Ironically, what distinguishes “Child Star” is that it’s so forgettable. Even the addition of the two new Directions isn’t going to stick. Next week we’re all going to be surprised to see eight students in the choir room, and then after a moment we’ll remember. Oh yeah, that little kid’s a rich boy with some school board swing who made the New Directions perform at his bar mitzvah. And that longhair (do people still say longhair?) is some boy Spencer has a crush on. He’s also friends with Roderick, the loner. Wonders never cease.
The reconstruction of the glee club has been admirably and uncharacteristically patient this season. I had just assumed New Directions would compete with five members, and then Kitty showed up and I assumed they’d compete with six. Now we have eight and a race. Can New Directions get to the quota in time for sectionals? Is there even a quota? Kitty’s a telling addition as the oldest character in the current club. Whereas all seven of the other New Directions are types of characters Glee hasn’t really used before, Kitty is a holdover from the second generation, when the new students were just reboots of old ones. She’s Quinn 2.0 with the Santana levels turned all the way up. But what’s interesting is she hasn’t overshadowed the new members this season. Granted the main stories have been about Rachel and Kurt and Sue and Will, but even though we know Kitty better, the focus of the New Directions plots has been on the newbies. So we’re spared a season four situation where the new kids are flailing about trying to compete for attention with the old ones.
But both of those last two sentences are wrong. Although we should, we don’t know Kitty better than Roderick or Spencer. They’re not exactly Tony Sopranos themselves, but they’re no thinner than she is. That’s a consequence of season four, too. Kitty never got developed the way Quinn or Santana did—and maybe “developed” is the wrong word; experimented on?—because her group had to split time with the originals, and when they couldn’t compete, they got written out in favor of focusing on the old Directions exclusively, a development that was itself reversed for season six. The reboot cycle gets shorter and shorter. The characters have always been malleable enough to fit whatever alleged themes an episode foists on them. The problem is we don’t know them, not really. And in season six, that means every time the focus narrows to McKinley, meaning the new characters and a skeleton staff of old ones, the episode can’t help but feel like it’s not tied down. So that’s the other wrong sentence. We are in a season four situation. It’s just that there aren’t many episodes like “Child Star” that stick with the new kids, which itself perpetuates the problem.
The content doesn’t have to float off into the atmosphere. It’s just disadvantaged by focusing on new characters. Unfortunately, the performances aren’t remotely good enough to rescue it. Roderick’s gift for barely acting is perfect for the character as originally written, the shy kid who comes alive in song. (And credit where it’s due, Roderick sure does light up a stage.) But here he’s meant to be social to some extent, and it’s less credible than Sue’s hurt locker. That’s nothing compared to Myron, the Jewish bar mitzvah brat. It’s a Becky role, and one that clarifies how valuable Becky is. Diminishing returns—that’s the Glee touch: Each iteration reveals how much better the previous one is, even when you never thought much of it to begin with. Myron doesn’t yet have the physical control to sell his rage, so he looks like a cartoon character, tiny and mugging like crazy. When they’re performing, the New Directions don’t have a weak link. Myron doesn’t nail his choreography, but he can sing. Jane blows the roof off the joint. Mason’s rendition of “I Want To Break Free” is an episode highlight. But Glee’s running low on double threats these days.
The New Directions plots tend toward the DeGrassier end of the high school drama spectrum in “Child Star.” It’s Glee, so it’s all predicated on coupling up, but those relationships spark quite a bouquet of teen angst: Madison freaking out at her brother for liking a(nother?) girl; Roderick suddenly feeling picked on for his weight and just as suddenly completely turning his life around after basically no on-screen help from Spencer; Spencer trying to parlay his physical connection with Alistair into an intellectually and emotionally engaging relationship. At one point it looks like the episode’s going to be about Roderick teaching Spencer to date (and not just hook up) in exchange for Spencer teaching Roderick to climb a rope to pass his physical fitness test. Instead Roderick gives Spencer no advice and vice versa, but both heroes wind up successful in their pursuits. Glee!
That’s because the real plot is a monthlong bar mitzvah, which goes from a performance to a backstage heart-to-heart to dance rehearsals to a backstage malfunction to another performance to a backstage kiss—between Spencer and Alistair, who just happens to be watching the bar mitzvah, the way an interested party might attend a trial—to the final number. Sue gets in a fight with Will and vows once more to destroy the glee club. I lose track of my yawns. The really funny one is that Roderick gets physically fit, learns to climb a rope, and starts eating better regularly enough to report results. Like all bad episodes of Glee, “Child Star” never ends.
- Mason brags to Jane about eating pizza, which is off the diet his sister has imposed on him: “Well, I won’t tell if you won’t. I’m kind of a badass.”
- Sue gets all the good jokes this week, including her veiled threat to Will: “In the words of a former vice presidential candidate and my personal Lamaze coach, ‘I do not retreat. I reload.’”
- Sue: “I had a plan. Make this school the best in the state, cement my reputation as the greatest educator since Mao, and then ride off into the sunset on the back of one of the five remaining black rhinos on the planet.”