Thursday, 18 November 2010

'GLEE' 2.7 - "The Substitute"

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Gwyneth Paltrow. Glee's had many celebrity guests in small roles (Britney Spears, Meat Loaf, Olivia Newton-John, etc), but only a few have been given sizeable characters to call their own. Kristin Chenoweth and Neil Patrick Harris were both great last year, but for my money they've just been eclipsed by the funny, sexy, all-singin', all-dancin' Gwyneth Paltrow.

This week, Sue (Jane Lynch) seized control of McKinley High by giving Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) the 'flu, and set about trying to ruin the glee club. Matters weren't helped by the fact Mr Schue (Matthew Morrison) also came down with a bug, forcing him to take sick leave, whereby he was replaced by fun-loving, avant-garde substitute Holly Holliday (Paltrow). As the glee club feel under Holly's spell, it looked like Schue's old news, while he also contended with ex-wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig), who has insisted on playing nursemaid. Meanwhile, Mercedes (Amber Riley) grew frustrated that "Principal Sue" has banned Tater Tots at the canteen, while realizing her close friendship with Kurt (Chris Colfer) is taking second place to his relationship with boyfriend Blaine (Darren Criss).

There weren't many storylines in "The Substitute", and those we had were very straightforward, but that really didn't matter. I actually prefer it when Glee's less tangled with pointless frivolities, and instead focused on telling a story (sprinkled with music) including two alternating subplots. And I continue to prefer the writing of Ian Brennan, who's easily the funniest of the three men who write every episode. Brennan's particularly adept as giving voice to Sue Sylvester, but he also includes a healthy dose of one-liners and cutting putdowns that always hit their target. It gladdens me when I see Brennan's name on the credits, as I know the ensuing episode will at least make me laugh, even if I have issues with the plot and musical interludes.

The story definitely had its saggy points, and I was confused about the perspective the show took with Mercedes and her campaign to get unhealthy Tater Tots back on the school menu. Jamie Oliver would have a fit over this, and considering Glee's a great platform to encourage kids to make good life decisions, I thought it was strange how Sue was written as the monster for promoting healthy eating in school (even if she did only do it to flex her muscles and cause disruption).

The return of the Terri/Schue storyline also felt very tedious, mainly because their story has gone way past its expiration date. Now that they're divorced, it feels like the writers should cut Terri free (as much as I like Gilsig as a comic actress), because her character doesn’t seem to have anything left to offer. It's simply not fun or interesting to watch her try and reignite her ex-husband's feelings.

However, where "The Substitute" succeeded was in providing Gwyneth Paltrow with a great role, letting the actress demonstrate skills she rarely gets to show at the movies. Typecast as either whiny or uptight-and-English in her film career, Paltrow grabbed hold of this opportunity with both hands, delivering a fizzy and engaging performance. She was comical (her bipolar Mary Todd Lincoln impression), she was nutty (using Lindsay Lohan as the basis of a Spanish class), she could dance ("Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag"), she could sing ("Forget You"), and was pretty much everyone's idea of a sexy, free-spirited teacher.

Overall, with a wonderful guest-star performance at its core and a hilarious script, "The Substitute" was a good episode, but the story wasn't very memorable and the subplots dragged it down a touch. I also thought the songs weren't performed in a very imaginative way (the Lea Michele/Gwyneth Paltrow dance sequence was lifted from Chicago!, and the climactic "Umbrella"/"Singin' In The Rain" mashup disappointed). Considering the cynicism that surrounded this episode, knowing it was going to star Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress proved to be a remarkably appealing presence, and I hope she finds time for an encore soon.

  • In the wake of The Rocky Horror-themed episode , which altered lyrics to suit Glee's family audience, Cee-Lo's "Fuck You" was performed as its radio edit "Forget You". I can understand that, as I'm sure you can. And as someone for whom radio edits are 95% of the music I hear every day, I didn't really care.
  • The Mike (Harry Shum Jr) and Schue double-act performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" was brilliantly choreographed and a physical tour de force. I was genuinely astonished by how versatile Morrison appears to be, as most of those moves are far from easy!
  • Schue's 'flu-induced hallucination of the glee teens as little kids was very sweet.
WRITER: Ian Brennan
DIRECTOR: Ryan Murphy
TRANSMISSION: 16 November 2010, Fox, 8/7c