I’m not going to lie. I am strongly of the opinion that this particular four episode stretch might be the most consistently fantastic Glee has ever been. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that one of Glee‘s biggest problems is that it is terribly inconsistent in quality and that over four episodes you might get one great one, a good one, a mediocre one, and a terrible onee. Well, this stretch of episodes gave us two fantastic episodes, one really good episode, and one that was still good but not as great. Glee decided to come back after their very first sectionals with a desire to show that the show was still relevant and it added several layers of freshness to a formula that could have grown stale.
As I mentioned, this picks up immediately after New Directions victory at sectionals, and it introduces the season’s endgame which will be the competition at Regionals against rival show choir Vocal Adrenaline. It explores the relationship that is now blooming between Will and Emma since they are both now available. It also introduces two major new characters to the show. Vocal Adrenaline’s coach is named Shelby Corracan and played by Broadway legend, Idina Menzel. She gets more story in the last two discs of the show. It also introduces Vocal Adrenaline’s star performer, Jesse St. James (Jonathon Groff), who becomes a romantic partner for Racehl after things collapse between her and Finn. We also get to see more of the absolutely fabulous April Rhodes (the astonishing Kristen Chenoweth).
The first episode “Hell-O” is the third best of this stretch, and it puts into place all of the major story lines and arcs of the final half of the season. It is chock full of fantastic music numbers. We also get our very first artist-centric episode of the series, “The Power of Madonna” which I’ll leave to your imagination who they cover. I thought this episode was going to be bad, but it is, in fact, one of the best episodes of the whole show, and it contains my single favorite musical performance of the entire series. “Home” is nearly as good as “The Power of Madonna” and it brings back Kristen Chenoweth who is just so unbelievably talented it never ceases to amaze me. I want to see her live on Broadway so bad. Also, it gives an episode that is really Kurt-centric and since every episode of Glee could do with a little more Kurt, that’s obviously a good thing. “Bad Reputation” isn’t quite as sterling as the rest of the episodes, if primarily because they purposefully sing songs that aren’t that great, and the episode is fairly depressing in general, but it does get points for making me cry because it has Sue interacting with her handicapped sister, and every scene between the two of them puts me in tears.
Musically, the selections for these episodes is just outstanding. “Like a Prayer” still stands as the single greatest performance, for me, that the show has ever done, and I actually think they make it superior to Madonna’s original number. It’s just awe-inspiring. Whenever Mercedes sings Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”, it actually brings my father and I to tears because it’s so beautiful. Will Schuester and April Rhodes singing “One Less Bell to Answer”/ “A House Is Not a Home” is marvelous and I wish there were more show tunes in the second season. I had forgotten how well they were pulled off in season one. And in a rare moment where I have something positive to say about Finn’s singing, he does a great job with The Door’s “Hello, I Love You”, and he manages to not sound like an auto-tune trainwreck during it. Also, pretty much any time Jessie St. James sings it’s inspiring. He’s easily the most talented male cast member the show has until Blaine shows up, and his past chemistry with Lea Michele in the play Spring Awakening really shows in a positive way.
I love Glee. Yet, at the same time, I have enough training and practice as a critic to recognize the show’s flaws. The show repeats so many of its plots and messages in the first season that you begin to wonder if the characters have some sort of low-grade amnesia since nearly every moral and lesson they learn is quickly forgotten one or two episodes later. They fix many of these problems by the second season, but it makes it much more difficult to take the show seriously during its initial run. And, a lot of the character development that happens later in the second season for some of the background characters looks incredibly strange when I go back and see these kids in the first season. There are some consistency problems. However, at the end of the day, Glee is still great television program and remains one of the freshest and most entertaining shows on network TV, and from a critical perspective (not a fan’s), I stand behind that assertion.
Score in Progress: A-