B+

Glee: "Mash-Up"

There are times when I suspect that the reasons I like Glee are singularly unlike most of the reasons shared by the, sigh, Gleeks. (And can we come up with a new word for Glee fans? Gleeberts, perhaps?) The new Entertainment Weekly cover featuring the show highlights how the series is TV’s “happiest hour,” and that’s something that I generally don’t find to be true about the show when it’s the version of the show I like (as it was last week and, mostly, this week). Glee, to me, is about the opposite of its title, about the fact that these people are trying to craft a perfect little world to live in that is, nonetheless, doomed to disappear after they leave high school (or perhaps even sooner). It’s about how the noisiest show on television has a completely silent title card, stark white letters against a black background.

Most of Glee’s biggest fans seem to get most of their charge from the show out of what one of the commenters here called its “train wreck quality” (I don’t remember who this was, but I see what you’re saying). Glee is a series seemingly devoted to being crazy at every turn, tossing plot point after plot point into the mill until virtually everything is grist for its insane forward momentum. The typical fan who appreciates these aspects of the show enjoys how its musical numbers will come up out of nowhere and leave just as quickly, how the series has huge tonal shifts on a dime and how its dialogue is often completely out of left field. I agree that these elements can all be fun, but I find them less appealing than most because they seem to indicate that the series is burning through story so quickly that there may be no future for it – shades of The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy, other shows that became hugely popular on the “anything can happen!” kick and then rather swiftly fell apart.

If you accept my thesis from last week that the three creators of Glee are all pursuing vastly different aims with the series, then Ian Brennan, who wrote tonight’s episode, is creating the show I’d be the most interested in seeing from week to week. (I suspect Brad Falchuk is writing the show that would be most sustainable as a long-running network hit, while I think Ryan Murphy’s Glee would probably run out of steam very quickly.) Brennan is really interested in the idea that these characters are fundamentally sad on some level, that their dreams will never quite be realized but that by forming an ad hoc community, they’ll be happy for a little while, at least.

“Mash-Up” dug even further into this idea than previous episodes. The final scene, when the kids all threw Slushies at Will after he said he’d hate to have to clean one of them off, explicitly gets at the purpose of the show. The creators have spoken frequently about their experiences in high school music and drama groups and how they enjoyed them. It’s telling, then, that the series has mostly gotten rid of the inter-glee club drama in the most recent episodes, having Rachel settle down, mostly incorporating the Cheerios and football players and figuring out ways to make them a cohesive unit. Rather than making a show about how the members of the glee club fight amongst themselves, it increasingly seems like the series is becoming one about how the members of the glee club create a world where they can be themselves and be happy being that. Glee is the ultimate expression of joy, the pilot said (or something similar), but it also increasingly seems like it’s the ultimate expression of one’s self.

All of this sounds really heady for an episode that had lengthy point-of-view shots from the point-of-view of a Slushy (or, more accurately, a little man riding on the arm carrying the Slushy), but I like how Brennan is building a show that seems to have a coherent worldview and character development. Granted, he has to deal with the other two shows that exist alongside his show and incorporate them as much as possible (which leads to really weird moments like Emma walking around the school in a wedding dress), but he’s building something like a musical Freaks and Geeks, which isn’t the worst idea in the world. I can already see that there are plenty of fans of the show who were less than taken with this episode, primarily because it wasn’t as insane as the previous episodes, but I appreciated the vague sense of calm in the episode, the way it seemed to be stepping back to look back at everything that came before and take a deep breath.

In particular, I liked the way the show finally dealt with some of the social consequences of the kids joining the glee club. I wasn’t too upset by the show’s portrayal of high school as a kind of accepting heaven where everyone, regardless of what they wanted to do, could find their niche, especially as it cut so much against the typical high school drama, but the show kept saying that the kids in the glee club would face ostracism without ever actually making them outcasts. By having Quinn and Finn get hit in the face with Slushies and having Puck receive similar treatment later in the episode, the show suggested that the McKinley social system really is starting to change, with new players climbing the ladder in the absence of people like Finn and Quinn. I’ll admit that I’m leery of a plot that I’ve seen a million times before, but I’d rather the show actually dramatize it than just talk about it.

I also liked the character development the series tossed at both Sue and Puck tonight. Sue has been the show’s biggest (and funniest!) cartoon, while Puck has been a tertiary figure on the edges of the show, at best. Tonight, both found themselves falling for surprising new lovers (even as both had lost those lovers by the end of the hour), but I liked the show’s frankness both about Puck’s search for self and the fact that Rachel would be perfectly fine with making out with someone who asked her, “Wanna make out?” Plus, Puck's performance of "Sweet Caroline" was aces, even if it now seems everyone in the world sings, "Bah, bah, bah!" in that song's chorus. Sue’s plot was far more undercooked, but it was worth it just to see Jane Lynch dancing and realize she’s surprisingly great at seemingly everything.

If you hated “Mash-Up,” I get where you’re coming from. I don’t agree, but I see why the episode didn’t have what you wanted out of the show. If the series’ pattern holds, Murphy will be back next week with another zany, all over-the-place episode to grab your attention. Me, I’m going to continue to insist that Ian Brennan’s Glee is the best of all possible Glees. It’s the kind of series where he can never quite manage to make Sisqo seem poignant in any way, shape or form, but he’ll damn well try to make it work anyway.

Stray observations:

  • I liked how the episode dealt with the Will/Emma/Ken triangle. For the first time, all three seemed to act like adults who were aware of their feelings but realized to act on them would be wrong in lots of ways, and it nicely tied the action in to the main plot by having Ken force the guys to choose between football and glee. All I ask of these plots is that they have some degree of emotional awareness, and tonight’s episode managed to do that. (Also, I know y’all hate Jayma Mays, but I think she’s adorable. And a good singer to boot!)
  • Thought on the title: None of the song mash-ups actually appeared in the episode. The mash-ups referred to are actually mash-ups between people. DEEP.
  • "I don't think one decision makes your life, unless you accidentally invent some kind of zombie virus or something."
  • "If it is one minute late, I will go to the animal shelter and get you a kitty cat. I will let you fall in love with that kitty cat. And then on some dark, cold night, I will steal away into your home and punch you in the face."
Filed Under: TV, Glee

More TV Club