SOUND OFF: GLEE Transforms From Sandra To Sandy Thanks To GREASE
"No contact, not even in song." And, with those words, the epic romance of Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith) - Finchel, familiarly, to fans of the show; gleeks - on Fox's hit musical dramedy series GLEE came to a horrific car crash of a coda - and all-too-appropriately so given the automatic, systematic, ultimatic GLEE GREASE tribute oh-so-amusingly billed as "Glease". The Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa written, Michael Uppendahl directed ep gave us a generous dose of GREASE justified by the glee club's take on the classic 50s tuner while also offering us some hair-raising dramatic and thematic developments, as well - Mr. Shue (Matt Morrison)'s sabbatical; the permanent ceasing of not one, not two, but three central romances of seasons' past; as well as the nefarious interception of Cassandra July (Kate Hudson) into the entanglements of the NYC-set storyline of the all-new, revamped GLEE S4.
Goodbye To Sandra Dee
While Rachel and Finn's relationship met its sad end on this week's GLEE, those was not the only severed ties cemented - two same-sex relationships, groundbreaking in their frank portrayal in prior episodes and seasons, also came to a conclusion; Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) capped their evocatively depicted courtship, as did Brittany (Heather Morris) and Santana (Naya Rivera), with eloquence. Yes, indeed, one could very well say that GLEE itself has lost its virginity once and for all over the course of S4 and the pertinent themes of the raucous rock n roll high school musical staple GREASE are glaringly apt given the wrenches that said physical couplings have thrown into the aforementioned romantic pairings - sex messes it all up. Just look at Rachel's once-burgeoning, now-blighted flirtation with NYADA stud Brody (Dean Geyer); Blaine's apparent outright cheating on Kurt during summer vacation; Brittany's mindless infidelities and many prurient peccadilloes over the course of her stormy on-again, off-again alignment with Santana. The rocky road has been more than occasionally bumpy as the GLEE mobile has journeyed on and we have slowly become more acclimated with the many new faces and split-storyline-style storytelling that has been implemented on GLEE S4 as it has gone along - and the subsequent shake-ups are more ubiquitous than milkshakes at a malt shop. As related from the NYC-transplant Rachel referring to her Ohio-stranded former paramour and her birthplace, "This isn't home any more," and, one could very justifiably say, so goes Season Four of GLEE - it's a new show and you either go with it as it is now or you don't, but the kernels of what has always made the show blossom into sporadic brilliance and also sometimes wallow in the less agreeable and more unappetizing aspects of what it is, too, for better or worse, are both as evident as ever. It's the same GLEE, it's just a remixed, re-jiggered new formulation. For example: Unique (Alex Newell) is part-Mercedes (Amber Riley), part-Kurt; Kitty is part-Quinn (Dianna Agron), part-Santana; Joe (Jacob Artist) is part-Puck (Mark Salling), part-Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.); Ryder (Blake Jenner) is seemingly mostly the new Finn 2.0; Marley (Melissa Benoist) is mostly new Rachel. Mix, match, wash and repeat.
New cast members aplenty, populating most of the major McKinley High-set storylines where once stood - and, of course, sang - the original gleaks, the reinvented, re-energized and re-formulated GLEE 4.0 is something quite new and quite a bit different than the show as it stood in its three previous iterations, but many through lines remain the same; and, indeed, on that note, few series in TV history have withstood such change as generally successfully as GLEE has managed to do over the course of its seventy-plus shows so far. Lest we forget the much darker and more acerbic, adult-themed early episodes of the first part of Season One, nor the variety show sensationalism of much of S2 - reaching its apotheosis in the grand Super Bowl extravaganza and Valentine's Day blow-out - and, of course, the most recent, guest star-heavy segment in the developing and generally quite revolutionary musical series - one thing GLEE does not do is stay the same. And, now, 4.0 is something all its own entirely - but, at the same time, much is as it ever was.
Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) erupting in a rage; the always-clueless Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) offering his usual useless insight; back-stabbing and scheming among all the ranks of the gleaks, reaching its nadir with the goings-on of the cruelest of all the Cheerios on an unsuspecting victim - all is as it always is and always has been, largely. New faces, a few new twists and turns, but GLEE is still GLEE as we have always known it to be - in that it is as predictable as it is ever-changing; as rigid as it is malleable. A contradiction in terms - many of them? Sure. But, then again, so is GLEE - that's the name of the game. No TV show before or since has dramatically justified musical storytelling in as outright and generally, well, gleeful and embracing of a manner as GLEE and if only for that it will forever remain an important ingredient in the perception of musical theatre around the world for generations current and those to come - and, further more, it is after all a series ostensibly about the kids who will eventually grow up to write, produce, star in and attend the plays and musicals and GLEE itself is informing and entertaining the future audience for Broadway, more or less. One cannot underestimate its impact, particularly insofar as the full-scale musicals the fictional McKinley High takes on each year and how each is presented - THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, WEST SIDE STORY, and, now, GLEE.
As always, the musical numbers delivered, with the new cast imbuing the GREASE material with excitement and energy. The world premieres of both Becca Tobin's sassy and spirited "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee" as well as Melissa Benoist's emotional and ethereal "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee (Reprise)" were both hosted in this very column and their depiction in the episode was expectedly well-rendered and interestingly dramatically motivated in each instance. "Beauty School Dropout" byway of Darren Criss was a bouffant amuse bouche of audible whipped cream, just as it should be, and the inventively-arranged Santana/Cassandra/Unique trio of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" was an appreciable and elegant realization of the inherent ideas and idiosyncrasies of the song and its relation to the actual plotline of the episode itself (which was no small feat). So, too, was "Greased Lightning" a lovingly winking, camp homage to the original GREASE film, with Ryder establishing himself as one of the standout performers of the glee club, and, subsequently, Jenner a breakout star of the series in a few short weeks. Also, "You're The One That I Want" done as a quartet was particularly lusty and thrusty in the reality-set school scenes with Marley and Ryder as Sandy and Danny, respectively. Lest we forget, last week's "Hopelessly Devoted To You" and "Born To Hand Jive" were also more than merely acceptable renditions. It is unlikely that any GREASE cover will ever convert the unconverted - it is a very specific sound and style of a show and score, after all, given its embrace of all-things 1950s - but both "Glease" and last week's first part of the GREASE tribute oN GLEE gave us more than just a backseat grope, they went all the way.
It's a complex and combustible combination that creates the best assets and most well-remembered GLEE moments and they may be lacking thus far this season for the most part, yet there has been enough here to keep us involved and the promise for the future of the show is as filled with potential as always if not more so. What the powers-that-be ultimately decide to do with future seasons of the show is uncertain, but, no matter what the particular ingredients of the show are as it may stand at any particular point in time and its development, we can rest assured and rely on the reality of the fact that songs will be served up with style and the tried and true tropes established in seasons' past will somehow or other be interwoven with the ever-expanding rainbow tapestry of the GLEE universe as it grows - and as it grows up.
Cut, died and re-shaped, GLEE S4 as represented in "Glease" is further evidence that GLEE has clearly said goodbye to its naïve and fresh-faced first phases - its Sandra Dee - and is developing into an all-new Sandy of a series. Will it ultimately be a thunderstorm, a hurricane or the storm of the century? That forecast is still impossible to determine.
More On: Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Matt Morris, Kate Hudson, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Heather Morris, Naya Rivera, Dean Geyer, Alex Newell.