SOUND OFF: GLEE's Black & White Christmas & Chanukah
Liberally utilizing tried and true heartstring-tugging tropes masterfully displayed in holiday entities as diverse as LOVE, ACTUALLY, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, HOLIDAY INN and even showing some Chanukah action sure to set virtually anybody's menorah fully alight thanks to the Puckerman brothers, GLEE's Christmas episode - this year, aptly titled "Love, Actually" and written by Matthew Hodgson and directed by HAIRSPRAY and ROCK OF AGES movie musical helmer and a recent participant in this very column, Adam Shankman (available here) - was all in all a quite quintessential quintet of seasonal joy, cheer, and, well, glee, broaching the quoin of many and any a viewer's heart valves in so pleasingly enacting its ample entertainment value over the course of the episode's five featured segments within the winning framework. While the split-location structure of the series as dictated by the new style of GLEE 4.0 is assuredly more pronounced than would be the case had the proposed NYC-set spin-off gotten the greenlight by FOX, the cast and creators are making it all work and it is more seamless as it goes on - and the addictive, giddy, all-consuming glee of it all that drew us all in in the first season is still there to relish by the sleigh-ful.
Yuletide Made Glee
GLEE certainly knows how to put both of the es in the ubiquitous holiday cheer of the Christmas/Chanukah season - and the g in gay (in all meanings of the word), as well. Very few TV properties venture into the territory of GLEE - from the outré camp to the insider references to outright insanity that spews forth from the mouths of the more outlandish denizens of the wild and wacky Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk/Ian Brennan-created world of the musical dramedy series, while also affecting a moral-of-the-week message. Tying up many plot-centric and characterlogical loose ends while also setting up some intriguingly compelling dynamics to play out when the show returns in mid-January, GLEE's "Love, Actually" went last year's sensational Christmas iteration one better insofar as its inventive and enlivening design of it all and the stylish way in which it played out, and, while last year's second-season-standout holiday edition may have bettered last night's show in sheer amount and quality of musical material, the musical numbers that were included packed a particular punch in their respective contexts while also glimmering with some gossamer glee.
Plus, as in years past, GLEE: THE MUSIC has released a complete collection of the songs included in the actual show as well as some seriously stupendous bonus cuts by the cast to enjoy whilst wrapping and unwrapping (and rapping, too) - this year, be sure you don't miss Lea Michele's Patsy Cline-esque honky tonk take on "I'll Be Home For Christmas" as well as some other choice cuts on GLEE: CHRISTMAS: VOLUME 3. Yes, the songs included in last night's 2012 farewell amply offered the sugar and spice we have come to expect and enjoy, while also providing a few surprises beneath the brightly bedecked tree, too. But, more than anything, it was GLEE as it most warm, fuzzy, comfortable, safe and sure.
In the first segment of the show, Artie (Kevin McHale) was given use of his lower limps once more in a witty black-and-white-shot, alternate universe GLEE dream-world where Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison) is a drunk still married to treacherous Terri (Jessalynn Gilsig), Rachel (Lea Michele) is a mousy librarian performing in a community theater chorus and Finn (Cory Monteith), Puck (Mark Salling), Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.) and the rest of the former football fraternity of McKinley High are far from welcoming or even accepting of Kurt (Chris Colfer) and his sexuality, let alone the excesses of the glee club itself (which doesn't even exist). Oh, yeah, and Rory (Damian McGinty) as an angel was a lot of fun, too! Subsequently, as a result of the fantasy sequence, Artie got to cut a rug for the first time in a long time and we were treated to a festive "Feliz Navidad". Who knows, maybe if we are all good little boys and girls a color version will even find its way underneath the true!
