Despite the fact that it featured a deluxe synchronized swimming production worthy of "America's Mermaid" Esther Williams, six musical numbers, and two (count 'em!) marriage proposals (along with news of one elopement -- congratulations, Coach Beiste!), there was something intimate about "Glee's" first episode of 2012, "Yes/No." Maybe it was because, after kicking off with a Sam/Mercedes duet of "Summer Nights" from "Grease" that brought us right back to 1978, the episode took us literally inside Becky Jackson's head.
It turns out Becky's inner voice belongs to Helen Mirren as the Queen of England (in her mind, she can sound like whoever she wants, Becky's inner voice explains). In any event, Becky/Helen/the Queen lets us in on a little crush she has ... on Artie. Alas, despite a pleasant, mutually handi-capable night out at Breadstix and a bold proposition on Becky's part, the crush proves unrequited. (It's OK. Coach Sue is waiting to pick up the pieces of Becky's broken heart with a tub of ice cream and a chair pulled up close to a TV tuned in to "Lifetime television for ovaries.")
But Becky is not the only one vying for a "yes" in the romance department.
Other couples whose relationships are at a crossroad include …
Whether the "Glee" holiday episode Tuesday night was, in fact, the best Christmas special ever (or even the best "Glee" Christmas show) is open to debate. (Have at it in the comments!) But it was certainly a lot of sweetness and fun -– sort of like eating all the candy out of your stocking and then immediately digging into the holiday cookies -- complete with the inevitable moment of regret: The McKinley High kids eventually remember the true spirit of the holidays, and give back by singing at a homeless shelter and helping those in need.
The chipper and the sad were in perfect balance and the kitsch factor was high in an episode that paid extended homage to two all-time holiday-special greats: "The Star Wars Holiday Special" and "The Judy Garland Christmas Show." (If you haven't watched them before, you owe it to yourself to check them out now.) With its show within a show, "Extraordinary Merry Christmas," presented itself as a prettily wrapped package filled with glinty bits of dialogue and stylish visual baubles and holiday-riffic singing and dancing (nine Christmas songs!). Then, if you dug deeper underneath the tissue paper, you found a bonus gift: a big heart.
The premise: Sue summons Artie, Kurt and Blaine (aka "Wheels, Porcelain, Other Gay" and "Stumbles, Gelfling, Young Burt Reynolds") to her office to ask them to "give back" this Christmas by singing for the people at the homeless shelter where she's planning to volunteer for the holiday.
"Now, Christmas isn't just a time when Jewish kids get slightly uncomfortable and dwarfs get jobs as Santa's helpers in demeaning nonunion commercials that make them quietly die inside," she reminds them. "Christmas is also a time to give back."
When the fellas remind her that she's said she doesn't believe in homelessness and considers homeless people "urban campers," Sue admits that she's just trying to fill the space left in her heart and her holiday after the death of her beloved sister, and that her original plans –- to "shoot reindeer from a helicopter with Sarah Palin" -– fell through: "Apparently Todd gets fussy when she misses his ballet recitals," she said.
Anyhow, the boys agree to get the newly reunited glee club to sing at the shelter. But wait, Mr. Schue has signed them up for another gig the very same night: The Lima, Ohio, PBS affiliate has been forced to cancel its annual yule-log-burning broadcast –- apparently disappointing Puck and many others –- and the station's program director wants New Directions to pull together a holiday special to fill the open time slot.
Artie, despite his reservations about selling out to TV, will direct. His vision? An unrelentingly cheery black-and-white special that mashes up elements of "The Star Wars Holiday Special" – "A precious jewel … every fanboy in the galaxy knows it's completely awesome" -- and "The Judy Garland Christmas Show" -– "Some say Judy was high on drugs and booze, but I say she was high on excitement and baby Jesus," Artie says. Anyone who doesn't buy into Artie's vision (Sam) is banished from the project.
