Episode 2.02: “Britney/Brittany”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Before we get started here, I have a confession to make. An embarrassing confession. I… like… Britney Spears’s music. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t own any of her albums and I don’t really pay any attention to her career at all. It’s just that when I hear her music, I don’t hate it. Yeah, I know many of the criticisms. She doesn’t write her own songs. Her voice is altered in post-production. I really don’t care. I find her pleasant to listen to.

All that said, Britney Spears is no Madonna, and this episode shares a lot of similarities with last season’s “The Power of Madonna.” Madonna had a significant impact on the music industry and created some real high-quality work in her day. Britney Spears is more or less nothing but a pop starlet whose music will probably not be remembered in forty years’ time. I mean, I like her music, but it’s scarcely earth-shattering stuff. It’s pop. Good pop, but nothing more.

In addition to the theme, this episode also shares the unusual atmosphere of “The Power of Madonna” in that the subject of the week is revered almost as a goddess by pretty much everyone on the show. This one allows for Sue and Will to speak against her, but that sets up the strange “young vs. old” dynamic in which all the kids like Spears but the adults don’t. They’re targets for the kids to shoot down. The hero worship the kids show for Spears quite frankly makes the whole episode seem like some kind of Britney Spears infomercial, much like “The Power of Madonna” seemed like an infomercial for Madonna. Spears even appeared in this episode, though there really didn’t seem to be much point to it.

Aside from all that, the show had its share of flaws. Last week I complained about musical numbers that are not written fluidly into the plot, and we had plenty of those this episode. No, writing them as hallucinations doesn’t count as working them into the plot. One of those would haven been plenty. They could have gotten their music video recreation out of the way (they were so close to the real thing it was much more recreation than parody) and then they could have moved on. Having Will cave in earlier would have allowed us to see more performances within the confines of the actual plot. Instead, it took 33 minutes (not counting commercials – I watch the show on Hulu) before there was a non-hallucinogenic musical number and in the end, out of six numbers, only two of them were worked into the plot. Talk about lazy writing and a betrayal of concept!

The characters were much better this episode than last one, though admittedly it’s hardly possible that they could have been worse. Rachel was back to having flaws that actually fit her. She’s been an outcast all her life, so it makes sense for her to be kind of paranoid and controlling when she finally has something she wants, even needs, to be happy. We once again end with Rachel learning a lesson and singing a song about it, but at least it was worked into the plot this time and hey, it actually worked. Also, Lea Michele apparently managed to get a real tear out of that performance. That always impresses me.

The whole Will-Emma-Carl love triangle they set up actually worked a lot better than I thought it would. It makes sense for Will to kind of panic and try things that just aren’t him in a perhaps unconscious effort to win Emma back. I also expected Carl to be some kind of jerk so that we could unconditionally root for Will, but he came across as a very likable character. It’s even possible to see what Emma sees in him.

This show actually had a very identifiable turning point in it for me, when it went from being this goofy send-up of Britney Spears to being about the characters and the rest of the plot. It came very late in the show. Too late, in my opinion. But that moment was when Quinn walked up to Rachel after propositioning Finn and said “I said what you wanted me to and he shot me down. So congrats. Looks like he really loves you.” I liked that moment for a lot of reasons. It was the moment when Rachel realized that she didn’t have to be paranoid and controlling about Finn, but that she could let him go and everything would be fine. Ironically, she also discovered that in her own way, by setting a trap to see if he would fall in, a very paranoid thing to do. This point also showed the audience that Quinn had not really reverted back to her early season one days, but had actually learned from her experiences after all. I was all ready to rant and rave about Quinn’s character when I saw her proposition Finn like that, but then it was revealed that she was working with Rachel. This moment also revealed, through Quinn’s glistened-eyes glance back at Finn, that she still has feelings for him in reality.

Will and Emma’s frank discussion just prior to this worked too, but the Quinn/Rachel moment was so simple and powerful and full of meaning, just within the span of a few seconds. This is the kind of thing that really makes me wonder. The Glee writers are capable of these little moments of brilliance, yet they so often just fall on their face. What is that all about?

Speaking of the writers falling on their face, I refuse to discuss Artie’s joining the football team. Maybe another time I’ll have the energy for that rant.

As for the musical numbers, I don’t really feel like I have a lot to say about them. The hallucination numbers were enjoyable, I have to admit, even if they weren’t written in well. I thought that “I’m a Slave 4 U” was an odd choice to open up with, but I guess it’s an iconic Spears number. I never really cared for it too much. The performance of “Toxic” came off as really goofy, but since it was the climax of the goofy Spears-worship subplot, I was okay with that. Overall, oddly enough, I’d say the highlight was Rachel’s final performance, “The Only Exception.” This was the only song that really fit thematically with what the character was going through at that moment, and Lea Michele really put a lot of feeling into it.

Overall, I’d have to call this a decent episode, though I wonder how much of that is influenced by how awful “Audition” was last week.

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Episode 2.01: “Audition”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Oh boy.