Next up, Kurt and Rachel offered a fantastically fabulous modern Manhattan holiday experience to all of us gleeks ala 2012 haute couture hipster in the form of their fabulously decorated and designed holiday party at their beyond-believable NYC abode, though the dire cancer revelation of Kurt's father, Burt (Mike O'Malley), certainly cast more than a mere pallor on the proceedings. Thankfully, Blaine (Darren Criss) made the journey from Lima, OH, to the Big Apple in order to lift Kurt's spirits - or, perhaps not so appreciably so given Kurt's less-than-overjoyed initial reaction at his arrival. What can that possibly spell? We will have to wait and see for the new year to see how their romance plays out, for sure, but "White Christmas" was knock-down, drag-out swoon-worthy moment to remember and revisit thanks to the smooth and creamy vocalization and jazzy, 50s, Bobby Darrin-ish arrangement of it all. Rockefeller Center and the tremendous tree there didn't hurt! So, too, let us all pray Burt makes it to 2013 - and beyond.
Puck and Noah (Jacob Artist) may both be born to be bad, but their rockabilly-styled "Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah" was inspired - especially as imbued with their Springsteen-meets-Bobby-Brown bravado and overall eff-off-ish sensibility. Bonus: guest star Aisha Tyler as Noah's mom! Also, who wants to take bets that Noah has a future as a pool boy for that catty cougar in Hollywood should the music thing not turn out as well as planned? It would be mighty difficult to be more desperate than pitiable Puck at this point - I mean, screenwriting? Jeez! But, like a cat, Puck has nine lives - and always lands on his feet (boots?).
The all-too-likely pairing of the absolute dimmest of bulbs on the GLEE tree, Sam (Chord Overstreet) and Brittany (Heather Morris), found their most welcoming branch to share with their below-mistletoe, pre-apocalypse nuptials - and humorously so - a jukebox-jivin' and jingle-jazzy "Jingle Bell Rock", too! Yet, since the powers-that-GLEE can apparently see into the future (well, at least four days or so), I guess we now know the Mayans were wrong after all. Oops. So, does the marriage still count? Oops... again. Scratch that - and score one for the presence-of-mind of Beiste!
And, hey, Finn managed to subtly continue to out-creep Puck by still sticking around as mentor of the gleeks, an enjoyably joyful moment or two leading the gleek group notwithstanding. But, the question remains: what is he doing in Lima, still hanging out with the gleeks and not fighting for Rachel's affections thousands of miles away? What the what? Furthermore, is his current assignation as glee club director setting the stage for Finn taking on the job full-time come next year when the show picks up? Once again: we well have to wait and see, but the writing seems to be on the wall for that storyline to play out that way - or, if you prefer, the sleigh tracks are laid down pretty clearly in the snow for the road to head in that direction some time soon. Whatever the weather, Monteith has far and away been at his very best this season, so it could work to the favor of the series as long as the character's majorly problematic issues are ironed out more - and soon.
Last, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), Becky (Lauren Potter) and Coach Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones) were featured in the fifth and final vignette of the episode, with Marley (Melissa Benoist), her mom, Mrs. Rose (Trisha Rae Stahl), and the ensuing heartwarming storyline with their cash-strapped Christmas made magical giving us the gift of Sue playing an appreciable part in someone's life for once, as well. Marley's "The First Noel" was a vocal highlight of the night, yet again showcasing Benoist's emotive instrument at its best. "That right there was the best Christmas gift I have ever gotten," indeed. Aww! Cue the tears - and not just for that poor, poor 7000-year-old bristle cone pine tree in Sue's living room!
In GLEE's final show of 2012, Season Four continued to remain always entertaining while juggling the impossibly vast cast of characters the show now comprises, near-80 episodes in, capping off with a winter wonderland finale set to a sensitive choral reworking of the MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS staple "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" courtesy of New Directions. What 2013 will spell for the show that has rewritten the rules of what a TV show can be and how a story can be told - and sung - is anyone's guess, but I for one can go out on a Christmas tree limb and posit that it will continue to deliver the goods to Broadway babies, performance lovers and entertainment enthusiasts in general just as it has consistently done all season so far and more than just sporadically in the past three. Season Four shows that this GLEE tree has a lot of growing still to do and is far from being ready to chop down this season or any one soon.
Happy Holidays! Hats off to GLEE in 2012 - and hats on to Santa Claus until we reconvene!