Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “The Substitute.”
Last night’s episode of “Glee” was riddled with problems and came out as the worst episode since the Britney fiasco. But then, after a string of great episodes I suppose the narrative had to come down at some point. Terri and her poorly-written character coming back is always trouble. Yet again we had Sue rapidly and unbelievable promoted beyond her purview. But perhaps the greatest folly was making Gwyneth Paltrow the centerpiece; after all, to save glee club from dated songs they chose a mid-to-late-’90s actress with limited singing experience? The whole thing felt like a plug for her new movie, “Country Strong,” which coincidentally aired several commercials throughout the hour.
It all begins with an illness, which as any teacher knows runs rampant through claustrophobic and unhygienic student populations. Sue finally got to employ germ warfare by strategically aiming infected sneezes at Figgins, one of the funniest scenes of the night. Schue also catches the flu, which he only admits once he turns around and sees glee babies! I have to admit, this is possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and if you thought the same you absolutely must watch the following behind-the-scenes video. It is positively adorable.
Okay, take a minute to bask in the cuteness, then it’s back to the episode. Actually, so far so good, though we’re only a few minutes in. It kind of starts to go downhill from here. With Schue gone Kurt convinces substitute Holly Holiday—only a double entendre away from being a Bond girl—to also take over glee club to stop bossy Rachel. Holly gives the club essentially free reign to choose their songs, and Puck suggests “that new Cee Lo song,” since of course they can’t say “Fuck You!” on the air. Instead they perform a high-powered if watered-down version called “Forget You!” Ironically, in an attempt to give the glee clubbers freedom their freedoms had to be curtailed; the very message espoused by being allowed to sing the song was subverted by the necessary censoring. Perhaps Rachel sat out the song and pouted because she sensed the contradiction.
Mr. Schue, meanwhile, is floundering around at home, sweating and hallucinating, when — dun dun DUN — Terri appears out of the mist with soup, a DVD “Singin’ in the Rain” and sex, because people coughing up mucus and generally lying around in their own filth are so attractive. Don’t do her it, I thought. Since I was so spot-on about in-the-closet bully Salt Karofsky, I’m saying it right here, right now: Terri is totally going to get preggers from that one-night stand. Real preggers, too, not fake preggers. Damn you, “Glee” writers! We were this close to being rid of her and her horrendous plotline altogether!
Meanwhile, Sue, as acting principal, tries unsuccessfully to disband the football team before Bieste points out the Cheerios will have no one to cheer for. Sue practically mutters, “Curses! Foiled again!” as she stalks off. She also fires Schue, successfully, because, what the hell, why not? It’s not like there’s a teacher’s union or any sort of accountability. She also sets her sights on cafeteria tater tots, for some reason, and has the Cheerios dump them in trash cans right in front of tot-loving Mercedes. You know this won’t sit well, especially when Sue replaces all the food with probiotic foam and crap like that. Um, what? Have the writers ever even been to a school? It takes forever to get this kind of thing done, and it has to be done at the district level, the principal has no control over nutrition services, and oh yeah probiotic foam is expensive! ACG Blog readers know that I give “Glee” a lot of artistic license, but this just goes too far. Is a sliver of reality too much to ask? Come on.
There’s even an entire subplot involving Mercedes shoving tater tots up Sue’s car’s exhaust pipe that was so contrived and pointless recounting it would be an insult to you, the reader. The only positive to come out of the tots situation is a hysterical Breadsticks scene with Mercedes, Kurt and Blaine when they talk about nothing but Proposition 8, Patti LuPone and gay gay gay gay gay. Mercedes imagines their conversation becomes so gay that a teensy pocketbook spits out of Kurt’s mouth. “Oh my gosh, I opened my mouth and a little purse falls out.” “So gay,” Blaine says admiringly. “How’d that get in there?” Kurt wonders. It’s possibly one of my favorite “Glee” moments of all time.
Holly finally feels the pressure of being a full-time teacher — you know, actually having to control students and teach them stuff — and this leads to a Very Special Conversation about the role of a teacher. She tells Schue it’s about creating connections and stopping kids from dropping out, the statistic for which she has handily memorized. Schue rebuts that substitutes can afford to be flippant; regular teachers have responsibility to shepherd students into a wider worldview and new ideas. The lovely point-counterpoint ends with each one realizing they can incorporate parts of both methods and better appeal to students while also introducing new ideas. This actually leads to a nice mash-up of Rihanna and Jay-Z’s “Umbrella” with the truly classic “Singin’ in the Rain.” Schue gets rehired, blah blah blah.
Don’t get me wrong — there was far more wrong with this episode than right with it. Why did Mercedes have to realize food and Kurt are proxies for real relationships by staging some Norma Ray-esque tater tots protest? What was the point of the “Make ‘Em Laugh” hallucination, besides some excellent choreogaphy? Are they building up to something with Karofsky, who surfaced yet again brings up the kiss he wants kept a dead secret? Why haven’t they released the wildly entertaining cover of “Conjunction Junction”?
Also, I think there needs to be a serious examination of whether Sue is taking advantage of Becky. She makes a cute minion, to be sure, but Sue almost seems to exploit her, something someone with so much concern for the mentally disabled would be wary of. Of course, maybe the entire situation is a commentary on how normal and accepting Sue is; after all, any Cheerio, Santana or Brittany or even Quinn, could be her clipboard-toting assistant. It may have nothing to do with Becky’s disability. But we’ll see.
Another episode of “Glee,” another week of ups and downs. Though this one consisted of more ups, in my opinion.
