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'Glee': Defying gravity with heart and soul

You hear that?

That's the collective sigh in response to a fresh new "Glee" episode! After being off for a couple of heart-achingly lonely weeks (I had the loveliness that is "Modern Family" to fill that void; I imagine others just turned off their TV on Wednesdays), the show we all love to quote and dish on is back.

If you keep up with all things "Glee," and you do, then you know this week was a big episode, and with all such episodes comes controversy. And those who know me well know I love me a good controversy.

The episode, simply titled "Wheels," finally addressed Artie's (brilliantly played by Kevin McHale) challenge of living life in a wheelchair. But of course we know in Hollywood that nothing you do is correct.

I was very disheartened to see Advocates for the Disabled in an uproar about the episode. Here we have an episode bluntly addressing the complexities of disability and doing so with so much respect and dignity, and there are complaints about Artie not being wheelchair-bound in real life? Cooooome on, guys.

Must we always reach so far in Hollywood?

Acting is acting. Does every gay or straight role have to go to those actors of the same orientation; does every role about the homeless have to go to a homeless actor, or does any role that requires difficulty in life have to be re-cast to put someone who lives that life in that role? That's what makes acting so beautiful, when done right. Case in point: "Precious."

Instead of focusing on the boldness of the episode, many stories focused on the criticism, and that is understandable. It wouldn't be fair to ignore the criticisms, I wouldn't be doing my job.

But moving on...

Boy, Ryan Murphy was not kidding when he told us the episode was a game-changer. My heart broke into little pieces when watching the kids be so passive to Artie and his issues, but I understood.

Artie has always been so independent on the show. And he adds his own swagger (even if he is adorably dorky). Him being in a wheelchair has zero to do with his personality, and as a viewer you don't notice it -- and not that the kids didn't care because they loved him. They just never took the time to think how hard being disabled could be because Artie doesn't make it seem so bad after all. Besides, he's as big a dork in his own way as any of them. But he's such a lovable dork -- with a great voice. I mean, if you weren't tapping your feet, or were as giddy as a kid in a candy store to his pop-tastic rendition of "Dancing With Myself," then you have no soul. I'm not ashamed to say I was dancing with myself in my living room.


I thought it was sheer brilliance on the part of Mr. Schuester to make the kids spend time in a wheelchair. It humbled them all and even made the viewer think twice.

Of course you couldn't have "Glee" without a fine dose of the funny. And we all knew it would come to the showdown of two divas: Rachael and Kurt. Don't get me wrong, I'm always the one to argue that my "chocolate thunder" Mercedes (Amber Riley) isn't getting enough shine in the show (but then again her version of "Bust Your Windows" surpasses the original and she completely owned the national anthem, which whets my appetite enough for what's to come from her). But seeing these two face off was necessary, because other than the masterfully crafted "Single Ladies" homage that included probably the best and most realistic coming-out scene on television (sorry Ellen), we don't get much back story on Kurt.

Sometimes it's hard for me to accept Rachael's woe-is-me attitude. It's like, girl you're beautiful, you can sang (yes, sang!) and you made out with Puck. Life is good, yet still you want Finn (I get it), and you want this acceptance. Other than dressing like you shop strictly at Talbot's, you have a lot going for you.

The face-off was beautifully done. How amazing was Kurt’s father demanding he get the chance to audition for “Defying Gravity"?

And this is where I become an emotional wreck. When Kurt's dad received an anonymous prank call with "that word" shouted at him. That little three-letter word, that no matter how often you unfortunately have had the pleasure of hearing, never gets any easier. Watching Kurt's father tell his son that he wished his mother was still around because she could deal with it better was just pitch perfect. And it was seeing the hurt in Kurt's father's eyes and the acceptance in Kurt's that was just painful. Kurt subsequently allowed his voice to crack in order to throw the competition to protect his father from having to deal with the harassment.

