After a year of being a critical darling and fan favorite, there was plenty of hype for the second season of Glee. Finally, the premiere episode arrives and it met with a resounding, "Eh."
Maybe it was because it wasn't as buzzy and original as the pilot or because there was just so much hype to live up to, but I was underwhelmed by last night's episode. The songs were lackluster and the story was fine, but it was lacking the blockbuster emotion that we've come to expect from this finest of hours. Yes, it's setting us up for the season to come, but as a stand alone installment, it was mediocre at best.
It started with a song that I, admittedly, can't stand: Jay Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind."
This tune has been ubiquitous all summer and everyone is championing it as the Big Apple's replacement anthem. I say no freakin' way. First of all, nothing can top the power and scale of "New York, New York" (the Liza version, thank you). Second of all there is no worse lyric ever written than "concrete jungle where dreams are made of." It's a cliche coupled with a grammatical error that even a toddler wouldn't make. And then "there's nothing you can't do." What is this, a song or a poster with a kitten hanging from a ball of yarn? I just hate everything about it.
That said, the performance here was quite solid with Mercedes, of course, bringing it home. And the sentiment was nice. After a summer away, the kids are back in school and they're trying to make everyone think they're cool by touting their trip to New York for nationals. Thanks to a very self-referential report from Jacob the Jewfro's blog, we learn that Rachael is annoying, Mr. Schuester should stop rapping, Puck had a vasectomy (and got rid of his mohawk, WTF?), Tina is now dating Mike Chang, and Brittany was lost in the sewers. This was clearly an answer to all the fan reaction and blog posts about the show. Babygay Kurt—who looked more like a gay minstrel as usual dressed in outfits that ranged from some Old Navy Lady Carrie Donovan sweater to a harness over a shirt that was party schoolboy and part leather daddy— answered accusations that he was a walking stereotype, he had some harsh words for all the bloggers and internet posters and was soundly hit with a slushie to the face.
That was to tell the audience that no matter how cool we think the cast of the show is, they're still social outcasts in the realm of the show. And no matter how many fancy production numbers they put on in the concrete jungle (where dreams are made of) outdoor lunch area, that no one in the school wants to be in Glee.
Well, that's until they meet the new students. When Rachel has a run in with Sunshine Corazon, a new exchange student from the Philippines, in the bathroom, it's time for a vocal face off to the strains of Lady Gaga's "Telephone." We'll say this for Sunshine, she doesn't have one wrinkle on her face.
Really? More Gaga? Didn't we have like a whole Gaga episode? This was just a really poor song choice. This is what worries me more than anything about the second season of Glee. Everyone was just sitting around saying, "Wouldn't it be awesome to hear Rachel and Sunshine sing Gaga together?" and so they put together this number completely devoid of reason or context. Couldn't they have found a song that was more about rivalry, which is what this situation needed? Maybe "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," from Annie Get Your Gun or something like that? No, they picked a Gaga song because all the Gleeks will just lap it up and download the fuck out of it on iTunes. When Sue Motherfucking Sylvester burst in at the end and told them to "Shut up!" I laughed because it mirrored my sentiments exactly.
What was great about this is that it kicked off all the rivalries of the night, mainly that between Rachel and Sunshine. The sad thing about this number is Sunshine seemed so happy to make a friend but Rachel was pissed to have a new rival. It was similar to the first meeting between Sue Motherfucking Sylvester, Mr. Schuester and Shannon Beiste, the new female football coach. When she stepped in for former coach Ken Tanaka, who had a nervous breakdown that we wish we could have seen on screen, it means the budget of Glee and cheerleading has been cut. She seemed eager to make buddies with SMFS and Will but they wanted nothing to do with her.
There was also a new rivalry between Quinn and Santana. After being expelled from the Cheerios for getting pregnant and pissing Sue off, Quinn takes her rightful place back on the squad. How great it was to see her in that uniform again strutting like a vanquished queen who just picked up her crown from the ground, dusted it off, and was sashaying amidst her subjects once again. Santana was demoted to the bottom of the pyramid for having a boob job. Their girl fight was amazing, but that snarl Quinn let out at the end, telling Santana she better tighten her pony before class, showed us who is really boss around here.
