Oh, Glee. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with you. You’ll do an episode like this one, where the story is an absolute, absolute mess on just about every level, yet you’ll somehow make it still fairly entertaining. I mean, I don’t get why half the stuff in this episode had to happen, but I laughed at so much of it that I’m just tempted to give it a pass and agree with the people who say in comments every week, “It’s a comedy! You don’t have to criticize it!” But, people in comments, criticizing these sorts of things at an insanely nit-picky level is why The AV Club pays me to never leave my house, so let’s commence with the bashing that makes it sound like I enjoyed this less than I actually did.
First off, the character of Terri still feels like one that the creative staff of the show is not entirely sure what to do with. With every episode, she vacillates between a ditz who can’t quite keep a handle on just how much her life has gotten out of control and an evil, manipulative shrew. Neither of these caricatures is exactly appealing, but at least the former doesn’t seem to actively hate her and/or women in general. Sadly, this week, she comes down too far on the side of “evil,” even if one of the best moments in the entire damn episode belongs to her. When she starts passing out over-the-counter uppers – pseudoephedrine, specifically – to help the glee kids overcome their suddenly-developed fatigue problems, she seemed almost too stupid to live, but when she started scheming with Sue to remove Emma from the picture, she suddenly became far too evil and unsympathetic for my tastes.
Network television is all about sanding off the edges, about creating situations where you know exactly how to feel about every character at any given moment, which is one of its worst traits. Yet, at the same time, one of the best things about television's potential is that it can take characters that seem to be stereotypes initially and then invert those or deepen them. Glee has quietly been doing pretty solid character work with Rachel, a character who contains many contradictions that also make sense in a relatable and human way, but it’s missing the boat with Terri, who exists mostly just so Will and Emma don’t get together right away. Drama is only interesting so long as what’s coming is not a foregone conclusion, and with Terri as a shrew, there’s just no way that Will doesn’t end up with Emma. How much more interesting and challenging to the audience would it be if Emma was legitimately the love of Will’s life, but Terri was also someone he was reliably happy with? If you care about both women at some level, then Will’s choice between them creates much more emotional chaos in their lives. Instead, the show is just pushing Will and Emma relentlessly together and coming up with ever-more asinine reasons to keep them apart. Also, her whole scheme to make off with Quinn’s baby somehow manages to be both stupid and unnecessarily evil while never making sense on either scale.
And yet, as mentioned, one of the best moments of the episode had to do with Terri and Emma and one of those stupid things standing between Will and Emma. Terri rather skillfully manipulated Ken (another character the show is doing some nice character work with, come to think of it) into proposing to Emma, and when Emma had doubts about accepting his proposal, she launched into a monologue about just how awful Emma’s actions truly are. Glee, at some level, is a show that’s all about getting us to root for the sorts of characters and things we might not normally root for. (Though the sorts of characters and things it thinks we might not normally root for have been reliable rooting-for fodder in movie and TV high schools for decades now.) One of the things it’s trying to get us to root for is adultery, and I actually like this about it, but it never quite has the courage to really make the fact that we want the main character cheat on his wife actually sting. This monologue righted the balance somewhat, even if it felt like the sort of critique Terri could never make as skillfully as she did there.
Also, in this episode, the story was a complete mess. I can hear you anti-Glee folks saying, “Way to catch up, VanDerWerff,” but I’ve thought that in episodes like “Preggers” and “The Rhodes Not Taken,” at least there was a thematic throughline that made up for some of the plot shortcomings. In this episode, that just wasn’t present, though I appreciate that the show is still trying to tell small-scale storylines like in those two episodes and not big, sprawling all over the place storylines like in “Acafellas.” “Vitamin D” just didn’t have that throughline, instead turning into some sort of bizarre parody of after-school specials where the characters get addicted to pills, the Saved by the Bell episode where Jessie sings “I’m So Excited” and the whole performance-enhancing drugs controversy that’s so embroiled Major League Baseball (go, Dodgers!). This was yet another story that came out of nowhere. Finn’s feeling fatigued in a way that might have been nice to have built up over a few episodes, even though his fatigue makes more sense than some of the series’ previous “This character is suddenly feeling this way” turns. I get that Glee is apparently trying to keep as much of its storyline as possible contained to individual episodes, but it still feels bizarre when these storylines come out of nowhere and are just as quickly dispatched, especially when so many of the other storylines are otherwise serialized. So long as the lines remain sharp, it sort of works as a parody of after-school specials. But if that snark ever fails the show, it’s going to fall off the very tall balance beam it’s barely staying on.
But even though the episode was a mess at the story level, it was very, very funny, to the point where I can’t drop it to that C range. Sue’s journal was absolutely perfect, the kids’ behavior on the pills was spot-on, and the musical numbers were, as always, pretty great, though I wish the show would be just a touch more adventurous with its song choices. Should I probably be harsher on the show? Honestly, yes, but I just don’t have it in me to really beat up on something that brings into the world the line, "If there's two things America needs right now, that is sunshine and optimism. Also angels."
- One thing I’m starting to wonder about is just what the show’s “rules” for the use of voiceover are. The narration bits on the show don’t irritate me like they do on other shows, but they also seem to be used haphazardly, as though the series isn’t quite sure if it wants them to exist or not. When Finn started narrating a quarter of the way through the episode tonight, I very briefly couldn’t figure out why the hell he was doing so, which is probably not a good sign. As the show has begun to refine the rules for its musical numbers, it’s kind of dropped the ball on this level, which is one of the things the pilot seemed to nail down really well (even if the device there was ripped off from Election).
- Man, if I were in high school with a girl like Rachel, she would be literally all I could think about.
- "I don't understand how lightning is in competition with an above-ground swimming pool."
- "Without those endorsements, I won't be able to buy my hovercraft."
- "Unless you wanna lose your man to a mentally ill ginger pygmy with eyes like a bush baby."
- "She kinda freaks me out in a Swimfan kinda way."
- "A lot of ants on the sidewalk today." "Pretty late in the season for that."