September 16th, 2009
“Acafellas,” by and large, is like an answer to my prayers (or, if not prayers, then at least requests). Last week, I noted that I enjoyed the show as a whole but felt that they were moving too quickly with the main storylines and not giving us any time with the supporting characters. And, by and large, this episode managed to move at a pretty quick pace (the show certainly didn’t become slow) while spending plenty of time with pretty much everyone. The show is a large ensemble, and this episode felt like an effort to both address ongoing storylines (including the main ones covered last week) in small scenes while spending time with entirely new settings and character pairings.
This is not to say that I think the episode was flawless by any means, but I think it’s an example of the show’s particular brand of humour and musical performance proving capable of expanding into other areas outside of the “core” storylines. While I still have some issues with the way the show tends to pace itself with individual storylines, this episode managed to handle a lot of material in a single hour, covering various bases with a fairly high degree of success.
But, be warned that I’ve still got some issues with the way the show likes to rush to the good parts, so to speak.
I was really happy to see the introduction of a storyline for Kurt and Mercedes, but when it became clear where they were going with it I had my reservations. When it became clear that they were heading in a direction wherein Mercedes was convinced by the Cheerios to pursue Kurt romantically, my reaction was the same as Rachel’s: Kurt is clearly being written as a gay character, and the show has ladled cliche after cliche onto him. I’m ashamed that I was so quick to jump to that conclusion, but that’s partly the fault of the show itself. This is not a show that is about subtlety – yes, the show can be subtle, but its favourite gear is an in-your-face collection of stereotypes. When, in the final moment between the two characters, Kurt reveals that he has never told anyone that he is gay, it’s like the show telling us that the way it most often stereotypes its characters isn’t showing everything about them.
And I think that’s an important thing for the show to establish at this stage in its development. I do think that the episode was a bit too blatant in its destruction of its stereotypical images of Mercedes and Kurt (she as confident and assured of herself and he as openly gay), making Mercedes too blind to Kurt’s sexuality (which was never honestly in question) and Kurt a bit too scared to be revealing his sexuality for someone who just openly discussed a tiara collection. It’s one thing for Mercedes to get to the end of her rope with no options left and decide to settle with Kurt knowing he was gay, and it’s one thing for Kurt to be surprised to hear himself finally saying those words out loud. Instead, we got the shortcut: since the show hasn’t shown this side of them before, it seemed as if the show went for the most extreme emotional state to make an impact. Both of the young actors nailed the scenes involved, but it just seemed like the show rushing into the conclusion of the storyline rather than letting it unfold over time.
The episode did the same thing with the arrival of the Acafellas, although there the pace seemed a bit more natural. It seemed like Will was finally living the musical dream, starting a group out of a spontaneous moment and suddenly booking gigs, getting media mentions, and eventually singing in front of Josh Groban (more on that in a bit). I was half expecting it to turn into an episode of Behind the Music, which works as a bit of satire. The show works at a fast-pace when that’s part of the point of the storylines, but when it seems like the show is rushing potential long-term storylines (like it seemed last week) it’s a bigger issue than when it’s rushing something that’s supposed to seem very sudden and out of the blue. Storyline gave us a couple of really enjoyable A capella Hip Hop songs (in particular “I Wanna Sex You Up”), and a scenario wherein the musical numbers’ overproduction (which has been discussed here before) actually fit in with the almost fantasy-like nature of their meteoric rise. Throw in some extra characterization for Puck (who has needed to be a bit more connected with the audience), and the welcome return of Stephen Tobolowsky (whose Sandy is a one-liner machine), and you have a fun storyline.