If you weren't already crying like a newborn, there was this little gem: "I'm just saying that I love you more than I love being a star." Pass the Kleenex please.

Wednesday night was sheer perfection. And I hope I'm not the only one who didn't notice Mrs. Schuester wasn't present.... Take the hint. Now if only we could rid ourselves of this ridiculously preposterous pregnancy subplot. Just saying, it's not working and I know I'm not the only person both annoyed and over it. 

If Wednesday night was the game changer, consider the game officially changed. Welcome back, "Glee." You know why you were missed.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Follow me on Twitter @GerrickKennedy

Photos: Top, Artie (Kevin McHale) performs in the "Wheels" episode of "Glee."; Bottom, members of the Glee club hold a bake sale to earn money to hire a bus that could transport Artie. From left to right are Cory Monteith, Mark Salling, Dianna Agron and Naya Rivera. Credits: Carin Baer/FOX


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Comments () | Archives (28)

You totally left out the subplot with Sue, the new Cheerio and Sue's sister! Now THAT got me teary-eyed.

I think the main focus on this show was just because you are different doesn't mean you need to be treated different. And you didn't mention the whole Sue story line which I thought was a turning point for Mrs. Sylvester. I do the whole story line with Kurt being gay, I was hoping they were going to explorer that. I hope I do get to see more of Mercedes too. I know her light is going to shine so bright it is going to blind me.

I agree that the pregnancy subplot needs to go. It's more of a distraction -- a big distraction for me.

As a Film and Media Studies professor it is difficult to ignore the variety of ways in which the content of a show masks the realities of that show's means of production. I understand that it may seem that gay actors playing hetero characters and vice versa and is a proper analog for Artie being played by an actor who is not differently abled but you should try to consider the realties of casting for "wheelchair-bound" actors. These actors are not cast in "walking" roles and characters who use wheelchairs are often played by actors who can walk. Walking performers can take both roles but "wheelchair-bound" performers barely get a chance at any. SAG has a regulation that requires that stunt performers in wheelchairs are hired to double for characters in wheelchairs but the same protections are not extended to 'dialog' actors.

What about Sue? Oh, I almost cried when I saw Sue with her older sister!

Goodness! This Glee episode surpassed all the others with its captivating emotional roller coaster. It was incredibly beautiful when Artie sang "Dancing with Myself" I mean, seriously, just beautiful tears leaked out of my eyes. And Kurt!! OMG is that boy so amazing! It's just so touching how he tells his dad I love you and stuff. Ugh! I had to run and get tissues before the commercials ended. Glee definitely made up for the the no-shows. Ah! I just want to see it again and again! Ryan Murphy is a genius!!!!
No Mrs. S (Will's evil wife) is perfectly fine. We don't need her.

I am so glad Glee came back due to the World Series.

It was a good episode. What gives the show character are the issues they talk about- adding humor to real life situations. The singing helps too!

I didn't know people were offended by the wheelchair expose. They must have been in rage about the down syndrome girl, as well. I didn't see many people get upset about Kurt coming out or even teen pregnancy? Funny.

LOL, were you really dancing with yourself? Really? :)

I watched the CMA awards and almost went to sleep without watching my DVR'd episode of "Glee," but I'm so glad I stayed up.
I've always loved Mike "Nickelodeon GUTS" O'Malley, although I can't say I was there for him in the "Yes, Dear" years. Everything was just on point last night, and then they went and threw that twist in with Sue Sylvester. Amazing.

Nice recap! And yeah, I think everyone's ready for that crazy pregnancy plot to be over and done with.

