SOUND OFF: A Double-Dose Of GLEE (With Lindsay Lohan)
On The Edge of glory, GLEE momentarily brought back the ecstatic excitement and indescribably infectious joy that made the musical dramedy series a huge hit in its first and second seasons, when it was then commanding upwards of twelve million viewers a week. Sixty-plus episodes into the series by way of a two-hour episode - "Props" helmed by series co-creator Ian Brennan and "Nationals" by THE NEW NORMAL co-creator Ali Adler and actor/director Eric Stoltz - last night's two-episode gorge-worthy and gorgeous feast for the senses exemplified the resurgence of everything that cynics have cited as lacking from episodes in Season Three, as flagging ratings and a general media lull plagues the once seemingly indomitable mega-show despite its continued inventiveness and dramatic daringness week in and week out - namely: a tight script, off-the-wall humor, a real message and some truly outstanding musical sequences. It delivered - it was fresh and sassy and outrageous, but touching and heartfelt, too; attributes all ascribed to the best episodes of the show to date. Yet, it was so much more, too - foremostof all, neglecting citation of what really sets it apart from virtually any other series, now or ever: the music and how it is used! Both hours of last night's GLEE-fest were a totally over-the-top tribute to all things big and wow-worthy, coming at just the right moment to pump some energizing lifeblood into the audience base and ramp up the excitement for the finale next week - passing references to Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Marvin Hamlisch and Elton John as well as multiple winks at DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES songwriter and BAT OUT OF HELL mastermind Jim Steinman collectively pushing the theatre insider reference quotient into the stratosphere; and appreciably so. Yes, indeed, last night's double-dose of GLEE was an OD-worthy escapade worthy of returning to time and time again, if only for the musical numbers - Lea Michele's solo spots of Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up" and Celine Dion's Grammy-winning "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" alone were standouts of not only this season, but the series itself, particularly in terms of their relevance to the character herself and the journey she is currently on having blown her NYADA audition. With more than fifteen songs performed - everything from Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and The Who to STARLIGHT EXPRESS, TOMMY, FLASHDANCE and KISS ME, KATE - there was something for everyone in the two-hour GLEE extravaganza, which was overflowing with the witty one-liners, out-of-this-world twists, outlandish characterizations, as well as the idiosyncratic theatrical reality that only GLEE can create and make us crave as it did and does. It was a true return to form, pointed to prove any and all naysayers wrong, and, this, coming after last week's Ryan Murphy-penned "Prom-asaurus" season highlight, no less. Will next week's season finale continue the thrills and chills maximized exponentially in the thrilling double-header, particularly as a handful of the original New Directions of McKinley High leave the hallowed hallways and glee club risers once and for all and we head into an uncertain, if purportedly game-changing Season Four? Above all else, "Props" and "Nationals" brought us all back to those halcyon days of GLEE at its best and brightest. Can the high continue to be maintained, once again? Next week, as Season Three comes to a close with "Graduation", we will see. Additionally, by the way, all of this praise has been given without even mentioning the head-turning returns by recurring GLEE character Jessie St. James - portrayed by Broadway notable Jonathan Groff - and the one and only Whoopi Goldberg, as well as cameos by Lindsay Lohan, Perez Hilton and Rex Lee as judges. Yes, yes, yes - it was excess to the nth!
It's All Coming Back To Us Now
Remember when it was good? No, I mean really, really, really good - something quite unlike anything we had really ever seen on TV before? Yes, you do - you must if you are reading this right now. Without a doubt, there was a day - heck, a few months or even the better part of a year back in 2010 - when GLEE was the one and only show in town as far as buzz-worthy, water cooler hubbub and media machine frenzy goes; and, it was so much more than just that, too. But, go back and watch that first batch of shows as I recently did and you'll find the show has always excelled to an exceptional extent in its musical sequences and glee club-based scenes, yet it has worn out its welcome and hit many a sour dramatic note in many of its try-anything-and-see-what-sticks approach to drama and comedy. Anyone familiar with the Ryan Murphy universe prior to hitching a ride on the GLEE train knew what they were getting into back in May of 2009 - POPULAR and NIP/TUCK both were wildly uneven, though both managed to try something new and succeed much more often than not in daring to defy conventional definitions of what, how, when, why and who a TV show can be and how it can reinvent itself and stay must-see-TV. GLEE has always been a totally unique beast - how does one even ascribe a genre to it? Last night's two-parter - "Props" and "Nationals" - acted as a microcosm of the series so far; wildly divergent, occasionally almost tangential plots and plot parts intertwining, interweaving and combining to collectively create something far more potent and more socially and culturally important than the sum of its disparate elements would otherwise expectedly be; all mixed together in a heady - and, in the case of "Props" and episodes like "Britney/Brittany" before it, hallucinogenic - way that deftly defies definition. It was all of that - and, last night, coming after last week's supportive set-up, it achieved the highs of the series so far yet again; not just in the music, but in the story, as well.
