Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “Britney/Brittany.”
Britney Spears’ music was always pretty straightforward with its thinly veiled innuendo and high energy level, but her music videos relied on flashy choreography and cheap Freudian imagery to create the mystical mythos of quasi-adolescence in which she wrapped herself. Britney was among the precursors to today’s all-out po-mo tripfests by performers such as Lady Gaga and Florence + The Machine (and for that I thank her). The problem with Britney is not her performances; rather, her music has never enjoyed a particularly deep relationship with artistic concerns like metaphor or allusion. That’s not to disparage her; Britney’s work has always been reliably catchy and memorable. But Britney’s lack of aesthetic works against the efficacy with the situations presented by “Glee,” as evidenced by the fact that most of last night’s musical numbers took place in anesthesia-induced hallucinations because there was no goof way to work some of her songs into the narrative.
“I’m A Slave 4 U,” “It’s Me Against the Music,” “… Baby One More Time” and “Toxic” were enjoyable in and of themselves, but that’s where the respect ends. The first three paid homage to Britney; “Toxic” was a bland presentation made largely so Sue could become inexplicably upset and cause a riot. Only Artie’s rendition of “Stronger” made a substantial connection, creating engaging insights into Artie’s mind.
But if Britney’s work didn’t mesh particularly well with last night’s theme, the blame cannot be placed entirely on her. The episode, while generally not objectionable, didn’t come together quite as well as Ryan Murphy obviously hoped. The disparate plotlines shared a certain level of conformity, themed around gaining control of one’s life, but never seemed to make any particular point.
The technical centerpiece of the episode was Brittany Susan Pierce, who has always felt stuck under the shadow of Britney Spears because of a mangled pronunciation of her name (“Brittany S-Pierce,” altogether). Although Brittany has roughly zero character development beyond “dumb” (after all, she rinses her mouth out with Dr. Pepper), one thing must be acknowledged: Heather Morris has a truly fantastic voice. It doesn’t always come across during her near-constant string of unknowingly self-deprecating one-liners, but Morris can really pull it out in the spotlight.
“Glee” has never been a show that sticks to strictly pragmatic interpretations of reality; Mike Chang is objectified so heavily it’s blatant sexism for example. But last night’s episode was particularly objectionable on this front. Schue just went out and bought a Corvette without any planning or forethought. All of the “Glee” kids visited dentist John Stamos, who apparently puts kids under at their request. And Jacob Ben Israel, whose past portrayal was extreme if comedic, crossed the creepy line this week; he should really be on some sort of rapist watch list.
Schue needs to loosen up, was the message of this episode, but only if you’ve never watched “Glee” before, in which Schue has been plenty spontaneous (started an a cappella group; bought a dozen wheelchairs; kissed Emma). He tried to by buying an exact near-exact replica of Stamos’ ‘Vette, which only further proved how averse he is to change. Rachel continued her streak of greater-than-normal self-centeredness, which flared way up after Coach Beiste let Finn and Artie on the football team after all (they said it wasn’t in the rules, but I guarantee you paraplegics are not allowed on the field). Her worry about Finn getting hurt isn’t concern for him, it’s concern for herself. “I want to be the only thing that makes you feel good,” she tells Finn. But at the end of the episode Rachel redeemed herself just a tiny little bit with her nice rendition of Paramore’s “The Only Exception.”
Side note: What is up with the in-the-closet chocolate-and-vanilla thug couple that showed up again to terrorize Finn? Will they just make out already? Jeez.
It’s nice to see Emma with someone a lot better for her than Ken Tanaka, especially since she’s now forcing her into new spontaneous activities like mixing red and green grapes. But I couldn’t get over the feeling that there was something creepy about him. Maybe it’s the fact that he didn’t work with a dental assistant, or that he put both Brittany and Santana under anesthesia at the same time with no one else present. Or maybe it’s because he was so friendly toward Schue — a little overly friendly, if you catch my drift. I’ll feel silly if it’s nothing, but some small part of me wonders what Stamos’ end-game is.
I’ve very much missed Kurt and Mercedes, who have been painfully absent from the microphone so far. Next week, however, looks to have great potential, including Burt possibly dying (no!) and performances of “Only the Good Die Young” and “One of Us.”
I wasn’t a huge fan of the Madonna-themed episode in the latter half of “Glee”’s first season, and this week’s Britney Spears extravaganza did little to convince me that the show can pull off these specific artist-themed outings. The key problem: shoehorning some semblance of a plot around the over-the-top musical numbers. This is probably the crux of my issue with “Glee” as a whole, but its never been more apparent than in the Madonna and Britney episodes.
The lesson that the kids and Mr. Schue need to learn this week: confidence in being oneself. Mr. Schue is threatened by Emma’s new dentist boyfriend, and is repeatedly told he needs to loosen up. This of course means buying a Corvette (which did lead to the random but entertaining reappearance of Terri) and joining the kids for the performance of “Toxic” once everyone convinces him that the music of Ms. Spears has allowed them all to have nitrous oxide induced epiphanies while getting their teeth cleaned (including Santana, who apparently just wanted to get high, and Dr. John Stamos let her).