Could someone please explain to me this unholy obsession with Glee? I watched the pilot and thought it was one of the worst things I'd ever seen on network TV, totally derivative and formulaic, like Disney Channel leftovers. And the main characters are almost a parody of inclusive casting: the Jock! the Jewish Princess! the African-American! the Asian! the Gay! the Cripple! (Of course, the two white, able-bodied heterosexuals are the ones we're supposed to care the most about.)
All that aside, even if this show were good--very good--it wouldn't explain the plethora of articles in respectable publications that read like press releases from the network. Outlets like latimes.com and Entertainment Weekly have covered the success of better and more popular shows in the past without the fawning hysteria of a thirteen-year old girl or the robotic deference of a cult member describing their leader. So what's the deal?
I know Glee was one of the most hyped shows I'd ever seen advertised. Billboards and print ads seemed to be everywhere weeks before the premiere insisting that we'd all love this show more than our families. Clearly, the network was throwing all their weight behind it. (No wonder, High School Musical and its sequels raked in huge profits for Disney; why not get a piece of that action? thinks Fox.) But did this aggressive marketing campaign include planting favorable articles in publications, further blurring the almost dissipated line between advertising and entertainment journalism?
Who knows? But marketing-speak has a very distinct cadence: the childlike awe and gratitude, the emotional bullying, the assumed fellowship in adoration, the personification of product, the repetition of key words and phrases, that false conviviality with a hint of desperation. And this article reeks of it.

I love this show. And I am WAY outside the target demographics for it. I agree, the scene with Sue and her sister had me reaching for the Kleenex. And the fellow who walked on his hands? I'm still laughing.

Totally agree with everything you said! Gobs of Kleenex for how beautifully Chris and his father played off each other, more Kleenex when he blew the note, and then even more Kleenex with Artie's story line. An amazing show tonight, and done with finesse.

As for Mrs. S, the sooner she is written out the better. Sadly, she is being beautifully played (else we wouldn't hate her so much) but the story line is just mean and boring. Schuester deserves better, and she ain't it. Hopefully the writers will pay attention to viewers' comments and deal with her summarily.

Again, spot on with your comments! Thanks for sharing!

Gerrick Kennedy, the column is good, but how could you write about it being a "game changer" and leave out Sue and her sister? Perhaps it will not lead to long term character change, but among several contenders, that was the most moving scene in the show, and finally made her three-dimensional. In my opinion that was a big omission.

OH yes .. the final moment with Sue and her sister was the most moving of them all .. I think I choked out an actual sob! Especially when you consider what she'd said about her new Cheerio .. "Funny, because all I hear her saying is that she wants to be treated like everyone else." It was a beautifully poignant episode and yes again, it clearly illustrated that the subplot of the fake pregnancy has got to be faded out. Meanwhile, LOVING the electricity between Quinn and Puck : )

I have to agree with the comments below, the real game changer was Sue. Or at least that is, if what we saw last night was an indication that the season actually intends to start following a basic plot line trajectory where we get to know characters building in increasingly complicated arcs instead of watching a "deal with one issue per week" pattern. I have to admit, I felt a little manipulated by the episode, but I am hopeful this is the beginning of something good to come.

[to read more thoughts on Sue last night find me at http://themothchase.wordpress.com]

I can't explain why I love Glee so much either. I guess in spite of the formulaic elements, it is also utilizing some groundbreaking plots and captivating artistry. I love how they integrate music - and good music into the show.

The problem with the pretend pregnancy subplot is that it's not believable in the least. I'm all ok with literary license and requiring the audience to stretch their imaginations, but come on! We're supposed to believe that at 20+ weeks of pregnancy Mr Schuester never touches his wife's belly? Or anyone else for that matter? Everyone wants to touch a pregnant woman's stomach. That's the first thing they go for. And what about Finn actually believing he's the father? In the hot tub? They need to fix that too.

The other irritating thing had always been Sue's character. She was too much of a caricature before last night. Now, she's human and 3 dimensional and I hope she stays tough as nails.

I love Glee. It is one of my favorite shows. But I always find it creepy when a writer - or anyone - talks about fictional characters as if they are real.

