Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Glee: "Funeral"

"I'm Lima good, not New York good." - Finn

How do you like your Glee? Or, rather, which of the Three Glees do you like the best? The absurdist musical comedy that plays out like a Looney Tunes cartoon cross-cut with American Idol? The soapy teen drama that goes for high emotion and big lessons, with a song or two to get the point across? Or do you like the combination of the two, the one that goes for both laughs and tears with a kids (and adults) who dream big but are undercut by the sad, inevitable predestination of reality? "Funeral" is an episode that belongs squarely in the second category, with a few light passes for humor but ultimately setting out to make you cry your eyes out at just how emotional everybody is. There's nothing particularly wrong with this version of Glee (though I prefer the latter one), but it was an episode that featured two plots that weren't quite working: one because it wasn't earned, and the other because it wasn't necessary.

Jesse St. James is now the "show choir consultant" for the New Directions, and his approach to preparing them for Nationals is to turn the group into the cast of Survivor, with Kurt, Rachel, Mercedes and Santana trying to outwit, outplay, and outlast each other for the role of the featured soloist. However, they receive the unfortunate news that Sue's sister has passed away, so Finn and Kurt reach out to Sue by arranging the funeral for her and asking the New Directions to perform at it. Meanwhile, Will is packing for New York, not just for Nationals but to actually help April with her Broadway show, a fact that he has not yet shared with the kids.

Through my Facebook and Twitter pages, I've seen that a lot of people cried in this episode, and I can admit that I wanted to, especially by the time it was over. But I couldn't. It's not because the acting wasn't great; Jane Lynch knocked it out of the park with her performance, Chris Colfer continued his winning streak, and even I'm-usually-just-eye-candy Dianna Agron (who has a terrific Tumblr, by the way) had a better episode than usual. The problem with this whole plot was that none of it felt earned. The show has spent the entire second season tearing down Sue Sylvester as a character, making her less and less sympathetic or remotely human and reducing her to a mere caricature of herself to the point where she seemed more like a bad SNL sketch version of the character rather than the Sue presented in season one. And this is something that I've written time and time again in these posts, but it's glaringly obvious here. After all of that nonsense of firing cheerleaders out of cannons and forming Legions of Doom, suddenly we have to care about her as a character again, something that the show has not required us to do since season one. So, at least to me, the whole plot, while sweet, felt cheated and too contrived. Believe me, I wanted to care about Sue, but it was hard to just forgive all of the destruction of her character and pretend that she was worth caring about. Lynch can act the hell out of it, but until Sue is a real, human character again, I just can't emotionally surrender to moments like tonight.

That's not to say that there weren't good things about this story. Again, the performances were great, and the kids' rendition of "Pure Imagination" was sweet and smartly chosen for the scene. It was also nice to see Finn and Kurt united as brothers, after all of the drama with that earlier in the season.

Smug bastard.

The American Idol-esque plot of selecting a featured soloist was a more egregious offense than the funeral story, for a number of reasons. First, it was obviously meant for wheel-spinning, a plot concocted because, well, the New York trip is next week, and they need something to fill time and, this being Glee, they obviously COULDN"T POSSIBLY BE REHEARSING. Second, the show makes Jesse into that asshole boyfriend we always fall for, over and over, even though we know he's going to treat us like crap eventually and break up with us again. There's no reason we should care anything about this guy, and that makes him an annoying character that doesn't really serve any purpose to the story other than to be some hitch in the Finn-Rachel relationship. Last, the in-fighting in the New Directions is completely erased with a single sentence from Will, making the entire plot a moot point anyway. Story-wise, it was ultimately a waste of time, with nothing gained or lost, which is not good television.

But there were solid moments here too, namely the musical performances. It was terrific to see Santana's rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black," especially since 1) it's Amy Winehouse, and who really talks about her anymore and 2) I'm willing to bet a lot of people didn't realize she did more songs than "Rehab." And on a related note, Chris Colfer may be the show's strongest actor this season, but I would be willing to argue that he has been given a run for his money by Naya Rivera, who's without a doubt the breakout star of this season. Speaking of Colfer, Kurt's "Some People" cemented the fact that he is the show's best Sondheim interpreter, and if he had a one-man show on Broadway, I would be first in line to see it. Mercedes wrung every bit of soul from Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," and reminded us that if Kurt is the New Directions' Bernadette Peters, then she is their Aretha Franklin. And if all of that is true, then Rachel's gorgeous "My Man" all but settled her place as the club's Barbara Streisand. All of these were fantastic performances, and were the highlights of the episode.

The interesting thing about this episode is that, compared to last year's penultimate episode, this was far and away an improvement. In fact, I would actually think that this episode would work better as last season's penultimate episode, since the drama would land better and pack more of an emotional punch. As it stands, though, its just a disappointment with two stories that just don't work, including one that should by all means be effective and powerful. In a way, the episode is just like Finn's quote: it's second-season good, but not first-season good.

- Is it wrong that when I saw the episode title was "Funeral," I was hoping it was Terri that died? And that I would have been really happy about that?

- "I'm not Chinese." "Neither is the food at Panda Express."

- I know the atmosphere of funerals is somber and melancholy, but Finn, for a break-up: wrong place, wrong time. That is never okay.

- So what are we willing to bet Quinn's big plan for Nationals is? I'm going with dating Sam again. Because that seems obvious enough.

- With Will secretly striking off for a new job while not telling the kids just before the biggest performance of their lives, I saw shades of Friday Night Lights' first season here. Only shades, mind you, because the latter handled this far superior.

- Nice clunky, over-obvious product placement for American Airlines. "The bathrooms are immaculate!"

- I would like to point out that when I was in chorus, we landed at LaGuardia when we flew to New York, not JFK. So good job New Directions for that little achievement. And I would like to point out that Delta's bathrooms are also very clean, but, like all airplane bathrooms, not meant for someone who's 6'2".

- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "I am lactating with rage!" Honestly, that's a line that only Lynch could pull off.


Simon said...

Remember that one where Terri said Will'd be sorry after they slept together? I swear, I thought next episode she was gonna shoot herself on his porch.

So I watched the pilot for the first time. I now understand why everyone was all excited.

Jason H. said...

I don't think we're ever going to see consequences for that. As far as I know, you and I are the only people on Earth who DO remember that.

I too saw the pilot again a while back. So much squandered potential there.

Squasher88 said...

Nice writeup. I also thought the sympathy wasn't earned...but I still couldn't hold back the tears. I think "Glee" needs to make up its mind as to what it wants to be: comedy or drama. It was hilarious as a comedy, especially in season 1, but the emotional dramatic parts are sometimes too cliche. Like this episode, when Jesse and Rachael kiss in the auditorium. It was so predictable and sappy that Finn walked in on them...with a flower in hand!

On another random note...damn, those kids can SING!

Jason H. said...

Thanks! I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't think it worked. And those kids can sing indeed (well, except Cory Monteith).

I don't necessarily think Glee needs to go one way or the other. There's no shame in pursuing drama and comedy; it just needs to find a balance between the two that's not tone-deaf and chaotic. A lot of the drama does tend to border on cliche, but it could work if it wouldn't just come out of nowhere and then fade away as quickly as it came. Granted, asking for naturalism from a musical is a little ridiculous, but it certainly wouldn't hurt the show's ability to create a lasting, honest emotional reaction.