Meanwhile, Sue's homeless people will go without song: The homeless don't have TV, she reminds the opportunistic members of New Directions. Rachel is demanding holiday "bling" from Finn, proffering a list of preferred gifts ("Spray tan? Teeth whitening?"). All Finn wants for Christmas is Rachel, who replies, "All I want for Christmas is you, too, and five things on that list." (Never mind, I guess, that Rachel is supposed to be Jewish.)
New guy Rory is spending his first holiday without his family: Plane tickets from Ireland are too pricey, and he's looking forward to a "Blue Christmas." And Sam is standing up for holiday misery -- it's "merry Christmas, not morose Christmas," Artie reminds him – and remembering those in need.
The New Directions' show within a show is pure, fluffy fun –- starting with the ridiculous character intros from the "Star Wars" special ("Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang, no relation!") and a faithful reproduction of Judy Garland's set and complete with '60s-esque singing and dancing, guests randomly dropping by, canned audience applause, fake snow, through-the-window shots, fourth-wall-breaking conversations with viewers, sponsor shout-outs ("Breadstix, now with even more breadsticks!") and winking references to old-fashioned mores, like when Kurt introduces Blaine as his "um … best friend and holiday roommate." Welcome to their "bachelor chalet," indeed.
Eventually, Itchy the elf (poor Rory -- at least Artie didn't make him dress as a Wookie!) comes in, purportedly to read a "rebooted" version of "Frosty the Snowman" in which Frosty keeps up the good cheer by not melting. Instead he reminds everyone of the holiday's true meaning, "Glory to God in the highest. And on Earth peace, good will toward men."
Ah, a corrective to all that greed. The kids show up -– edible prop turkey in hand -– to sing "Do They Know It's Christmas" for the families at Sue's homeless shelter, where Sam and Quinn (now apparently a paragon of sanity and morality) are serving up dwindling portions of holiday food. Rachel sees the error of her bling-obsessed ways. And we fade out on Sam, Rory, Finn and Rachel, ringing bells to raise money for the needy and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and, in Rachel's case, at last, a Happy Hanukkah too.
So many great songs. So many great lines. And I haven't even had time to mention the African sow-pig named Barbra! Maybe it really did rank among the best TV Christmas specials after all.
"Glee" may revolve around a high-school show choir, but the Fox series has officially entered its awkward middle years, shedding 23% of its audience compared with last season even after DVR viewing is factored in, according to Nielsen. That's on top of disappointing box office on their 3-D movie and decreasing sales of the "Glee" albums compared with earlier efforts.
"The show has been stretched, perhaps causing some fatigue," said Brad Adgate, an analyst at ad firm Horizon Media. "The concert tours, movie, CDs, downloads, [a] reality show on Oxygen."
Kevin Reilly, Fox's entertainment president, recently told USA Today that "Glee" had "frayed creatively" due to excessive storytelling tangents. The comment irked show creator Ryan Murphy, according to an insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Dana Walden, chairwoman of the 20th Century Fox Television studio, which makes "Glee," explained that the network and studio brass merely wanted a return to the basics. "What we asked Ryan to do this season, particularly at the start of the season, was to focus less on guest stars and to shine a very strong light on our core cast," she said. "It was not in reaction to anything. It was looking at the big picture of 'Glee' and looking at the potential that this show has."
There's more on the current state of "Glee" in this Los Angeles Times feature. What do you think of the show's third season? Let us know in the comments below.
I hadn't realized the degree to which "Glee" had lost its moral footing these last few weeks until it regained it Tuesday night. As the New Directions gang and the Troubletones (and the amusingly named Unitards) faced off at Sectionals in an episode titled "Hold on to Sixteen," the characters were back to making mostly sane, sensible, even sensitive decisions. In some cases, they acknowledged and apologized for recent missteps. There were no students sleeping with teachers, no election fixing or smear campaigns, no outing of fellow students in the hallways -- and by the end, misunderstandings were resolved and rifts were repaired in unexpected ways and the whole New Directions gang was back together, hugging, holding hands and singing out. It came as a huge relief.