There has been chat about my omission of the subplot with Sue, the new Cheerio and Sue's sister. And while I'm the first to admit those scenes were compelling I admitted it for the very reason reader Gary posted. It will not lead to long term character change. Sue, although now given a bit of backstory, will be the same next week. I personally don't think the scene (although remarkable) will change her. And I'm perfectly okay with that. She is incredibly played by Jane Lynch and the entire point of her character is to hate to love her. Having a sappy moment thrown in there is great and all, but not the stuff she is made of. Kurt and Artie had such amazing moments that will forever shape their characters, its hard to believe Sue will forever be...nice? While she may have a heart (and a backstory worth a Kleenex) lets be honest, the sister wont be making a return to the show.

Speaking as someone who is permanently confined to a wheelchair, I thought the last night's episode of "Glee" was incredible. Do I care that "Artie" is played by an able-bodied actor? No... no I don't. I don't know the actor's real name, but he does justice to the character "Artie". Do I wish there are more actors on screen that are actually confined to wheelchairs portraying these people confined to wheelchairs on screen? Of course I do. We need more exposure in the media to let the able bodied world know that all we want to do is fit in and be like everyone else.

The actor who portrays "Artie" was able to bring to light what it's like for people confined to a wheelchair when you're in a world of able-bodied people who don't have to give a second thought to just getting on a bus and going wherever they have to. They don't think how isolating it is for us to have to make special arrangements just to be able to fit in and do what they can easily do. We do care and it is a big deal for us when we can't do something our friends, co-workers, classmates can do. I cheered like crazy when Mr Shuster suggested that Artie's classmates spend the school day in wheelchairs to see what it's like for Artie and to see how things would change for them in their everyday lives while at school. I wish more people could experience a little of that. Maybe then they'd really get it.

As for Sue Sylvester's story line in last night's episode of "Glee". I was a bit suspicious of Sue's motives for allowing the young lady with Down's Syndrome to try out for the "Cheerios" but I did agree 100% with her when she told Mr. Shuster that she was just trying to be fair to the young lady and she'll be as tough on her as should be with anyone trying out for the squad. I also cried at the end when Sue walked into her sister's room and the camera showed that Sue's sister has Down's Syndrome and she was just trying to treat the young woman who tried out for the "Cheerios" just like everyone else.

Well done to the writers and actors for an absolutely awesome episode of "Glee".

I agree, about Artie...when he sang Dancing With Myself I had tears in my eyes. Not only is this a childhood song of mine, but how many of us have not felt like outsiders and felt what Billy Idol's lyrics reflect. It's difficult to have the attitude that if others won't dance with me, I'll dance with myself. There's pain and there's also triumph in that. Bravo to Kevin McHale!

Seriously, people are complaining about him not being in a wheel chair in real life? I say get a life! There is too much criticism out there. This was a brilliant episode, deal with it!

How can you forget about Sue, brilliantly played by the always brilliant Jane Lynch. I was so moved when she gave Debbie a chance to be a cherio and then the scene with her sister was so moving. Bravo Jane Lynch! You are one of the best parts of the show. Shows are about many things, but disability is usually not one of them, because it's not attractive. Well, it might not be attractive, but it's a part of life and I love how the show has put this issue into the foreground!

Lastly, I love me some Mercedes the beautiful African diva with the voice of gold! I love Kurt, it's some important to have a gay storyline, because people really don't realize how difficult it is to deal with coming out and being openly gay, especially if you're more effeminate. Kudos!!!

In terms of Rachel, I disagree a little with your assessment. Rachel may be pretty, sings like an angel (what a voice!), has made out with puck whatever, but she is still seen as a nerd and that label is a difficult one to carry when in high school. And you fall in love with whom you fall in love - she can't help wanting Finn. Rachel is the ambitious girl with the great voice, the good student, the goody-two shoes and everyone makes fun of her for it. There are a lot of girls like that, it just goes to show how intolerant high school is of anything and everything.

Great review.

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