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On its march of contrition for last season, Glee still stumbles toward the light, slowing things down and getting serious and dramatic once again. But every now and again it stumbles, just like last night.
Yes, there was a little bit of that old craziness creeping back in the show last night. While it was an enjoyable hour, there was all this strangeness with dancing footballers and scheming boyfriends and just not all the pieces fitting together. But that said, the characters were behaving like themselves and every action seemed to have an equal and opposite reaction which, for Glee, is a step in the right direction.
Last week I was complaining (in the comments, which means it didn't really happen) that the show has gotten away from the kids breaking out into song at random moments, like in a normal musical. Instead they always had to come up with an excuse—a rehearsal, an audition, an actual performance—for them to warble their little hearts out. Well, last night the random music numbers were back, I think to great effect.
The first one was Mercedes' rendition of Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight." Mercedes' boyfriend, who has all the movement and inflection of that talking rock pile from Neverending Story, convinces her that she is a star and she should start acting like one. We already know that Mercedes has diva-tastic tendencies and this brings it out. He tells her that she always makes him watch Dreamgirls and she says she's Beyoncé but behaves like she's Effie White (the character played by Jennifer Hudson because saying "You say you're B. but you behave like JHud isn't really an insult cause JHud is awesome). What's ironic though is that she sings JHud instead of Beyoncé, showing that, deep down inside, she knows she's not the diva she pretends to be.
The lyrics are ironic also in that the spotlight the singer gets from her lover is what is keeping her from succeeding. The attentions he gets is all the wrong attention, and that is what Mercedes feels like. She's not going to be part of the Rachel Berry show anymore, she's going to audition for West Side Story and she's going to get the lead, god damn it. Rachel is actually very very afraid.
The directing triumvirate loves her performance so much they decide to have Mercedes and Rachel face off for the part.
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Speaking of face offs, Brittany has decided that she's going to challenge Babygay Kurt in the Class Presidential Nomination. Well, she's more qualified than Michele Bachmann! But how is she going to convince everyone to vote for her? Girl power, of course! It seems that all the past school presidents have been men and they've really fucked things up, so Brittany is going to swoop in and save everyone.
Brittany is also feeling Beyoncé and sings her "Run the World (Girls)". I want to write a song called "Song Titles with Parenthesis (Things I Really Hate)." I also don't really love this song, but boy do I love a big splashy production number where Brittany wears a ludicrous outfit and apes the choreography from a Bed Bath and Beyoncé video. Claps for this one.
And claps to the writers for drawing this election out over several episodes, giving all the participants viable motivations for entering, and creating some dramatic dynamics in the show that have nothing to do with who is in or out of Glee Club. Oh, not so fast on that one.
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The most surprising addition to the show was a spotlight for Mike Chang, formerly known as "other Asian." Like our girl Brittany, he's busted out of the background with his solid performances—mostly as a dancer—to become something of a fan favorite. Just like everyone in Glee, the audience didn't think he was a great singer or actor, but now that he has his first solo number, he's acquitted himself nicely.
He decides to audition for the school musical after a ludicrous scene where he hears voices in the rehearsal room and dances with himself. No, it wasn't as cool as Billy Idol, it was more like Billy Elliot, which is also cool, but this just seemed silly and out of place and boring. But it convinces him to audition with "Cool," the West Side Story dance sequence that is sung by Riff and is basically just an excuse for the Jets to fight/dance in formation and hopefully take their shirts off and show their glistening torsos to the audience. I mean really, "Cool" demands the vocal range of a late career Elaine Stritch (and if you get that joke, you can be my friend), so it's not really that difficult a feat to get through this song. But still! The dancing!
The problem for Mike is that he got an "Asian F" (an A-, a joke that would have been way funnier if it were delivered better by Mike Chang's father) in chemistry. His Tiger Parents want him to play football and go to Harvard and think that Glee Club is a waste of time. Mike rebels against them because dancing is all he wants to do.
After ditching his chemistry tutor to audition, Mike Chang's mom shows up at the school to find him dancing. This was all so pat and out of the blue and just like the old Glee that it gave me a major #Eyeroll. But then Mike's mom tells him that she had dreams too and she had to give them up and she doesn't want that for her son. In return for her support, he shows her how to dance and it's so gimmicky and sentimental, but it also made me hold back the tears because I have a soft spot for parents supporting their loser teens. You can't get mad at mom's loving their kids!
Anyway, Mike C gets the role of Riff, so expect a lot more low-knee walking and finger snapping in his near future.
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OK, now it's time to talk about Mercedes the diva. At the top of the episode, she was a big hassle because she showed up late to Bootie Camp. (An activity that has been going on for more than one episode intended to make the Glee Club better? Yes please!) Then when she comes back to Bootie Camp and is the only one who can't do the dance move that they're doing (which seemed to me to just be loosely jumping in a circle like a 5 year-old doing the pee-pee dance) she got all mad and threw a diva fit about how Rachel wasn't there and she's better than Rachel and she's sick of everyone treating her like crap.
