I'm Sorry I Sent You to that Crackhouse
I suppose the best part of finishing off approximately 800 storylines in the first season (teen pregnancy, love triangle, fake pregnancy, love square, over-aged high school drop-out returnees with drinking problems, birth mother, break-ups, Olivia Newton-John getting physical, a baby born, and ,oh right, a singing competition) is that the show can start afresh. Shaking off the frantic pace of their first season, the writer's have decided to try the steady build-up method. Don't worry, Glee! Everyone's first go around is awkward. And with cautious enthusiasm, I can say that it looks like you've learned your lesson.
Before the episode began, I was nervous. Glee had taken me on a roller coaster last year: I loved it, then hated it, then was confused by it, then loved it, and then hated it for pushing me into the locker. So when the open was cute and snippy (the slushee punctuation to Kurt's triumphant stand against the naysayers was perfect), I was cautiously optimistic. So when I enjoyed most of last night's episode, I found myself promising to never break up with the show (however wrong it may actually be for me).
The story for "Audition" worked with some of the after-school special themes that the show knows so well (Outsiders are great, you guys, so don't be mean!), but it didn't feel quite as cloying as it had been in the past. The new football coach, Coach Shannon "Panther" Beiste (Dot Jones), becomes Will and Sue's new punching bag. They were terrible to the woman, but Sue was amazing in nasty plotting. Jane Lynch has managed to create one of the most conniving and vicious characters on TV who is still able to be loved by the audience. Every word out of Sue's mouth is golden. And Will? Well, Will grew a heart and saved the coach from eating dog poop/flaxseed oil cookies, which caused Sue to declare their truce over. Finn thought that being the cool quarterback would convince the blonde guy he heard sing in the shower (Sam, played by Chord Overstreet) to join the Glee club. But oh no! Poor Finn does something dumb (believes that Artie could be used as a football battering ram) and gets kicked off the football team. Now that he's a loser, Beiber-haired Sam is reticent to follow him to the Glee club. Sam eschews the outsider role that generally attaches itself to new kids and Finn gets the loser label (again), but without his football star status, it is obvious Finn feels much more hopeless.
Now the next outsider/main cast member interaction was a little more insidious. Rachel, in a totally psychotic move, sends the new transfer student, Sunshine (Charice Pempengco), to a crack house because she's worried that the Glee clubbers will realize that Sunshine has an amazing voice. Rachel sniffles and cries to anyone that will listen that she loves the club as a family and that she would hate for others to trample on the other students' already microscopic solo time. Nobody is buying what she's selling and she must fess up that she's a lime-light hogging diva. Here's what I don't get: Rachel has always seen herself as a star, but she's never been that conniving. She used to announce to everyone and anyone that she would be the star, but this episode seemed to bring out a more menacing motive to her character that I wasn't expecting. Yes they kept the whole incident light, but Rachel was really twisted. Seriously? Who sends a little kid to a crack house and expects everything to be OK? I'll be interested to see how they pull that element in her character development, because this episode left us hanging as to how (or if) the Glee club will forgive her.
Something else that threw me for a loop: the Asian jokes. Yes, Glee has been toeing the line with the "Asian, Other Asian" joke for a while, but they flat out made Rachel a racist ("You like me sing. You like me sing very much."). I know I shouldn't be surprised by some of the things this show does, but I thought we'd all gotten over the "Me Jane, You Tarzan" style of joke 20 years ago. Maybe they did it to make Rachel's character even less sympathetic, but with the inclusion of the "Asian Club" joke, I just got the impression that they were pressing the issue a little too much for one episode. But maybe I'm too sensitive. Maybe all Asians really do send their kids to camp to learn to text quickly and watch a shirtless dude dance.
And since we're discussing Mike and Tina making out, let's talk about Artie. Show, I know that high school breakups can be hard and a lot of feelings can be left unsaid, but could you please not make Artie the marathon World of Warcraft playing weirdo who sits in a dark office watching his ex-girlfriend dance with her new boyfriend? I really like him as a character and I'd really prefer not to think of him as that guy.
Last, but not least, the music. To be honest, I don't think I can be fair to them for some of the music in "Audition," since they managed to use the two most obnoxious and over-played songs of the summer ("New York" and "Billionaire"). "New York" was fun and poppy and I could excuse the group for it, because, Glee club does that sort of thing, but for choosing "Billionaire," I already dislike Sam. It's not that he's a bad singer; it's just a god-awful song.
Charice Pempengco has an amazing voice and she's young enough to be playing a high school convincingly (her acting talents leave something to be desired). I loved her "Listen" rendition and thought that she was singing "Telephone" well until they started auto-tuning the hell out of it. I get that this show has to be produced quickly and that they're trying to make the music sound great for the albums that pop up on iTunes immediately, but Sunshine and Rachel were having a sing-off in a bathroom. Not the stage, not some dream sequence. A bathroom. Both of these women have incredible voices and I'm sure they could have sung it well enough to make it feel fun without sounding so freaking over-produced.
And then Rachel sang, "What I Did for Love." Listen, sweetheart, drop the charade. We know what you're about and it's yourself. It's almost as if Rachel refuses to believe that she's so self-involved that she sent a freshman away to have her sheet music used as toilet paper.
The episode's message was mixed. The Glee clubbers were confident in their own talent and they couldn't care less that people were making fun of them. But it was also clear that you shouldn't judge outsiders too harshly, because they could be very sensitive to the tormenting. I get it Glee, you're too cool to care, but I'll try and go easy on you. Of course if you start pulling those last season shenanigans again, I'm demoting you to the bottom of the pyramid.