Also kicking off a feud is Finn and the new guy, Sam, who has a mouth so big that he looks like The Joker. Or Pac-Man. Anyway that mouth can fit a lot of really big notes, and Finn discovers when he's warbling in the shower (thank you Glee for the locker room scene!). Finn brings him in to Glee to audition with the boys.
His rendition of this Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars song was really good, but this is the kind of tune that, if it came up on shuffle on my iPod, I'd totally skip. Just saying.
But what this song is really about is striving. Everyone this episode was trying to be something greater than what they are or to attain some sort of lost glory. Quinn was trying to get back with the Cheerios, Sue was trying to be the lead tough lady at the school, Will was trying to get something akin to self-respect after dissing the Beiste, Artie was trying to get Tina back from the clutches of Mike Chang (damn Asian camp!), and Rachel was trying to be a (cue jazz hands) star. Everyone was striving, striving, striving.
No one more so than Finn. Insecure in his position on the football team now that Coach Beiste was making everyone try out again, he brought Artie in to try to get him on the team. The Coach, vulnerable to people who are different being made fun of thanks to the machinations of Will and Sue MF Sylvester, she kicked Finn off the squad. He then tried out for the Cheerios, trying to gain some status and popularity. He was awful. His audition should have been much better. He routinely dances well with New Directions, couldn't he have just stolen one of their routines for tryouts?
Sam was striving to be accepted by everyone at school and once he was made quarterback, he was done with Glee. He just wants to be popular and being saddled with the indignity of being in the Glee club isn't something that is going to make that possible. Well understood, Sam, but you and your giant maw will be back, I'm sure.
In her quest for superiority, Rachel sent Sunshine to a closed-down crack house (they have such a thing in Lima, Ohio?) so that she couldn't audition for Glee. But when she realized how messed up that was, she invited her back for another chance.
Of course she sang "Listen," the song that Beyoncé made them add to the Dreamgirls movie so that she would have a big solo and a chance to win an Oscar for Best Original Song. The song didn't fit in with any of the others in the movie musical, seemed like a glaring showstopper, and was just a chance for one singer to showboat. Well, we guess it was the perfect choice for the moment! Charice really kills it too.
Like she says, she's alone at a crossroads and Sunshine decides to choose going to Vocal Adrenaline instead of New Directions, after they made her feel so unwelcome. Smart choice, missy. We also got a glimpse of Dustin Goulsby, the dreamy new coach of Vocal Adrenaline (played by Broadway and 30 Rock vet Cheyenne Jackson). Sunshine, though, is a bit like "Listen." She wasn't a real character, she was just a chance for a young, Botoxed Asian superstar to show up and belt a couple of tunes. We learned absolutely nothing about her. She barely even had any lines. If the writers want us to care about her, she's going to need some more fleshing out.
And just like Sunshine made her choice to leave, Will made his choice to be nice to the Beiste, who needed nothing more than a friend. We like this Beiste—tough but lovable and with a penchant for strange phrases and nonsense metaphors that will serve the comedy writers well for the rest of her episodes. Will knows what it's like to be an outcast so he gets over having his budget slashed and welcomes the Beiste to the school. This ends his short detente with Sue Motherfucking Sylvester. There's nothing we like more than a pissed off SMFS baking up a batch of dog-poop cookies though, so this is all for the best.
Now that the action is over, all that's left is the atoning, courtesy of Miss Rachel Berry.
At first I thought this classic from A Chorus Line was totally superfluous—another "Listen"—but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. My biggest problem is that all night Rachel was saying that she was mean to Sunshine to help the other members of the Glee club. We all knew that wasn't true and, as Finn points out, she only did it for herself. Then, she goes and sings "What I Did For Love," which is a song about making sacrifices and being underhanded in the pursuit of something noble. Rachel is not a noble character at all. She should be singing, "What I Did for Myself." But I think that, in Rachel's warped mind, she really did think she did it for love. At least she did it for the love of herself. To her, that's something noble indeed.
As for everyone else, they'll have to answer for their sins in the future. Cheating Tina, mean Quinn, backhanded Will, cruel Sue, uppity Sam—they're all going to have to pay. I just hope that, when they do, it's in a better episode with stronger songs.