Saturday, May 28, 2011

Grading "Glee" -- Season 02, Episode 22, "New York"

So this is it. I usually have no problem suspending my disbelief vis-a-vis how the Glee kids pull off these performances (i.e. when do they rehearse? where do all the props and backing orchestras come from?) but the idea that a team would fly across the country for a national singing competition with absolutely nothing prepared is way too far beyond the realm of plausibility.

"My Cup". No point. Sweet and catchy and annoying like an advertising jingle. As if a song about a cup is going to get the point (although Heather Morris' dancing almost saves the song).

"I Love New York"/"New York, New York". B. "I Love New York" encapsulated the ugly side of the mostly excellent "Confessions on a Dancefloor", where Madonna assumed that she could write just about any old garbage-y lyrics because her producer (Stuart Price) would rescue the song for her. The list of singers who can pull off lyrics this dumb pretty much begins and ends with Barney Sumner, but singing it while running around New York causing mischief is a big improvement on the original.

"Still Got Tonight". B-. I had no idea that Matthew Morrison just released a solo album with songs written by people like Kris Allen and JC Chasez. Did he actually go out of his way to get critics to hate his album even more than they already would have? This vaguely Oasis-lite tune isn't half bad, although the weird effects added to his voice do nothing for the song.

"Bella Notte". D. Background music, and did they really sing all their own harmonies? I'm suspicious.

"For Good". C. The song is simply a backdrop for Kurt and Rachel's character transformation from small town singers with big city dreams to small town singers with big city dreams who are determined to escape that small town, like yesterday. That's a nice way to set up season three, where the lingering question will be about what all the Glee kids are going to do with their lives after next season, and how the show is going to continue with everyone presumably wanting to go their separate ways. The Patti LuPone appearance in an earlier scene was a nice touch -- not only was it a nice payoff after she'd been name dropped in a number of episodes, but her advice to Rachel was simple, direct, and inspiring. In thirty seconds on camera, she made a believer out of me. We can do anything we set our minds to! Yes!!

"Yeah!". Point. Girls in frilly white dresses singing Usher? Can't hate.

"As Long As You're There". C. No mention that this was an original song, but that's not really the point. There's no way this was better than Vocal Adrenaline's "Bohemian Rhapsody" from last year (the mother of all ludicrously OTT show choir performances, whereas the so-called action happening behind Sunshine couldn't have been more ordinary) or as good as New Directions' performance in the very next scene. In storyline terms, it makes sense for Vocal Adrenaline to advance to the final round while New Directions have to wait 'til next year, but the performance wasn't nearly up to snuff.

"Pretending"/"Light Up the World". B-. One huge obstacle for "Glee" -- and I don't envy the writers and producers who have to grapple with this -- is that these competition performances have to turn into Special Moments that stand apart from what happens on every other episode. It helps if the writers stack some extracurricular drama around the performance, but on this episode they didn't do themselves any favours. For no particular reason, Mr. Schue decided he wouldn't go to Broadway after all. Quinn's ominous surprise was ... a haircut? There was a nice symmetry in the way Rachel wrote a ballad about her feelings for Finn for Regionals, only for the tables to be turned for Nationals. But considering the magnitude of the moment (trying to win the national championship), the buildup was horrible. Rachel struggled for weeks trying to write something, sinking lower and lower into loneliness while trying to deal with the reality of Finn never coming back to her, but it was only after she was viciously put down by Quinn that she hit rock bottom and was able to tap into her true feelings and write her song. But Finn suddenly decided he wanted Rachel back and his song just kind of ... appeared.

Speaking of things appearing for no reason, Jesse showed up and did nothing although he did hit the nail on the head when he said the kiss was common and vulgar and would cost them the competition. On second thought, that's a big something that perfectly fits Jesse's new role as the asshole who is nonetheless right all the time. The kiss undoubtedly ruined the performance because everything they were feeling was etched on their faces -- Finn: desperate, Rachel: conflicted, both: wanting to jump each other's bones so badly -- and the kiss was just the sledgehammer of plot that cheaply resolved what would have been better left not done.

The songs themselves were watered down copies of the ones they performed at Regionals, especially "Light Up the World", which resembled "Loser Like Me" right down to the guitar intro and the ordering of their individual solos. And the urgency to win the competition wasn't there because we know there's always next year, and all the storylines had been already directed toward next season (Mr. Schue staying, Rachel and Finn getting back together, etc.)


And that's all, folks ... this was a fun experiment that feels completed now that the season is over. I doubt I'll do this again next year, but then again, I graded the first episode of the season to get a bit of a laugh, expecting that it'd be a one-time thing, and somehow ended up writing about all 22 episodes. So never say never ... "promise me you'll never give up".

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