As a total Nicki, I take issue with the entire premise of “A Katy Or A Gaga,” but no concept that gets Sam all Night Porter in tight black jeans, no shirt, and something that covers his haircut for not one but two musical numbers, the second of which quickly transitions to just a bunch of guys hanging out in caveman briefs trading tips on how not to eat for weeks, where was I going, right, no concept with this much shirtless Sam can be all bad. The episode is ostensibly about some forced dichotomy between vanilla Katy Perry and flamboyant Lady Gaga, which doesn’t track with my understanding of Katy Perry nor that of my Google Image search, but here we are. According to Will, this week the only way to win Nationals is to embrace both. Out-and-proud eventually transitions into “edgy,” and somewhere along the way, it becomes about “dark” music, you know, like Skrillex. Basically this is an episode in which Pamela Lansbury beats calling a band The Nip-Slips or Areola 51. Whatever. As usual, Glee’s thick candy coating is the least interesting thing about it.
These are the kinds of plot points we’re talking about: Out of nowhere, Artie asks his girlfriend, “Are you sure you’re still okay with dating someone so different than you?” First of all, it’s “different from.” Go to class once in a while. Second of all, Jesus Christ, somebody get this kid a “So You’re Apologizing For Your Wheelchair” pamphlet from Emma’s office. Later, Kurt whines about having achieved nothing immediately after inspiring Isabella’s next five spreads and remembering that he’s a gay man getting married in this country. Sam invites the nurse to his Gaga show, but she can’t go because she’s getting her ears pierced, which is a total excuse, you dummy, except it’s not because this is Glee, and sometimes, you just have to get your ears pierced during the school day. Then Jake gets all PSA on Marley over their PG-rated sex life, only the PSA isn’t about boyfriends pressuring you into getting physical but rather girlfriends who won’t just put out already. So he shows up at school (the next day?), needing sex so bad that he finds Bree and has time to go somewhere private at McKinley but not either of their houses. Nobody really thought this through. Bree says, “A private part of the school? I like private parts.” This is the level of wit that’s dominating McKinley. Finally, Will not only guilt-trips but suspends Marley because she won’t wear a seashell bra, and then has the gall to unleash his class of Gagas on Sue when she does the exact same thing (but for the opposite reason, since students wearing seashell bras and the like, or as Sue describes them, rejects from the cutting room floor of a Tod Browning film, violate the school dress code). So, the usual: Some contradictory politics, some awkward social values, some outright bullshit.
But mostly the episode has, and this is important, a lot of stuff happening. There is so much stuff in “A Katy Or A Gaga” that it feels like Glee again for the first time in months, and not just an extension of season four but at last a new—wait for it—direction. Jake and Marley are in the same old direction, another Glee love triangle, but meanwhile, we have Kurt starting a band, Santana in a new relationship, and Rachel working hard on Broadway. We have Sam going after the nurse and learning the valuable lesson that he should be who he is and not who Will thinks he needs to be this week. And we have Unique doing something other than represent all trans people! Granted, at least part of that is to play sassy black friend, encouraging Marley to go get her man without ever having been written into a romance herself, but baby steps. The script is bursting with jokes in that traditional popcorn style, Ryder isn’t tasked with heavy drama but pure comic relief, and when Sue storms into the choir room, I agreed with her: It’s been too long. Who’d have thunk I’d ever miss Sue vs. Will?
What’s more, it’s not just pure plot activity, although Glee certainly has a way with that on occasion. After he got kicked out of the Adam’s Apples for being engaged—which I know is a joke, but must we constantly martyr Saint Kurt? Can’t he just realize Adam is 30 and that group is not what he wants to do with his time?—Kurt decides to form a band, which is basically the dream we’ve all (the bobble-heads of my enemies and I) had for New York Glee for the past year. Yes, the plot device is superficial. The first song in “A Katy Or A Gaga” is all guest star Adam Lambert (well, he has a band that the visuals suggest includes Demi Lovato but no Glee cast members), so it could have been in any show. It reminds me of Dawson’s friends going to see No Doubt, not that I don’t enjoy how that stately ballet room transforms into a rock video inasmuch as a room with immaculate wooden floors and the chandelier from Phantom Of The Opera can, anyway. But for all Kurt’s whining, at last there’s some real yearning. He feels like he’s achieved so little relative to his roommate Funny Girl. And, spontaneous NYADA performances aside, I see his point. Kurt never gets to sing publicly anymore. Now that he’s joined by Santana and Demi Lovato (?) and Adam Lambert (?) and possibly Rachel who declines the invitation and then steals the spotlight anyway, Jenna Maroney-style, New York Glee is finally showing us struggling artists in the city, not just whiny kids in the next phase of school.
That song Rachel steals is “Roar,” which is also some good old-fashioned Glee. The number begins with Will siccing his Gagas on Sue with some line about how they’re going to roar or something, I don’t know, I was busy googling “Ohio public school firable offenses.” Anyway: The number is totally thrilling to begin with. Seeing Tina get all “make me!” on Sue and then watching everyone swarm after her—I mean, dumb set-ups are what Glee’s all about. And for a tried-and-true closing empowerment number, this one actually has a reason to be. And that was before I knew we’d be getting more Sam dancing down the hall without a shirt. Then comes the camera rumble and the ridiculous caveman costumes and the jungle set. The cast is meaning what they’re saying, as if they don’t see how awesomely hilarious this is, but then everyone starts swinging on vines including Artie and his wheelchair because I’m not sure the producers totally get wheelchairs. The point is this thing has dimension: power, expressive visuals, thematic tension such as it is. But then, when it comes time for the second verse, Rachel cuts in from New York, and suddenly, we’re watching New York Glee, and I’m still squealing about it. But wait, there’s more. Marley comes in to sneak-watch rehearsal, and so does Bree. Remember when musical numbers like this used to show how Rachel was singing but she was also pining for Finn or something? Jake breaks character and just stops when he’s confronted with his guilt. See? “A Katy Or A Gaga” has so much stuff happening. In short, total Gaga.
- There’s something about popping into a fifth-season episode of Glee with that soothing doo doo doo theme and seeing kids lazing about the choir room. Glee finally feels like an old show, not in a bad way, just in a comfortable way.
- Even Kitty sees Will is a bad teacher: “I’m pretty sure he makes up these rando lessons a split second before he writes them on the board.”
- When Kurt sees Adam Lambert as the Ziggy Stardust-inspired Starchild: “It’s a little Project Runway,” he says smiling. “Season six,” he side-mouths to Santana.
- Bree and Sue on this week’s Glee lesson: “It’s super annoying, right?” “It is the most annoying thing they’ve ever done.” Getting pretty sick of Glee’s hollow self-deprecation. Throat Explosion didn’t beat Larynx Polyps at Regionals by not committing.
- Jury’s still out on this Bree performance, which is almost entirely one annoying line delivery over and over, but her lightning-quick once-over of Marley and back to Jake with a tossed off, “Kthxbai,” and a 180 is hilarious.
- Sam’s “Don’t come to the auditorium” teaser is almost as good as the performance.
- Kitty: “Let me guess: Breh.” Maybe Bree just exists to humanize Kitty? Like the way Walter White needed to go up against Nazis to seem a little sympathetic?
- The Nurse and Sam, respectively, confess their secret musical tastes: “I also still like the Jonas brothers.” “I still like the Biebs!” “No.”