feelings for Tina (expositional purpose) and it actually gives Brittany a little bit of dimension as a character. The bigger success, though, comes in the Quinn/Sam pairing as a relationship: it's sweet, not only because it gives Quinn a chance to move on, but it also squashes the notions that Sam will be Kurt's boyfriend that the producers keep promising us.
Then there's the fabulous musical numbers. Mercedes' and Santana's rendition of Tina Turner's "River Deep - Mountain High" was easily the episode's highlight, bursting with energy and the powerhouse vocals of Amber Riley and Naya Rivera. But then, there's also Kurt's terrific "Le Jazz Hot" from Victor/Victoria and Rachel and Kurt's duet for Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland's "Happy Days are Here Again/Get Happy." Even Mike Chang and Tina had a frivolously fun, vaudevillian take on "Sing" from A Chorus Line. It was easily the strongest musical episode Glee has had in a very long time, forgoing lame covers of current hits in favor of classics and Broadway showstoppers.
This season of Glee seems to be taking a step into a new direction: rather than doling out equal time to both the kids and Will, the latter is falling more and more into the background while the kids are brought front and center. I'm perfectly fine with this, as once Will left his bitch of a wife the writers seemed to have no idea what to do with him, and just threw him into whatever situation they needed for that episode. Besides, as great as Matthew Morrison is as a singer/dancer, he was never given much to do on the show anyway, and therefore he was never really the heart and soul of the show.
That means that there's more time for Kurt. As I mentioned in last week's recap, Kurt is the show's most fully-developed character, and when given the chance to show off, Colfer works wonders with his performance. In "Duets," though, he's not the focus, but he still manages to steal every single scene, if only with a look or a simple line reading. And he gets some good material to work with: he's developed a crush on Sam, and pursues him as a duet partner. But first Finn, and then his dad, warn him that he probably shouldn't sing with him, and point out Kurt's major flaw: he's so determined to have an average life and be accepted that he doesn't realize how persistent he can be. It's a problem that's affected his relationship with Finn, and I suspect it will recur through the season. It brings me back to one of the things I love about Glee that gets very little attention: this is a show about outsiders and failures, people who believe that they're destined for bigger and better things but, in reality, are no more than average. The fact of the matter is that Kurt, for all his efforts, probably will never have the "average" life that he wants; his homosexuality is going to make him the target of discrimination and bigotry no matter what he does. It's a sad truth, and it's that sadness around the edges that makes Glee such a unique show.
The show's on a roll now, with two great episodes in a row. "Duets" is the kind of episode that Glee should be doing every week, and encapsulates everything that's great about the show. Happy days, indeed.
- You know what else makes this episode so astonishing? The fact that Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester never once makes an appearance.
- I'm beginning to think Mike Chang is ADHD. Anyone else think so?
- Maybe it doesn't work on the ladies, but you've got to admit, but Chord Overstreet (Sam) does a mean Matthew McConaughey impression.
- Rachel and Finn's awkward performance of "Born Again," and all of the reaction shots = priceless.
- Since Sue was absent this week, I don't have any Wit 'n' Wisdom, but here's my favorite exchange of the night :
Rachel: You and me have more in common than you might think.
Kurt: That's a terrible thing to say.
- Glee won't air next week, but will return on October 26 with the Rocky Horror episode. Get pumped!