One of the perils of trying something new is that it doesn’t always meet with success. Although Glee is both heartwarming and brilliantly funny when it’s on target, the penultimate show of the first season was decidedly off the mark.
Of course Glee isn’t meant to be realistic; most of us don’t live in a world in which large groups of people randomly burst into song and dance numbers. To enjoy the show, we have to put our brains on neutral and just roll with its slightly surreal point of view. But while viewers are generally willing to go along with the show’s off-kilter take on reality, we balk at characters who suddenly shift directions, lose their motivation, or otherwise stretch that willing sense of disbelief to its breaking point. Characters should evolve, but they shouldn’t change their most fundamental motivations so quickly that we’re left with whiplash just trying to work out which way they’re headed.
For example, we know Will cares more about New Directions than he does about anything else in life, but how does that fit in with his decision to seduce Sue Sylvester to prove a point to her? It seems not only unnecessarily cruel, but risky; hasn’t he ever heard the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” If Will’s supposed to be the sympathetic star of the show, it’s a mistake on the part of writers to cast him as someone who’d behave so poorly that the high school kids he teaches wouldn’t stoop to it. The only saving grace about those scenes was Jane Lynch’s portrayal of Sue’s discomfort as Will sang a steamy version of “Tell Me Something Good” to her.
Did Fox forget to air an episode or three? That’s the only explanation I can make for Jesse’s abrupt about-face. A couple of weeks ago, he decided to leave Vocal Adrenaline and join New Directions, possibly at the instigation of his Vocal Adrenaline coach (who happens to be Rachel’s birth mother, but as the entire cast of the show apparently forgot that story line this week, it doesn’t merit much mention here). Over the course of those two weeks, he apparently managed to fall in love with Rachel, fall emphatically out of love with her, and ultimately publicly humiliate her on the schoolyard, leaving her with literal egg on her face. I get that these folks are playing high school students who can be fickle with their affections, but that all seems ridiculously abrupt. The only way we know that Jesse cared at all for Rachel is that he told us–and the point of watching a show is to show viewers what you want them to know, not to tell them.
Another example of telling us information rather than showing us is Quinn Fabray’s song this week. While Dianna Agron showed more vocal chops than we’ve seen from her before in her version of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” the writers have given her pregnancy ordeals short shrift. Quinn can talk ad nauseam to Mercedes about the stares and comments she gets and how difficult it is to live with Puck’s mom, but what viewers see doesn’t reflect that. The actress is lovely and talented enough to pull off tough scenes; why not give her a few to lend real weight to her troubles?
This review may sound overly picky; while I didn’t love “Funk,” it still had some of the moments that make Glee so much fun. Even when he has few lines, Kurt’s always quotable: “I was so depressed, I wore the same outfit twice this week” is a line I intend to borrow at least once. Lea Michele makes us feel Rachel’s misery (albeit in far too short a scene) when the Vocal Adrenaline members egg-bomb her. And the songs were almost up to Glee’s usual high standard, though Quinn’s solo had some noticeable auto-tuning at the start. Puck’s and Finn’s rendition of Beck’s “Loser” with the whole Sheets ‘N’ Things store joining in was especially fun and satisfying to anyone who’s ever worked retail.
The trouble is that after seeing what the show can do when it stays true to its characters, it’s impossible to watch such an uneven episode and not compare it to the episodes that hit every high note perfectly. The nineteenth episode, “Dream On,” was so good from start to finish that the lackluster “Funk” can only suffer more by comparison. No show that pushes boundaries will ever push only the right ones, though, and perhaps the reason Glee can be so good is that it isn’t afraid to be so uneven.
Bad Glee is still far better than no Glee at all, and after next week’s promising-looking finale, the wait for Season 2 already feels too long.