Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Glee" Finale: Well, at least Mercedes got to do something...

Mark Salling, Chord Overstreet, Harry Shum Jr. and Kevin McHale in "New York," the second season finale of Glee. Photo courtesy of

(Warning: SPOILERS ahead for those who haven't yet seen the season finale.)

I've complained about Glee a lot in the past. I've been disappointed by the way this once smart, feel-good show became a parody of itself, a series of seemingly unrelated episodes designed only to shoehorn in Top 40 hits and increase iTunes sales. The finale didn't really do anything to change my mind; while the usual pop hits were eschewed in favor of some uninteresting original songs, a plug for Matthew Morrison's new album, and a truly terrible Madonna song, the story was just as inconsistent as ever, and the characters once again seemed like completely different people than they did last week.

Let's start with the good moments, shall we? First of all, and most exciting, Mercedes (Amber Riley) actually has a love interest in the person of Chord Overstreet's Sam. Let's all just pause and let that sink in for a moment. As I've discussed before, Mercedes is the most ill-used character on the entire show, and until now she has never been allowed to have a love interest, while the rest of the characters have hooked up in a quantity of different permutations that could give the teens on Gossip Girl a run for their money. Does the extremely brief glimpse of Mercedes and Sam's relationship at the end of the episode - not to mention the fact that it seems to have stemmed from their pity date to prom - make up for two seasons of neglect? Well, no, but it's a good sign. Plus, it adds credence to my theory that executives and showrunners at FOX read this blog on a regular basis.

Another nice moment was the resolution of the Brittany/Santana storyline. It's slightly misleading to call it a resolution, since things were left pretty open-ended, but the final conversation between the two characters was sweet and, while they didn't end up together, it did leave the door open for a future romantic relationship while making sure that Santana knew how Brittany felt about her. It was a lovely, understated moment for a show that does not generally appear to know what the word "understated" means.

The third interesting storyline of the episode - and the only one that produced a remotely compelling musical number - was the moment when Kurt and Rachel snuck onto the stage of Wicked and, with the help of the world's most understanding security guard, sang a duet of "For Good." Now, "For Good" is one of my least favorite Wicked songs - it's saccharine and rather boring. However, compared to the rest of music contained in this episode, it was great. Which isn't really a good sign.

Now, onto the bad. I suspect that one of the reasons I disliked this episode so much is because I don't buy into the romanticized version of New York that was the focus of so much of this episode. My personal experience of New York has been that the city is filthy, crowded and hostile. I get stressed out just from being there. Based on my time in the city, if a group of Ohio teenagers suddenly burst into a terrible mash-up of some awful Madonna song and "New York, New York," they would be mocked and possibly spit on. (Also, can we talk about the unreality of a glee club who, only a few episodes ago, didn't have any money to go to Nationals, would be staying the Intercontinental Times Square? Or Finn taking Rachel to Sardi's, where an appetizer will run you between $15 and $20?) To me, New York City has never been a city of artistic inspiration, but rather a city of people yelling at me because I had the audacity to be from somewhere other than NYC. It's apparently my own personal failing.

However, despite my infinite dislike of New York City, the major problem I had with this episode was the general inconsistency of the characters. Will Schuester, who is perhaps the most inconsistent character on the show, had a baffling character arc. First he wanted to stay in New York to work on April Rhode's broadway show, a decision he made clear in the last episode; then, all of a sudden, after singing a song off of Matthew Morrison's new album in the theater and being told, in the corniest way possible, that he "had real talent" by an usher, he decided to quit on his Broadway dreams and go back to Lima, thanks to some backstabbing by Vocal Adrenaline coach Dustin Goolsby (a wasted Cheyenne Jackson).

Rachel's character arc was just as confounding. First she was in love with Finn, then she refused to be with him because she thought it would conflict with her "career" (at which point I wanted to yell "You're still in high school! You don't have a career), because she apparently forgot that she's still a year away from graduation and their last shot a relationship lasted considerably less than a year. Then they kissed on stage, which apparently somehow cost the glee club the competition - which they lost, by the way, although it was a fairly unimportant plot point - and then they made out in the library and decided to get back together anyway, and you know what, I really don't care anymore.

A few other random things happened: Quinn wanted to destroy the glee club's chances at winning (because apparently their hastily written, insipid original songs weren't going to do that anyway) but settled for getting a haircut instead; Brittany wrote an awesome song about a cup; and Puck, Sam, Mike and Artie serenaded Finn and Rachel with a song from The Aristocats. Other stuff probably happened, but this episode was such a grab bag of random plots and moments that, as Todd VanDerWerff pointed out in his recap for the AV Club, seemed to have dropped in from another show entirely, that I'm having hard time remembering what it was.

All in all, this episode encapsulated the problems of the extremely uneven second season. There were moments that were lovely, and brought back the original sense of the show as a series about a group of misfit kids and their hopes and dreams, but the vast majority of moments were just a grab for attention, ratings and iTunes sales. I'm looking forward to next year's NBC musical series Smash, which appears to feature original songs that are largely related to the plot and characterizations that are consistent from episode to episode. However, in order to make time for Smash, I might have to jettison Glee, and I'm really okay with that. A this point, even the promise of Mercedes getting a story can't keep me interested. The writers will probably just forget about it two episodes in anyway.

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