Last night Fox tried to indoctrinate the half-drunk, post-Super Bowl audience with a random grab bag of jazz hands and pop confections called Glee. We hope they tuned in to have some of their questions about this phenomenon answered, but there is one question that Glee can't seem to answer these days: Why?
Yes, the show has completely lost its organizing principle and reason for being. In its second season, watching an episode of Glee is like being a third grade teacher and talking to the brightest kid in the room. She often shows immense promise, but also behaves monstrously and when pressed for a reason why, she says, "'Cause." Well 'cause why? "Dunno, just cause."
Like the Madonna, Brittany, Lady Gaga, and Christmas episodes before it, last night's episode was a whole bunch of "Dunno, just cause." It was a string of randomly related events and songs that never added up to something greater than a sum of its parts, like the best episodes of the show can. But let's try to find some semblance of order, shall we? Let's look at each of the numbers and ask that most vital question of all: Why?
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Why start off the show with Katy Perry hit "California Gurls" and fill it with mincing cheerleaders with fire coming out of their boobs and guys on BMX bikes? To convince all the Bud Light-swilling masses that they should stick around and watch this Glee thing, because it might be kind of fun. This couldn't pander more to middle America if it were a NASCAR-themed Kenny Chesney medley set in a Wal-Mart. But if you have to pick a huge pop hit of the moment, Katy Perry isn't a horrible place to start, though one that would appeal more to Glee's already rabid girls and gays fan base. (And since we're asking why, can we ask Katy Perry why the title is "California Gurls?" Do women in the Golden State not know how to spell?)
But at least this extravagance had a bit of context. This is Sue Motherfucking Sylvester's current Cheerios routine, the one she thinks is going to win the regional competition. Of course when choreographing a production number Sue is going to have fire whips, blue wigs, and all sorts of other cheerleading oddities. Even though it was clearly a bit of audience-enticing showmanship it made sense to long-time viewers of the show in the context of Sue's megalomaniac tendencies.
This routine wasn't crazy enough for her though, and she sold her soul to a carny so that she could buy a human cannon to shoot Brittany out of for the spectacular finale to her routine. (Could we find a better metaphor for this episode than Sue's dangerous, extravagant human cannon?) When the Cheerios find out about this they run to Mr. Shue to get him to stop it. He gets the principal to deem it too dangerous for a student to do against her will and Sue flies into a (rather comedic) rage.
While this is happening, the rift between the football team and Glee club is getting worse. Kurt's bully Fury and the other non-singing members of the team continue to resent the guys who play both on the gridiron and in front of the footlights, and the tension has gotten so intense that it's led to fights. What is Coach Bieste and Mr. Schue's brilliant plan to make everyone get along? Make the football players join Glee Club!
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Why are Rachel and Puck singing Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now"? Hmm, that's still unclear. They have to show the football players they can sing? But don't they already know that? This makes no sense. But this anthem of codependency should be just the thing to show the football players and the Glee clubbers that they really need each other to get along, even though the pigskin squad—and homosexual bully Fury most of all—thinks Glee is "gay."
The problem is the club also needs their cheerleading members. To take revenge on Mr. Schue for putting an end to her human cannon trick, Sue MF Sylvester moves her regional championship to the same day as the football team's championship game. That means that there will be no half-time show because the cheerleaders are gone. Mr. Schue decides that the Glee club will do the half time show, with the football players. He and the Bieste think it makes perfect sense for the guys to go out and play the first half of their game, go get into costume, perform an elaborate dance number when they're supposed to be resting, and then go out and play some more. And they're going to do "Thriller" with "Heads Will Roll." Oh great, a mash up. Gird yourselves!
Anyone who loves musicals has grown accustomed to silly plots that make little sense in the real world, but this doesn't make any sense in any world—not even in the fictional world. Not even in the sunshine and unicorns planet where Brittany lives. Who cares if there's not a half-time show? This isn't a crisis, people. Without the cheerleaders everyone will use the break to go to the concession stand and get more peanuts and maybe sneak out to their cars for a secret beer or something. No one is heart broken that there won't be a half time show. Just ask the Black Eyed Peas.
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So, why are the football players singing The Zombies' wonderful "She's Not There"? Um, well, they were already in zombie makeup for their "Thriller" rehearsal and this song is by the Zombie, so...get it? Actually, big gay Fury, who Mr. Schue thinks is a talented performer, is having so much fun with "Thriller" that he wants to do a "warm up number." When, exactly are they going to perform this? In the half-time show? Just for fun? In the cafeteria during lunch? And don't they need to, you know, practice their football skills to win the big game rather than rehearsing a dance number that no one is ever going to see.
But after killing the number—really, it was a stellar rendition but it's hard to fuck up a song that great—the football team is confronted by the hockey team (mullets and all) who call them "dorky gay nerds that are ugly and their mothers dress them funny" or something like that and pour slushies on them. After being humiliated for being in Glee, a humiliation the footballers have been regularly doling out to the Glee club members, they decide they'd rather be "cool" than play football. They quit Glee and Bieste kicks them off the team.
