It’s indescribably satisfying to be in New York finally, to enter not only the promised land for the characters but this next phase of evolution for Glee, to start exploring this narrative paradise with so much potential, especially on a show this adventurous, and discover that Glee needs more than a change of setting to get good again. Is it the time jump? Yes, Glee is still warping 2013 to its whims. We don’t know how much time has passed since May graduation, but we do know Rachel’s been playing Fanny on out-of-town runs for some time and Sam’s been crashing on Kurt and Blaine’s couch for months. We also know the opening presents a crisp autumn afternoon, and a few scenes later Blaine shows Sam the wonders of an Arctic winter. How could a season with a temporal vortex be so dull?
And why skip any time at all? It doesn’t explain Brittany and Santana’s vacation, which was scheduled for a few weeks, not a few months (or longer), but will probably be retconned on their inevitable return anyway. It puts Sam into stasis, which makes for a solid premise (“Sometimes it’s just easier if you stay inside,” he says as the intro to the latest musical after-school special) but then sells it out. If Sam can spend months on the couch playing games and Blaine can zap his aimlessness and depression into oblivion with a single pep talk, then this is some seriously weightless drama, even by Glee standards. True enough, Blaine cheers up his bestie, Sam gets a haircut, and with his new confidence, he books his first gig. That gig comes with free housing thanks to his new agency and the potential for even more jobs and worldwide travel. Even Rachel is like, “Don’t you think that’s a little fast?”
The time jump also ignores Artie, who somehow manages to remain fifth wheel even when Glee is down to five characters. “New New York” has no interest in what Artie’s been up to. We don’t know where he lives, why he can’t let Sam or Blaine crash on his couch, what he does with his days, etc. All we know is that, months into his stay in New York, he’s finding it surprisingly accessible with the lone exception of the subway. Artie’s subway romanticism is exactly the kind of wistful quirk Glee does well. But his trouble with the subway isn’t very clear. By way of explanation, Ryan Murphy offers a scene in which a mugger on crutches uses one to steal Artie’s backpack and makes his getaway up the subway stairs. It’s the quintessential Murphy scene, an “equal-opportunity” portrait of misanthropy, a sacred-profane mash-up on the level of me farting in a fancy restaurant. What’s more, it’s our only illustration of the subway’s inaccessibility for Artie. What, does he get mugged every time he rides? This is a recent robbery, so what about the past several months?
The final victims of the time jump are Kurt and Blaine, who suddenly go from a long-distance relationship to an old married couple. It reminds me of 30 Rock’s “Mrs. Donaghy,” in which Jenna’s dressing room is occupied so she has to share Danny’s. Within a minute, they’re an old couple having a spat:
Danny: Are you okay?
Jenna: It’s just, I got a haircut, and you didn’t even say anything.
Danny: Sorr-ee! You get your hair cut every week.
Then Danny leans forward in his chair and pulls out Jenna’s tiara. Danny’s been sitting in his chair the whole time, and Jenna’s only been there a minute, but suddenly, it’s like she’s been leaving her stuff around the dressing room for months. That’s how Kurt and Blaine are now, and it’s not an illustration of the dangers of their accelerated relationship and young engagement. No, even cool voice of reason Starchild agrees that they’re meant for each other and should definitely get married as soon as possible, before he descends to his lair to work on his mad scientist laugh.
Other than all that—and I’m aware how ridiculous that sounds—“New New York” is a sturdy enough ramp with the caveat that everything but the music is understated, including most of the jokes and, unfortunately, the acting. Starchild, whom Kurt cites as the only friend he’s made since he’s been in New York, so let’s all remember that when Glee decides to write him off unceremoniously, is the worst offender. I know he’s a cool, level-headed dude, but his every line shrugs on his tongue and then dives to the ground with a splat. Express yoself, Starchild! Thankfully Lea Michele is here to pick up the slack. No line is too subdued, no expression too blasé, that Rachel can’t convey exactly what she’s feeling. The next diva-off is already in the bag.
Setting aside all the promise of New York, “New New York” realistically has two goals. One is to put on a show, and the other is to set up the show. As for the first, “New New York” knows how to make an entrance. This thing is chockablock with location shoots throughout the city. The cold open is a “Downtown” music video that sees all the new regulars meeting up to embark on this new journey together. Blaine and Sam’s freezing outdoors “cheer up” anthem is “Best Day Of My Life,” featuring some street percussionists and a lot of forced smiles. The most impressive number sees Rachel, Artie, and two subway trains full of people sing “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” while playing an elaborate game of musical chairs. Kurt belting out notes as he clambers out of the subway carries a certain secondhand embarrassment, and the weather is a big wet blanket on the other song, but seeing that many people turn a subway into a set actually brings out what Artie sees in them. At the end, Rachel wraps up the episode with Funny Girl’s “People,” going from the stage to a warm home surrounded by friends, to walking the crowded streets of the city.
The second goal entails a lot of stories building to a new status quo where Mercedes, Sam, and Blaine will live together, Blaine and Kurt are lightly tapping the brakes, and Rachel’s becoming a star. (There’s also a really sweet bit between Rachel and Artie, sweet except for the trade-off that involves her protecting him in exchange for him keeping her grounded, but as refreshing as it is to have a woman be the one to talk down to a minority for once, this renewed friendship has “standalone” written all over it.) Not a bad set-up, and thanks to Artie and Sam being put on hold over the non-hiatus, I’m still just as curious to see how they adjust to New York as I was before this episode.
- Here’s What You Missed On Glee suggests Will’s story is unfinished. Just an update or foreshadowing? It’s a new school year, at least at NYADA, so presumably he has some teaching job or another if he wants one.
- Anyone else think of Xander and Anya in Buffy’s “Once More, With Feeling” during Blaine and Kurt’s terrifying, domestic rendition of “You Make Me Feel So Young?”
- Darren Criss, No Homo: Gotta love Blaine singing, “Best Day Of My Life,” while spinning a woman around. I’m starting to think it’s in his contract that he’ll only play gay in song if it’s with Kurt.
- Mime class is inspired. “And now we will stop to pick a flower, and in front of your eyes, the flower dies.”
- Sam’s modeling job: Bubble, “booty-contouring underwear for men.” Less contouring and more huge foam pads, but sure.
- Jealousy brings out the best, or at least funniest, in Blaine: “We’re not friends on Facebook because I made it a point of waiting for you to friend me, which you never did, by the way.” Starchild is confused, but Blaine tells him how Kurt always praises him. “I may not be a cool steampunk glitter-rock vampire with, like, tats and guyliner…”
- Mercedes moves to New York! All it took was telling her producers, “My album needed an East Coast Harlem bebop uptown kind of vibe.” Glee!