Glee – “Funk”

“Funk”

June 1st, 2010

I focused a lot last week on the show’s unwillingness to embrace its continuities, and while I hate to be repetitive “Funk” runs headfirst into the same problem: airing out of order (originally intended to air before last week’s “Theatricality”), the episode has a number of chances to connect its at times random storylines to previous developments, and yet resists at every turn.

It’s especially strange in that the episode returns a couple of recurring characters into the mix, which seems like a great way to justify looking back a bit. The result is an episode which feels like the show spinning its wheels, shifting sharply from some intense dramatic storylines to a pretty stock “guess what? Regionals is coming up next week!” episode.

And even with the joys of song and dance, those episodes just end up being a bit of a snoozefest, and in this case an occasionally problematic one as the show makes a couple of key decisions which take some strange routes to get to some fairly interesting conclusions.

I actually don’t mind the way the episode handled the battle between New Directions and Vocal Adrenaline, as the show has created the potential for Jesse and Rachel to serve as the Romeo and Juliet of the two groups and there were some nice subtle moments from Jonathan Groff which spoke to that conflict. The problem was that, because the episodes were airing out of order, any of the context for Groff’s insurrection (mainly that he was there to inform Rachel of her Mother’s identity, not to in some way screw with her head) was entirely lost. Considering how the episodes were originally supposed to air, one would presume that there would be a scene where Jesse gives Rachel some hint as to why he was there, and then is still forced to egg her due to the pressure from Vocal Adrenaline. It makes sense that they would break up to pit the two groups against one another heading into Sectionals, but it doesn’t make sense (considering the new continuity created by “Theatricality” airing first) that Rachel wouldn’t confront her mother about this invasion, or that she wouldn’t have asked about Jesse last week. It feels like airing the episodes out of order creates a lot of missed opportunities, scenes that should have happened to keep building momentum but which instead positions “Funk” as a prologue for Sectionals more than a way to maintain momentum heading into the event.

Meanwhile, I think Ian Brennan went too far out on a limb in putting Will and Sue into a sexually-charged storyline. While we’ve seen Sue fall head over heels before (with the news anchor in the most honestly human storyline the character has ever been given), the animosity between them has never been read as sexual urgency, at least never in the sense that Sue would become emotionally involved. I like where the storyline eventually brought Sue as a character, in that Will’s cruelty shows the insecurity beneath her exterior, but I think Will needed to find someone else to seduce Sue rather than doing it himself (like, perhaps, the news anchor?). Sure, it makes for some fun “Sue’s Diary” voiceovers and some more highly intense scenes between the two actors, but all of the post-standup drama could have remained without having Will be the seducer, and Matthew Morrison’s performance of “Tell Me Something Good” was just too creepy for me to really believe as a seduction to begin with. Where they eventually took the characters (Will realizing that repeating Terri-like behaviour is a bad idea, and Sue realizing that she has wrongly convinced herself that she doesn’t love what she does as Cheerios coach) was a good place, a more honest place than they’ve taken them in past episodes: the mistake was giving into the temptation to play around with sexual chemistry between two characters who have absolutely zero sexual chemistry.

I think the same goes for Quinn and Mercedes’ storyline, which has two distinct problems. The first is that Quinn’s number is (as Artie put it) kind of offensive, positioning unwed mothers as a minority without really providing enough context within the fairly ridiculous “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (which included lamaze breathing as backup vocals). There’s an argument to be made there, that the way Quinn feels helps her understand how it feels to be ostracized and ridiculed, and she could even argue that women in general face similar discriminations. However, the show decides to have Quinn go as broad as possible so that she can feel like she’s recklessly baring her soul, and so everyone else has to meet her generalities halfway (or in Mercedes’ case, bend over backwards and invite her to move into your house out of nowhere). And yet, since I’m so focused on the series’ narratives, I spent the entire episode wondering what happened to the relationship Quinn and Mercedes seemed to share in “Home,” when Quinn was the one talking to Mercedes in a spiritual godmother-like tone about eating disorders? The roles were entirely reversed here, with Mercedes trying to help Quinn through her own troubles, and yet at no point did the two characters acknowledge this role reversal. My immediate question is why not: why is it that these two characters, who shared a remarkably similar moment earlier in the season and seemed to establish a new friendship, not talk about that when back in this situation? Also, why would Mercedes have been so insensitive to the idea of Quinn channeling her inner funk considering that earlier speech? The continuities make both of them seem more insensitive than I think the characters inherently are, and there’s really no need for that.

