Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Glee: "New York"

From the very beginning of the season, when the New Directions performed "Empire State of Mind" in the beginning of the first episode, we knew we would be going to New York in the end. And sure enough, here we are, in the middle of Times Square as Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" plays overhead, massive advertisements of Broadway successes staring down upon Rachel Berry like the sirens on the rocks, calling her to them in their glitzy glory. Historically, taking a show on the road to a new location is a risky endeavor, yet Glee handles it quite well, treating it as just a new location for the same old nonsense: a bunch of dilly-dallying and inconsequential interactions, with a few excuses for a performance thrown in.

The New Directions are in New York for Nationals, but apparently haven't had any time to prepare anything for their performance until they arrived. So while trying to write two original songs for the competition, they also want to go out and enjoy New York while they're here. More importantly, Finn, now free of his relationship with Quinn, wants to win Rachel back, but she doesn't want his country-boy status to stop her from escaping Lima and following her own New York dreams. Meanwhile, Coach Taylor Will goes and checks out the college level Broadway before taking the job, and when the Panthers New Directions find out he's leaving, he quickly decides to stay instead. Finally, the New Directions perform, but unfortunately don't make the top 10, crushing their dreams of winning Nationals.

Let's talk about that ending first. I'm actually glad that New Directions didn't win. A part of that comes from real-world experience: come on, there's no way you're going to win when you're WRITING YOUR SONGS A MERE DAY BEFORE THE COMPETITION. Of course, real-world logic is not in the vocabulary of this show (which isn't a bad thing), so that's not the biggest thing for me. I've written over and over about the darkness on the edge of this show, and the underlying theme that no matter how big they dream, it's unlikely any of these characters are going to break out of small-town Ohio and be famous. Finn seems to have accepted this, and Rachel even makes it explicit that she knows he won't make it out of Lima. Seeing these kids make it this far, only to come short of their dreams (again), is a refreshing and interesting course for the show to take, and it's a decision that remains true to the heart of the show. To use a sports metaphor, not everyone can be the Yankees; somebody has to be the Cubs.

It's easy to be cynical about this episode, because the show, just like the kids, is completely in love with the New York romanticism. The city is lovingly shot, portrayed as the place where, to quote Alicia Keys "dreams are made of" and "these lights will inspire you." Caught up in this romancing are Finn and Rachel, a relationship that I kind of hoped wouldn't return but actually enjoyed here. Their date was very old-fashioned, and it played like a goofy-sweet Bogart-Bergman romance. And though they were obviously a contrivance, the guys singing "Bella notte" while Finn and Rachel almost-kissed was actually a really nice touch, nailing that misty-eyed tone that the show was obviously going for. If nothing else, the episode made New York look like the most romantic place on Earth, a place where love comes easily and often and shines with a warm, inviting glow.

As far as performances go, there were plenty. "I Love New York/New York, New York" was a fun mashup that showcased the city and gave the kids an excuse to go prancing around recognizable locations. Matthew Morrison got a chance to pimp his upcoming CD, singing the first single "Still Got Tonight" as Will finally got his chance to sing on a (empty) Broadway stage. Kurt and Rachel were given the opportunity to perform on Broadway as well, singing "For Good" on the very stage that Wicked plays eight times a week, the Gershwin Theater. It was gorgeous, of course, and it brought back a lot of memories of both seeing Wicked in New York (all the way back in 2008) and of my high school chorus performing the song (still brings a tear to my eye). In the actual competition, the group that performed "Yeah!" was utterly pointless and not even very good, while Charice got to pimp her upcoming CD by performing "As Long As You're There" (an original). As for the New Directions' new songs, "Pretending" was sweet if a bit boring, and "Light Up the World" tried to hard to be "Loser Like Me" to be truly great.

Overall, though, "New York" was a commendable end to a very up-and-down season of Glee. Of course, this means that the slate will be wiped clean for next season, in which pretty much the entire cast is going to graduate (though surely they can't all be seniors, right?). Here's a new chance, Glee: learn from this season's mistakes, and realize your potential as a show.

- I didn't even mention "My Cup," another classic Brittany song that is perversely sexual in its innocence.

- Earlier last week, the show hired Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a New York playwright best known for polishing the script for Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark - Version 2.0, to be the fourth writer. We'll see whether his voice makes any impact on the show's dynamic.

- I kind of hate that the whole "Will's going to Broadway" thing was resolved so quickly - it easily could have gone on into next season and still have worked, I think.

- How many instruments does Puck know how to play? You can now add accordion to that list, and hopefully next year we'll discover that he plays a mean harpsichord as well.

- Quinn, and really everyone who wasn't Finn, Rachel or Kurt, didn't have much to do in this episode, but man was her one scene really bad. On the other hand, her new haircut? Hot.

- They finally gave Cheyenne Jackson a moment to actually act, but it was still a waste of a terrific actor. Charice, however, was as stiff and wooden as ever.

- Patti Lupone made a quick cameo. I imagine she actually was dining in the restaurant while they were filming, and just agreed to do the spot thinking, "I'm Patti Lupone. I do whatever the hell I want."

- So what do we think of Sam and Mercedes getting together? I think it's pretty random, as are many of the relationships on this show, but it could turn out to be quite interesting if the writers remember it (Aguirre-Sacasa: here's your chance!).

- That's a wrap for season two. I want to hear your feedback: did you like these recaps? Should I write about season three as well, or should this be the end of this feature? Let me know in the comments, I want to know what you think.


Squasher88 said...

I actually thought this finale was a disappointment. I wanted the competition performances to be a bit more "grand" and "show-stopping". The original songs by the Glee kids were kinda lame, but Charice's was quite good. I also wanted more out of the ending....they called the final glee meeting and then...that was it. Overall, it felt like just another episode rather than a season finale.

Jason H. said...

They used their super-sized episode for the Super Bowl, but they really could have saved it for this one. It was a weird note to end on, but even if it was just another episode, at least it was an above-average one.