I went into viewing prepared to hate Gwenyth Paltrow as the cool substitute Holly Holiday (Terri gets an awesome line: “Are you a porn star or a drag queen?”), but ended up enjoying her. Paltrow really gave it her all. She’s in for Mr. Schue, ill with monkey flu, and is shaking things up by letting them do whatever they want. This led to the semi-enjoyable performance of “Forget You” and the totally discursive “Hot Honey Rag” from “Chicago.”
Sue’s been set up as principal — after engineering Figgins’ receipt of the virus, one of her best moments this evening — and promptly goes after glee club, the football team and poor nutrition in the form of banning tater tots. Mercedes, feeling sidelined by Kurt’s burgeoning relationship with Blaine, takes up the cause to bring back tater tots with zeal. Including shoving tots up the exhaust pipe of Sue’s car. The Kurt and Mercedes plots didn’t really resonate this week. I felt Mercedes in particular would have had no trouble in pointing out how she felt Kurt was abandoning their friendship. Instead we get Mercedes campaigning for tots, then thinking maybe she should just try to get a boyfriend instead replacing Kurt with food. What?
The ailing Mr. Schue heralds the return of Terri, playing nursemaid. She seems to be genuinely trying to help herself and knows how to take care of Will when he’s sick. “That’s because you like me best when I’m weak,” he observes. Burn. Predictably they engage in some sexual activity, which Will almost instantly regrets. Is this the true end of Terri? I admit I thought we would be seeing a lot more of her than we have this season, but I won’t be too terribly upset if she’s gone for good. This show needs to prune some characters.
In the end, Holly turns out to be a great substitute but not a great teacher. Mr. Schue has pretty much always been there not just as a teacher but to help the kids out however he can. But Holly’s push to let the kids perform what they want and modernize their song selection leads to a number I unashamedly adored. The “Umbrella/Singin’ in the Rain” mash-up turned out to be spectacular (even if there’s no way the glee club could have reasonably produced those water effects). I’m always up for a good “Singin’ in the Rain” remix!
There were a lot of enjoyable little moments as well. Rachel once again tries to lead the club and feature herself before Holly steps in, and the rest of the group has to physically restrain Santana from starting a fight. Brittany gets a couple great lines like, “Mr. Schue taught me the second half of the alphabet. I stopped after M and N. I felt they were too similar and got frustrated.” Paltrow as Mary Todd Lincoln. Mr. Schue hallucinating the kids as actual little children. Overall, this episode was another move in the right direction for “Glee.” Let’s see if they can keep it up.
Like I said last week, “Glee” is generally better — and is able to do a whole lot more — when its musical numbers are not bound by a kitschy theme. This week, for example, there was very little tying the various songs together, and yet the show still delivered a solid demonstration of why Will Schuester is fast becoming everyone’s least favorite character.
The songs this week were fun. None of them really blew me away, although it sure seemed like the kids were loving guest star Gwyneth Paltrow’s performances. I was really disappointed by the choreography this episode, particularly in the songs that came from musicals: Schue and Mike’s cover of “Make ‘Em Laugh” from “Singin’ in the Rain” and Rachel and the substitute’s version of “Nowadays / Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago. In each case, the creative team did very little to change the song from its original form either vocally or visually. “Glee” has long since passed the point where showing the high school group faithfully performing a familiar song is exciting for its viewers. The show is at its best when it takes existing music and makes it its own, as it did in this episode’s final number, a mash-up of “Singin’ in the Rain” and Rihanna featuring Jay Z’s “Umbrella.” Even then the glee club’s choreography was largely taken from the Rihanna music video, but the originality of the mash-up made the performance seem fresher. But seriously, whatever happened to the days when New Directions would wow us with new dance routines? I’ve been saying it since Sue Sylvester’s music video of “Vogue”: The show is just boring when it recreates an existing scene with complete faithfulness. Come on, “Glee.” Shake things up.
(Of course, some changes are just silly. I don’t generally mind the show’s censorship of explicit lyrics, and it makes sense that a substitute teacher, even one as loose with the rules as the improbably named Holly Holliday, wouldn’t sing the real lyrics to Cee Lo Green’s smash hit in the classroom. But that a character like Puck would refer to the song by its censored name of “Forget You” is pretty hard to swallow.)
Plotwise, the episode was a hit. Will’s sickness and the subsequent arrival of his substitute Miss Paltrow were great narrative tools for showing how Mr. Schuester’s typical methods of coaching both succeed and fail with his students. I particularly enjoyed the show’s subtle digs at its own Season One focus on the music of Journey. Will himself, as usual, is too controlling, although it seems that when he gives up control for a split second his crazy ex-wife jumps his bones. So maybe his usual manner is justified. Still, there’s no denying that everyone’s favorite glee coach is increasingly frustrating to watch. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even feel bad for him when Sue Sylvester makes fun of his hair.
Speaking of Sue, making her the new McKinley High principal seems to be a dangerous move for the show writers. Sue Sylvester’s ideal high school is one without a glee club (or a football team, for that matter), but since the show is hardly going to write off its central concept, giving the antagonist unlimited power in the school can only result in a weakening of her character. Hopefully, Principal Figgins’ time away from his office will be as short-lived as Puck’s stint in juvie.
The best thing about this episode, of course, was Will Schuester’s feverish hallucination that his glee clubbers were little children. Glee babies! I know there’s no good reason to have these children around the school, but I can’t deny how much they made me smile. If “Glee” can pull off a repeat without running the concept into the ground, I’d love to see some more of this gag.