Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Glee 2.7 'The Substitute'


“Kurt got us a substitute, so I’m buttering the floor…” - Puck

‘The Substitute’ was the most hyped episode of Glee since the Britney Spears/Madonna ‘tribute’ episodes, mainly due to special guest star Gwyneth Paltrow.

Irrespective of Mrs. Chris Martin’s appearance as substitute teacher Holly Holliday, this was one of the stronger episodes of Glee this season. This was mainly because the episode seemed to actually have a flow to it, with not only a beginning, but also a middle and an end, which for Glee is somewhat of an achievement.

The songs in ‘The Substitute’ also felt organic and didn’t feel shoehorned in as many have this season; and in the Singing in the Rain/Umbrella mash-up that closed the show Glee may have another hit single on its hands. I expected to hate that mutation but it actually worked really well and the performance in the water looked very cool.

The episode began with Sue informing Will that Principal Figgins was laid up with flu and that she had, inexplicably been made Principal in his absence. Sue’s ability to influence people and steal power almost at will is becoming an increasingly ridiculous aspect of Glee.

I know that I look far deeper into the mechanics of the show than the average ‘gleek’ does but it really does belittle all the good things about Glee when you have to detach yourself from reality so much to accept some of the devices the writers use just to create conflict.

Surely there is a school board and governors etc. at McKinley High that Sue would need to go through before, as acting Principal no less, she could fire Will just because she liked his substitute better!? Yes I know you’re not supposed to think of things like that and just accept what is before you but it’s poorly thought out developments like that (that will just be reset again next week) and inconsistencies from week to week that make Glee so infuriating at times.

Getting away from the little things that irritate me though and back to ‘The Substitute’ and when Will too got sick he was replaced in Spanish class (had you forgotten that Will is also the Spanish teacher!? You’re forgiven if you have as it’s never mentioned) and then at Glee club by cool substitute teacher Holliday.

Paltrow’s role worked, much like Neil Patrick Harris last season, because it didn’t feel like a piece of stunt casting or a cynical attempt to boost sales like some Glee cameos have (cough, Britney Spears, cough). No, Paltrow’s role genuinely felt like she was a fan of the show and wanted to appear – that role could have been played by anyone, the fact it was Paltrow didn’t distract from the character and that is what could guest appearances should be like.

The message of this episode, the kinds of teachers who really have pupils’ best interests at heart, was good too and probably spoke to a lot of the teenage fans of the show.

The Mercedes ‘tots’ tangent was somewhat of a bizarre detour this episode but served its purpose in getting across Kurt’s increasing distance not just from the club but from his best friend as well. Although this storyline served to further reinforce the fact Glee operates in some sort of bizarro high school world where an overweight girl from the glee club can effortlessly bag herself a handsome member of the football team – man, I wish I went to McKinley High…

The only other real ongoing plot arc was Kurt’s ongoing torment at the hands of closeted bully Karofsky, who is now threatening to “kill” Kurt if he reveals that the big bigot is actually gay too.

That threat is obviously an exaggeration because as unhinged as the big oaf is I hardly think he’d actually murder Kurt, which begs the question of why Kurt doesn’t just tell everyone Karofsky’s secret? Sure, people would be sceptical at first but there’s no smoke without fire and a rumour like that in a high school, even if it is the magical land of McKinley High, would do irreparable damage to Karofsky’s social standing.

They’re obviously trying to paint Kurt as a saint, as the writers have an aversion to having the show’s main gay character do anything less than honourable, but they have already shown him to be downright manipulative in the past (specifically twisting it so he ended up sharing a room with his crush Finn back in season one) so for him to just sit there and take this knowing what he knows I personally think is out of character.

Which leads me on to my biggest gripe with Glee, which is the fact that at the end of every episode, save for a few ongoing arcs, the reset button is firmly pushed and everything that happened in the episode is pretty much undone and all you are left with are a few songs to download on iTunes.

Case in point for this is Puck and Artie’s supposed new friendship which was a focal point last week but wasn’t even mentioned this week – I don’t expect much, maybe just a shot of them sat next to each other but something would have been nice to follow up quite a major plot development for two of the show’s main characters.

I know I am often overly critical of Glee, but in a way that’s why I enjoy writing about the show. Because it’s not a show I would probably choose to watch were I single I can almost distance myself from sentiment when writing and be brutally honest.

I by no means hate the show, at times it can be one of the funniest shows around, but it does have a terrible habit of being shockingly poorly written with little to no long term planning which being a fan of the great serial dramas of our time (The Wire, Mad Men, Lost etc.) I find to be one of the greatest crimes a television show can commit.

Still, season 2 up to now has been disappointing; ‘The Substitute’ however was definitely a step in the right direction so here’s hoping this is a sign of things to come rather than an exception to the rule.

A Hail of Bullets:

- I think my two favourite moments of comedy from this episode, other than Puck’s floor-buttering, were the two cutaway flashbacks to Will’s fondness for making the glee club do Journey songs in spite of what they may have suggested themselves – I enjoy comedy flashbacks like that and those two both worked well for a laugh and in context of the more serious storyline going on in this episode.

- I hate it when TV shows include something in the opening recap that happened a while ago and hasn’t really been explored since as this usually indicates that something connected to that event will be occurring in the episode you’re about to watch, usually also spoiling the reappearance of a certain character; here, exactly that happened as Will’s ex-wife turned up again after being featured in the recap preceding the episode.

Not only do these recaps spoil the episode but they also insult your intelligence as it is as if the show is suggesting you’re too stupid to remember what happened last season between Will and his wife. Complex shows like The Wire and Mad Men don’t need these recaps so why do shows that aren’t that intricate at all, like Glee, need to make use of this technique!?

- In a way I’m glad I didn’t have to see it butchered as Start Me Up was last week, but I can’t believe that in an episode titled ‘The Substitute’ they didn’t cover The Who’s Substitute.

- Artie didn’t get much to do in this episode, unless you count his continually ridiculous rapping at the start of the Umbrella mash-up at the end, but his Gin & Juice reference when Will was explaining what made him feel better when he was ill put a smile on my face. A Gin & Juice reference is always good whatever the context, unless of course Hitler used it at The Nuremberg Rallies.

- This episode may have marked the first time I’ve actually seen any of the glee club members in a lesson, as we got to see members of the club in both Holiday’s Spanish and History classes. Up until now I was convinced that all these kids did was go to glee club and cheerleading or football practice, so it’s a little more reassuring to know that they actually are given an education in addition to those life-defining extra-curricular activities they are involved in.

- I may have used the phrase a couple of times above but I have to say that I absolutely loathe the phrase ‘mash-up’. I didn’t until Glee came along as it actually seemed appropriate when used by DJ’s and MC’s but hearing it come out of the mouth’s of some of the whitest people alive (Rachel, Mr Shue) makes me cringe every time.

Glee continues Monday @ 9pm on E4


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