I’ve mentioned before that the writers of Glee cannot do drama. That was obvious throughout season one. Here, at the beginning of season two, we see a new facet of their ineptitude. Here’s the problem: in a good drama, there has to be character development. The characters we saw in “Audition” had not only not developed based on their experiences last season, but they had regressed even further back into the realm of caricature. It was almost as if, looking back, the characters decided that they should learn the exact opposite of every lesson they learned last season. How bad was it? Shall we go in alphabetical order?

Artie: Not only has he had at least a few years prior to the start of Glee to learn to deal with his handicap (I’m not sure that when he suffered his “accident” was ever made clear), but he had essentially the entirety of last season’s “Dream On,” in which he was forced to face the impossibility of becoming a dancer. Now he wants to play on the football team? Also, Artie previously had to change his misogynistic ways to stay with Tina in “The Power of Madonna,” and now we hear him saying, “I was playing a marathon round of Halo, woman!” as an excuse for ignoring her? Incidentally, the events of “Dream On” would have been thematically a good thing to mention in the context of Tina breaking up with him, considering she left him for Mike, a dancer. But it wasn’t even mentioned.

Finn: I don’t believe that he has previously been characterized as a total idiot. He’s never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s at least had common sense. And he buys into Artie’s plan to join the football team? As a battering ram? Even if we accept that Artie was lovesick enough to come up with this idea, Finn should have been the one to talk him down. He has a friend who is paralyzed from the upper chest down due to a football injury (“Laryngitis”). Finn of all people knows that football is a rough sport, and the idea of wheeling a kid down the field is frankly idiotic, to say nothing of the rules violations.

Quinn: She barely even had any lines, but they still managed to assassinate her character. This is the same woman that belted out “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in “Funk”? She learned humility last season, and for obvious reasons despised Sue. Would she really go back to the Cheerios, who rejected her so strongly before? Did she really see her pregnancy as a temporary handicap that she just had to wait out? Not only that, but to make concessions to Sue in order to be let back on the team? The instant that Sue saw her and told her to get out, the Quinn I remember from the end of last season would have told her off and then obeyed. This Quinn knuckled under and gave us that mean-girl smirk from early last season while doing it.

Rachel: Come on. In how many episodes last season did Rachel have to learn to share the spotlight? Yes, she was always portrayed as the strongest member of the club, but she was always all about winning. Let’s go all the way back to “Pilot.” Rachel almost quit the first incarnation of the club because she felt there wasn’t any other talent there to compliment her. She wouldn’t have had to share the spotlight at all, but she didn’t want to be on a losing team. And this season she, like every other member of the club, is coming off a devastating loss in regionals. How could she turn Sunshine away like that? I don’t mean morally, I mean how could her character do it? Even at the beginning of last season, when Rachel yearned to be a winner, it wouldn’t have made sense. After last season, when she was forced to learn the be a team player so many times, it’s completely ludicrous. And sending her to a crack house? The same thing applies here as applies to Finn above. Rachel is not a complete idiot. She would not have done that.

Sue: We all expected this, but it’s still annoying. Sue had to go back to being Will’s nemesis, because the people behind Glee apparently think they need that useless conflict. But in the season one finale, Sue appeared to have learned a love for her school that went beyond her personal feud with Will. I argued at the time that that was completely out of left field and was an undeserved character change, but once you do something like that you can’t just undo it. But now she’s back to not only trying to tear down the glee club, but also trying to tear down the football team, all in the name of reclaiming some of the Cheerios’ insane budget.

Will: How many times last season did Will have to deal with being at the bottom of the totem pole? Now he apparently has to learn what that feels like all over again. It is not in Will’s character to do the things that he and Sue did to “Coach Beiste.” He’s learned before that those methods either don’t work, or lead to consequences that he can’t handle (see “Funk”).

So to sum it all up, here’s the problem with character development in Glee: there is none. Characters display, again and again, the inability to learn from past experience. I wouldn’t really have a problem with this except for the fact that Glee is attempting to carry off some drama in their show and they have multi-episode story arcs. If characters are not going to learn, it should just stick to self-contained episodes in the musical comedy genre. In fact, I would prefer it. The Glee writers cannot do drama. They should stay very far away from drama.

Anyway, that’s just about all I have to say about the plot and characters, except that they both sickened me.

So let’s move on to the songs. While they weren’t bad, nothing really stood out. Sunshine’s audition was probably the highlight, but by a fairly slim margin. I also note that Glee is, more and more, having characters burst into song for no reason, music come out of nowhere, and other characters around not notice (ex. Rachel’s last song in this episode). That’s a technique of traditional musicals. Glee was originally going for a “postmodern” musical concept, in which the songs were inserted naturally into the storyline. The best songs of the first season were all like that: “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Dream On,” “It’s My Life/Confessions Part II,” “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” Songs that don’t fit into the storyline always seem forced in (because they are) and seem like a betrayal of the original concept.

There were a few good things about this episode. I liked the documentary-style intro (“What DID you do with all that breast milk?”) and I got a laugh out of Sue’s “Shut up!” to Sunshine and Rachel while they were singing in the bathroom. But for the most part, this was not an encouraging start to season two at all.