Thursday, September 23, 2010

Glee Season 2 Episode 1 "Audition"

Here goes for nothing guys, the review i have been itching to write.

I like the show - there are times I downright love it - but Season 1 really was a narrative mess held together mostly by a very talented cast and some infectious musical numbers. Going into Season 2 I was very worried that the hype around the show would encourage the writers/producers to blindly indulge in their worst traits - the stunt casting, the gratuitous theme episodes, the sloppiness in characterization and storytelling, etc.

If the Season 2 premiere was any indication of what lies ahead, I should probably trot down to the butcher shop to see if they have any crow suitable for eating. That was a tight 60 minutes featuring some great character moments, some very funny scenes, some solid musical numbers, and what appears to be actual forward momentum. Did the showrunners actually take the notes, or did they just have time to sit down and give the show the planning and attention it needs? Who knows, but I hope they can keep it up. That episode was totally satsifying.

Some random thoughts:

-I liked all the new characters. I bitched before the season started that with 15 regulars, the cast was already overcrowded; the last thing this show needed was more characters to keep track of. But there have been some very strategic cuts to the cast that made a little room for some promising newbies. (Coach Tanaka is out, as is the one male member of the glee club whose name I still cannot remember; on the other hand, Will's ex-wife is still a part of the cast even though she has been utterly pointless since the mid-point of Season 1. What is that about?)

I loved the dynamic between Sue, Will, and the new female football coach, Bieste. Giving Sue an opponent that a) is not Will and b) actually comes from a position of power should keep things interesting, and prevent Sue from going stale and/or soft too soon (that's a very real risk, as we already saw during some of the worst moments of S1).

On that note, hilariously named Filipino transfer student Sunshine Corazon brings out the worst/best in Rachel (more on that in a moment) and adds a different flavor to the New Directions gang. I think the producers realized fairly early on last season that Tina (or rather, the actress playing her, Jenna Ushkowitz) was never going to be able to pull off singing lead, meaning Rachel and Mercedes - and occasionally Quinn - kept having to do all the heavy vocal lifting. Sunshine adds another powerful female voice to the mix. I know, she got pilfered by Vocal Adrenaline at the end of the episode, but she's a recurring character, and I'm sure she'll be back at McKinley at some point. At least I hope so; that girl can sing. (Although the actress playing her, Charice, is TERRIBLE at lip synching. She really needs to work on that.)

Lastly, new quarterback and inevitable Finn rival Sam provides some twink eye candy and another decent male voice although i hate that Bieber hair-do(I don't think there was any Autotuning on Chord Overstreet's take on "Billionaire"). The only downside is that, as pointed out in the episode, the boy really does have a distractingly gigantic mouth. There was a thick gay subtext whenever his character was on screen. Is he going to end up being Kurt's promised love interest?

-I loved the self-referential humor. How best to deal with all the online criticism from respected critics, bored hausfraus, and obnoxious bloggers like yours truly? Incorporate it into the show. Opening the season with that horribly stereotypical high-school reporter confronting the various members of the glee club with some of the nastiest real-life online comments allowed the show to address some of the issues head on, as well as provide a snappy, quick-paced recap. I'm sure some people will find it cutesy and insipid, but I appreciated the candor, and the acknowledgement that, yes, the people who make the show actually do listen to what people say, and seem to take at least some of it seriously.

-I'm a little concerned about the alluded new direction for the musical numbers. Here's where I'm worried that the showrunners listened to "the people" a little too much. In the beginning of the episode Mr. Schu addresses the criticism that last season's musical numbers read like a drag queen's playlist, and tasked the club to do something current. And the majority of the songs from the episode ended up being current (at least, from the last year or so) pop songs from the likes of Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Travie McCoy, etc.

I'm not sure that's a change for the better, and it seems like a kneejerk reaction from a network suit who held some teen focus group or something. Some of the best songs from Season 1 were older songs that the show resuscitated and put a totally different spin on - I'm thinking "Don't Stop Believing," "Jump," and even "Burning Up," just for starters. Most of the modern songs featured in this episode were more or less note-for-note remakes of contemporary pop songs. Why would someone download a cover of a Jay-Z song that sounds exactly like the Jay-Z song, just with more people singing it? Especially when said Jay-Z song is still in the iTunes Top 100? (Of course, as I write this, the "Glee" versions of all of those songs are zooming up the charts, so what the hell do I know?)

For my money, the best numbers of the night were the two Broadway songs, "Listen" by Charice and "What I Did For Love" by Lea Michele. They weren't huge departures from the originals, but they sounded different enough to make me want to buy both of them instead of the originals. And they're not songs I hear a million times on the radio on any given day. I just hope the show isn't going too far in its attempt to keep the tween audience engaged by only doing covers of songs by, like, Justin Bieber or whatever act is hot at the moment. There are so many amazing classic songs begging for a new spin and a new audience.

-I desperately hope they continue the offbeat characterization for some of the leads. Rachel is at her best when she is being awful, and she was in fine form this episode, sending some poor immigrant girl to a crack house so as to not lose even a sliver of her spotlight. Yes! That is exactly what that character would do in real life, because she has a pathological need to be the center of attention. I find it refreshing when the show allows its arguable heroine to behave in really contemptuous ways, and it drives me nuts when it goes all sappy and has the "Rachel Learns a Lesson" plotlines. She got the message that what she did was shitty this episode, but there wasn't a predictable kumbaya moment. And that's awesome, because that's exactly how real life works. I hope they keep up the insufferable moments with her, and I also hope they split up her and Finn, because seriously, the two of them have zero chemistry and don't even make sense together (what would she see in such a lunkhead?).

On that same tip, Sue was an unrepentant shit this week, escalating her war with Bieste to the point where she baked poop cookies and coerced a student to make false molestation claims. That is the Sue Sylvester I know, love, and admire. I understand that there have to be some moments of humanity, otherwise she turns into a caricature. And I think they've done that with her relationships with the mentally handicapped. But last season you could see where they were trying to de-claw her at points, and I'm not interested in that in the slightest. Sue Sylvester is the goddamned Darth Vader of high school. Remember how lame Vader got after we found out he was a pasty, wheezing fat guy? Please don't make Sue a pasty, wheezing fat guy, show.

I was also pleased to see a hint or two that Quinn is back to her old, manipulative ways now that the ill-considered pregnancy storyline is done. I actually thought Quinn was one of the best-developed, most well-rounded characters of the first season, but she was dethroned as Queen Bee awfully fast. She took back her crown this episode in a wonderfully vicious scene with Santana. (Does anyone know if the breast implant thing was based in real life? Did Naya Rivera get a boob job, and this was the show's way of addressing it?) I am eager to see how she interacts with Rachel, Mercedes, Finn, and Puck, as that will really tell us whether the bitch is back or not.

Next episode: It's Britney And Brittany. Expect lots of snakes, hair whipping, naughty schoolgirl outfits, and for the ol' Autotune to get quite a workout. 

Better stock up on Cheetos and Red Bull now, y'all.


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