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This Week on "Glee": Try a Little Tenderness. No, Seriously. Please

By Katelyn Anne | TV | May 19, 2011 |

By Katelyn Anne | TV | May 19, 2011 |

This show has no concept of how to deal with emotional weight. I know, I know, it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it is “Glee’s” constant truth. Things that are not a big deal become huge dramatic climaxes and stuff that does matter become footnotes in the episode. Last night’s big funeral episode put less emphasis on the death and more on the overwrought Rachel/Finn/Quinn subplot. Pro-tip for any aspiring television screenwriters out there: do not end a gut-wrenching scene with an aside about people the audience barely cares about. Probably the most offensive thing about their muddling of storylines last night was the fact that Sue’s scenes were heart-wrenching and I could only be left with the reminder that Jane Lynch is too damn good for this show.

Sue’s sister, Jean, died just before the beginning of the episode and the audience is left to watch Sue try and scramble to make sense of any of it while trying to maintain the one thing she’s best at: control. Becky is kicked off the Cheerios and Sue starts fiddling with the airlines so that the kids get rerouted to the middle east. Don’t worry about the whole Tripoli thing, though, it’s conveniently forgotten about for the whole episode until Terri “Honeybadger” comes in to say her goodbyes and apologize to Will with first class tickets for everyone. No part of that story made any sense and if there’s any character on this show who deserved an off screen goodbye it’s Terri. All we learned from Terri’s exit is that she’s still attracted to Will, but the alluring call of a new Miami Sheets ‘n’ Things is too much for any one to pass up. I will miss her crazy, but the less multiple characters for ridiculously bonkers plots the better.

But despite Sue’s evil plans working well, Sue is still miserable over her sister’s death. She tells Will after he confronts her about Becky getting kicked off the Cheerios and Will decides he needs to tell the glee club, because, let’s be honest, Will shares everything with the club, and then Finn and Kurt decide to help her with the funeral. None of those scenes would have worked if Lynch hadn’t brought such a great sense of restrained anguish and sincere confusion. Not once in the school did she break down, but her typical behavior was no where to be seen. When Sue questioned the boys as to why she was still her and not her sister, I was at a loss. As well as Lynch does comedy, she shines just as much when she shows off her character’s emotional vulnerability. Sue was such a strong character, but by showing how honestly heartbroken she was over her sister’s death we were reminded that Sue was more than just a caricature, despite how she’s been written the past few weeks. After the boys agreed to help with the funeral, they also assist her with cleaning out Jean’s room. Surprisingly, they were doing a great job separating everything, but Sue looks around and insists that they throw everything out, but then she back peddles a bit and takes Jean’s favorite stuffed animal and asks them to get rid of the rest. When the boys tell her that there are lots of memories there, Sue shuts them out and tells them she has enough memories of her sister, but what’s really telling is the way she’s clutching the stuffed animal. Sue’s vulnerability in that moment makes it almost agonizing to watch. For the first time in a long while, people were privy to Sue’s pain and it was such a rare moment for the show.

But what really tipped me over the edge was the funeral scene. Kurt and Finn find out that Jean’s favorite movie is Willy Wonka and so they decorate the funeral home to reflect that. For once, the “Glee” staff decided to go with some restrained decorations that looked almost homemade. For the first time while watching the show, I thought that the scenery finally matched what some high school kids would pull together and I was really impressed. Sue’s speech started to pull at my heartstrings, but the singing really overwhelmed me. Despite barely knowing Jean, there was an incredible sense of reverence of her death that was lovely.

Unfortunately, “Glee” decided to squander any good will with those emotional scenes by wedging them between some ridiculously dumb (and classically “Glee”) moments. Probably the most egregious was Finn breaking up with Quinn right after the funeral. Maybe if they had separated the two scenes with a commercial break it would have worked, but having Finn and Quinn’s breakup be the lead out moment after such a powerful scene was ridiculous. The breakup was not the swell that show should have cut from, in fact it wasn’t even a swell at all. The show has been practically shouting from the moment Finn and Quinn got back together that it was only a matter of time before they broke up. And then to trivialize the funeral scene by punctuating it with that poorly acted overwrought breakup was just an insult. Moments like the funeral scene need to have a pause afterwards to let the audience catch their breath. Instead, we got some whiny teenagers bleating about their dumbass relationship. But this is not an unusual problem for “Glee,” the show wants you to be so desperately invested in their main characters that they take really incredible subplots and they wrangle them in to snotty teenager melodramas. “Glee” wants so desperately to be taken as a serious show that happens to have funny moments, but it squanders any hope for that by making it about as realistic as a Dudely Do-Right cartoon. The fact that they’ve kept themselves from writing in a character with a mustache just so he could twiddle it and laugh maniacally shows that they have an iota of restraint, but not enough for me to take them seriously. There are plenty of shows that are considered comedies but hold more heart than that. Those shows have cultivated characters so that the audience cares about them outside of the pratfalls. Those shoves have earned our blubbering when one character is in turmoil as much as they have earned our laughter when they flub up. But “Glee” has earned nothing, but acts as though it deserves everything. Rather than let moments be felt, usually “Glee” shoves the emotion that you’re supposed to respond to with the civility of a bayonet to the eye. It’s unfortunate, because “Glee” can show moments of sweetness, but they choose to bog down the heart of the show with cotton candy fluff and soap opera plot twists.

