Friday, 7 October 2011

Glee 3.3 'Asian F'

“And yeah, Kurt looks like Jimmy Fallon’s butch daughter…” – Santana

Well spank my ass and call me Charlie, an honest to goodness decent episode of Glee.

I’m not quite prepared to hail ‘Asian F’ as the show’s second coming as some people have, but there was certainly more good than bad in this episode, and it was quite a drastic improvement from a show that had lost its way quite spectacularly.

Back story, character development and plot progression – you’d have been forgiven for thinking you were watching another show when watching ‘Asian F’ but no you weren’t mistaken, this was actually an episode of Glee.

Just in case anyone wasn’t sure, writer Ian Brennan quickly reminded everyone it was Glee we were watching by completely ignoring nearly all last week’s big storylines. There was no follow up on Puck & Quinn’s baby situation with Shelby, nothing further on Sue’s congress bid and who Will had in mind to oppose her and little to no fallout from Blaine impressing more for the lead in Westside Story than Kurt.

‘Asian F’ must’ve been good then because none of that bothered me too much – I accepted a long time ago that with the bloated size of the Glee cast now we should just be grateful for any screen time that any of the less prominent characters get, as hoping for them to be heavily featured week in, week out is just a recipe for disappointment.

And if you can get to a place of tranquillity like that, where you just enjoy those rare moments that the more interesting, and likeable, characters get some spotlight over the likes of Rachel, then Glee gets a whole lot less frustrating as a viewing experience.

And when that spotlight on the underused characters shines as brightly as it did in ‘Asian F’ then that’s when the show itself really shines to, hence the numerous plaudits being hurled at this episode.

The title of the episode refers to the A- that dance-master Mike Chang got in chemistry – apparently an A- is an Asian F in one of those casually racist stereotypes that Glee seems to be able to get away with relatively scot-free.

His cartoonishly disciplinarian Father insisted that his sudden school failings were due to the amount of time he spends in the glee club and helping Mr. Schuester teach his booty camp.

If I was Mike Chang’s Father, the impossibility of that statement aside, I’d just be pleased he’d maintained such high grades this long, given that we’ve never seen him in a lesson and teaching seems to be secondary to extra-curricular activities at that school.

I had to laugh as Rachel desperately searched for something to make her stand out from the crowd on her college applications, when little to no mention has been made of whether any of these kids have good enough grades to even get in to their chosen schools.

But that’s Glee for you, what subject does Mr. Schuester teach again…?

At least Mike Chang’s ‘Asian F’ indicated that Glee isn’t a universe where grades don’t matter and no matter how small it might have been it was a nice, and necessary, acknowledgement of how almost implausible the kids on this show’s schedules are. This might not matter to the more rabid gleeks out there, but to pedants like me it at least gives the show that little bit of realism that keeps it at least partly orbiting in the same atmosphere as we do.

Mike Chang has been royally underused on the show up until now, unless dancing was called for of course, so Asian F was a nice look at both his family life and gave his relationship with Tina some actual substance rather than just being a slightly racist running gag.

His casting in Westside Story fit in nicely with the show’s follow your dreams and be what you want to be not what others want mantra, although it did feel a bit convenient that his Mother had given up on a dream of being a dancer in a past life.

I just have to point out as well that had I ever given my Mother a dancing lesson in a classroom at my school with the door open that I’d have probably gone home wearing my lunch as a hat, yet on Glee no-one bats an eyelid. Maybe that says more about my school than anything else though…

Moving on, something that didn’t quite fit in with the show’s usual be who you are manifesto was Will singing, and ruining I might add, Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ to Emma.

I get the OCD is an illness but rather than just embracing who Emma is, the song almost made it feel like Will has taken it upon himself to change Emma, which is at odds with almost everything else in this episode tonally.

Her parents being “ginger supremacists” was good for a cheap laugh but did feel a bit of a silly way to get to quite a serious moment, and did anyone really believe for a moment that Will was so insecure that he thought Emma was embarrassed of him?

After two and a bit years of seeing Emma’s OCD, the reveal of how she became that way kind of came out of nowhere and didn’t feel as emotional as it could have done with the right exposition.