Brittany S. Pierce was in all her glory tonight. One-liners by the barrel. “This room looks like that one spaceship where I was probed.” “Are you a cat?” And while I’m all for getting more Brittany and Santana on our television screens, I didn’t love their covers, and was underwhelmed by Spears’ cameos.
The musical numbers were… not enjoyable. “Stronger” was my favorite of the night, mostly because it’s impossible to hate on Artie. Though this “Artie on the football team” plot must be eliminated soon. It’s even more implausible than Terri’s fake pregnancy.
And please, “Glee” writers, I know you want to appear totally hip, but viral video references are not the way to go. Santana’s “Leave Brittany alone” got a chuckle, but Rachel’s “Is this real life?” was forced and unnecessary.
Oh, there was also some Finn/Rachel shenanigans, I guess. Rachel wanted to make him choose between her and football, Finn wants her to do… something. Quinn acted as a temptress to test Finn’s loyalty. And another episode ends with an overwrought Rachel solo. So, so over it.
Criminally underused: Mercedes. Did she even get a line this episode? Mostly I think she looked supporting of Kurt, and then she shushed someone. What has happened to her?
New from around the interwebs: Darren Criss of “A Very Potter Musical” fame is slated to join the cast, possibly as a love interest for Kurt. Whether that last bit is just rumor, well, we’ll have to wait and see. But Darren Criss on one of my guilty pleasure shows? Bring it on.
“Glee”’s latest episode hit a lot of high points for me. There were more zippy one-liners and other great lines than I could recount here, we finally got to see guidance counselor Emma’s other man and why she digs him, and of course, McKinley High (and the minds of its students) is as full of drama and great singing as ever. Overall, the episode moved quickly and had a lot of fun with its Britney Spears theme. The new season is off to a terrific start.
This is not to say that the episode was flawless. As the kids tried to convince Mr. Schuester all episode long, Britney Spears is a very talented performer — so the few scenes devoted to her guest appearance on the show, in which she interacted with the glee club members in their dream sequences, but neither sung nor danced herself, seemed an almost criminal misuse of that talent. Previous guest stars, from Kristin Chenoweth to Neil Patrick Harris, have had multiple numbers either by themselves or with members of the regular cast, so it was rather disappointing to see Britney’s name in the credits only to not actually hear her sing in the show.
Of course, by downplaying the celebrity guest appearance, “Glee” did allow its regular cast to shine, and shine they did. I was particularly impressed with Heather Morris’s character, the airhead cheerleader Brittany S. Pierce, whose resentment-turned-appreciation for Britney Spears was the central gimmick of the episode. Brittany’s character is rarely given more to do than utter one-liners from the periphery of the glee club, so it was great to finally see her in the spotlight. Her performance in two Britney Spears numbers, a solo of “I’m a Slave 4 U” and a duet of “Me Against the Music” with fellow cheerleader Santana, proved Morris is able to hold her own with the main cast as well as revealed why the actress was almost a featured contestant in the 2006 season of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Unfortunately, by focusing so heavily on the regular cast and guest star John Stamos, the episode left no room for the new student characters introduced in episode one. Sunshine is presumably settling in among her peers in Vocal Adrenaline, but it was disappointing to not see or hear more of Sam, especially given Finn’s rather anticlimactic return to the football team.
Speaking of football, I am utterly confused by why the wheelchair-bound Artie is actually being let onto the team. It seems to be an example of what I like to call Air Bud logic: there’s no rule that says we can’t let a dog play basketball, so by golly, we’re gonna do it! And it’s true, there is not actually an official rule that says football players can’t use a kid in a wheelchair as a battering ram on the field. There’s also not a rule saying players can’t bring weapons to a game and fire at the other team, but it’s generally not considered sporting to do so.
Plotwise, McKinley High was a hotbed of drama as always. Most surprising was to see the usually mild-mannered Kurt talking back to Mr. Schuester in a rather bitter fashion over the teacher’s refusal to let the club sing Britney. It felt rather out-of-character for Kurt, but perhaps it’s a hint of something more to come this season. The episode also devoted a great deal of time to lovestruck characters who really just need to get over it. Schue still has feelings for Emma, who’s happy dating Carl. Artie still has feelings for Tina, who’s happy dating Mike Chang. Mr. Schuester’s ex-wife Terri is a whole big bag of crazy, and apparently that includes some unreturned feelings for Schue. Finally, Quinn may or may not still have feelings for Finn — the twist in the locker scene was a pretty clever one — but she’s definitely been looking sad, quiet, and thoughtful a lot this season. Did I miss anyone? “Glee” is at its heart a soap opera, and I expect a fair bit of partner-hopping in the relationships it depicts, but in the future, it would be nice to see more singing and a lot less moping.