A few key developments:
New Directions wins at Sectionals: Not only did the New Directions band together and pull off a first-place finish, but they did it without pretty much all their former leading ladies. With Mercedes, Santana and Brittany having defected to Shelby's all-girl Troubletones and Rachel banned from competing as punishment for her ballot-box-stuffing crime, Tina, Mike, Quinn, Finn, Artie, Sam, Puck and Kurt got their moments to shine in the spotlight. Whether New Directions' performance was better than either the Troubletones (Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"/Destiny's Child's "Survivor") or the Unitards ("Buenos Aires" from "Evita," fronted by Harmony, played by "Glee Project" runner-up Lindsay Pearce, from the NYADA mixer) is actually open for debate (have at it in the comments section), but it was undoubtedly longer than the other two, a triple dose of Jackson family music -- The Jackson 5's "ABC," Janet Jackson's "Control," Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." (Considering that "The X Factor" also just had Michael Jackson week and "Glee" has a full-on Michael Jackson tribute scheduled for next month, Fox might want to start calling itself "the Michael Jackson channel.") In any event, the group's win at Sectionals, and the Troubletones' loss, despite a full-on, full-throated performance prominently featuring Mercedes and Santana, paved the way for a reunion between the rival McKinley High show-choir clubs. Phew.
Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) returns: Finn and Rachel set out to bring back departed New Directions member Sam, who, after a rough year, moved with his family to Kentucky. They find him dancing at a Chippendales-esque club under the stage name "White Chocolate," and convince his parents (who think he works at the Dairy Queen, though his face glitter confounds them) to let him return to Ohio with them to finish his senior year. Sam, whose family, you will recall, was essentially homeless for a while, is excited to reclaim his teenage years, and brings the New Directions gang a new perspective -- showing them how to dance sexy, telling Quinn she has "rich white girl" problems and should "hold on to 16" as long as she can (yes, he quoted John Mellencamp), and vowing to do what it takes to get Mercedes, whom he dated before leaving town, back from her football-star beau. Santana pays tribute to Sam with a flurry of "Trouty Mouth" insults: "Welcome back, Lisa Rinna … " I'm happy to have Sam back, too.
"Glee" has had its share of big-name guest stars in the course of its three seasons. But none have been as big, or at least as tall, as Chewbacca.
"Glee" star Matthew Morrison recently appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to discuss his directorial debut on the series' upcoming Christmas episode, "Extraordinary Merry Christmas," (airing Dec. 13) and revealed that the episode would be a combination of the "Star Wars Holiday Special" and the Judy Garland Christmas specials.
"We called up George Lucas, and he gave us Chewbacca," Morrison said. "There's only one guy who can officially be Chewbacca, and he lives in Northern California. They flew him in. ... We had Chewbacca for the day. It was just great. We were taking pictures with him. ... He's been doing it for 12 years."
Cast member Chris Colfer had previously offered proof of the presence of Chewbacca on his Twitter feed in November, sending out a picture of him hugging the big, hairy Wookie and writing, "I officially have my Christmas Card!!!"
Chewbacca will not sing.
The "Star Wars Holiday Special" aired just once in November 1978. It was a mix of a "Star Wars" adventure, with Han Solo and Chewbacca traveling to the Wookie home planet of Kashyyyk, and classic '70s variety show segments -- including Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia singing a song to John Williams' "Star Wars" theme music.
It was "lady music week" on "Glee," but that didn't mean life would prove uncomplicated and entirely upbeat for the show's female characters. Quite the opposite, in fact.
For starters, Santana's forcible removal from "the flannel closet," as she put it to Finn, went down very quickly, propelled by the political TV ad that outed her and the encouragement from the New Directions gang -- including an especially insistent Finn, whose slow take on Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," was not only a musical highlight, but also an emotional turning point. During the space of a single hour, we moved from the echoes of that angry "How dare you out me?" slap that rang out at the end of last week's show to a full-on declaration from Santana that she kisses girls and likes it (yes, she even sang the Katy Perry song) -- made to pretty much everyone in her life, from friends to parents to grandma to the bullyish jocks that rule McKinley High's halls.
Although Santana's fellow female glee-clubbers had her back when she proudly stood up to that leering jock in the school hallway, she sat before her grandmother, at a kitchen table, alone, her hopes bolstered, one imagines, by the fact that her parents, she said, had taken the news of her sexual orientation well.
