SOUND OFF: GLEE's Billy Joel Tribute, With Honesty
Innocence and honesty - two words inextricably linked to two classic Billy Joel songs covered on last night's most recent entry in the fifth season of FOX's musical dramedy hit Glee as well as the undoubted hallmarks of the episode itself. And, Tyra Banks, too!
Just The Way They Are
Whenever Glee takes on the song catalogue of a pop music master such as Billy Joel, it is almost always a recipe for enjoyment - and, more often than not, a prime example of Glee at its very best during any particular point in its ever-evolving development and variably entertaining execution. After all, the series has altered drastically in its focus since the first handful of lightning-in-a-bottle episodes - lest we forget Terri and the faux-pregnancy subplot, etc., etc., etc. - yet, in moments such as last night's Ohio-to-NYC "Movin' Out" song sequence as enacted by Blaine (Darren Criss) and Sam (Chord Overstreet), we are refreshingly, bracingly reminded of what that indescribably, palpably exuberant allure has been all along with this anomalous, amazing series; and, on top of that, why we continue to remain more or less consistently remained transfixed by it, week after week, nearly 100 episodes in.
Indeed, a better match of masterful material and musical showcase could not be more delightfully dreamed than the merging of Billy Joel with that of McKinley High's New Directions, new and old - just as the pairing of pop staples such as Britney Spears (twice), Lady Gaga (twice), Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and others have reaped wondrous results in the past, as well. Glee continues to move on and each episode moves us further into an uncertain, but engrossing future all the same and that is an essential element on the journey - change is good.
Written by screenwriting standout Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by co-creator Brad Falchuk, "Movin' Out" was a solid sixth episode of S5 and provided surefire entertainment value for the vast age range that Glee covers, now and always - 8 to 80 and beyond. Once again, the highest highs and most joyous jolts of jubilation came courtesy of the musical numbers, yet the plot and dramatic intermingling of a few choice characters was appreciably developed as well - most notably, Marley (Melissa Benoist) continued to mull over her romantic affiliations with two viable candidates. "So, you guys are really a thing?" Jake (Jacob Artist) asked Marley and Ryder (Blake Jenner) when arriving upon them in the high school hallway, arm in arm - that is, before qualifying it with an assured and too-cool, "That's cool. But, t is not quite that simple - Marley is still bewitched, bothered and bewildered by who she really wants to commit to... isn't she?! Who will actually take her heart in the end? We will have to wait and see, although it seems that Jake remains a solid BET given their palpable rapport - and he certainly made a mark with his magnificent "My Life", if nothing else. Can she find it in her heart to forgive him for his d'alliance with Bree (Erinn Westbrook), though?
While Ryder may have struck out in the romance department - or at least it seems - he scored a home run with a sensational Billy Joel cover byway of a tangibly tortured, yet emotionally controlled and contained "An Innocent Man". Much like Elton John and other piano-based singer-songwriters, the song-stack of Billy Joel provides ample opportunities to shine with performative flourishes, while, at the same time, contains a plethora of pratfalls which lie in wait to befall the less than pristinely attentive performer. It's a delicate balance between putting one's own mark on a classic pop masterpiece such as many on hand last night and still retaining the idiosyncratic aspects that made the musical piece a hit in the first place - whatever details those may be. Thankfully, they all pulled it off - some with results worth savoring, as a matter of fact.
Take for example Blaine's all-around excellent essaying of one of Joel's most well-known and closely-identified anthems, "Piano Man" - it was instantly recognizable, yet the pronounced piano part and strikingly pleasing, yet respectful vocal liberties taken throughout added to, rather than detracted from, the overall aural experience of the number as a whole. Unquestionably, Criss continues to excel and act as an example each and every week of what can happen when Glee is firing on all axles and doing what it does best - showing off a superb singing star in a marvelous musical moment to make us instantly remember then by, whether that memory lasts a month or a lifetime. Additionally, Artie (Kevin McHale) was given one of his most dominant and prominent stories on the series to date, as well, with an engaging plot-line highlighted by his plaintive take on the Billy Joel staple "Honesty". As enjoyable as those two songs were, all told, the aforementioned "Movin' Out" may very well end up being a sequence to make the top 100 tally when all is said and done, though - it was a stunner. On that note, did you realize that we are approaching the 600th musical number when the series returns after the December 5 winter finale? Yes, indeed - believe it or not, Glee is a super-senior.
Speaking of graduation, the dramatic and thematic thrust of much of the action on last night's show centered on people moving on and - as the title suggests - moving out. Among those searching for what paths to take in the world and the careers to seek were Becky (Lauren Potter), Sam, Blaine and more - high school is just as much a final family as it is a go-between from childhood to the real world, is it not? Well, if not The Real World - at least college. And, what if one refuses to think college is best for them? What if it actually is not? Leave it to Glee to touch on a controversial topic and treat it in a sincere yet humorous way - with a diva supreme to dish the details and offer the 411 on the highway to heaven (or hell), no less.
"The camera loves starvation!" exclaimed a divinely decadent Tyra Banks as - what else?! - a model mentoring Sam in the ways of the cloth(es) as he embarked upon a New York City modeling debut - or, will soon. What will come of the newly transplanted country bumpkin in the big city in the future? Is MIDNIGHT COWBOY in the offing? It is difficult to imagine him surviving for very long without some support, but perhaps Rachel (Lea Michele) will continue to provide agreeably awesome back-up in real-life as well as she did in his song ala "Just The Way You Are". Oh, and the way it was? Wonderful - with special thanks going to Santana (Naya Rivera), Kurt (Chris Colfer) and crew, too.
Also, despite Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch)'s protestations - from job fair entertainment industry-trashing to the final reel - Mr. Shue (Matt Morrison) came through with a spectacular song to prove her wrong and close the energetic and enthralling episode with a plosive punch: none other than the rocking and raucous "You May Be Right". While Billy Joel's catalogue could have been utilized in a more grand and epic manner, no doubt, this first course in what one hopes is a continuing exploration of his vast oeuvre was a human, humorous and healing hour of the best performing arts tribute available on TV.
Next week? A tight and taut top ten list of the best moments from GLEE's Thanksgiving episode!