Thursday, April 28, 2011

Glee: "Born This Way"

***I've been really bad about frequent posting lately, and I do realize and apologize for this. I've been living transiently lately, plus the end of the semester has brought about its usual madness as research papers had to be written and exams have to be studied for. I promise soon the regular programming schedule will return, with reviews, opinion posts, and all that. Plus, the LAMMYs are coming up, and if I find the time I'll make an FYC poster for The Entertainment Junkie. Anyway. That's the story. -Jason***

Being a fan of Glee is simultaneously one of the easiest and one of the hardest things I've ever done. That's not to say that I haven't had other trials and tribulations in my life (conquering the high dive at the YMCA when I was eight comes to mind), but in terms of pop culture nothing proves to be more difficult than Glee. Lost, a show with which I was obsessed, had a convoluted mythology and struggled with the occasional plot-hole and wheel-spinning, but the overall narrative and characters were engaging enough to keep me satisfied all the way up to it's brilliant, emotional (and emotionally rewarding) finale. House, another long-time favorite of mine which I have already written about, continues to be a show I want to love but has lost much of its luster to aging and lazy writing. Glee has been a combination of these two: there's so much here that's easy to love and interesting to watch, yet in equal measure there's terrible writing and appalling choices in narrative and character. It's a show that is at once magnificent and infuriating, fluctuating wildly from one extreme to the other, testing my patience while rewarding it at the same time. On one level, it would be easy to gloss over these problems and just go along for the ride, but that's impossible when the show WANTS to be taken seriously and become deeply invested in its characters. I never know what to say when people ask me if I like Glee: I can't just say "yes" or "no," but have to go through this long-winded explanation that is much more than they really asked for.

All of that is to say that while "Born This Way" was an improvement over last week's debacle, it still didn't go the distance for me, and at 90 minutes (57 without commercials, bless Hulu) that's a lot of distance to not go. After hearing the kids talk frankly about how much they'd change about themselves, mostly involving Rachel's desire to get a nose job, Will decides to have the kids sing about acceptance of themselves with a week-ending performance of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" while wearing custom t-shirts proudly proclaiming what they don't like about themselves. Kurt makes his triumphant return from Tolerance Narnia Dalton Academy, Quinn and Lauren compete for prom queen, and Santana launches her own prom queen scheme to win Brittany back. And Emma realizes her OCD is a problem.

At this point, its foolish to fault Glee for the way it handles IMPORTANT ISSUES! with the subtlety of a hammer on a brass bell; that's just the way this show is. There are some heavy-handed conversations about why bullying is wrong and why you should accept yourself for who you are, but ultimately these plotlines resulted in some sweet resolutions, such as Finn's gesture of keeping Quinn's middle-school picture in his wallet (though, for the record: accepting that Quinn used to be chubby, acne-ridden and brunette is one of the biggest stretches this show has ever done, and remember, they tried to fire Brittany out of a cannon). And the message is definitely one worth hearing, especially considering the show's main audience of teenagers, conservatives be damned.

The performances this week were all-around better too, especially in the variety. The covers included everything from West Side Story to TLC to Keane to Sammy Davis Jr. to Lady Gaga, who was the hook for this episode despite barely being present except for a few mentions and the final number. The strongest (and longest) performance of the night was Kurt's beautiful rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Blvd, a terrific showcase for his voice and a wonderful return to the show's showtunes roots. I'd be lying if I didn't say I had a soft spot for Blaine and the Warblers' "Somewhere Only We Know," partly because it was terrific and emotional and partly because it brings back some wonderful memories of high school. However, the highlight of the night was the incorporation of Duck Sauce's "Barbara Streisand," a song I could not be more excited to see introduced to the masses. Thank you, Glee, for that wonderful service.

But let's take a moment to talk about "Born This Way." I'm probably going to take some flack from this, especially since we seem to be in the midst of a Gaga backlash at the moment where Internet critics like myself are supposed to viciously hate her for some reason, but "Born This Way" is the best song Gaga has ever recorded. She's brazenly tried to go against the pop flow since the beginning, crafting dense hits that played well in the clubs as well as egregious songs that no one could have salvaged. She's been pop's enfant terrible but never seemed comfortable with the role, despite her insistence in interviews. On "Born This Way" (and, to an extent, "Judas") she's found a perfect role: long-lost disco queen. Though many have compared the song to Madonna's "Express Yourself" (thankfully Glee didn't choose to do that song this week too) and used as evidence that Gaga is just a Madonna rip-off, this song channels Gloria Gaynor more, at least to me. Needless to say I love the song, and Glee's treatment of it was worrisome to me. But they pulled it off well, and though it wasn't a classic Glee performance, it was worthwhile.

This episode made some positive changes, and the show seems to be gearing up to go somewhere interesting. We'll see how this pans out, particularly since the New York episodes are fast approaching. A strong finish is what the show needs.

- Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon really brought some interesting ideas to the episode, both in the way he shot various dialogue and choreography. I particularly liked the locker setpiece, where the camera was behind the lockers as we watched Finn and Quinn from the inside. Its good to see the show getting creative visually like this.

- I'm not necessarily sure that I believe in Karofsky's transformation, but I really want to believe.

- My favorites among the printed t's: "Lebanese" (Santana), "^ I'm with stoopid" (Brittany), "I'm with stupid (down arrow)" (Puck), "Can't sing" (Mike Chang - points for honesty).

- An episode with Mike O'Malley's Burt and without the new Wile E. Coyote, Sue Sylvester? Win-win.

- And Kathleen Quinlan got to stop by for about two minutes! Does anyone know if we'll see more of her in the future?

- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester Santana: "The only straight I am is straight-up bitch."


Simon said...

I hated how Will, of all the terrible qualities he has, went with 'Butt Chin'. Which is hypocratic, as he was bitching to Emma about how she has to look at more than superficial flaws.

Jason H. said...

I agree, but the one that really pissed me off was Kurt's "Likes Boys" as the thing he hates the most about himself after the show's worked so hard to show that he's proud of his homosexuality. That was offensively hypocritical.

Will, ultimately, just needs to go away. Or completely change into a real character. Whichever comes first.