It was also a storyline that was aided significantly by a real emotional core that didn’t have to do with a love triangle or anything else. The episode was defined by a theme about confidence and (for lack of a better word) gumption, being willing to get out there and do what you need to do. The episode is one enormous fantasy, where things that shouldn’t work or seemed before lame or inappropriate become cool because the people behind them find confidence from there. The Acafellas is not nearly as “cool” as it is in the show’s universe, but because it’s finally Will doing what he always wanted to and because it’s Finn and Puck discovering another side of themselves we see it as the success that it is. When the Choreographer from Vocal Adrenaline comes in (as the cheerleaders try to tear the group apart), he sees everyone as a mixed up group of misfits, but as long as they all remain confident in themselves they can stay together. And when Victor Garber, playing Will’s father, announces that he’s going back to law school, you see that this simple message (one that’s certainly on the positivity side of Glee’s cruel/kind dichotomy) transcends generations.
What I do enjoy immensely about Glee is how much is packed into each episode, and how here they manage to touch on the various underlying storylines without doing anything with them (proving that despite the evidence they know how to pace themselves, sort of). You had Emma’s overenthusiastic applause for the Acafellas that we know (and Terri somewhat suspects) was for Will and not Ken, Finn and Rachel’s discussion about confidence in the hallway, Terri trying to get pregnant (and Will taking it as her love for a capella), and the runner with Sue Sylvester trying to take down Glee once and for all. These are small moments, but they remind us that even as weeks pass (and apparently weeks did pass in this episode) these storylines don’t go away. It’s a good way to handle things, and I liked seeing a completely different portion of the show’s universe (Will’s family, etc.) while not forgetting the ongoing storylines.
I really want to be one of those people who is jumping up and down and cheering on this show with all of my heart. And there are times, like during the musical performances, where something sparks in me. But right now, the show is so uneven in its pacing that it feels manufactured in a way that isn’t as charming or amazing. I like this show a whole lot, and find it exciting, but I keep getting pulled out of it and have to wonder if that’s by design (and if I really think that design is in the show’s best interest).
- I love that Will’s father spent six months at the Hanoi Hitlon and uses it as a joke. And that Terri warns about bones in the hamburger casserole. And that Henri eats the thumb off of his “Thumbs Up” cake hand. And that Sandy writes Desperate Housewives Fan Fiction. And that Sue was on the Noriega Strike Force in Panama. All amazing.
- I’m interested to see the show continue to play around with the sequence of events – Rachel’s early speech to Will, intercut with the Cherrios getting to her in order to force her to make her case, breaks right into Will having a discussion with Emma about John Stamos and confidence. It’s a really unique way to get from Point A to Point B, and I’d be more content with the show’s pacing if it used more of that and fewer emotional shortcuts with the characters.
- Cory Monteith really impressed me in this episode: he asserted himself well with Lea Michele in terms of being the “voice of reason,” but then really demonstrated Finn’s more awkward side when he wondered what a cliche was, and if this was one of those times where she was actually mad about something else. His character is one who has always been about the duality between external appearance and inner insecurity, and he fit in well with the episode as a result.
- We also learned where Monteith got his “Frankenteen” twitter name: “I feel like a woodland creature” was another choice line. (On that note, I was curious why they bothered to show so much of the Mercy routine, which seemed gratuitous if impressive).
- Are we supposed to take Quinn’s line to Sue as a reason for us to like her? They really gave some depth to both Puck and Quinn in this episode, if so, and that’s a step in the right direction.
- The show’s production numbers worked great here: I hadn’t even heard the original version of Bust Your Windows before, but Mercedes’ made it irrelevant, and the fantasy-like nature of the production made the over-produced music actually fit in with the scenes involved (the same goes for the Acafellas, which was helped by remaining a capella without the music.
- Josh Groban’s cameo got some play from FOX’s marketing department, but it was really quite great in practice: as last year’s Emmy showed, he’s more than willing to make fun of himself, but here he was great in shutting down Sandy w/ Flex’s help, and then utterly brilliant in hitting on Will’s Mom (which would make him Puck’s new role model). The “I love a blowsy drunk” line was downright killer.
- Lea Michele has my heart, just so we’re clear.