What’s funny is that Finn and Puck’s subplot (where they slash the Vocal Adrenaline tires and are then forced to get jobs in order to pay for the damage) is all about the past resurfacing, with Jessalyn Gilsig’s Terri making a pleasant-enough return and Stephen Tobolowsky’s Sandy making his first “real” return after a cameo in the “Run Joey Run” video. It was nice to see both of them back, really: Terri nicely captured why she has never quite worked as part of the show’s ensemble (her “compulsive need to crush other people’s dreams”), while Sandy was a logical foil for Puck and Finn in the context of their new job at Linens-n-Things. “Loser” and “Good Vibrations” were both enjoyable little numbers which were interestingly staged, and because they never tried to take the storyline anywhere in particular, there was nothing to really offend one’s senses: Terri didn’t become overbearing, Cory Monteith and Mark Salling got to do some rapping, and the storyline felt pretty consistent with where we last left Terri. Mind you, if they try to turn her inability to separate 16-year old Finn from 16-year old Will into a real storyline the show is going to have problems, but as a little comic diversion it’s not a bad idea.

I was speculating last week about why “Funk” was moved, and that ensuring that the Gaga-enhanced “Theatricality” would air both after American Idol and within May Sweeps seemed like logical reasons. I also think that “Funk” is very much an episode that doesn’t really take the show anywhere new, and the Terri side of the storyline is not particularly eventful even as a contained storyline. It’s one of the show’s most boring episodes, as the central notion of “Funk” remains pretty abstract and the depressive element (the one which remains consistent throughout all funks) fuses with the show itself and drags it down. I have found other episodes of the show more frustrating, but this one didn’t seem to be really challenging itself, and when it did (like the game of chicken it has Will and Sue playing) it just comes off as bizarre instead of daring or inventive.

We got the message: Vocal Adrenaline has New Directions in a funk, but they’re going to fight back by being their funky selves and preparing to kick some butt at Regionals. It just seemed like we didn’t need an entire episode to establish that point, which is why “Theatricality” would have provided more direct momentum from an emotional perspective (as much as I had problems with that episode) had the original order been maintained.

Cultural Observations

  • I love Dianna Agron, and the recorded version of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is pretty good, but I feel like she got lost trying to lipsynch in within that ridiculous production number.
  • I don’t understand the idea of Glee kids living with each other like this – the show doesn’t have time to delve into home lives, I understand this particular fact, but artificially pairing them up seems, well, artificial.
  • Two things I don’t understand: why New Directions was so blown away from the pedestrian “Another One Bites the Dust” choreography (Groff’s vocal was impressive, I guess), and why Vocal Adrenaline was so blown away by the closing number. Were they seeing something we weren’t?
  • Fun little musical clue with the Italian music at Breadsticks as Sue gets stood up at the restaurant ending on a musical “knock knock” at Will’s door.
  • Sometimes the show’s throwaway jokes are golden: other times, they’re a 14-minute Celine Dion medley performed entirely in French, which is not funny but terrifying.
  • I’ll admit, I’ve got a soft spot for “good Vibrations,” and Mark Salling and Amber Riley fit into their respective roles extremely well, so that was probably my favorite number for the evening (perhaps because it was unsullied by any problematic storylines).
  • This was my first time hearing Stephen Tobolowsky on screen after starting listening to the Tobolowsky Files podcast, and while it took a second to realize he wasn’t about to engage in a dialogue with David Chen I eventually got used to both seeing and hearing Stephen.
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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Glee – “Funk”

  1. Another week in a row, I completely agree with your review.

    I’m not gonna repeat everything you’ve already said, but you’re right about the forced Mercedes and Quinn thing and the damage the episode shift caused.

    Two things that really bothered me:

    1) Jesse’s development:

    This stinks so badly. They just introduce the character, make him an important part of Rachel’s life, make us believe that he kind of likes her (why would he say that to Shelby if it wasn’t true?) and then, out of the blue, he throws eggs on her. What a hell?

    All of these things happened so fast, in such quick scenes, that it’s hard to know exactly what they wanted to do with him. Was he suppose to be good or bad or both?

    I think they lost another good opportunity, with another good actor/singer, just like they did with Menzel.

    2) Glee crazy mood shifts

    Other than the difficulty to keep on with a storyline, which I’ve already talked about, what annoys me the most about the series is their inability in defining what kind of show they really want to be. Sometimes, Glee seems to have multiple personalities. The episodes have such a completely different tone that it’s hard to believe they all belong to the same series, the same creators and they are written by the same team. When Brian writes an episode the story works in a specific way, but when Ryan writes completely different things happen and the characters behave in a completely opposite way.