Santana liked girls the way she was supposed to like boys, she told her grandma, and with Brittany she finally understood what love was. But when her grandma -- who moments before lovingly prepared her a plate of food -- responded, it was not with understanding and warmth, but rather with anger and rejection. Perhaps most sadly, it wasn't Santana's lesbianism that she most seemed to object to, but rather her decision to declare it. Enraged by her granddaughter's openness and honesty, Santana's grandma literally turned her back, ordering Santana out of her house.
What a strange and startling mash-up of a "Glee" episode. There was plenty of airy fun to be found in Tuesday night's "Mash Off," but underneath all the silly fake mustaches and snappy quotes about root-beer fountains and robot teachers beat a very dark baboon heart. In the end, that murky, telltale undercurrent burst to the fore, like a (literal) slap in the face, leaving us gasping and a little confused.
As Puck told Shelby, as he tried to woo her (with surprising persuasiveness), mash-ups are things that aren't supposed to work together, but somehow do. And if this episode's goal was to slam different elements together to explode our pat "Glee" expectations into a million little clouds of pink, glittery fluff and leave us feeling a bit raw and uncertain, well, yes, it worked.
A few potent blends:
Puck/Shelby: Puck makes his case for a relationship with Shelby, with whom he says he is in love, first with us -- he's 18; he's been around; the age difference is no worse than "Ashton and Demi, Indiana Jones and Ally McBeal, Woody Allen and that Chinese girl" -– and then with Shelby herself. "I'm hot. You're hot. Beth needs a dad. Why shouldn't it be her actual dad?" he asks her, before eventually waxing on about the beautiful Hanukkah cards they could make together. Although Shelby initially tries to evade his pursuit, rightly telling him their previous kiss was a mistake and she could lose her job, he nevertheless tells her it's inevitable. Discomfiting though it is, this strange combo makes a certain unexpected sense.
Mean Sue/Kind Sue: Coach Sue starts off the episode in funny/nasty mode, treating us to hilarious negative TV ads targeting her congressional-election opponent Burt Hummel, whom she suggests has a baboon heart and a wife who is a donkey. (She concludes with the line, "I'm Sue Sylvester, I have a human heart and I approve this message," which really ought to be the standard sign-off in all political ads.) Then she advises Kurt ("Have a seat, Yasser") that he should "start flinging poo" in his own campaign for Student Council president: "It's not personal, Porcelain. It's politics." Oh, she's in rare Sue form. But then, suddenly, at the end of the episode, she's remorseful and highly sympathetic to Santana's sudden plight. We've seen Sue transform before, but this time the switch felt a bit jarring.
Teen sex has factored into "Glee" plot lines from the very first season, as the New Directions couples have combined and recombined -- Finn and Quinn, Quinn and Puck, Rachel and Finn, Rachel and Puck, Artie and Tina, Tina and Mike, Artie and Brittany, Kurt and Blaine, Santana and pretty much everyone, etc. -– to get it on or not, as the case may be. So it's kind of odd -– though, of course, completely unsurprising -– that conservative watchdog group the Parents Television Council decided to gripe specifically about Tuesday night's episode, "The First Time."
Sure, the episode tackled the topic of teen sex in a very overt way: Artie, who has come into his own directing the school musical, "West Side Story," tells Rachel and Blaine that, as virgins, they are ill-equipped to tap into the emotions of their sexually awakening characters, Maria and Tony (which is of course ridiculous, but whatever) -- and so Rachel and Blaine are launched on a quest to unload said virginity before opening night. But really, "The First Time" turned out to be far more nuanced, gentle-hearted and romantic than it sounds –- much more about love than about sex.
Factoring into "The First Time's" sweetness:
Artie's new confidence: Artie's growing and maturing before our very eyes, shepherding the student musical to greatness -– and helping Coach Beiste find love. For a moment, just before curtain time, his confidence seems to falter; he feels like a fraud. But then, surrounded by the support of his cast, he gives a wonderful speech about how they have helped him feel like a "grown man." Aww, Artie!
