SOUND OFF: GLEE Across America
U2... Neil Diamond... The Go-Gos... Randy Newman... OneRepublic... Styx! What do these things have in common? Well, GLEE's trip to LA, of course! Plus, a truly rockin' "More Than A Feeling" (Boston) too - in every imaginable way; and, well, more! All things considered, what other primetime TV show has "Obscure Broadway to Queen at a moment's notice"?!
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
"The show must go all over the place," once said Finn (Cory Monteith), and, in his own words did the 99th episode of Glee pay tribute to the fallen star and focus on the best aspects of the hit musical dramedy series thus far - that is, the music and the feelings. After all, it was Nationals, and, so did the entertainment quotient reach ecstatic heights, as always; in no small part due to beguiling and biting guest star Skylar Astin as Jean Baptiste. Of course, Astin once appeared on the Great White Way in SPRING AWAKENING (with GLEE own's Lea Michele and Jenna Ushkowitz, no less) as well as made a memorable mark with the movie musical PITCH PERFECT. Indeed, he was a formidable foe for the committed crew of New Directions - and even won. Furthermore, the guest star wattage was increased even more by the ever-reliable stunt casting of the judges - in this case, Marlee Matlin, Jackee and Joanna Rohrback. Additionally, Mike O'Malley and Romy Rosemont returned with a powerful remembrance of Finn, as well. Sensitively done.
Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) kicked off the ep proper with a spirited Finn-worthy song choice byway of the fun and freewheeling "I Love LA", originally made famous by Randy Newman. Although we shall see the departure of many of the new cast-members and the Ohio storyline as a whole soon, that is not all that may be coming to an end. How exactly will Mr. Schue fit into the scheme of NYC, if at all? Supposedly, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) will be integrated into the new Glee 5.0. How could she not?! "As if second place was an actual achievement!" Sue criticized of the ultimate showing of the New Directions at Nationals. But, without Finn and Rachel (Lea Michele) in NYC, what option really was there? So goes the show and the remaining interest in what the Ohio side has to offer us.
As for the musical numbers themselves, the Nationals sequence itself was undoubtedly the sparkling gem at the center of the show - highlighted by three indelible and unique performances. Firstly, "Vacation" by the Go-Gos was given a colorful and flavorful group take by The Amazonians, as expected. Yet, the standout song of the ep itself was surely the terrific trurn by Astin and the rest of Throat Explosion. Wow! An unexpected "Mr. Roboto" (Styx) complete with some far-out choreography was followed up by the current hit "Counting Stars" by OneRepublic. In both drastically different solos did Astin amply display a firm vocal handle and ferociously emphatic intensity which was also plain to witness in his series of bitchy barbs off the stage, too. Nonetheless, the star of any Glee Nationals episode is always the McKinley High kings and queens in one way or another. And, this time, it was an epic mash-up of major proportions indeed, if not quite scaling the heights of days gone by (and understandably so).
Unquestionably, the emotional and musical highs and lows traversed by the Nationals medley were astounding, but the unmistakable handicap may indeed have been their undoing - the first song was the strongest, by a long shot. Without a doubt, Boston's "More Than A Feeling" was the strong point of their performance and therefore perhaps would have been best placed at the end, although the U2 "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" dramatic pay-off with the revealing reminder of it being Finn's favorite song. Accompanying it was a montage of Finn's finest moments on the series, amplifying the impact and making it a surefire tearjerker if there ever were any.
Neil Diamond's "America" was accompanied by some elaborate choreography, but the singing itself seemed oddly sterile and flavorless given the dramatic possibilities of the modern American anthem, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the medley of songs worked well to show off not only the relative skills of the remaining members of the group - giving Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) yet another spotlight ep byway of her lead vocal at the competition and her unfortunate interaction with Finn's bereaved parents earlier in the episode - but also the sheer musical diversity of material reliably explored by the group, season in and season out.
For a McKinley-focused show, last night's Jessica Meyer-penned and Elodie Keene-directed Glee was enjoyable and absorbing for what it was, but the NYC storyline remains the true allure of the series as it now stands - even as the angst-filled coda attested via a quick peek at the Spotlight Diner; with attendant Santana (Naya Rivera), Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Rachel (Lea Michele) - so the sooner the plot is placed there primarily, the quicker Glee at its best will hopefully be seen. That being said, the reappearance of Mercedes (Amber Riley) was surprisingly effective for a frippery catch-up treat for the true gleeks, at least when her presence was developed further in her heartfelt tete a tete with Marley (Melissa Benoist). On that note, Ryder (Blake Jenner) and Jake (Jacob Artist) also had a shared soul show session, bringing to mind the tense and revealing moments from Nationals specials passed. Marked with a B - or, should that be S, for sad - the Nationals ended on a touchingly disappointing beat, but a return to McKinley itself and thereby closing the book on the Ohio show given the reticence of Mr. Shue to fight Sue's dismissal of the Glee club altogether was an ever sour note upon which to close the drama, if that really is the case. Once again, as it appears increasingly apparent, thank goodness for the NYC coda, as seemingly out of place as it may have been. All bows were tied, though. Next week, it appears April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth) stops by to bid adieu, to note.
"This is not how the story was supposed to end," said Jake. And, so it goes on Glee itself in the wake of Cory Monteith's death. How much longer will McKinley play a major role in the drama and music of the series? Who will we be saying goodbye to in the coming weeks and months? Just like the plucky and steadfast New Directions themselves, the Glee stars will still shine in the season and change ahead (with emphasis on both definitions of change, as it were) - with new opportunities in a whole new city right around the corner! Who will take the flight - and the ensuing bite of the Big Apple? Stay tuned to see!
But, before anything else: Glee 100! Next week! Be there.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro