For a long time, I was kind of surprised "Bad Reputation" was an Ian Brennan episode. Brennan, just in case you've forgotten that whole "Glee has three authors" thing I beat into the ground last fall as you surely have, is the writer on the show who's most interested in playing the emotions and sentiments of the moment. He's the most likely to sink down into schmaltz, but he's also the most likely to pull off something truly moving and sweet amidst all of the crazy chaos. He's also really fond of episodes where the characters say the episode's title or theme over and over and over, as you might have noticed from how often someone said "bad reputation" in tonight's episode, and if he finds a joke he likes, he'll also run that into the ground, as with how often Sue talked about "laughing in slow motion" tonight. But, in general, Brennan is running the Glee I'd be most interested in watching week to week. He's not afraid of being earnest, and he loves big, emotional moments. If Ryan Murphy seems most influenced by after-school specials and Brad Falchuk by Buffy or something, Brennan is totally trying to make Freaks and Geeks with singing.
But "Bad Reputation" feels kind of like Brennan attempting a Murphy episode. The fit shouldn't work very well, and yet, I enjoyed the episode quite a bit, even as I found some of it rather messy. The show is still having trouble giving all of its characters stuff to do (especially when you consider that series regular Jessalyn Gilsig hasn't appeared in weeks, which isn't the worst thing ever but is kind of weird), and the supporting cast continues to be underserved - particularly Tina and Artie, who may as well just be extras with one or two lines per episode at this point - but there was much I enjoyed in "Bad Reputation," starting with the episode's central conceit.
I've seen people complaining that not all of the songs in this episode were truly bad songs in need of rehabilitation, but I'd argue that there are few truly awful songs that become hits. More likely than not, a hit song is just something really catchy but ultimately shallow that gets overplayed to the hilt. It's entirely possible that "Ice, Ice Baby" deserves to be rehabilitated, as Will suggests, but it's almost impossible to liberate it from when it was overplayed and became so ubiquitous as to be annoying. After a week when Glee really dug deep into the catalog to pull out Burt Bacharach tunes and songs from The Wiz, it was kind of fun to see the show doing numbers like this, but it also occasionally felt like skewing too much in the opposite direction.
No matter, though, as the rest of the episode was fairly funny throughout. For starters, it had a Sue Sylvester plotline that more or less made sense and called back to the fact that she has a mentally handicapped sister. I have seen some complaining that Sue is suddenly upset about the glist ranking the glee club kids in order of sexuality or whatever, but I think it makes sense with her character. She's an equal opportunity chaos agent, completely willing to do whatever she can to make sure she comes out ahead and everyone else is behind her. (In terms of character moral alignment, she's probably chaotic neutral.) Making a big deal out of the glist is a good thing for her, simply because it puts the glee kids at each other's throats and puts another problem in the hair of her arch-nemesis, Will. It's also worth pointing out that the best scene out of the approximately six different endings featured Sue hanging out with her sister in the nursing home. I think these scenes work because Jane Lynch basically plays her sentimental feelings toward her sister exactly the same as she plays her balls-out crazy moments with everyone else. It's a good reminder of why she's the show's breakout character.
Another nice thing about the episode was that it gave Will something to do other than look impressed by what his kids (and/or the student body in general) are capable of. I'm pretty much alone in Glee criticism in thinking that the idea of Will exploring himself without his wife is a potentially interesting plotline, so I was happy to see it return tonight, even if it returned abruptly. Glee has a really large cast, similar in size to the cast on Lost, and if there's a problem with how it uses that cast in comparison to other shows, it's in that Glee is really bad at suggesting to us that these characters' lives are continuing when the spotlight isn't on them. There are some story strands the show is able to drop in and out of at will - the relationship between Kurt and his dad, for instance - but for the most part, the show handles abruptly bringing something like Will's new quest for self-understanding about as messily as it does everything else. Now, part of Glee's charm is that it's an unalloyed mess, but it certainly hurts episodes like this, that want to go for more moving moments. Still, I liked Emma telling off Will in the teacher's lounge, even if it seemed to be something the show picked up again and said, "Oh yeah! This!" to.
As far as the kids went, I found the storylines more of a mixed bag. It's always worth having drastically pointed out to the audience that Lea Michele has much better chemistry with pretty much every romantic partner she's had that isn't Finn than she does with that guy, but I thought the aftermath of the scene where she showed off her video was kind of bizarre. I guess I get why the guys were all upset, and I guess I understand why she was trying to make it seem like she had a, well, bad reputation, but the whole thing went so underground for so long in the episode that it felt like a payoff to a storyline that must have had more going on in the original cut. However, I really enjoyed Kurt and Artie leading the kids in an attempt to get that bad reputation and apparently deciding the best way to do that was sing in the library. It's always nice to have a moment in an episode like this that reminds us that these are, after all, kids.
And that's what I like about Brennan, ultimately. He'll have clumsy moments in there - like Will talking about how he'd walked in Quinn's shoes, which, what? - but he mostly keeps his eyes on the emotional consistency of what's going on. Not everything in "Bad Reputation" worked (as mentioned, there were something like five too many big, sentimental ending scenes), but the stuff that did reminded me that what I like about the show is its all-out embrace of a crazy mishmash of tones. Not all of these will work with each other all of the time, but Brennan makes more of them work than most, simply by suggesting that they all go together by virtue of the fact that life as a teenager is messy and chaotic but ultimately weirdly enjoyable.
- I guess they're just going to have Sue sing all the time now? Honestly, if they're going to do this "music video" thing - which I'm not opposed to - it'd be better to just have one per episode. And, uh, not put both music videos in the same act if you have to have more than one.
- No, seriously, where's Terri? I thought her scene in "Hell-o" suggested there might be good stuff for her coming up. And now, nothing.
- That rotund kid who was in the library when the kids were performing and sat in for the premiere of Rachel's video was also on United States of Tara last night. His job on TV is to stare vacantly at whatever the main characters are doing, and he's surprisingly hilarious at it.
- Right, Molly Shannon! She was good, I guess? Kind of didn't have a lot of stuff to do.
- “As soon as I figure out the difference between slander and libel, I’m filing a lawsuit.”
- “The man in this video looks like the champion cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.”
- “I stand by that list.”
- “I’m a delinquent sure; I like setting stuff on fire and beating up people I don’t know. I own that! But I’m not a liar.”
- “This is not happening. The cruel, slow-motion laughter is just your imagination.”
- “Don’t start with me Castle or I will kick you square in the taco.” ”It’s a date. That’s just a typical Saturday night in the Castle condo.”
- “That was very cute. I’m going to talk to my pastor and see if I can’t get you kids to perform that for our Sunday service!”
- "Do me a favor. If we end up next to each other on the barre at ballet club this week, just do your arabesques and piques in silence. Don't talk to me."