Coach Beiste's romantic interest: Poor Coach Beiste. She's got such a tender heart underneath that tough exterior -- and that heart beats particularly quickly around Ohio State recruiter Cooter Menkins. Turns out, Cooter likes Coach Beiste too, but she's serially rebuffed his efforts to ask her out on a date because she cannot believe a guy like him, who could get "any girl," would be interested in someone like her. Cooter tells her he doesn't date girls, but rather beautiful women like her. Aww, Coach Beiste!
Playing Irish exchange student Rory Flanagan, whom Brittany has mistaken for a leprechaun, "Glee Project" winner Damian McGinty's glinty smile and twinkly green eyes brought some much-needed brightness and cheer to a rather dark episode of "Glee" Tuesday night.
"Pot o' Gold" proved an ironic name for a show with plot lines that included baby-snatching, the threat of a "double-dip into a piping hot Crock Pot of voter fury," American xenophobia, and disloyalty and defections within the ranks of New Directions. And watching Blaine and the gang dance around to Katy Perry's fluffy "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" could only go so far to boost the mood.
Which is not to say that the episode did not feature some nougat-y morsels to chew on, as we might on Lord Tubbington's "crispy and delicious" candy-bar poops (ew!).
Here are some choice nuggets from "Pot o' Gold":
Damian McGinty's golden pipes: The members of the New Directions crew weren't the only ones who were blown away by his take on Teddy Thompson's "Take Care of Yourself." And his sad and solemn "Bein' Green" might have made even Kermit green with envy. And McGinty's brogue, which could be hard to understand, brought some unintended humor to the proceedings. At first, I thought he cited our "hot black president," along with NASCAR and the Victoria's Secret catalog, as something he loved about America. It was only later that I realized he'd said "half-black." Ha.
"American Horror Story," the new FX drama about a troubled family that moves into a house where strange things happen, got a trick-or-treat surprise for Halloween: It got renewed for a second season.
The series, which was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck ("Glee"), has been on track to become the highest-rated first season of any FX series, said FX Networks President and General Manager John Landgraf.
The drama, which stars Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and Jessica Lange, will "be scaring FX's viewers to death for many years to come," said Landgraf.
An adoptive mother is using an online advocacy platform to distribute a petition calling on the producers of Fox's "Glee" to create a public service announcement that would offset what she calls "harmful" inaccuracies in an adoption-based story line.
Amber Austin said she initiated the petition on Change.org because of a plotline involving cheerleader Quinn (Dianna Agron), a teen mother who placed her baby up for adoption. On the show, Quinn is, as the petition puts it, "actively (and with malice)" trying to get the baby back from Shelby (Idina Menzel), the birth mother of Glee Club member Rachel (Lea Michele).
Austin said the show irresponsibly raises fear for adopted children that they can be taken away from their families, and that the plot also could cause confusion for families who adopt. She said the story line perpetuates one of the most pervasive and harmful myths about adoption: that a birth mother can take a child away from a family or pop back into the child's life.
"I'm horrified at how the show has handled this," said Austin. "It's inaccurate, and puts forth a perspective that can cause real harm with adoptive parents."
She is asking for "Glee" executive producer Ryan Murphy to produce a public service announcement that would show the reality of adoption.
Fox and "Glee" producers could not be immediately reached for comment.
"It's not about doing your best anymore," Mr. Schue tells Mercedes in the first few minutes of "Glee" on Tuesday night, in an episode entitled "Asian F." "It's about doing better."
We could say the same to the "Glee" producers. Every week we show up expecting better from them. Sometimes, like last week, they give us an A- episode, and we, like Mr. Chang, are disappointed. Other times, the producers hit every note (emotional, musical, character, plot) as squarely as Rachel Berry auditioning for a coveted role. Tuesday night, we got that sort of an episode.
"Asian F" –- in which we got to meet not only Mike Chang's parents, but Emma's as well -- had emotional truth, character growth, new revelations and really good musical numbers: the kind that seem to emerge organically from the plot and deepen and advance it.