GLEE is anything if non-traditional, yet the tried and true tropes of TV's hallmarks are touched upon and touted throughout the series, in every single show. Look no further than last night's Coach Beiste/Cooter domestic abuse storyline for a message-of-the-week moment that nonetheless packed an emotional punch - pun not intended - and poetically addressed an all-too-recurrent issue. So, too, did the final moments give the gleeks the fix we have been waiting almost three entire seasons to see come to fruition - the victory of New Directions at Nationals; even, and, perhaps, especially, when up against constant glee club nemesis Vocal Adrenaline. And, not only did Jessie St. James and his super-group from Carmel, Ohio get schooled on the stage of the auditorium before Linsday Lohan, Perez Hilton and Rex Lee crowed McKinley the champs, but Jessie also was later reminded of the finer points of Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS - "Giants In The Sky", to be specific - by none other than Oscar-winner and erstwhile A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM star Whoopi Goldberg as a respected NYADA scout and instructor. So, too, did the alernate-reality of Tina introduce a funnybone-tickling and lovingly fan-indulging trip to the wild and wakcy side of storytelling few shows if any dare to go with the regularity, willingness and audacity of GLEE. Just how funny was it to see Darren Cirss with a mohawk and Cory Monteith in Kurt garb? Or, better yet, Mr. Shu as Sue Sylvester? Completely priceless.
While GLEE S3 has not been all about the guest stars and razzle dazzle remotely as much as the second part of S1 and almost all of S2 unquestionably were, the sensitive addition of cameo players this season has always felt appropriate and rarely, if ever, has felt like a promotional tie-in or shoe-horned plot contrivance as it often does on other network behemoths like GLEE - if one could ever compare GLEE to anything else on TV or even on Broadway, for that matter. Let's hope next week's cameo by Gloria Estefan as Santana's mother does not disappoint and continues the streak of apropos and illuminating star turns like we have had so far with Idina Menzel, Ricky Martin and a handful of others this year.
As far as last night's GLEE and its immensely impressive songstack is concerned, there was an overwhelming assortment of delectable, deliciously theatrical renderings of songs deriving from any number of sources - The Who's TOMMY to Cole Porter's KISS ME KATE to FLASHDANCE, STARLIGHT EXPRESS and beyond. Kicking off "Props" in a subdued, yet emotionally evocative and graceful style, Lea Michele made Jason Mraz's LOVE IS A FOUR LETTER WORD lead single "I Won't Give Up" take flight much as Dianna Agron and Chord Overstreet did last season with Mraz's Grammy-winning "Lucky" and also provided us with one of her best performances on the show to date in the process - a sure standout of the series - with her emotive and heartfelt "It's All Coming Back To Me Now". What a one-two knockout of solo spots! The New Directions really made a distinctive musical mark by choosing a theatrical-rock themed setlist for this year's competition and the inclusion of Lady Gaga's Jim Steinman homage "The Edge Of Glory" was a contemporary and ultra-cool manner of making a complete whole of a medley when married to the aforementioned Celine Dion/Pandora's Box cover as well as the Meat Loaf/Ellen Foley BAT OUT OF HELL karaoke staple "Paradise By The Dashboard Light". Die-hard fans may quibble that both epic Stienman anthems were not fully fleshed out and given their entire airing, yet the loving references to the "legendary" Lord of Excess go a long way in making up for time-constraint-dictated sonic trims to the titanic, awesomely lengthy tunes. Plus, as if Lady Gaga, Meat Loaf and Celine Dion were not enough to inspire fireworks and sparks in the hearts and heads of viewers, GLEE PROJECT phenomenon Unique managed to make some magic with The Who's tremendous TOMMY hit "Pinball Wizard". So, too, was the glimpse of a competing nationals glee team and their take on the title song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's STARLIGHT EXPRESS a fun off-handed bone thrown to the Broadway babies amongst us. These were two hours filled to the brim with bombast and more than just a little series-reckoning brilliance.
Venturing far, far out in the musical galaxy beyond even Gaga, Meat Loaf, The Who and the rest, GLEE's double-header also gave us contemporary hits with "Tongue Tied" by indie breakout band Grouplove and Nicki Minaj's futuristic "Starships", as well as Taylor Swift's "Mean" given a sensitive and touching airing by Puck (Mark Salling) & Coach Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones), but the most memorable musical moments besides the epic aforementioned anthems were the endings of each ep: a Queen cover - "We Are The Champions", of course; particularly apt given the celebratory occasion of "Nationals" big win - and the Giorgio Moroder FLASHDANCE salute courtesy of Rachel (Lea Michele) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) at the close of "Props". Last night, the New Directions won us over all over again with their unforgettable entry in this year's Nationals competition and it was no surprise that they took the top trophy home to Ohio - it was a dream come true for the attentive gleeks out there in the dark (without a dashboard light). The faithful were given newfound faith and the doubtful were given new inspiration - GLEE's two-hour, genre-spanning two-parter was precisely what the doctor ordered, if maybe even a slight over-prescription; which is definitely not a detriment in this case. The buzz is still wearing off the day after. Paradise.