That's when she launches into the "It's All Over" number from Dreamgirls where Effie White gets kicked out of the group for being A) fat and B) annoying. Now Mercedes gets kicked out of Glee just for being annoying and for, well, not being able to dance.
But here's the thing. While she's playing diva and trying to come off as confident, it's really just to mask her insecurities. She tells everyone that she's Beyoncé and that's how she acts on the outside, but she's Effie White on the inside. She's the girl who gets dumped for not being good enough. That's how she feels and when it comes down to it, that's what she imagines in her mind. All this false bravado is just to mask the disappointment in herself for not being able to do the dance, for knowing that, for all her talent, she's not as dedicated as Rachel Berry.
What Mercedes needs to remember is that there is nothing wrong with being Effie White. She may be the backup singer, but she has the best numbers in the musical. It's Effie White who wins the damn Oscar. Sure, it's the Best Supporting Actress, but that is still an Oscar. In a play or a choir or any group performance, it takes all sorts of people, and sometimes it's those that aren't in the lead that shine. Just ask Brittany and Mike Chang and Effie White!
The other thing I want to bitch about is the show's In-and-Out-of-Glee-Club-itis. Can't we just keep the damn roster the same? Or at least have some real consequences to coming or going? Santana got kicked out two episodes and now she's back for no reason. The same with Quinn. And now Mercedes is gone. As soon as Mr. Schue kicked her out I said to myself, "Self, she's marching right into Shelby's room and join her choir," which is just what happened. While it may be predictable, at least the plot was established enough to make sense. Now there's going to be even more people leaving the club to join the choir. At least now all the ins and outs might have real stakes.
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Here is the song Emma, Artie, and Bieste selected for Rachel and Mercedes to sing for their callback, "Out Here on My Own" from Fame, which I am loathe to admit I have never seen. Well, I've seen the series, but never the movie. I know, I'm a horrible homosexual.
I think they both did a good job from what I can tell, but both Mercedes and Rachel are convinced that Mercedes sang it better. But I'm not sure that's really the case. Both girls operate from a place of deep-seated insecurities but they manifest themselves in different ways. Rachel, when challenged, gets scheming and tries to figure out ways to put herself back on top, usually at the expense of others. That's why she decides to run for Class President against Kurt. She tries to couch it like "if either of us win, we can make the other Vice President and it will be good for both of it," but BG Kurt calls bullshit on her plan. He's right, it's totally bullshit.
Mercedes insecurity comes out in her false confidence. I'm sure she felt that Rachel was better than her somewhere deep down inside and that's why, when the directors tell them they double cast the role, Mercedes challenges Rachel to tell her she was better. That's when Mercedes walks out on the role. Turning it down had nothing to do with it not being fair and everything to do with being compared to Rachel. It reminded me of the antics of another true diva, Nene Leakes, who bowed out of Celebrity Apprentice claiming that Donald Trump was unfair to her but really because the idea of losing on national television was too much embarrassment for her to bear. She wanted to give it the spin like, "I didn't win because I quit. I was too good for it," but at the end of the day, the reality is neither of them win. Like GI Joe said, "quitters never win." Mercedes just couldn't bear the possibility of being worse in the role than Rachel (and considering Mercedes can't dance, she probably would have been).
Now that Mercedes bowed out, Rachel is awarded the role, but it wasn't the triumph she was hoping for. She needs to feel like a winner, and she didn't win this battle, she was handed it. That's why she doesn't want to withdraw from the Presidential race. She needs that validation of the school to feel like a whole person. That's why she's horrible, and that's why she's going to be a gigantic star one day. But, both of these girls, with their selfish behavior, are going to end up out there on their own.
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The most boring storyline of the night was the whole drama with Will and Emma. God, the adults are so boring. It was something about Will not feeling special because he didn't meet Emma's parents because he thinks she's ashamed of him. (Also, what is up with him showing her his porn stash? Why is he always trying to gross her and all of us out with his sex talk?)
Anyway, Will meets Emma's parents and it turns out they're ginger supremacists, which is a very funny concept, but didn't translate to comedy on screen. It just seemed like a wacky idea that failed, maybe because it wasn't given enough time to germinate. It's their racism (hairism?) that made Emma into an OCD freak, and their visit makes her even worse, but Will is there to sing "Fix You" the Coldplay song (thanks for securing the rights, Gwynnie!) about trying to fix someone. Duh.
It was all so very fitting and I loved that it was the third number of the night (after "Spotlight" and the Dreamgirls sequence) to take place in some weird netherworld where performances just come together without logic. All of last season that's what we were clamoring for Glee to get, some logic, but maybe it was the defiance of logic, their own internal wacky heartbeat, that made us fall in love with it in the first place? Who knows, but now that it's trying to fix itself, I'm willing to overlook a few measly stumbles.