Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Glee: "Original Songs"

You can see what the main draw of this week's episode was: it's right there in the title. This week was the big unveiling of Glee's first original songs, and I mean the real original songs, not "My Headband." It was also the week of Regionals, which yes, that's a very big deal, but where this was the biggest moment in season one (the finale, which raised the stakes for the show, brought in a dark ending, and wrapped up several key plot points), this year it was merely a set-up episode for the rest of season. We were promised in "Audition" that New Directions would be on its way to Nationals, and though it would have been cruel to pull the rug out from under them here and have them lose again, it would have solidified the show's theme of every one of them ultimately being a loser, with astronomical odds of ever becoming a famous singer or superstar. Instead, of course, they won, and so its off to New York we go.

So unlike my usual recaps/analyses of the show, I'm not going to write much about this episode's plot, since it was ultimately by-the-numbers and not all that interesting. However, I would like to mention one significant plot point: the Kurt-Blaine kiss. Glee gets a lot of flack from me about a number of things: lazy/inconsistent writing, shallow characters that lack real personality (I'm looking at you, Will Schuster), random and unnecessary musical numbers that are meant to pander to the audience or remind them that certain characters still exist (such as the recent Warbler numbers in several episodes). But there are things that are worthy of praise as well, and this kiss was one of them. Gay couples have kissed on TV before, and they've kissed in teen shows before, but this felt different. For one, it was a gay kiss on an insanely popular show. Secondly, there was the way it was handled: no conflicted feelings, no exploitation, no anti-gay beatdowns: just an organically set-up kiss that felt natural and earned. And it was handled with empathy, less about "look at the gay guys kissing" and more "look at these teenagers in love kissing." Its moments like these that solidify my opinion that Glee could be the best show on television with a few tweaks, creating more natural character moments like this one. And best-show-status or not, this scene sets an example that every show can learn from.

The music is what I would like to discuss in-depth here. As a competition episode, of course "Original Songs" is packed with performances. In fact, it opens at Dalton, with the Warblers launching into an impromptu performance of Maroon 5's "Misery" (I actually have a very tumultuous relationship with Maroon 5. I enjoy their music to an extent, but any goodwill I harbor toward a song is shattered when its overplayed incessantly on the radio around here. And I mean overplayed to the point where its on four different radio stations at once.). It was pretty standard Warblers, but the "We Will Rock You"-like breakdown in the end was kind of bizarre. Later, Kurt's "Blackbird" was really just an excuse to get Kurt to prove he can sing just as well as Blaine, and it was pretty but ultimately filler. At the competition, Oral Intensity's super-peppy religious song brought me back to my childhood days in Vacation Bible School at church, where that sort of song was the norm for what we learned to perform. Kurt and Blaine's duet, Blue Monday's "Candles," was sweet, but the AutoTune on their voices was distracting and unnecessary. The Warbler's "Raise Your Glass" was, well, there. Actually, its no surprise that New Directions won: the other two groups were good at best and lacked any energy.

So here we go: the original songs. The first one we get is Rachel's second stab at songwriting, "Only Child," which wasn't "My Headband," and that's the highest praise it can really get (but don't worry, it was supposed to be bad). Then came an interesting stretch where the kids were allowed to perform original songs that they had written to decide who's song is selected to be performed. Santana unleashed "Trouty Mouth," a torchy ode/insult to boyfriend Sam's large mouth (which is rather wide). This was followed by Puck's rockabilly love song for Lauren, "Big Ass Heart," and Mercedes R&B jam "Hell to the No," the best song that Whitney Houston has inspired in a very, very long time. I imagine these were fun exercises for the songwriters to indulge themselves in, but ultimately I think the producers wanted enough original music to fill multiple slots on the Billboard charts (more on that in a second). At Regionals, Rachel finally wrote a real song, "Get It Right." Its pure diva-pop, a maudlin, overblown ballad that is tailored perfectly to Lea Michele's Broadway-trained voice, and it was actually pretty good. However, they saved the best song for last: "Loser Like Me," which was in the vein of such current pop staples "Firework," "Fuckin' Perfect," "We R Who We R," etc. What made this song the night's best was that it worked on two levels: first, it was a terrific pop song, something you could actually expect to see on the radio (and I suspect it will be a big hit), catchy and inspirational in its own cheesy way; second, between the lyrics about finding strength in loserdom, the cheerfulness twinged with melancholy, and the Slushees at the end, the song is Glee as music, the show condensed into three minutes of pop.

So there you have it: Glee's done original songs. The big question now, is, should they do it again, and if so, how often? I think it would be interesting to bring original songs back into the show, but not have them every week: more likely than not they'll exhaust all of the songwriters' good ideas early, leaving us with some potential disasters after a while. Essentially, more "Loser Like Me," less "Trouty Mouth." And the episode as a whole? One of the season's better hours, but not among its best. The songs steal (and deserve) more attention than the episode itself.

- By the way, this was also the Kathy Griffin episode. She has one real scene, and she completely owns it as a Tea Party candidate (no question about Glee's politics here: decidedly liberal). However, she and Loretta Devine, as an exotic-dancer-turned-nun, are largely wasted.

- I can't keep up with who is William McKinley High's resident bitch: this week, apparently its Quinn.

- I know Dalton Academy is supposed to be a Tolerance Narnia, but since there's basically no conflict EVER, the Warblers come off as pretty spineless. Seriously, no one else in the group thinks they deserve a shot at a solo or duet?

- Will asks the kids what they're favorite songs are, and the results are as follows: Puck: Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," Santana: Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," Brittany: "My Headband."

- Do you guys think any of these songs have a legitimate chance at becoming radio hits? Discuss.

- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "I didn't sleep with their drummer. The drummer I slept with was from Jimmy Eat World." 

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