Rachel meanwhile was as obnoxiously selfish as always, first assuming she had the lead role in the musical locked up and then, without even hearing the casting, deciding to run for student president against her new BFF Kurt to beef up that college application.

I honestly can’t believe how awful they write this girl when she’s supposed to be the show’s leading lady and an example and role model to millions of young girls across the world. If my, as yet unborn, daughter ever grew up to behave like that I’d punch her in the face.

The episode’s other big positive, in addition to Mike Chang getting some actual character development, was Mercedes returning to prominence after being nothing more than an after thought for pretty much all of the last season and a half.

Her new boyfriend may look closer to 40 than 14 but his motivational speeches to her lit a fire under her that she took too far, but allowed her to be the voice of many by drawing attention to how unfairly the spotlight is shared on the show in favour of Rachel.

The Dreamgirls performance kind of went over my head a little having not seen the film, but I kind of dug seeing all the cast involved in it and her performance of Jennifer Hudson’s ‘Spotlight’ wasn’t just a great performance but very, very apt not only in the context of the episode but the show as a whole.

It’s these kinds of songs that enhance the show rather than take you out of the moment, last year had too much of the latter but this year they’ve really stepped up their game with the former. Even though I hated Will’s performance of ‘Fix You’ it didn’t feel out of place given what had just preceded it.

Some of you may think that only giving ‘Asian F’ three stars seems harsh given how much more positive I’ve been about this episode than the previous two but I have to grade shows on a universal scale not one for each show.

In terms of the usual Glee output this was probably closer to five stars, but I recently reviewed an episode of Sons of Anarchy that I only gave three and a half stars and that was infinitely better than ‘Asian F’.

The content and nature of Glee will probably never allow it to get to the upper echelons of my star ratings, but in terms of where Glee sits on the TV show spectrum, ‘Asian F’ might just be about as good as it gets for this show.

A Hail of Bullets:

- Santana back in the glee club with no real fallout from her having left the week before last is indicative of the show’s lack of long term storytelling. The way in which she was unceremoniously booted out in the premiere looked to have set up something juicy down the line but no here she is back two weeks later with only one throwaway line of exposition to explain her sudden return.

- I wrote last week about how season three thus far had featured more show tunes than chart songs, well ‘Asian F’ certainly readdressed that balance. With the Westside Story arc being so prominent this season show tunes are obviously always going to be frequently performed but in this episode alone we also had covers of Coldplay, Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce and I’d dare to venture that downloads also went up in the week following this episode when compared to last week.

- Speaking of Beyonce, Brittany’s flash mob performance of ‘Girls (Run The World)’ more than made up for a lack of Brittany one-liners this week as Heather Morris looked exceptionally hot in that scene and male cheerleading fantasies aside, boy can that girl move. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every episode should feature at least one Brittany dance number.

- At the inception of Shelby’s rival glee club last week I wrote that it undoubtedly set the stage for defections between the two clubs, but that I hoped it wasn’t done gratuitously. Here we are one week later though and one of New Directions’ main voices has already defected, though under the circumstances I’m kind of okay with it, and in fact I hope it allows Mercedes to shine more than she clearly ever could in Rachel’s irritating shadow. I just hope that every other week they won’t be trying to wring some cheap drama out of ‘will they/won’t they’ defections.

- With a surprising lack of Brittany one-liners in this episode it was left to Santana with that brilliant opening quote and Bieste to get the best lines this week.

Bieste’s “ I kicked a fire hydrant when I found out Ace of Cakes was cancelled” and “It’s one of the hardest decisions of my life and that includes when I had to sell one of my prize donkeys to pay my gas bill… I sold Kim, but I kept Khloe” were very funny, especially once I realised her prize donkeys were named after two of the Kardashian sisters.

- My lovely other half Tanya commented during this episode that Harry Shum Jr. (Mike Chang) would have been a good candidate to appear in the gash-looking Footloose remake about to pollute cinemas world wide.

She must have some sort of E.S.P. because within seconds, Chang was having an angry ‘punch dance’ trying to forget his troubles which is lifted straight out of Footloose, but was also spoofed in several moments of unparalleled genius within the magnificent film Hot Rod…

Any excuse to post this clip really…


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