Meanwhile, now that New Directions is doing the half time show, Quinn, Santana, and Brittany are forced to choose if they want to be in Glee or the Cheerios. They choose Cheerios because they want to be considered cool—and because they're terrified of Sue. Sue even used a hilarious crayon drawing of the human cannon to convince Brittany to allow herself to be fired to her doom. Very literally, these girls are not there for the Glee club when it needs them the most.
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I am not even going to ask why the Warblers were singing Destiny Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills." There was absolutely no reason at all. Actually the reason went something like this: Ryan Murphy woke up one day and said, "Girl, know what would be fierce? If Blaine sang some Beyoncé! Oh, he should do 'Can you pay my biiiiiillllllllls.' That will be awesome." And so he made it happen for no reason at all. There is just this number, smack dab in the middle of the show with no explanation or context at all.
Imagine how new viewers felt about this number. After watching all this mishegoss about the football team and the cheerleaders and suddenly you come back from the commercial break and suddenly there are all these boys you haven't seen before in prep school uniforms twisting their necks up trying to play Beyoncé. It must have been more befuddling than a peace rally at a gun show. There was absolutely no reason for this number to be in the show. Zero.
The only consequence it had is that BG Kurt and Blaine had a coffee date with Mercedes and Rachel to talk about how things are going with Glee. The girls tell them that now that the football players are off the team there won't be a championship game which means there won't be a half-time show. But Blaine, apparently, is an expert in the rules of high school football and says that the team only needs nine players to hit the field. The girls come up with the brilliant idea that they will join the team and then they can play! Then they will get their half-time show.
So, the girls join the squad, but they say they're all going to lay down on each play so they don't get hurt. Well, all except burly Shannon. And honestly, I expected more of our ladies. Tina clearly wants to play (and almost scores a TD) and Mercedes is not one to take any hardship lying down. Rachel Barry (with her brilliant Fosse-esque stance on the line of scrimmage) is, however. Naturally they're getting pummeled, so Finn calls in Sam to replace him as QB (what? why wasn't he on the field in the first place? Don't they need 9 players to keep the game going?) and leaves to go get the cheerleaders back. He dispatches Puck to get Fury and the gang from the football team to perform in the half time show so that Bieste will let them play the second half of the game.
This is all just completely insane. It's great to see dopey Finn show off his quarterbacking skills by dispatching people where they need to be the most, but couldn't he have sent Rachel or Mercedes to get the girls back while he continued to play? And do they really need the girls? What is even going on anymore.
Basically all this show has become is an endless series of quitting and joining. They're on the Glee club, they're off the Glee club, they're in football, they're out of football, they're in Cheerios, they're out of Cheerios, then they're in Glee and football, but not Cheerios, and then they're in Cheerios, but not Glee club and they're an alternate on the football team, but only when they're not getting bullied. Then they're going to a prep school and quitting Glee, but joining the Warblers and only doing cameo appearances when they need a Beyoncé number. Seriously, the only dramatic tension the writers can think up is whether or not kids join a particular club? Come on!
The biggest problem with this is that no one's decisions have any consequences. They just come and go as they please, and if they change their mind, they can just do it. Maybe you should make some of these characters learn and grow and have to live with their mistakes. Isn't that a novel approach? Wouldn't that create some interesting tension?
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Before we ask why about this number, let me just say that this was one of the, if not the best mash-up in Glee history. The songs fit well together both musically and thematically and made the old song new and fresh and fun. This whole number was great, a true spectacular for the crowd both in the stands at the football game and viewers watching at home. I guess that's the only "why" we need. We're willing to forgive a lot for a truly outstanding number.
What was missing though was the emotional resonance from the number. When watching big gay Fury see the team dancing and watching the reaction of the stands and make the final decision that it doesn't matter what people think of him, he wants to do something he enjoys and would rather be part of something than be a nobody on his own, we should have felt something. But I didn't. I was just apathetic at that point and confused by the constant coming and going of teammates.
In the end the team wins with a ploy that is so moronic I can't even mention it again. Everyone is happy in Glee-ville, and Finn thinks that their big victory, both athletically and musically, means that Fury will want to join Glee. Why? Why would he assume the person most resistant to the whole thing would be the first one to join up? Naturally, he doesn't. In the realest moment of the whole episode, he says that everything that happened changed nothing, that he still thinks Glee sucks. While his behavior makes sense for a high-schooler and his character, it's also symptomatic of the larger issue. Nothing that happens on Glee matters. It's not that the stakes are low, it's that the game is fixed and there is no winning. Who wants to play a game that always ends in a tie?
Glee was trying to educate the football loving masses about its show, but maybe it has something to learn from all of those fans. There will always be die-hards that have your back and support you through your mistakes, but after enough bad performances, they're going to find new teams to root for.