Amazingly, they focused more on the Finn and Quinn relationship and the Funeral than they actually did on Nationals, but they somehow managed to squeeze that in there, too. Jesse is acting as the club’s consultant and so they decide to have try outs for the lead performer at Nationals. Only Kurt, Santana, Mercedes and Rachel sign up because Finn was all butt hurt that Jesse gave him honest feedback. Seriously dude, do not trust the chick that’s mooning all over you to give you the best critique of your performances. After the sign-ups Santana, Kurt and Mercedes all perform in a way that obviously sets it up for Rachel to blow them out of the water, which pissed me off so much. Santana is a much better singer than that and that song was so not right for Kurt. Poor Mercedes rocked the house, but somehow they’ve made her anti-practice? But the funny thing was, as much as they were trying to make Jesse seem like a douche, he was giving some fairly honest criticism. But unfortunately, the glee club believes that anyone who doesn’t recognize how awesome they are is clearly evil and just doesn’t get what crazy cool zany offbeat cats they are. And then Rachel sings and she wows everyone and she’s all but a shoe in to win. Until Will decides he doesn’t like all this inside drama (despite the fact that every week beforehand there has been inside drama and he has constantly had the kids group up or partner off or sing solos as a way to compete against each other) and says that no one will have a solo (which means the group will all sing, but Rachel and Finn will take lead) and they’ll write original songs.

Because nothing works like gangbusters at a national singing competition better than untried and freshly written pop songs. Oh “Glee,” just stop.

The music in this episode was mixed, but it was refreshingly not awkwardly placed into the plot of the show, which was nice. As bad ass as the promise of Santana’s performance of “Back to Black” sounded, the song just didn’t live up to what I was hoping for. Santana’s singing was not nearly as on point as it had been and it was kind of awkward to watch her shimmy her way around the piano guy. It could have been better, but it felt like they were stifling her to make others shine. Kurt’s “Some People ” was boring and not right for him. Not because it’s a girl’s song, but because he’s done that song a million times before. Of course his song was no where near as terrible as his outfit. Someone needs to fire his stylist; what he wears is not avant garde, it’s tacky. Unless there’s a whole section of fashionistas that rave over a tactical vest tied in the back with little bows and highwatered skull pants I’m unaware of, I think what he’s wearing can only be labeled as ridiculous.

When Mercedes first started singing “Try A Little Tenderness” I was a little nervous for her because I wasn’t sure if she could pull that song off, but she was incredible. Unfortunately, her attitude later snapped me out of it. Everyone needs to practice. And then Rachel sang “My Man,” which was great, but she’s sung that song a thousand times before, too. Even to the point where she’s sung to an imaginary Finn smiling at her. Their relationship is less a cutesy game of cat an mouse and more a warbling broken record. It just keeps looping and looping and looping. But Jesse thought she was brilliant and thought he was singing to her, so they kissed in the auditorium when she thought she was getting lead. Poor Finn caught them, because he somehow knew that they’d be secretly meeting in the auditorium and he’s heartbroken, which you know because his crimson tinted tulip falls limply to the floor. Ugh.

Lastly, “Pure Imagination.” I’m not saying it made me cry, all I’ll say is that I don’t think I can listen to that song the same way again. Even if the performances weren’t entirely perfect (looking at you Finn and Artie), it was a really sweet song and did Jean a lot of justice.

If only “Glee” could have separated the funeral part of this episode to make a different episode from everything else that was going on. If you just look at the scenes regarding Sue’s grief and Jean’s funeral, you can see the potential for a really amazing episode. Instead, the “Glee” crew shoved in a bunch of crap that didn’t fit with the tone of the other half of the episode and called it a day. There is one more episode left in the season. I had held out a small hope that they’d build up to a decent episode. Now I’m convinced there will be only one shining moment in the season finale episode: the end.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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