    It’s ok to have a little style differences between the episodes, but the whole thing needs to have a little bit of cohesion or will become a huge mess.

  2. You know, I actually liked last night’s episode. Yes, it was all over the place, and had some logical holes (but what Glee episode doesn’t?)

    What I DID like was that the songs didn’t outweigh the stories like they were in previous episodes. The songs chosen this week and when they were sung blended in well with the story. Although I do agree about Quinn’s odd song choice.

    I also liked that Sue was back in full-force. Yes, it was hard for me to believe that she would fall this fast for Will, but they explained it well with her loneliness.

    It was good to see Terry back too.

    Overall, I think this episode was an improvement from the last few weeks.

  3. Kate

    What if Glee had bit the bullet right at the start and put most of the songs in a fantasy realm? I wish they had. So many of the plots and themes center on the weekly assignment, which…Will can do whatever he wants with his glee club, I guess, but that is not how most of the world’s public high school music organizations/classes are run. (Not that I’m looking for a ton of realism from Glee.) But if that wasn’t a locked-in element of the storytelling, and they mainly used the “Bust Your Windows”/”Like a Virgin”/”Safety Dance” style number instead, I think it would serve the show really well, because then they’d be free to ground the real stuff in a stronger realism, and go completely bananas with the musical numbers.

  4. Rae

    Have I just not been paying attention or did we have previous knowledge that Quinn was living with Puck? It feels like Quinn is an after thought in this second half of the season compared to how much of the story focus she shared in the first half. I don’t mind moving on to other stories but then don’t keep sticking in weird Quinn moments where I’m suddenly supposed to be thinking about what she’s going through when you don’t ever bother to show it. At least earlier we saw her having to watch everything from the sidelines, etc. Now we only see her when she’s going to tell us how horrible teen pregnancy is… for her social life.

    • If you had asked me where Quinn was living, I probably would have remembered it eventually, but yeah – there’s no clear sense of that within these episodes.

      The show suffers because these characters’ lives don’t seem to go on unless they’re part of the storyline: it’s not like we see characters doing normal things (like, say, going to the mall) or even spending time on the school bus. We’re so disconnected from their non-Glee lives that their actions become exaggerated musical numbers with nothing to refer to. This is especially problematic which characters like Quinn, who is living a complicated life we’re not able to see.

      Effectively, it’s like if all of the characters on Friday Night Lights were defined by football and their relationship to football, and only football was allowed to show us anything about their storyline.

  5. Mark

    Do the writers feel that the viewers are idiots? I lost track (and interest) of how many times the characters used the word “funk”. Duh, was that what the episode was about??

  6. Chrystal

    I feel completely ripped off in the Jesse/Rachael storyline. His actions here seem to fit better if they would’ve come before “Dream On”- when he seemed to have calmed down and wanted to be friends.. now suddenly he’s all upset and vengeful and there’s just no context for it. And putting “Theatricality” in before it just made it even worse with Rachael seemingly not knowing about Jesse joining New Directions because of her mom (as of course you pointed out because it’s so obvious to anyone watching and a huge distraction).
    And Quinn’s song was just scary. I’ve got a baby and being pregnant is great and all but the choreography for that number was just way too out there.
    I feel like I’m still watching out of hope and the musical numbers and not for the actual show anymore..

  7. Aaron

    I agree with this review whole-heartedly, but there are 2 points I wanted to make about this show that this episode illustrated well:

    1. Although the closing number was, as implied above, pedestrian, and far from worthy of the “you got served” moment it was portrayed as, it was also the first full cast number I’ve noticed in a long time that focused on the group instead of the individuals. This is what I was hoping for more of originally with the promise of a TV show about a high school glee club.

    2. I understand the show’s surrealist tendencies, but I don’t think they’ve been particularly well done since the pilot. Dialog such as the divorce lawyer early on (“By the power vested in me … mazel tov”) or the Vocal Adrenaline singer at the end (“Because we’re emotionless automatons”) just doesn’t fit within the logic of the rest of the series, as much as I wish they’d make it work.

  8. Kate

    You know, I think I can forgive this episode; if only because of Kurt’s line about the Carmel High statue. While it may have been the only funny part I was able to really find in “Funk”, it was just so random and hilarious to me that I actually began to enjoy myself.

    But I have to say I 100% agree with this review, overall the episode was completely awful.

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